Portsmouth vs. Everton
Last week Portsmouth and Middlesbrough played out a draw that did neither side much good, and they’ll see it as an opportunity missed. Pompey’s game against Everton today should be much tougher, but the Toffees will not be taking their trip lightly as they know that they face a team scrapping for their survival, and that can bring out the best in some teams. Everton’s injury list continues to hamper them with Yobo the latest to squeeze into the treatment room, with Tony Hibbert and Tim Cahill also nursing knocks. Who knows how Moyes will squeeze a side together, but so far this season they have kept producing results and I believe they may repeat the trick again today. It’ll be a battle though.
Blackburn Rovers vs. West Ham United
West Ham sit pretty in seventh in the Premier League and can look at Blackburn’s perilous position with smug glee all over their faces: it could so easily have been them. Zola has worked his magic, but this will be a tough trip for the little Italian’s side. They’re starting to pick up some end-of-season niggles as the season catches up with them and they may not fancy it today against a physical Rovers side. Allardyce will have his team fired up for their scrap for survival and home games will be the key. They will want to make the most of a home advantage and will probably outfight the Hammers today.
Fulham vs. Manchester United
This is a repeat of the FA Cup quarter final from a few weeks ago and after Fulham were tonked 4-0 in that encounter, they must be cursing their luck again today. United got a hiding themselves from Liverpool, but contrary to speculation that it will leave them reeling, I think the champions will continue their old habit of ‘coming back with a bang’. Ferguson will have been livid with the United players and you can bet they’ve had an intense weeks training. I fear Fulham, despite their good home form, could receive some serious punishment.
Stoke City vs. Middlesbrough
Stoke showed some real fight against Everton last week but ultimately were undone by the Toffees’ superior quality. In my opinion, with the likes of Downing, Tuncay and Alves at their disposal, ‘Boro are a better side than Stoke too, but for a reason that has eluded Southgate, they just have not performed this season. A couple of good results in recent weeks will have boosted their confidence though and this is another six-pointer (I fear I’m going to be very bored of that term long before the end of the season). Stoke though, are very solid at home and will make things difficult for the visitors, and I think this could frustrate everyone, but the fans most of all, and be a rather turgid stalemate.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea
Both these teams are in the middle of decent little periods, with Chelsea especially looking very impressive since Guss “the magic Dutchman” Hiddink’s arrival. Spurs got a big win at Villa last week though and will fancy their chances of frustrating Chelsea’s recently reignited title chase. Aaron Lennon is the man getting the headlines for Spurs and no doubt if he can reproduce his recent performances Spurs will cause Chelsea some problems, but I think Chelsea have a bit too much and have their own in form match winner in Michael Essien. Should be an entertaining game for the neutrals though.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Bolton Wanderers
West Brom are, realistically, still at least three wins from safety, and I must be honest, I can’t see them getting there. I had the rashness to declare them down around Christmas time, and despite some improvement, I still just don’t think they’re good enough to play their football in the Premier League, but fair play to them for trying. Bolton got a bit of a lesson from Fulham last week and are still very much in the relegation battle. They need a few more wins, and Megson will have this one down as a great chance to put them one step closer to survival. West Brom won’t make it easy for them, and will cause them some problems, but ultimately I expect Bolton’s power up front to be too much for WBA’s rather frail back line.
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal
Arsenal are starting to show the form that should have seen them challenge for the title this season, it’s too late for them really. Still, they have a good motivation to keep playing as they face stiff competition from Villa and Everton for that fourth Champions League place, and they are the one club that literally could not afford to miss out. I’m beginning to fear for Newcastle though, they’re level on points with Stoke who sit 18th and don’t really look like winning matches – and they’re injuries aren’t helping. Arsenal should condemn them to more misery here, and I expect a relatively comfortable win for them.
Wigan Athletic vs. Hull City (Sun)
Hull got a decent point from Newcastle last week but will probably still be reeling from their harsh FA Cup defeat to Arsenal in midweek. They were denied a replay with a ridiculously offside goal allowed to stand, and will need to focus their disappointment rather than letting it affect them negatively. Wigan finally got back to winning ways last week and are near enough safe now, but Bruce will want to push on anyway, and they could even push West Ham for that seventh spot which may yield a UEFA Cup spot this season. I reckon Bruce will be all smiles after this one, and ol’ Phil Brown will be frowning some more.
Manchester City vs. Sunderland Athletic (Sun)
Sunderland seem almost destined to struggle this season, they’ve constantly shown flashes of quality and then gone and shot themselves in the foot again, as they did last week with defeat to Wigan. City missed out against Chelsea last week, and there’s no shame in that but Hughes will have been disappointed by the performance. At home though they should give Sunderland a good game and will be exhilarated by their midweek penalty win. I think City should get a victory here but when Sunderland are around you can never be sure what they’re going to do.
Liverpool vs. Aston Villa (Sun)
Oh the conflictions of the heart. As a passionate Evertonian it goes against everything I stand for to want Liverpool to win and yet if Everton are to catch Aston Villa and Arsenal, we need them to slip up, and this is as good a chance as any for that to happen. And I think it probably will, certainly Liverpool are a team in form after demolishing both Real Madrid and Man Utd in recent weeks. Villa have been struggling of late too and I think Liverpool will probably be too good for them. So let’s go for a Liverpool win, safe in the knowledge that United will still win the title… I hope.