Stoke City vs. Manchester City
Stoke are in a bit of a downward spiral at the moment. The trouble that they’ve had is that the other teams in the league have finally learnt to deal with their physical threat, while Stoke haven’t ever really managed to broaden their attacking horizons. They haven’t been helped by some injuries and suspensions, but that is something every team must deal with and so is no excuse. City on the other hand, will be hoping to kick on in the second half of the season. With the arrival of a few new faces and the probable departure of Robinho, their squad should band together and turn their season around, they certainly have the quality to do so.
Arsenal vs. West Ham United
Arsenal scraped a draw with a late goal against Everton on Wednesday, but Wenger will expect another tough challenge tonight. West Ham are a team in their stride at the moment, and Zola should be commended for his work in turning their season around. They have shown in recent weeks that they are hard team to beat and will hope to frustrate Arsenal. However, if Everton’s game in midweek proved anything it is that you must take the game to Arsenal. Sit back and try to shut them out and you will eventually yield. Everton conceded only when, in injury time, they were attempting to run down the clock rather than outplaying Arsenal. Zola’s men are perfectly capable of breaching Arsenal, and I think there could be goals here.
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Of course, the fixture list being the devil that it is, Heskey returns to face Wigan in only his second game for his new club following his departure from Steve Bruce’s side. Villa continue to be in good form thanks to Heskey’s debut goal and I see his capture as being a shrewd move from O’Neill. There are few players better at bringing people into the game than Heskey, and with Young and Agbonlahor willing runners, they should get some good service. Wigan will hope they can continue life without Heskey and have found a good replacement in Mido, who will form a good partnership with Zaki, his countryman (though both are on loan, I bet Bruce is dreading the summer!). I think this will be tight, but Villa seem to have that touch of luck on their side so…
Bolton Wanderers vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Bolton threw away three points after letting a two nil lead slip to Blackburn last time out, and Megson has come under fire from the club’s fans in recent times. I hope that the players don’t allow that unrest to get to them, because in my view, Megson is doing a good job. They have been having a solid season and need to keep their focus on the pitch. Tottenham though are a strange prospect. Under Redknapp they have been good and bad, probably more the former but slip ups in recent weeks leave them with much still to do to stave off relegation. It depends what happens on the day, but they come in off a win, while Bolton will feel their draw as a defeat, so confidence may give Spurs the egde.
Fulham vs. Portsmouth
Fulham lost to the Hammers in midweek and have had a few losses in their last few games, but all have been away. They will see today as a good chance to get back to winning ways, making the most of a home crowd. Pompey look very toothless since Defoe’s departure with Crouch robbed of a strike partner, and he has neither the strength or skill to be an effective lone striker. I can’t see anything other than a home win here I’m afraid, Fulham have looked good at times this season but Pompey are slipping quite badly. More pressure on Tony Adams.
Hull City vs. West Bromwich Albion
Hull are still struggling to regain their early season form and abandon, and Phil Brown will know that a win against their fellow promoted side and strugglers is absolutely essential. Albion had picked up some handy points before an absolute drubbing at the hands of Mike Riley (and Man Utd) in mid-week. They must forget that result, United will do it to better teams than they, and take the game to Hull. If they get a win it will boost their confidence massively, and give them a slim glimmer of hope for survival. If Hull win, it could kick start their season again with some winnable games approaching, if they lose, I reckon it could signal the end of their fight.
Middlesbrough vs. Blackburn Rovers
Wow, this promises to be a thriller doesn’t it. I hope you got the sarcasm there because it is positively dripping in it. Blackburn are doing what they have to since Big Sam took over. He has sured them up and they are tough to break down, but not very pleasant on the eye. Borough are really struggling too at the moment and Southgate will be desperate for them to regain the promise they showed in the first part of the season. I don’t think Rovers will give them much chance to play though, and this could be a very ugly, very boring, stalemate.
Manchester United vs. Everton
United come into this game after a very emphatic defeat of West Brom. Everton will come in equally comfortable, after drawing with Liverpool twice and Arsenal in their last three games, and have shown that they are a very tough proposition. Cahill is firing in front of goal, while Jagielka and Lescott are in impervious form at the back. In the last meeting between these two teams, Everton grabbed a deserved equaliser in the second half and that was the game that really ignited their season. United are always a dangerous prospect, but I am confident we can get at least a draw, and we may even be able to nick a win, as we so nearly did against Aresnal.
Newcastle United vs. Sunderland Athletic (Sun)
Newcastle’s turnaround under Joe Kinnear is quickly disintegrating. Constant outbursts from Kinnear are doing nothing to keep a calm atmosphere at the club, the unhappy rumblings of Charles N’Zogbia will disrupt the squad further and the loss of Owen and Barton are big blows for a squad that isn’t exactly brimming with quality. Sunderland on the other hand, are continuing to enjoy life under Sbragia. With Kenwyne Jones having committed his future to the club, a settles squad should be able to fire them to three points, bragging rights and premiership survival this season.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
These sort of high pressure clashes often end up in a draw, disappointing both sides. I can see that happening here as well. Liverpool have been frustrated a lot in recent weeks by Everton and Wigan, and are not looking very decisive in attack. Torres will be getting sharper all the time, but they still depend far too heavily on Steven Gerrard. Chelsea went above Liverpool after their midweek win and will want to try and extend their lead an keep the pressure on Man Utd. At the end of the day, this one will probably prove too much for both teams as they will be too afraid of slipping up to really go for it.