Aston Villa vs. Chelsea
This will be seen by Martin O’Neill as a chance to finally dispel any questions that remain about his side’s top four credentials, and they will be going all out to try and topple Chelsea. However, they are probably a better side away from home while Chelsea will be hoping to take further advantage of the new manager giddiness that so often takes hold of clubs. Players will be vying to impress the new man and we could see a turnaround in Chelsea’s fortunes as Hiddink looks to be the ideal man to get them playing as a team. I think Chelsea might sneak this one.
Arsenal vs. Sunderland Athletic
Arsenal picked up a convincing cup win in midweek and will want to press on and make the most of their confidence to rekindle a faltering league campaign. It must be conceded that they’ve had some tough luck with injuries but Wenger should have been able to get his squad through – given that he had money to spend. The fans may finally see a new face today though, with Arshavin set to make his debut, and he may just inspire his team-mates to another victory. Sunderland will be no pushovers though, they are proving tough characters under Ricky Sbragia and certainly have quality going forward, but I think Arsenal will be too strong.
Bolton Wanderers vs. West Ham United
This will be a big test for Zola’s resurgent Hammers, as Bolton will provide a very solid barrier for them to overcome. West Ham have been looking very sharp playing good slick football and are looking likely to survive relegation at a canter, but Bolton’s physicality will be a big test. Bolton themselves have shown some good form at times this season but have struggled for consistency and so find themselves looking nervously over their shoulders still. They will have to try and shut down West Ham’s attacking play, but I think the Hammers’ confidence should get them at least a valuable away draw at the Reebok Stadium.
Middlesbrough vs. Wigan Athletic
Borough’s season promised so much but at the moment is threatening to turn out very badly indeed, and they certainly need to turn it round sharpish if they’re to survive. This is a game which Southgate might be have earmarked as winnable, but Steve Bruce’s side are no push overs and come into this one fresh having had no FA Cup game last week. I think Wigan could very well pile more misery on Gareth Southgate, but Borough’s luck may turn too, and so it could go either way really.
Stoke City vs. Portsmouth
Portsmouth are the latest club to have benefited from sacking their manager as they surged to a convincing win over City last week, continuing a worrying trend for managers that will only encourage chairmen to wield the axe more and more frequently. This game against Stoke should be just as winnable as they City game was, though they do have to travel to Stoke’s Britannia stadium which can be a fortress at times. Stoke need to pick up most of their points at home if they are to survive and will certainly want to get something from this game against their relegation rivals. I think Portsmouth have more quality but it may be cancelled out by Stoke’s brute force and determination.
Manchester United vs. Blackburn Rovers
Blackburn under Big Sam are a typical Big Sam team, but I don’t think Allardyce’s good record against Man Utd while in charge of Bolton will continue for Rovers today. United are on an incredible run at the moment and with Rooney coming back in while Giggs and Scholes are back in top form, they have amazing depth in their squad. I’m not sure if anyone in the league can really touch them at the moment, and Blackburn will have to come up with something very special to get anything from this fixture.
Fulham vs. West Bromwich Albion (Sun)
West Brom are still struggling to really assert themselves in games – they’ve never really adapted to top flight football. Their football is good when they are allowed to play it, but they don’t quite have the quality to mix it with most teams in the division who won’t let them play. Fulham will certainly suffocate them at Craven Cottage where there isn’t much room for anyone to play, and they have been strong at home all season, and should be confident of picking up another three points today to try and distance themselves a bit from the struggling masses.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City (Sun)
City are in a bit of a state at the moment, rolling over away to Portsmouth last week and twice letting a lead slip against Copenhagen in midweek. They don’t have anyone to provide any presence up front which means that the sterling efforts of Stephen Ireland in particular in midfield are going mostly to waste. Liverpool are still in with a slight chance of winning the title but their over dependence on Steven Gerrard, and to a lesser extent Torres, is only going to increase as the season progresses further towards its climax – especially with European matches to contend with. Having said that, they will probably still beat City, which is a shame.
Newcastle United vs. Everton (Sun)
Newcastle come up against a team in form while missing their manager who is ill in hospital, but they did pick up a good convincing win against fellow strugglers West Brom last week and will hope to take advantage of an Everton squad stretched to the limit. Injuries to Fellaini, Osman and Pienaar are compounded by suspensions for the in form Tim Cahill and Tony Hibbert mean that David Moyes small squad looks particularly threadbare. Still, they have coped admirably in recent matches with victories over Liverpool and Villa, and the form of youngsters Gosling and Rodwell mean that cover is available, with Jo also to return after being cup tied last week. It’ll be a tight encounter and Newcastle will try and disrupt Everton’s rhythm but I think Everton’s confidence should see them through.
Hull City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Mon)
These two sides have both come off the back of some great form and are now in a bit of a recession. Each will be looking to gain a bit of confidence by picking up a valuable three points here and so you can expect it to be an edgy game. Tottenham certainly have that little bit more class in their squad but if anything Hull have shown greater determination over the season and these two aspects may cancel each other out. I’m finding it very hard to pick a winner from these two sides, even though I don’t think it will be a draw. Let’s say Tottenham to sneak it, but really, I have no idea and it could just as easily go to Hull.