Manchester United vs. Liverpool
I have to say, I was hugely impressed with Liverpool in midweek in their victory over Madrid. The tempo and confidence with which they played just took the Spanish side out of the match completely, and I think it will take a similar approach for them to overcome United today. However, after those exertions in midweek, I don’t know if Liverpool could pull off a repeat performance, even if Rafa would let them try – which I doubt. United had their critics despite a win against Milan, but I don’t think they every really got out of 2nd or 3rd gear. They will know that, to an extent, the pressure is off for this one, but they will still want to show up their closest rivals. So often these games fizzle out into draws, but I think United might sneak this and burst Liverpool’s bubble.
Arsenal vs. Blackburn Rovers
Arsenal will be tired but delighted by their midweek penalty-triumph, and with the likes of Eduardo and Theo Walcott coming back into the side, they’ll be high on confidence and spirit. Having said that, so will Blackburn after they turned the game round against Fulham in midweek and picked up an extremely valuable away win. They’ll want to try and frustrate Arsenal and exacerbate the Gunners’ recent scoring troubles, but with Arshavin and Walcott playing with relatively fresh legs, I think Arsenal will eventually get the breakthrough and take a fairly comfortable win.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Fulham
Fulham’s away form has been pretty woeful this season, with their performances at Craven Cottage doing most of the work in elevating them to a good position, but after a disappointing home defeat to Rovers in midweek, their confidence will have taken a knock. Bolton are the epitome of a solid side. They’re big and strong, but they can play a bit as well, nothing fancy, but enough to get the job done. They’ll look to force home their home advantage against Fulham and I can see them winning it. However, if Fulham have the mental toughness to bounce back from their disappointment they too could sneak the three points.
Everton vs. Stoke City
Somehow Everton just keep going and going this season, the FA Cup win against Middlesbrough at the weekend epitomising their fighting spirit and resilience. Their home form has been dramatically improved in the latter half of the season too, and with Louis Saha bang in form and maybe ready to start they should have a bit more firepower up top. Stoke have been good at home but have struggled to replicate that form away from the Britannia, and face a tough challenge at Goodison. I imagine they’ll try and stop Everton playing with much pressing and a physical performance, but the way this Everton team keep bouncing back, I’m not sure that’ll be enough.
Hull City vs. Newcastle United
Newcastle’s run in is perhaps a little more daunting than most of their fellow relegation battlers and so they will know that they have to try and get a win from Hull to ease their burden. They may be boosted by the return of Michael Owen from yet another injury, but Hull will also have gained a lot of confidence after finally reverting to winning ways last week. Phil Brown will know he has to keep his players confidence up and another win or two should see them safe, and they won’t get a better chance than against a toiling Magpies side today. As with all six-pointers there is a very real threat of a rather useless draw, but I think if anyone will get the win they need, it’ll be Hull.
Middlesbrough vs. Portsmouth
‘Boro gave everything they had against Everton last week, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough for them to reach the semi-finals. However, Southgate will doubtless be encouraged by the performance and if he can inspire his team to play with such intensity again they will be able to snatch the couple of wins that could keep them up. Pompey are a side in trouble too, and they will see this as the ideal opportunity to put some distance behind them and the bottom two and hopefully jump above that dreaded dotted red line. Dave Nugent has finally been given a decent chance and he has rewarded them with some good performances but away at the Riverside they might need a little bit more than that.
Sunderland Athletic vs. Wigan Athletic
Sunderland have been looking reasonably good of late, and they very nearly beat Tottenham last time out. Wigan on the other hand, are starting to falter at just the wrong time. There’s just a bit less quality and assuredness about them and whereas before they had top quality like Heskey and Palacios to call on, they are now struggling a bit for inspiration. I think the Lactics are just about safe though, maybe one more win and a draw or two would seal the deal for them but I don’t think it will happen for them today; if anything Sunderland may step closer to survival with a win that would take them level with Wigan on 35 points.
Chelsea vs. Manchester City (Sun)
Both these clubs will be thrilled with their European exploits in midweek, but while City have to come back to ensuring their survival, Chelsea still feel that they have a title to chase. I don’t think Chelsea really have a hope, but since Hiddink has come in they’ve certainly looked more likely to keep the pressure on United until the end. City have been pretty poor away from Eastlands this season though, and though they’ll be high on confidence after their midweek win, they might suffer physically, whereas Chelsea have had a day longer to recover. In the end, Chelsea should be too good for City, and it’ll either be a strolling win for them, or a really tough battling one.
Aston Villa vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Sun)
Villa have stuttered badly in recent weeks, crashing out of the UEFA Cup with an understrength side and then slipping up in the league regardless. O’Neill’s men have had another chance to rest up and refresh this week though and they will probably need to be at tip top against a Spurs side that have been good in recent weeks since narrowly missing out on the Carling Cup. Villa have been better away from home, but I think they’ll play a good tempo at home tomorrow and if all goes to plan could take Spurs apart. However, their luck is failing them slightly and with a rampant Robbie Keane on the loose, this one could have goals.
West Ham United vs. West Bromwich Albion (Mon)
What a turn-around West Ham have had this season, struggling badly in the early part of the season, Zola was given a chance and has repaid the faith, leading them to seventh in the league. They have a great spirit there and the likes of Scott Parker provide real quality in their midst too. West Brom have had a pretty abject season. You must commend them for persisting with their style of football, but at the end of the day it seems that they just aren’t good enough to play that way at this level. It should be pleasant on the eye at least this match though, because the Hammers, while hardworking, have played some really nice stuff this season too. Home win.