Premier League preview
The Manchester derby kicks things off this weekend as City aim to close on fourth while United target salvaging the defence of their crown.
By James Dall
Last Updated: 17/04/10 12:11pm
The Manchester derby between City and United kicks things off this weekend as the former aim to close on fourth place while the latter target salvaging the defence of their Premier League crown.
Elsewhere, division leaders Chelsea make the short trip to Tottenham, struggling Hull City visit Birmingham City, Burnley are seeking back-to-back successes against Sunderland, Arsenal take on Wigan while Wolves and Bolton go in search of vital points at Fulham and Stoke respectively.
Live on Sky Sports HD1 and also in 3D is Manchester City against Manchester United on Saturday lunchtime. Roberto Mancini's men occupy the much-coveted final UEFA Champions league berth, but Spurs' midweek victory over Arsenal means their lead is just a point. City are looking for a fourth straight victory in the league while they will be eyeing revenge after this campaign's earlier encounter between the two city rivals saw United snatch a win in the dying moments. For United, Arsenal's loss did them a favour as they remain in second place, but still four points behind Chelsea with as many games remaining. Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted the title is slipping away, but there can be no doubt that he will demand his players are ready to pounce should Chelsea implode.
Chelsea can take a giant stride towards etching their name on the Premier League trophy for the first time since 2006 if they beat Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening. But the Blues will be wary of Spurs, who did them a favour by stunning Arsenal on Wednesday to all-but make the title a two-house race. For Harry Redknapp's Tottenham, this is another massive game at White Hart Lane as they look to capitalise on any potential slip-ups from City earlier in the day, with fourth spot now their sole focus after their surprise FA Cup semi-final exit. Chelsea have won their last four games on the bounce but Spurs' home record is impressive, with the club having conceded just 11 goals on their own soil.
Hull City's loss to relegation rivals Burnley last weekend has left them 19th in the table, although they do boast a game in hand over their fellow strugglers. Iain Dowie's men are in action against Birmingham City, who, while lying ninth in the standings, have not win in six matches. Despite Birmingham's form in the second half of the term, St Andrews remains a tough ground to visit. Even if Hull triumph, they cannot finish the weekend outside of the drop zone. However, a positive result in the Midlands would set them up nicely for their game in hand which takes place on Wednesday against Aston Villa.
Recent conquerors of Hull, Burnley, go head-to-head with Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. The Clarets' seemingly unlikely success at the KC Stadium last weekend has reignited all-but extinguished hopes of survival. The club lie 18th in the standings, four points behind West Ham. Burnley have managed consecutive league victories just once this season, back in August, and therein lies the size of the task for manager Brian Laws. Sunderland are still not mathematically safe, but it would take something extraordinary to now send them down, with the club 13th and 11 points above the bottom three. Black Cats boss Steve Bruce will look to return to winning ways, such has been their inconsistency this campaign.
Bolton Wanderers were arguably unfortunate not to come away from Tuesday's trip to Stamford Bridge with something to show for their efforts. They next face Stoke City, a side looking to finish higher than last season's excellent achievement of 12th. With Tony Pulis' charges currently 10th, evidence of progression is tangible. Bolton are 15th in the division with their run of four straight losses leaving them five points above the relegation places. Owen Coyle will be more than aware that the Britannia Stadium factor makes this an even trickier fixture on top of the Potters' form of just one loss in six fixtures.
Wolverhampton Wanderers sit a place and a point higher than Bolton in the table, and Mick McCarthy's men take on Fulham at Craven Cottage this weekend. Wolves will be hopeful of taking advantage of a potentially distracted Fulham outfit, with Roy Hodgson's team set to take on Hamburg in first leg of their Europa League semi-final on Thursday. Wolves have lost just once in their previous six matches while managing a return of nine points from those games. A continuation of such form until the end of the season will surely ensure the Midlands club remain in the top flight.
In-form pair Blackburn Rovers and Everton lock horns at Ewood Park. Combined, the duo are impressively unbeaten in 12 league matches. Everton were in midweek action and came away from Villa Park with a draw to leave them four points behind seventh-placed Aston Villa. Blackburn head into the game off their dogged 0-0 stalemate with United, and they will be aiming to continue their excellent home record. Indeed, Sam Allardyce's charges have not lost in Lancashire since December.
On Sunday, Wigan Athletic welcome Arsenal to the DW Stadium, in a game that can be seen live on Sky Sports HD1. After Wednesday's loss at Spurs, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger has conceded his men are now out of the title race, having slipped six points behind the pace-setters with four games left to play. Finishing what has been another season of progress, but without deliverance, on a high is the Gunners' next target, with second place still realistically achievable. Wigan, meanwhile, achieved a point against Portsmouth which edged them closer to safety. But five points above the drop zone will still feel all too close for manager Roberto Martinez, who will hope that his charges can stun Arsenal like they did Chelsea on their home turf.
Sky Sports HD1 then rounds off the weekend with coverage of Portsmouth's clash against Aston Villa. A much-changed Pompey side drew at Wigan on Wednesday off the back of the club's remarkable FA Cup semi-final victory. Now the Portsmouth players, those that remain fit, are playing for a place in the starting XI at Wembley. Villa, meanwhile, are seeking just a fifth win in 16 league matches, with their second-half-of-the-season decline all too familiar for their supporters.