Premier League preview
Manchester United take on Chelsea in a title showdown while the relegation battle continues.
By James Riach
Last Updated: 07/05/11 3:09pm
It is crunch time in the Premier League this weekend as title contenders Manchester United and Chelsea meet at Old Trafford.
A few weeks ago this tie was expected to be a mere dead rubber, an intriguing contest but with little bearing on who will lift the trophy at the end of the season.
Now, however, Chelsea can go top of the table with a win as they are currently just three points behind United with the same goal difference. A title showdown is sure to whet the appetite and you can watch it all on Sunday live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 4pm.
At the other end it really is a desperate situation for West Ham who, with three games to go, need a victory over Blackburn to claw themselves closer to safety.
Fellow relegation candidates Blackpool and Wigan both have tricky away fixtures, while Wolves host West Brom in a Black Country derby.
Elsewhere, Arsenal go to Stoke where there should be a conflict in styles while Manchester City face a trip to Everton and Newcastle host Birmingham.
Manchester United's slip-up at Arsenal last week has opened the door for champions Chelsea and, for the neutral, it sets up a fascinating encounter on Sunday. It may not technically be a 'winner-takes-all' clash but if one side can take all three points on Sunday it would no doubt put them in pole position for the title. In April last year the Blues emerged victorious at Old Trafford with Joe Cole and Didier Drogba providing the telling efforts, and although United have a fine home record this season, the fact that Carlo Ancelotti has seen his team give themselves a fighting chance will be enough for real encouragement.
It is equally as tight at the other end of the division and the bottom four know it is time to pull out all the stops to remain in the top flight next term. West Ham are in dire straits and sit three points adrift of safety ahead of their match with Blackburn at Upton Park. Reports suggest that David Gold and David Sullivan have already lined up potential replacements for Avram Grant, who has endured a torrid campaign with some below-par performances. The Israeli coach will be desperate for a victory over Rovers who are not quite assured of safety yet - Steve Kean's men in 16th and just three points above the drop zone.
Blackpool have it all to do if they are to stay in the Premier League and the Seasiders face an uphill struggle to pick up a result at Tottenham. Spurs have been off the boil of late and their busy campaign seems to be finally catching up with them, as Harry Redknapp's charges are in danger of finishing in sixth behind Liverpool, who overtook them last weekend. Blackpool, meanwhile, sit just outside the relegation zone but only on goal difference and defeat in North London would surely see them slip into the bottom three.
Wolves need to find some form and quickly, as the 19th-placed outfit have fallen out of form at just the wrong time. A local derby against West Brom may be the perfect opportunity to bounce back, but with the Baggies sitting comfortably in mid-table, all the pressure will be on the home side at Molineux. You can keep up with the action on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 11.30am on Sunday, and Wolves will have the benefit of seeing their relegation rivals play the previous day - although they could potentially fall to the foot of the table before their match.
The final side in the bottom three are Wigan Athletic and Roberto Martinez's men take on Aston Villa. The Latics are capable of producing some fine displays on occasions but they have been too few and far between this term, meaning they are in real danger of falling back to the Championship. Yet there is quality in Wigan's ranks and if Charles N'Zogbia can continue his hot streak then they certainly have a chance against a Villa outfit who have their weaknesses. It has been a difficult few months for the Midlands side and Gary McAllister will remain in charge in the absence of Gerard Houllier.
Birmingham are not out of the woods but will fancy their chances of survival ahead of a game at Newcastle. The Magpies seem to have one eye on their summer holidays and produced a dismal performance against Liverpool last time out, going down 3-0. The Blues, meanwhile, are four points above Wigan and a victory at St James' Park would surely assure safety, but a loss would once more crank the pressure up on Alex McLeish, who masterminded Carling Cup glory earlier in the year.
A place in next season's UEFA Champions League was the target at the beginning of the campaign for Roberto Mancini and Manchester City, and that goal has almost been accomplished. The strength of City's squad has told at the business end but they will be wary of a dangerous Everton side when they lock horns at Goodison Park. City can now focus on catching Arsenal in third while the Toffees, after a disastrous start, are currently in seventh.
The other game that comprises a triple bill of action on Sky Sports 1 this Sunday is Arsenal's clash at Stoke. The Gunners may be out of the title race but are not giving up the fight just yet, as proved by their win over United. Arsene Wenger will want to hold onto third place with Manchester City hot on their heels behind them, as he now looks to build for next season. FA Cup finalists Stoke will no doubt have that Wembley date at the back of their minds, and it could be interesting to see whether any players are wary of picking up knocks.
Finally, Sunderland and Bolton go head-to-head at the Reebok, although both teams have mainly pride to play for. The Black Cats' woeful effort against Fulham epitomised a terrible few months while the Trotters are still reeling from their FA Cup rout at the hands of Stoke. These games can go one of either two ways - it could be an entertaining clash with neither side too concerned about the repercussions, or perhaps a lethargic affair with the result immaterial.