Premier League preview
Six top-flight matches take place this weekend, including Hull City's crunch game with Burnley and Manchester United's trip to Blackburn.
By James Dall
Last Updated: 10/04/10 12:17pm
Six matches from England's top flight take place this weekend, including Hull City's crunch game with Burnley and champions Manchester United's trip to Blackburn Rovers.
Elsewhere, relegation candidates West Ham United tackle Sunderland at home, fourth-placed Manchester City meet Birmingham City, Liverpool take on Fulham at Anfield, while Wolves face Stoke.
Just two fixtures are scheduled for Saturday, with Hull City's clash against Burnley arguably the pick of the pair. If ever there was a relegation six-pointer, this is surely it. Both the Tigers and the Clarets sit in the drop zone with three points separating the duo. Hull, who lie a place higher than their opponents in 18th, do at least boast a game in hand. Both clubs have endured a change in manager this season, with Iain Dowie now Hull's football management consultant while Brian Laws at least has the official title of 'boss'. Both coaches have one win apiece to their names since taking over, although Laws has had 11 more matches in charge to prove himself. Hull look favourites, such has been their decent home form this campaign, while Burnley are likely to be frail in confidence following their 6-1 mauling against City last time out.
West Ham United go head-to-head with Sunderland aiming to build on their impressive point gained at Everton. The spirit and character demonstrated by the Hammers on Merseyside did much to ease the pressure on manager Gianfranco Zola, who sees his side just one point above the bottom three. That point gained halted a run of six straight losses, although they have not won since February. Sunderland's confidence should be sky high after they stunned Tottenham last weekend to make it three triumphs from six games. Reaching 40 points will likely be Bruce's next target, with his team currently two short of that apparently magic total. Furthermore, as to highlight the club's inconsistency this term, the Black Cats are eyeing their first set of back-to-back league wins of the 2009/10 campaign. As an aside, victory for West Ham or Hull in Saturday's other match would confirm Portsmouth's relegation to the Championship.
On Sunday, Sky Sports 1 & HD1 brings you live coverage of Manchester United's visit to North West neighbours Blackburn Rovers. The Red Devils head into the game having suffered consecutive blows. Last weekend they were defeated 2-1 by title rivals Chelsea, who took their place in pole position, before on Wednesday the club beat Bayern Munich but exited the UEFA Champions League on the away goals rule. With Chelsea in FA Cup action, this game presents the chance to reclaim top spot. Sir Alex Ferguson will be wary of Rovers though, with Sam Allardyce's charges in decent form. Rovers are unbeaten in their last four fixtures and have their sights set on a top-half finish. Furthermore, their home form has been excellent, with the club losing only one of their last 15 games at Ewood Park.
Wolverhampton Wanderers take on Stoke City at Molineux at midday on Sunday. Wolves' four-match unbeaten run came to an end at Arsenal although there were plenty of positives to take from the defeat for boss Mick McCarthy. Wolves are 15th in the division with five points the gap between them and 18th place. Stoke, meanwhile, have recovered from a mini slump after stringing together back-to-back victories. Wolves will be without midfielder Karl Henry after they opted against appealing over his red card at Emirates Stadium, while Stoke striker James Beattie is expected to remain on the sidelines as he continues to struggle with a knee injury.
Liverpool welcome Fulham to Anfield, off the back of their respective Europa League successes on Thursday as both sides progressed to the semi-finals. The games are fast running out for Rafa Benitez's men to claim fourth position, with the club currently sixth in the table and four points behind Manchester City, who have a game in hand. Liverpool's two points dropped at Birmingham last time out was the latest in a long list of league blows this season. A repeat of such a stutter against Fulham could be critical. The Cottagers ended a spell of three successive losses with their scalp of Wigan and finishing in the top half is Roy Hodgson's likely goal.
Lastly, Manchester City lock horns with Birmingham City live on Sky Sports HD1 & 1. City are currently in pole position to claim the final Champions League berth after they took full advantage of Spurs' slip-up in the previous round of fixtures. Victory for Roberto Mancini's men would put a four-point gap between them and Tottenham with five matches remaining. Birmingham have failed to win any of their last five games although they still occupy ninth place, such has been their impressive season, while manager Alex McLeish this week branded allegations of disharmony in the dressing room as "rubbish". Furthermore, Birmingham will be without key player Joe Hart, as the on-loan goalkeeper is prohibited to play against his parent club.