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It’s finally here. The game we’ve all been waiting for since the production of this season’s Premier League fixtures in this hazy pre-Olympic summer days of June. A match that may very well alter the landscape of the most popular domestic football competition on Earth.
That’s right, this weekend the eyes of the world will be trained on none other than St Mary’s for the crucial relegation six-pointer between Southampton and Reading. There’s also a match going on in Manchester on Sunday as well, apparently.
Crude jokes aside, there are similarities to be had between both fixtures, not least that the two pairings of clubs ran each other close in separate divisions all last season, and it may well a new addition for each away side which may well make the difference this time around.
The second live TV offering after the top of the table encounter at the Etihad sees a Liverpool side, no doubt ecstatic from securing a continued sentence in this season’s Europa League, travel to West Ham with no recognised first-team strikers. Brendan Rodgers must be wishing at this point that he had a £35million forward available to him. Sam Allardyce does. The wily fox has done a canny job with the Hammers this season and may accelerate his side, fresh from eight days rest after a 3-1 mauling of Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea, further up the table with another home scalp at rather generous odds considering the two sides’ position of the league table, as well as availability of personnel.
Benitez must put try and curb his club’s eager anticipation to tackle that most coveted of trophies, the Europa League, in order to concentrate on the more pressing matter in hand of overcoming Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. The Black Cats, who have their own under-fire boss in Martin O’Neill, are suffering from that most troubling of football afflictions, ascoraphobia – the fear of putting the ball in the back of the net. Only five goals have been scored in six home games and that, coupled with the goals drying up away from home for Chelsea of late, point to a tense low-scoring game.
This preview has forecasted a win for QPR in each of Harry Redknapp’s first two games in charge of the rock-bottom club – and we’ve been sorely disappointed. Well, you know what they say, third time and charms and all that. A trip to the DW Stadium is no gimme, but Wigan may have to field Dave Whelan at full-back such is their defensive selection crisis, with Figueroa and Caldwell suspended and Alcaraz and Ramis injured.
Grit and determination was on show in Harry’s previous two outings, and we all know the quality is there. If they show it, the Hoops should take advantage of problems at Wigan, who could well be back in the relegation zone with QPR by the end of this weekend.
Its a case of aesthetics versus substance at the Emirates today, and there’s no doubt which method is garnering the requisite results at this moment in time. Currently Arsenal have to use West Brom as a point of reference in terms of their increasingly desperate scramble to finish in the European places. The unrest may well continue after 4.45pm this afternoon for the Gunners supporters.
The aforementioned contrast in styles may well be applied for the simultaneous meeting taking place at the Liberty Stadium when Norwich City rock up to meet Swansea. However the difference with this clash is that both sets of fans will start the day happy, Swansea safely ensconced in mid-table, unbeaten in six matches and boasting the league’s joint-top goalscorer. The Canaries meanwhile are unbeaten in a hugely impressive eight matches and look formidable nowadays at the back.
Both teams have winnable Capital One Cup Quarter-Finals to look forward to, and may well each add a point more to their league totals today. What’s the difference betweeen Peter Crouch and Darren Bent. Nothing, they’re both toothless attackers. They also havent been missed much by their clubs, as Villa have utilised the strength and all-round prowess of Christian Benteke , whilst Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones (remember him?) have come to the fore for the Potters of recent.
The difference in this Midlands derby may well come from the back, where Stoke have excelled with Ryan Shawcross and keeper Asmir Begovic holding the highest number of clean sheets in the league. Villa’s young defence look like they have a mistake in them in every game, and that may prove telling today.
The AVB project is something that is starting to show teeth, with Spurs arriving in the top four off the back of three straight wins. With key players such as Parker, Assou-Ekotto, Kaboul and now Bale due to return from injury, the consensus seems to be that the North Londoners can only get stronger. Everton will be aiming to disrupt the momentum at the Goodison on Sunday but have become the Premier League’s draw kings of late with seven of their last ten fixtures ending in stalemate.
It may be a defeat rather than the usual draw for the Toffees on Sunday as Spurs may well show the attacking ruthlessness that the Blues have been slightly lacking of late.
The weekend ends on Monday (well not technically but you know what I mean) with Newcastle making the long-trip South from Tyneside to Thameside. Not an easy game to call this, with the Geordies returning to much-needed form having beaten Wigan comprehensively last Monday night, and Fulham losing their way somewhat of recent, their formcard reading no win in seven and three defeats in four.
However, big Brede Hangeland is back from suspension for the Cottagers and that will be a huge fillip for Martin Jol and his men. Newcastle too have their defensive talisman in Fabrizio Coloccini returning to their best, and that could point to a rather dour encounter.
No goalscorer here, methinks.
THE TOP FIVE BETS
1) QPR 87/35 PinnacleBet
2) Robin Van Persie First Goalscorer 6/1 Ladbrokes
3) Adam Le Fondre First Goalscorer 9/1 Paddy Power
4) Sunderland vs Chelsea Under 2.5 Goals 9/10 Stan James
5) West Ham 28/13 PinnacleBet
Written by Emelie Okeke
Follow him on Twitter @Emelie_Okeke
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