Will Arsenal leave Liverpool trailing in three-horse title race?
Premier League preview: Reds could end weekend fighting for the title or languishing in fifth place
IT'S another crucial weekend in the Premier League, and one that’s likely to decide whether we have a three- or four-horse title race on our hands this season.
Any one of three teams could be top of the table once the dust has settled, and there could be significant movement in the battle for fourth spot. But no team has more to lose or gain than Liverpool, who could end the weekend in contention for the title, or battling for a place in the Europa League.
There's all to play for lower down the table as well, as just six points separate bottom club Fulham and Stoke in 11th place.
Here's the best of the weekend action:
Liverpool v Arsenal
The biggest game of the weekend is the first to kick off on Saturday munchtime, with league leaders Arsenal beginning what is being billed as a "fortnight of destiny" against fourth-placed Liverpool at Anfield. Not only is the game important, it is likely to be entertaining. Arsenal's rock solid defensive duo of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will have their hands full dealing with the Reds' unstoppable strikers, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. In midfield the likes of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Phillippe Coutinho will provide a stern test for the Gunners. Much will depend on Mikel Arteta, who will have to anchor the Gunners in the absence of Mathieu Flamini and, probably, Jack Wilshere. Liverpool, though, do look vulnerable at the back, and with several key defenders out injured, Olivier Giroud will hope to prosper. It's hard one to call, with all three results a possibility. Predicting a draw may sound like a cop-out, but it is not an unlikely scenario.
Chelsea v Newcastle
Fresh from his triumph at Man City, Jose Mourinho will unleash his "little horse" on Newcastle on Saturday. The Magpies come to the capital in low spirits after losing Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint Germain in January, and then suffering a derby humiliation at the hands of Sunderland last weekend. On the plus side Joe Kinnear has left the club, but that is unlikely to make much of a difference at Stamford Bridge. The City result could prove to be a key moment in Mourinho's second coming at the Bridge. Suddenly it appears that the Blues really do believe they can win the title. Everything is rosy for Chelsea at the moment; they are likely to win this one and if Arsenal slip up they will leapfrog them in the table.
Norwich v Man City
This is an intriguing fixture for Man City, whose aura of invincibility evaporated along with their perfect home record against Chelsea on Monday night. Will opponents now learn from Mourinho's tactical masterclass that undid City? And will City's old frailties away from home suddenly re-emerge after being brought back down to earth? Manuel Pellegrini will want to ensure the answer to the second question is "no", and he is lucky that City's opponents this weekend are Norwich. The Canaries are not to be taken lightly, but their home form is distinctly average (won four, drawn four, lost four) and the visitors should have what it takes to overwhelm them.
Tottenham v Everton
This game, which pits Spurs in sixth against fifth-placed Everton, is likely to be hugely significant in the race for Europe. The two teams are separated by a point and, depending on events at Anfield on Saturday, the winners could find themselves either level on points with, or even above, Liverpool in the table on Sunday evening. Everton recovered well from their Merseyside derby thrashing and the loss of talismanic striker Romelu Lukaku to a long-term ankle injury and came from a goal behind to beat Aston Villa last weekend. This will be a sterner test for Roberto Martinez's side, and it will be interesting to see how they approach the game. Will they go to win, or to avoid losing? As for Spurs, they have only had one home game in the last four weeks and that ended with a 5-1 thrashing by Man City. Tim Sherwood will want to improve on that performance, but a draw could well be the most likely outcome here.
Man Utd v Fulham
Sunday's game at Old Trafford will be intriguing. United lost to Stoke last time out and since then defender Nemanja Vidic has announced he will be leaving Old Trafford in the summer. Will David Moyes make a statement by leaving him out of the side against the Premier League's bottom club? Fulham of course are in wretched form, and in danger of parting ways with their second manager this season. However, boss Rene Muelensteen will relish the challenge of taking on United, where he was first team coach for five years. It's been a terrible season for new United boss Moyes, but if Muelensteen can mastermind a victory over his old employers, Moyes's misery would reach an all-time low. Defeat at home to the division's bottom club is unthinkable, isn't it?
Swansea v Cardiff
There is the small matter of the Welsh derby on Saturday evening, with two new managers in the dugouts – although Swansea's new boss Garry Monk could of course decide to play. How Swansea react to the sacking of Michael Laudrup remains to be seen, but the emotion will only add to the fire and brimstone that the fixture produces. A win for Cardiff would take them level on points with Swansea, and with both sides in danger of relegation the stakes are high.
The weekend's other fixtures:
Aston Villa v West Ham
Crystal Palace v West Brom
Southampton v Stoke
Sunderland v Hull