Can Liverpool take a big step towards the title at Norwich?
Premier League preview: Reds set to take another three points as Arsenal face cup dress rehearsal
THE Premier League's Easter programme may not be as hectic as it is around Christmas, but with the season approaching a thrilling climax there is no doubt that this weekend's games are critical for teams at the top and bottom of the table.
Liverpool are now firm favourites to win their first title for 24 years after beating Man City on Sunday and then watching as the Citizens could only draw with Sunderland on Wednesday. That second result is significant as it means Liverpool can now afford to draw with second-placed Chelsea in their match at the end of the month, and still go on to glory.
Before that Liverpool must face Norwich, who are in dire straits at the bottom of the table, and their clash is one of several massive games to look forward to.
Here's the best of the Easter weekend action:
Norwich v Liverpool
The Liverpool juggernaut seems to be unstoppable at the moment, and it would be a massive shock if their title surge was derailed by lowly Norwich, who now look like favourites for the drop. The Reds saw off Man City on Sunday and the title is within their grasp. However, it’s not the time for complacency, as Steven Gerrard forcefully pointed out after the game at Anfield, and all is not rosy for the Reds. They will be without suspended Jordan Henderson and possibly Daniel Sturridge, who has a slight hamstring injury. Brendan Rodgers must decide whether to risk the striker at Carrow Road or wrap him in cotton wool ahead of the Chelsea match a week later. As for the Canaries, with games against Liverpool, Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal to end the season they have little option but to throw caution to the wind. They may get more change out of United and Arsenal than they do out of Liverpool.
Chelsea v Sunderland
Another match that pits title challenger against relegation candidate. This game takes place on Saturday, meaning that Liverpool will know the outcome of this one before they take on Norwich. Anything other than a home win would be greeted with hysteria in the red half of Liverpool and mean it is time to start tying red ribbons to the Premier League trophy. However, Jose Mourinho is the expert party pooper and although he has consistently written off his side's chances of winning the title he knows victory over Sunderland followed by a win at Anfield would all but secure another league triumph for the Blues. But with a Champions League semi-final and the Liverpool match coming up, should he rest any of his key players? And who will he play up front this week? The game will also see Black Cats manager Gus Poyet return to his old stamping ground, and with Sunderland sitting bottom of the table he will whip his players into a frenzy. His side got a draw at the Etihad on Wednesday, so why not here?
Man City v West Brom
City do not play until Monday, and in all likelihood this game will have more significance for West Brom than it does for Man City. If Chelsea and Liverpool both win then it would leave City trailing in third with little chance of overhauling both of them to claim the title. Of course, if one or other of them drop points then Manuel Pellegrini's ears will prick up and he will try to put some wind back into the City sails, which were curiously limp against Sunderland. West Brom are only three points above the relegation zone and have five games to save themselves. Their recent habit of racing into early leads before throwing them away will have to stop if they are to survive, but defeat here will not spell disaster, which is fortunate because that is the most likely outcomes.
Hull v Arsenal
The Gunners must be thanking their lucky stars after seeing Crystal Palace stun Everton at Goodison Park to hand Arsenal the initiative in the race for fourth place. The tussle for Champions League football means that this match, a preview of next month's FA Cup final, will be of more importance than the Wembley showdown as far as some fans (accountants, probably) are concerned. Arsene Wenger abandoned his usual policy of putting trust in youngsters against West Ham on Tuesday and it paid off, so he may choose to extend his new found tactic of putting faith in experience against Hull. The Gunners may be in the box seat when it comes to Europe, but defeat or a draw here would be potentially disastrous for both their league and cup hopes. It will be interesting to see if Hull, who look safe for another season in the top flight, decide to keep their powder dry ahead of the cup final and rest some of their key players.
Everton v Man Utd
Just as the Toffees appeared to have the world at their feet it all started to go wrong. Defeat to Crystal Palace means that Everton have relinquished fourth place to the Gunners and now they must contend with the return of their old manager David Moyes and his misfiring Man United team. A few weeks ago when United's season had hit rock bottom and Everton were flying the Goodison Park faithful would have relished a visit from Moyes, Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini. That might not be the case any more. United have had a week off and, as their fans will be quick to point out, also boast the best away record in the division. It's a tough one to call, and the result could hinge on whether Rooney is fit and how Everton respond to the setback against Palace.
Tottenham v Fulham
As London derbies go this may not be the most glamorous, but for Fulham fans at the moment every game is a proverbial cup final. Victory for the Cottagers would lift them out of the bottom three and put them level on points with Swansea and West Brom, for a few hours at least. Once again the great escape could be on. Spurs have won only two of their last eight games under madcap manager Tim Sherwood, whose approach on and off the pitch makes Felix Magath look like a Confucian monk. A home win looks the most likely outcome, but Fulham have got some momentum so don't rule out a surprise.
The other Easter fixtures:
SATURDAY Aston Villa v Southampton
Cardiff v Stoke
Newcastle v Swansea
West Ham v Crystal Palace