Chelsea visit Man United as Spurs face Saints and demons
Premier League preview: QPR aim to derail Arsenal as Wigan stare into the abyss
THE END of the season is fast approaching and with Manchester United already crowned champions and two of the three Premier League relegation places settled there might not appear to be much at stake over the final three weekends of the season. But for at least seven clubs there is still everything to play for, with European places and the final spot in the drop zone still to be decided.
This weekend's round of matches is also spiced up by a series of managerial rivalries. Several bosses are heading back to former employers and old rivalries are being renewed. And there's a Merseyside derby to look forward to.
The biggest game of the weekend is the clash between Chelsea and Manchester United on Sunday. No matter what you think of Chelsea, you can't deny that they have been through the mill this term. The Blues have played 64 games so far and have five more to go before they can stop for breath. And it's not as if their campaign is winding down to a gentle conclusion: three of their remaining games can be classified as 'big'.
There is the Europa League cup final on 15 May, the top-four shootout with Spurs next week, and before that the crunch match with Manchester United at Old Trafford. And if things go badly awry in the league, everything could hinge on the final match of the season against Everton.
If Rafa Benitez is hoping that his old adversary Sir Alex Ferguson will take his foot off the gas this weekend he is likely to be disappointed. The two managers do not have the greatest relationship thanks to their rivalry when Benitez was in charge of Liverpool, and the Spaniard knows that Ferguson will send his team out to avenge their FA Cup defeat at Chelsea's hands.
There will be a celebratory atmosphere inside the Theatre of Dreams as the champions strut their stuff in front of their adoring fans. Chelsea will be hoping that United get caught up in the moment and take their eye off the ball, but with Ferguson on the touchline it's an unlikely scenario.
Despite running on empty, Chelsea will be buoyed by their Europa League exploits and could be good value for a draw.
The significance of this game will be in some way dictated by Saturday's results and, in particular, the fortunes of Tottenham, who welcome Southampton to White Hart Lane. A slip-up by Spurs could hand Chelsea a decisive advantage in the race for the top four, while victory will keep up the pressure on Chelsea and Arsenal.
Southampton will consider themselves safe, although mathematically they could still go down, and may lack the intensity to take the game to Spurs. But it could be that Spurs' biggest enemy is themselves. It’s not just the Saints they are up against, it is their own demons. If they are to avoid another end-of-season nightmare they must show belief. Southampton old boy Gareth Bale will be crucial to their fortunes, and unless they do hit self-destruct Spurs should secure all three points.
Former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp and his relegated QPR outfit welcome Arsenal to Loftus Road on Saturday for a game that might not be plain sailing for the Gunners. It's a London derby and Rangers will want to go out with a bang. Redknapp still carries a torch for Spurs and will want to get one over on the Gunners, while QPR's doomed squad is full of big-name stars who will be looking to catch the eye of Premier League scouts and secure a summer transfer.
But Arsenal have finally found some consistency when it matters. A win would send them third in the table and greatly enhance their chances of a top-four finish.
Everton are not yet out of the European mix and if they can beat Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, which is not beyond the realms of possibility, they will add to the pressure on the three London clubs above them.
Wigan may be in the FA Cup Final but they are favourites to go down. Anything other than victory over West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns could signal the end of their stay in the top flight. Going into the weekend they are five points behind the three teams above them, although they do have a game in hand. But if the Latics drop points this weekend, a victory for any of Newcastle, Sunderland or Aston Villa (or all three) would effectively put them out of reach.
Newcastle are away at West Ham, whose boss Sam Allardyce will be lying in wait for his former employers. Aston Villa travel to Norwich, who will want to get one over on their former manager Paul Lambert, now at Villa. And on Monday Sunderland entertain Stoke.
Elsewhere this weekend mid-table Fulham play relegated Reading and second-placed Manchester City head to Swansea.