Premier League: Gameweek 25 Preview

9 Feb

Rarely do weekends of football contain such a wide array of vital fixtures, but this is one of those weekends, with significant matches affecting both ends of the Premier League table. In what could be a surprising weekend, I attempt to predict the results for each match.

Key Games

Manchester United vs. Liverpool

1-0

What is already the biggest home match of the season in any United’s fan calendar has been made even bigger. The return of Luis Suarez is sure to stoke the embers of an already fiery rivalry. The need to keep in touch with City at the top of the league, and keep them under pressure, is at the forefront of everybody’s minds at Old Trafford, and further increases the importance of this match-up, if it is even possible.  With Suarez playing a part in the goalless draw against Tottenham on Monday, he is sure to play a big role on Saturday, and could even start.

Liverpool could do with a sparkling performance from their Uruguayan talisman, as they try to bridge the gap between themselves and the European places. In addition to the return of Suarez, Gerrard is returning to full fitness and, with these two, the Liverpool first XI is looking ominously strong.

Manchester United will look towards their flying Ecuadorian, Antonio Valencia, for inspiration. He has been on fire down the right this month, and has produced some fine displays. Chicharito could start, with Ferguson conceding that he made a mistake in dropping the elusive Mexican to the bench in his post-match interview after the Chelsea match. With Nani still struggling for fitness, and doubts over Smalling and Jones; Park, Evans and Rafael are likely to keep their places in the first XI.

The much maligned atmosphere of the Theatre of Dreams is sure to be electric, but with so much at stake for both teams, the game itself could be tight. I predict a 1-0 win to Manchester United, courtesy of a Wayne Rooney goal.

Aston Villa vs. Manchester City

0-2

With Manchester United either going top of the league, or conceding even more ground, by the time City play, this will be a must-win either way. A trip to Villa Park is never easy though, and with loan signing Robbie Keane chipping in with some key goals already, taking some of the pressure off Darren Bent,  City’s defence could be in for an uncomfortable 90 minutes.

Villa are facing the league leaders at the perfect time, with City looking more susceptible than they have all season. The Touré brothers and Balotelli are still absent, and Mancini’s men have been rocked by defeats to Liverpool and Everton, although they restored order with a 3-0 demolition of Fulham, with both their key men, Silva and Aguero, performing well.

Villa are not exactly in a rich vein of form themselves, however. Losses to Newcastle and Arsenal and a home draw against QPR have spelled a miserable few weeks for the Villains. Playing on the counter could be profitable, but Agbonlahor isn’t totally fit, and his pace could be missed.

This could be a poor game, I predict City will dominate and come through unscathed with all three points.

Bolton vs. Wigan

1-1

When thinking of classic Premier League fixtures, Bolton vs. Wigan doesn’t spring to mind immediately, but make no mistake, this North-West derby is bound to be a titanic clash (debateable) with massive ramifications for the season’s relegation battle (definitely).

On paper, this is a Bolton win all day long. They have won three and drawn one of their last five games, with their last home game being that well-earned goalless draw against Arsenal. On the other hand, Wigan have drawn one and lost the rest of their last five games, and there are doubts over Hugo Rodallega’s commitment to the club.

However, in Roberto Martinez, Wigan have a canny manager, and with near enough their strongest XI available, Wigan’s heart and soul might be enough to scrape a result.

Blackburn vs. QPR

2-1

Another huge game in the relegation dogfight takes place next to Bolton, at Ewood Park. Blackburn have hovered around the drop-zone through-out this whole season, under the uncertain leadership of Steve Kean, whilst QPR have only recently become acquainted with the wrong side of the table.

Their rapid drop to the bottom level of the table resulted in the sacking of Warnock, and Mark Hughes is now attempting to steady the ship, bringing in a host of signings during January to strengthen a thin squad. One area where Rangers particularly struggled was up front, with only Heider Helguson contributing significantly, with 9 goals (Barton is next with 2). However, Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse look set to consign these woes to the trash, with both scoring on their debuts. Although Cisse is suspended, Zamora should enjoy himself against a defence who have not kept a clean sheet in 27 games and are missing Gael Givet and possibly Chris Samba.

Blackburn, however, finally have something to cheer about, with Yakubu back from suspension to spearhead their attack. The big Nigerian has scored 13 goals so far this season and will be looking to make up for lost time by getting amongst the goals on Saturday.

With both teams boasting good attacks, yet porous defences, it could be a surprisingly high-scoring game.

The Rest

Everton vs. Chelsea

0-1

Normally, this match would be talked of as a key one in the title-race, with a big possibility that Chelsea could slip up. However, this is no normal season, and Manchester won’t share the top prize. Yet, Chelsea must still work hard to gain Champions League qualification, and Everton have always proved a stiff test for the Londoners.  At home, with the inspiration of their own fans, Everton can often perform above themselves and are a tough nut to crack, as Chelsea have found out in recent years, not collecting a win in their last three visits.

But, with Saha leaving on deadline day, can Everton summon enough fire-power to slay the beast again? Nikica Jelavic will be hoping to make an immediate impact after his move from north of the border, but it could take him a few games to adapt to the different style of game in England. Chelsea will be itching to take advantage, as they recover from their humiliating collapse last Sunday against United. Cole will return, and an in form Mata will partner Sturridge and Torres up front, a potentially potent attacking three.

Torres is improving all the time, and his assist for Mata’s volley last weekend was nothing short of sublime, so, albeit controversially, I’m going to tip him to break his drought and score the only goal of the game.

Wolves vs. West Brom

1-1

Wolves have seen themselves sucked ever closer to the relegation vortex in recent weeks, and will target this game against a West Brom team on the slide as a must win. With four of their rivals for the drop playing each other this weekend, this could be a key opportunity to gain an advantage. However, it won’t be easy. Roy Hodgson’s men are well set up, and will be looking to bounce back after two losses in the last two games. Wolves may struggle to cope with the Baggies lively attack force, and have not kept a clean sheet in 21 games.

West Brom’s top scorer, Shane Long, is doubtful, but Odemwingie should play. For Wolves, a hole has been ripped in the centre of their midfield, with both Frimpong and Henry out. However, Fletcher will look to continue his goal scoring form, having already netted 9 this season.

Swansea vs. Norwich

2-0

If the pre-season predictions had come true, this match would have been billed as a 6-pointer. However, these clichéd headlines are conspicuous by their absence.

Both teams are riding high on a wave of attractive football, and this should be another rendition of crisp passing and attacking flair. Swansea have been exceptional at home this season, and with Norwich missing up to three defenders (Tierney, Whitbread and Ayala) Swansea should emerge victorious.

Sunderland vs. Arsenal

0-3

Martin O’Neill has well and truly revitalised Sunderland, and since his arrival, Sunderland have been in the top four of the form table.  Sessegnon has been on fire and Larsson has chipped in with vital assists and goals, most notably his last minute winner against Blackburn Rovers in O’Neill’s first match. O’Neill has instilled a strong spirit and a desire to fight to the end. However, this spirit will be tested to the full. After playing 2 hours of football in Thursday night’s FA Cup replay against Middlesborough, the team are sure to be exhausted. To make matters worse they come up against an Arsenal team who are entering the game on the back of a 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers. Sunderland are missing several key players such as Vaughan, Cattermole and Bendtner and so Van Persie’s clinical finishing should be the difference between the sides.

Tottenham vs. Newcastle

1-2

As Redknapp looks to put his tax-evading ordeal behind him, Spurs will be looking to cement a place in the top-4 with a win against the Magpies. (You never know, there could be a tax-free bonus in it for him if he accomplishes it). The North London outfit are often proclaimed by Sir Alex Ferguson as the team playing the best football in the league, but they face a tough ask to continue this form against a resurgent Newcastle team, who boast the twin threat of the two Dembas up front. Both Cisse and Ba scored against Villa and this goal-scoring streak is going to be hard to halt. Rafael van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon and Jermain Defoe are all doubtful for Tottenham, whilst Newcastle are missing Cabaye, Best and Tiote. With Spurs winning only two of their last 5 games, this could be a banana skin as Newcastle continue to knock at the door of the elite.

Fulham vs. Stoke

0-0

This game is likely to be ignored by many this weekend, but be prepared for a stunning game! With Fulham having no recognised strikers, Stoke’s poor away form and both only winning one of their last five games, this game is bound to confound every one and produce a classic. Except for the striking shortage at Craven Cottage, both teams are at full-strength, and Stoke’s wingers could play a key part in deciding the outcome. The most likely outcome, however,  will be the final slot on Match of the Day.

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