The final chapter of the season; all previous results are disregarded and the form guide goes out of the window. Average players will play of of their skin, world beaters will miss straight forward chances, accomplished professionals will make mistakes; the last two games of the season will certainly make for an entertaining couple of weeks (at least for those of us with nothing to play for).
Things are about to move up a notch or two on the excitement front (or down in depression depending on your teams results) this bank holiday weekend as the Premier League heads into this season’s close.
Results in recent weeks have made for an interesting conclusion to the current campaign, with the title, European places and Premier league survival all still hanging in the balance. The two Manchester teams are vying for the title and both play on Sunday, Champions League hopefuls Arsenal host Norwich in the only Premier League game to be played today, whilst Newcastle and Tottenham both look to pick up points on Sunday.
And at the other end of the table, Villa and Bolton have crucial games tomorrow, and an exciting prospect awaits for us on Monday between survival competitors when Wigan make the short trip to Ewood Park to play Blackburn Rovers.
It will be difficult to call given the desperate circumstances for some teams, and in the past, unbelievable escapes and wins have seen raptuous responses from managers, player and fans alike.
Arsenal vs. Norwich
The Gunners have all but cemented their Champions League qualification for next season, but should Chelsea win the Champions League at the end of May, the Premier League loses the 4th qualification spot. So a win at Norwich will be all about maintaining their hold on that illustrious 3rd position in the League.
Norwich on the other hand have nothing to play for but professional pride, having confirmed their Premiership status some weeks ago after an outstanding season under Paul Lambert.
The record books are certainly against Norwich as the side have not beaten Arsenal since way back in 1992. However, they can take some heart from their impressive display earlier in the season in a game that Arsenal edged; a 2-1 away win at Carrow Road secured the points and snatching glory from the Canaries.
Given the circumstances and the undoubted threat of Player of the Year, RVP, I’ll say that Arsenal should pick up all 3 points. Home win: 3-1 and Van Persie to score a brace.
Newcastle vs. Manchester City
Mancini has masterminded an impressive comeback to throw the title on its head as we go into the last two games of the season; allied of course to some profligate United defending against Everton and an unexpected defeat at Wigan. But this game away to Newcastle poses a massive hurdle for City to overcome as the Magpies look to claim a Champions League spot. Alan Pardew’s side have been a revelation this season and he has engineered wins over some of the league’s top clubs; however, he was unable to overcome a rampant City side back in 2011 on Boxing Day with the title contenders coming out on top in a 3-1 win.
I think Newcastle will make it extremely difficult for City, assuming their defence doesn’t have another nightmare as it did against Wigan recently. I see goals in this one, with the attacking threats of Tevez and Aguero for City countered by Ben Arfa and Cisse for the Magpies. However, Manchester City’s greater defensive capabilities will overcome Newcastle.
Away win: 2-1 to City.
Aston Villa vs. Tottenham
It would seem that Tottenham have been the creators of their own downfall this season. Prior to Christmas it seemed that Spurs were in a position to seriously challenge for the title, but now, due to a downturn in form, their Champions League aspirations may just slip away from them. Villa on the other hand have been very poor all season by any standards, despite the obvious talent at the club.
The Villians are yet to confirm their survival in the league, however barring a miracle by the other struggling teams around them, it seems they may just scrape through. Alex McLeish though will still want to get a positive result rather than rely on the other teams below them to drop points.
Given the poor performances of both sides lately, but the obvious overall superior quality of Redknapp’s side, I’m going to go for a scrappy 1-0 win in favour of the London outfit.
Bolton vs. West Brom
This is a massive game for Bolton Wanderers. This might be stating the obvious, but anything less than three points at the Reebok tomorrow afternoon would probably doom them to life in the Championship next season. West Brom, another of the mid-table sides with nothing left to play for, on the other hand can relax in this game.
After a disappointing 4-1 loss against Spurs in mid-week, Coyle will be hoping for a change in fortunes against the Baggies, who themselves may want to say goodbye to England bound manager Roy Hodgson in style. This is as good a chance as any for Bolton to pick up some points.
I do fancy Bolton to pull something out of the bag(gies) here. 2-1 to the Wanderers.
Fulham vs. Sunderland
One of the games this weekend that virtually means nothing in terms of the league. However, it may still make for an entertaining watch. With both teams relatively free of any League pressures, this may allow for an open and enjoyable game.
Despite a drop off in goal-scoring of late, Pogrebnyak still poses a great threat to opposition defences and it will be a challenge for the Sunderland back line to keep him quiet this weekend. Points were shared in the reverse fixture in November and I wouldn’t bet against the same thing happening again.
2-2 draw, in an entertainingly open game at Craven Cottage.
QPR vs. Stoke
Despare times for Mark Hughes and his team. This relegation battle would certainly not be the hoped for scenario of the QPR board’s four year plan.
Queens Park Rangers welcome Stoke to Loftus Road, according to statistics, usually a tough side to score against. Not welcome news for the R’s. QPR currently lie in 17th place, thanks only to a superior goal difference over Bolton, so picking up points against Tony Pulis’ side this weekend is imperative.
Despite the club’s inexperience in relegation battles in the Premier League, a number of players and certainly the manager will be accustomed to survival fights in their previous clubs, so I have to back QPR to survive the drop this time round.
Cisse to bag a brace in a 2-1 win for the R’s.
Wolves vs. Everton
Hopefully yhis is as easy a prediction as I will make today. Everton, one of the current in-form sides in the league travel to the West Midlands to face Wolves, already a relegated and seemingly down trodden team who have yet to win a game under the unfortunate Terry Connor. However, some consolation must be taken from the fight back against Swansea to earn a point after being behind by 3 goals in the first half.
Everton should run away with this one at the Molyneux. The record books don’t support Wolves’ hopes of a win against the Toffees, as in 7 meetings between the two clubs in the Premier League, Wolves have only come away with a win on the one occasion.
The form of Jelavic, Fellaini and co. will surely be too much for an under fire Wolves defence. I’m plumping for a 2-0 win for the Blues with Jelavic to add to his phenomenal goal tally.
Manchester United vs. Swansea
It is a must win for Sir Alex Ferguson, or effectively they have handed their local rivals the title. However, Swansea, touted the Barcelona of the Premier League, will not be an easy side to overcome; although it would seem that Manchester United do have an easier task on their hands than City.
Brendan Rogers has been celebrated widely for what he has done at the Welsh club this season and a result against reigning champions United would surely be the icing on the cake for the club. United are not in a good way at this moment in time, but the experience of Sir Alex’s squad should see them remain in contention at least going into the last game of the season.
It took only a single goal for United to pick up all three points at Swansea’s home grounf in November, but with United’s recent defensive frialties, they may need more than this to overcome a stubborn Swansea outfit. But experience overcomes enthusiasm in this instance, and I will go for a 3-1 win for the Red Devils to keep the pressure on Mancini’s side.
There is also the small matter of the FA Cup Final today; I’m plumping (hoping) for a Chelsea win. COYB; never thought I’d be chanting that to Chelsea.
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