Shaun Annette previews the weekend fixtures...
Reading picked up their first win of the season when they faced Everton back in November, coming from being, as they so often do, to beat the Toffees 2-1. Back then, the Royals looked like relegation certainties. However after picking up 13 points from a possible 15 around January, they managed to briefly pull themselves out of the relegation positions. The R’s are now back in the relegation zone after back to back league defeats, but are just one point away from safety.
Everton’s hopes of a Champions League spot have all but been extinguished after picking up just one point in their last three games, leaving David Moyes’ side seven points behind Chelsea in fourth.
On their last visit to Goodison Park, Reading, then still in the Championship, caused a bit of an upset by winning 1-0 in an FA Cup tie in 2011.
United look destined for the title this season and find themselves 12 points clear with 11 games to go in the season. However, as shown against Everton a few weeks ago, Sir Alex Ferguson will be taking nothing for granted until mathematically they can’t be caught, but with one eye their Champions League second leg against Real Madrid on Tuesday, will he rest a few star players
Norwich caused a shock earlier in the season when they beat United 1-0 at Carrow Road. However, the Canaries will cause an even bigger shock if they grab all three points at Old Trafford – a ground they haven’t recorded a victory at for 24 years.
After seeing his side cruise past Middlesbrough in the FA Cup in midweek, Rafa Benitez unleashed an incredible barrage of frustration towards the club’s owners and supporters in his post-match interview. The pressure will now be greater than ever on the Spaniard to get results, although he admitted he is unlikely to be at the club past the end of the current season.
Spurs replaced Chelsea in third position last week and the Blues now only have a two point gap to Arsenal, who lies in fifth place.
After going eight games without a win, West Brom picked up back-to-back wins against Liverpool and Sunderland to move the Baggies back up the table into eighth spot.
The Baggies have won the last two clashes between these sides, but it is Chelsea who have historically dominated this fixture, winning the 15 previous contests.
QPR are running out of opportunities to drag themselves out of a very precarious position at the foot of the Premier League table – the Hoops are seven points adrift of safety. Redknapp will no doubt view this as a ‘must-win game’ if QPR are to have a chance of staying up.
Southampton have managed to stay out of the relegation zone for an elongated period now, however, while unlikely that they could slip into it this weekend, Mauricio Pochettino could become very nervous should his side lose to QPR.
In what is billed to be a long ball battle, Tony Pulis’ Stoke take on Sam Allardyce’s West Ham at the Britannia Stadium.
The two sides played out a 1-1 draw at Upton Park earlier in the season, with Joey O’Brien equalising for West Ham after Jonathan Walters had put Stoke ahead. West Ham will be eager for a win against Stoke to keep themselves out of the bottom three.
After a spell of improved form, Sunderland have slipped to three straight defeats and sit just five points clear of the bottom three.
Martin O’Neill will be keen for a repeat performance of this fixture earlier in the season, when Sunderland beat 10-man Fulham 3-1 at Craven Cottage.
Somewhat surprisingly, Sunderland have failed to score in any of their last three clashes with Fulham at the Stadium of Light, playing out two goalless draws and suffering a hefty 3-0 defeat in 2011.
Fresh on the back of winning their first major domestic trophy, Swansea will get a heroes return when they face Newcastle at the Liberty Stadium.
Their ruthless 5-0 victory over Bradford at Wembley last Sunday will have quickly alleviated any memories of the previous weekend when they themselves succumbed to a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool.
Newcastle have improved greatly since their French influx during the January transfer window, winning four of their last six games. A 4-2 victory over Southampton last weekend greatly reduced any relegation fears too and Pardew’s side will now hope to build on this with a victory in South Wales.
Saturday’s evening kick off sees Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool make the 20-mile trip to relegation-threatened Wigan.
Wigan finding themselves in a relegation battle is nothing new. In each of his their last three seasons, Roberto Martinez has managed to steer Wigan away from the bottom three and avoid the drop. Last season, the Latics managed seven wins from their last nine games to avoid relegation.
An impressive 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Reading last week provided some very welcome relief to Martinez’ side, with the Latics moving out of the bottom three in to 17th place.
Liverpool have struggled in late season when heading to the DW stadium, having not picked up a win there, since 2007.
Liverpool, have been incredibly unpredictable this season. 5-0 home wins against Norwich and Swansea have seen losses to Oldham and West Brom sandwiched in between.
The Reds almost completed a remarkable comeback in their last outing; after losing 2-0 to Zenit in the first leg of their Europa League clash, Liverpool fell further behind in the tie when an error from Jamie Carragher saw Hulk one on one with Pepe Reina were he calmy put the ball away and the tie ultimately beyond Liverpool. However three goals in half an hour saw Liverpool draw level on aggregate, however the Reds couldn’t muster a final goal to end the match in their favour and went out via the away goals rule.
Earlier in the season Liverpool beat Wigan 3-0 at Anfield with Luis Suarez grabbing a brace and Luis Enrique scoring the other.
Wigan will be without Ben Watson and Ivan Ramis for this clash, while Maynor Figueroa, Ryo Miyaichi and Albert Crusat are all doubts for the Latics. Liverpool will be without Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly who are both long-term absentees; Brad Jones is a doubt for the Reds with a shoulder injury, as is Daniel Sturridge who faces a late fitness test due to a thigh problem.
image: © Ben Sutherland