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Normal service resumes for Man Utd and Liverpool, while Spurs share the spoils

Football FanCast columnist Mark Bryans looks ahead to the weekends fixtures.

 

Liverpool v Blackburn Rovers

Anfield –
K.O. 12:45 – WATCH LIVE: Sky Sports 1

BUILD-UP:

Rafael Benetiz's men have a chance to heap
more pressure on their arch-rivals Manchester United by beating struggling
Blackburn in the days early kick-off. Everyone invloved with the Reds will be
expected to see a backlash to Wednesday nights Champions League humilation
suffered at the hands of Chelsea. Sam Allardyce has managed to drag Rovers
kicking and screaming out of the relegation zone and they are now 5 points
clear of the bottom three. Taking anything from this game would be a massive
bonus in the fight for survival.

LEAGUE FORM:

Liverpool: LWWWW Blackburn: DWLDW

LAST MEETING:

06/12/08

Ewood Park – Blackburn 1-3 Liverpool

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Inspirational skipper Steven Gerrard is likely to feature for Liverpool despite rumours he was
injured, the home side also welcome back Javier Mascharano from suspension.

Blackburn will be struggling for key personnel in
attacking roles with Roque Santa Cruz, Jason Roberts and Morten Gamst Pedersen
all likely to be missing through injury.

ONE TO WATCH:

Fernando
Torres:
Chelsea
showed he can be stopped, but will Rovers' defence be able to cope?

PREDICTION:

Liverpool 3 – 0 Blackburn Rovers

Chelsea v Bolton Wanderers

Stamford
Bridge – K.O. 15:00

BUILD-UP:

Chelsea will surely be on such a high after
their midweek European exploits but Guus Hiddink will be the first person
reminding his players that anything other than a win over Bolton would
seriously damage any hope of winning the Premier League. Gary Megson's side will
still be looking cautiously over their shoulders to see how the teams in and
around them get on as they could easily plummet back towards the Championship
trapdoor if they lose.

 

LEAGUE FORM:

Chelsea: WWWLW Bolton: WLLDW

LAST MEETING:

06/12/08

Reebok Stadium – Bolton 0-2 Chelsea

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Chelsea have no new injury worries, but it will be
interesting to see if Hiddink plays John Terry or trials his replacement for
Tuesday's match.

Gary Megson has the option of naming an
unchanged Bolton lineup as they too have no fresh fitness doubts.

 

ONE TO WATCH:

Kevin
Davies:
The top English marksmen in the league can upset even
the best defences.

PREDICTION:

Chelsea 1 – 0 Bolton Wanderers

Middlesbrough v Hull City

Riverside
Stadium – K.O. 15:00

BUILD-UP:

One of several key encounters to take place
at the foot of the table over the Easter period. Middlesbrough's goalscoring
problems are well documented but defensive mistakes in recent weeks have also
proved costly, manager Gareth Southgate has the look of a man carrying the
weight of the world on his shoulders. Phil Brown will be fully aware that
defeat at the Riverside could see his Hull side sitting on the periphery of the
relegation zone, and all this comes after the Tigers were touted as Europa
League hopefuls before Christmas.

LEAGUE FORM:

Middlesbrough: WLDLL Hull: LWDLD

LAST MEETING:

06/12/08

KC Stadium – Hull 2-1 Middlesbrough

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Middlesbrough
will be without captain Emanuel Pogatetz but Chris Riggott is fit
enough to replace him. Adam Johnson faces a late fitness test while Gary O'Neil
is banned.

Anthony Gardner and Jimmy Bullard remian long term absentees for Hull City and they have been
joined on the treatment table by striker Daniel Cousin, George Boateng could
play against his former club after returning from a three-month injury layoff.

ONE TO WATCH:

Marlon
King:
His goals
in the first half of the season helped propel Hull into the headlines, he could
come back to haunt them.

PREDICTION:

Middlesbrough 0 – 0 Hull City

Portsmouth v West Bromwich Albion

Fratton
Park – K.O. 15:00

BUILD-UP:

Another relegation dog-fight at Fratton
Park and a game which makeshift managerial team Paul Hart and Brian Kidd will
be expecting Portsmouth to win. If they fail to beat West Brom they will still
be very much part of the relegation picture. Tony Mowbray is one of a dwindling
number of people to still have faith in the Baggies surviving, but a win
against their relegation rivals could see more people start to believe in
another great West Brom escape.

LEAGUE FORM:

Portsmouth:
DLDWD WBA: LLDDL

LAST MEETING:

07/12/09

Hawthorns – WBA 1-1 Portsmouth

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Glenn Johnson is banned for Portsmouth who
also look likely to be without midfielder Sean Davis. Jermaine Pennant could be
fit enough to start.

There are no new injury concerns for West
Brom
who could welcome Abdoulaye Meite back into the side after his
compassionate leave regarding the Malawi disaster.

 

ONE TO WATCH:

Peter
Crouch:
Struck
twice in the last home game against Everton and will be hoping to continue the
run.

PREDICTION:

Portsmouth 2 – 0 West Bromwich Albion

Sunderland v Manchester United

Stadium of
Light – K.O. 15:00

BUILD-UP:

Ricky Sbragia will certainly lead his team
into this match with more confidence of picking up a result due to Man Utd's
recent defensive woes. A positive result for Sunderland would lift the club and
could prove to be a potential catalyst to Premier League survival. Sir Alex
Ferguson needs to address the defensive crisis which threatens to derail United's
quest for footballing domination, even someone as wisened as the wily Scot will
be struggling to comprehend what has gone wrong.

 

LEAGUE FORM:

Sunderland:
LDLLL Man Utd: WWLLW

LAST MEETING:

06/12/08

Old Trafford – Man Utd 1-0 Sunderland

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Sunderland seemingly have no new injury concerns but
it will be interesting to see if Ricky Sbragia alters his formation to
accommodate the Champions.

Rio Ferdinand is still absent for Man
Utd
and his defensive cover Jonny Evans is also a major doubt. Wayne Rooney
is fit to play despite newspaper rumours suggesting otherwise.

ONE TO WATCH:

John
O'Shea:
The
out-of-form Irishman will need to be back to form as he deputises for Ferdinand
and Evans.

PREDICTION:

Sunderland 1 – 3 Manchester United

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

White Hart
Lane – K.O. 15:00

BUILD-UP:

A London derby which, in the grand scheme
of things, doesn't hold as much bearing on the overall season as most other
games this Easter weekend but which will still be massive to both sets of fans.
Harry Redknapp faces one of his former clubs and will be eager to pick up all
three points to continue Spurs' charge toward Europa League qualification. West
Ham defy critics and are now firm favourites for seventh spot, very impressive
with an inexperienced manager, full treatment room and off-field turmoil.

LEAGUE FORM:

Tottenham: WDWWL West Ham: WWDDW

LAST MEETING:

08/12/08

Upton Park – West Ham 0-2 Spurs

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Tottenham are without Jermaine Jenas, Alan Hutton and
Wilson Palacios but Aaron Lennon should be fit enough to feature.

Gianfranco Zola's injury woes continue as West
Ham
are without Carlton Cole, Dean Ashton, Valon Behrami and Jack Collison.
Furthermore Scott Parker and Radoslav Kovac face fitness tests.

 

ONE TO WATCH:

Junior
Stanislas:
The
youngster scored on his full debut and may be relied upon until the end of the
season due to the injuries decimating West Ham's squad.

PREDICTION:

Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 1 West Ham United

 

Wigan Athletic v Arsenal

JJB
Stadium – K.O. 15:00

BUILD-UP:

Wigan's impressive season could peter out
into midtable obscurity unless Steve Bruce's men can pick up regular points
between now and the end of the season. Bruce will be under no pressure to
secure Europa League football after easily keeping Wigan away from the
relegation dog-fight this campaign. Arsenal fans will be rueing their baron
spell this season as they are playing as well as anyone and picking up points
on a more regular basis.

LEAGUE FORM:

Wigan: LLWWL Arsenal: DWWWW

LAST MEETING:

06/12/08

Emirates Stadium – Arsenal 1-0 Wigan

KEY TEAM NEWS:

The ongoing fued between
Wigan and striker Amr Zaki
means the Egyptian won't feature, the only other absentee for Wigan is
midfielder Woo-Hee Cho who will miss the rest of the season.

Arsenal's draw in Spain came at a
price as William Gallas and Manuel Almunia join Gael Clichy on the injury list.
Abou Diaby is also doubtful and there are concerns over Robin van Persie and
Eduardo.

 

ONE TO WATCH:

Emmanuel
Adebayor:
Scored the only goal in this seasons reverse fixture and
may be pivotal is van Persie and Eduardo are ruled out.

PREDICTION:

Wigan 1 – 1 Arsenal

 

Stoke City v Newcastle United

Brittania
Stadium – K.O. 17:30 – WATCH LIVE: Setanta Sports 1

BUILD-UP:

The last of the relegation six-pointers
takes place at the Brittania Stadium and a win for Stoke could see them move
nine points clear of the relegation zone. Tony Pulis will be keen to move
further away from the bottom three after a recent run of good form, some may
even begin to suggest the Potters will be safe if they can win. Alan Shearer
couldn't have wished for a trickier away game for his second outing as
Newcastle caretaker manager. He will be all too aware that defeat could leave
his beloved side in a perilous position, a win however would not only
rejuvinate the club but could also see them move out of the drop zone.

LEAGUE FORM:

Stoke: DWLWW Newcastle: LLDLL

LAST MEETING:

06/12/08

St.James' Park – Newcastle 2-2 Stoke

KEY TEAM NEWS:

Stoke's only threat to naming an
unchaged starting eleven is the fitness of defender Danny Higginbotham who is
struggling with a back injury.

Steven Taylor and Jose
Enrique are missing for
Newcastle whose defence could be
sured up with the timely return of Sebastien Bassong. Peter Lovenkrands is also
absent for the Geordies.

 

ONE TO WATCH:

Michael
Owen:
If the
ex-Liverpool man's goals are to save Newcastle from the drop, they need to come
sooner rather than later.

PREDICTION:

Stoke City 2 – 1 Newcastle United

Written by Mark Bryans

Article title: Normal service resumes for Man Utd and Liverpool, while Spurs share the spoils

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