Premier League weekend preview: Cole puts Chelsea in danger, Spurs and Liverpool fight for fourth
Our handy guide to the key fixtures being played (and covered live on The FCF) this weekend.
Arsenal v Blackburn
Not since the start of the season has the table made such grim reading for Arsenal, who have now allowed heavyweights such as Newcastle and Liverpool to climb above them in the table – to say nothing of Tottenham, of whom they are now 12 points adrift. If they continue to slide, they’ll find themselves scrapping with Sunderland and Stoke – most unbecoming of a Big Club.
Fortunately, they have an ideal opportunity to get things back on track by walloping Blackburn at home. Anything less, and the questions over Wenger’s judgement may return to post-8-2 volume.
Man City v Fulham
After building a reasonable lead in the title race, City had to show the constitution required of Champions by maintaining it through a difficult run of fixtures. Despite Manchester United committing some unforgiveable slip-ups during the same period, City still threw away their modest lead, and now sit in first place only by virtue of goal difference.
The benefit of the fixture list now shines on City, as United face a series of difficult games. Still, Fulham have been an unknown quantity this season, scarcely the same team from one game to the next, and are likely to put up a fight at the Etihad.
Newcastle v Aston Villa
With the battle for the top four becoming more disjointed and open every week, Newcastle have managed to keep themselves vaguely in the mix for far longer than anyone predicted. Oddly, they’ve done it without playing particularly well all season – but this is a league in which this Manchester United team can be champions. On that basis, they have more than a chance – but they’ll need to show they can reliably beat mid-table dross like Aston Villa in order to stay in contention.
Chelsea v Man Utd
The standout fixture of the weekend sees United begin a hard run of games at Stamford Bridge. Fortunately for the champions, Chelsea will be weakened by the loss of John Terry and Ashley Cole, with the latter particularly problematic for a team with no real backup at left-back.
To make matters worse, whoever plays at left-back (Paulo Ferreira or Jose Bosingwa seem most likely – out of position, ponderous, defensively suspect being the common ground) will have to contend with the astonishing form of Antonio Valencia – arguably man of the match in his last 3 appearances. A defeat for Chelsea will add weight to the argument that the rebuilding job has a long way to go, as well as question marks over whether Villas-Boas is the man to oversee it.
Liverpool v Tottenham
The inability of the teams fighting for Champions League qualification to escape the rest of the pack has made for an entertaining race, and one which Liverpool have been able to haul themselves back into. Just 4 points separate them from Chelsea, and with Luis Suarez returning, a defeat of Spurs could put them in an excellent position.
Tottenham, meanwhile, need to continue to show the consistency that’s kept them in 3rd place for much of the season. If Defoe had scored his late chance against City, Spurs would now be 2nd, 2 points behind Manchester United, and City would be in 3rd place. They can’t afford to be left cursing such narrow margins again.