Premier League: Five things to look out for
JOE wonders if West Brom’s resurgence will continue against Chelsea, if Liverpool can put an end to Arsenal’s title challenge and looks ahead to a meeting of two struggling Irish legends at Upton Park.
Surprise Package: West Brom
The managerial career of Roy Hodgson has been revitalised since his move to the Hawthorns, but only in the sense that his true talent seems to be motivating ordinary teams to fight above their weight.
If Hodgson hadn’t endured such a torrid time at Anfield, he may well be in line for manager of the year for the second season in succession after inspiring such a turnaround that the thought of relegation seems a distant memory for the Baggies, and a top half finish seems far more likely.
Hodgson’s side - unbeaten in seven league games, will be looking to take advantage of a Chelsea side vulnerable from their Champions League exit at the hands of Manchester United earlier in the week. The Baggies have already toppled Liverpool and managed a credible draw with Arsenal at home in recent weeks and another upset certainly isn’t out of the question this weekend.
Game not to miss: Arsenal v Liverpool
Liverpool fans may well be going into Sunday’s game against Arsenal with mixed emotions.
A win away to Arsenal would be a significant achievement and welcomed on Merseyside, but it would also sound the death knell for Arsenal’s title challenge and virtually hand a record-breaking 19th league title to bitter rivals Manchester United on a plate.
There are plenty of reasons to suggest why they might do just that. Since King Kenny took over, Liverpool have thrived on the big occasion with magnificent victories over both United and City, and as was evident in the latter game, the partnership of Carroll and Suarez looks as if might just work in the long run. Also, last weekend’s victory over Blackpool aside, Arsenal have been wobbling of late and seem to be just waiting for a blow to finally knock them out of contention.
Whether it is on Sunday that it will be delivered remains to be seen, but United fans would certainly be celebrating at the sight of a Liverpool victory, a very rare occurrence indeed.
Game to miss: Birmingham v Sunderland
Defensive solidity, more so than anything else, will probably be the prime motivation of both Alex McLeish and Steve Bruce when Birmingham and Sunderland meet at St. Andrews on Saturday. With a game in hand on all of their relegation rivals, as long as Birmingham don’t lose, McLeish will be happy.
Sunderland, on the other hand, are in freefall and Bruce isn’t denying it. The Black Cats have lost seven of their last eight league games and have conceded 21 goals in the process. As a result, they have gone from being in contention for European places to being genuine contenders for relegation.
Bruce needs to tighten things up at the back, and a game against the second lowest scorers in the Premier League is the right place to start.
Irish interest: West Ham v Aston Villa
It’s safe to say that this season hasn’t gone anywhere near as well as Robbie Keane or Richard Dunne would have hoped. The former was cast aside in a Spurs squad badly in need of strikers and ended up in the bargain bin in the January transfer window.
After a sterling first season with Aston Villa, Dunne has exhibited signs of the reckless behaviour that got him into trouble in the past and threatens to leave him seeking a new club in the summer.
Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane are facing into an uncertain future
There is an opportunity for redemption for both Keane and Dunne, however, if they can help inspire their respective clubs to Premier League safety this season. The situation seems a bit more desperate in Keane’s case – if he plays poorly and West Ham go down, he will likely return to being an outcast at Spurs and may struggle to find a suitor in the summer.
If he can rediscover some of his form of old for the next month or so, another season in the Premier League with either the Hammers, or another mid to bottom club, may well await.
What about the rest:
With the FA Cup semi-finals taking place in Wembley and more games to come in the middle of next week, there are only six Premier League games to choose from this weekend. Apart from the ones mentioned above, Blackpool face Wigan in a relegation six-pointer at Bloomfield Road.
Looking at the table, a point would probably suit the Tangerines, but playing for a draw is not in Ian Holloway’s nature. With only six games remaining, bottom placed Wigan certainly can’t afford anything other than a win, so expect thrills and spills in the north-west city renowned for providing plenty of just that.
Elsewhere, on song Everton take on Blackburn at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon. With city rivals Liverpool in action at the Emirates on Sunday, if the Toffees prevail, they could conceivably be within a point of Kenny Dalglish’s side after the weekend.
Blackburn, on the other hand, are still very much in danger of facing the drop and might try and settle for a point like they did at Arsenal a couple of weeks back, and hope that the teams around them at the bottom fail to capitalise.
Due to an official warning from the Premier League powers-that-be, we have been forbidden from naming the Premier League teams in our fixture list.
Most of you will remember the old Pro Evo, and all of the teams are mentioned above. So see if you can encrypt our “England Division 1” fixtures for the weekend:
Saturday 16 April
Brumingham v The Mighty Quinns 15.00
Dublin Seasiders v DW Warriors 15:00
Merseyside Blue v Ewood Fowlers 15:00
West Midland Stripes v West London Blue 15:00
Upton Olympic v Lerner’s Lions 15:00
Sunday 17 April
Woolwich Gunners v Merseyside Red 16:00