With only two weekends left of the Premier League season, it is last chance saloon for many teams. With the title hanging in the balance, the FA Cup still to be decided, the race for fourth place sitting on a knife edge and the relegation trapdoor dangerously close to opening, the last two weekends will be anything but dull.
FA Cup Final, Chelsea v Liverpool
Two teams who have had drastically different second halves to the season clash at Wembley. Liverpool have been disappointing in 2012 while Chelsea have gone from strength to strength under Roberto Di Matteo. So impressive has been The Blues’ run that Di Matteo is rumoured to be Roman Abramovich’s preferred candidate to take the managerial role permanently. Despite this, the Londoners’ season could still rapidly unravel should they fail to win against Liverpool and follow up with a loss in the Champions League final.
Kenny Dalglish’s team similarly have been forced to focus on cup success thanks to poor league form and many believe the Scousers to be severe underdogs in this season’s final. With questions being asked about many of the manager’s signings, the final would be the perfect time for the likes of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing to silence some of their critics. Two cups would also reduce some of the fans’ pain after a forgettable league season.
Chelsea have worries in defence with both Gary Cahill and David Luiz missing with hamstring problems. Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba are competing for a starting spot with Drogba the likely choice. Liverpool have no major concerns with Lucas and Charlie Adam there only absentees.
Newcastle v Manchester City
After both teams picked up crucial wins earlier in the week, both Newcastle and Manchester City will view this match as must win if they are to achieve their aims. Newcastle are surprisingly still in the hunt for an unlikely Champions League spot while City have a slim lead over Manchester United in the title race but still need to take maximum points in their final two games.
Papiss Cisse has been the darling of Tyneside since his arrival in January and his second goal against Chelsea showed real class. The Magpies’ biggest problem in the summer may be keeping hold of some of their overachieving stars. Both Cheick Tiote and Danny Simpson have questions marks over their fitness, although Tiote in particular is expected to feature.
Joe Hart sustained a foot injury against Manchester City and may not be fit to play but should he pass a fitness test Roberto Mancini is expected to field a side unchanged from their victory on Monday. The last time City won the league they did so with a victory over Newcastle. Mancini will be hoping that history will repeat itself.
Jay: Man City
Joseph: Man City
Aston Villa v Tottenham
With Aston Villa just three points above the relegation zone and Tottenham slightly ahead of Newcastle in the race for fourth place, this game affects both ends of the table. Villa striker Darren Bent has confirmed that he will be unfit for the final two games of the season but Stephen Ireland returns from a hip injury.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has faced the disappointment of missing out on the England manager’s job but will turn his attention to securing a Champions League place and is boosted by the news that both Kyle Walker and Scott Parker are likely to be fit.
Alex McLeish is an increasingly unpopular figure with the Villa fans and is hoping to avoid a third relegation from the Premier League. Should his team capitulate, it will likely spell the end of the Scot’s time in Birmingham.
Bolton v West Brom
Bolton have thrown away the two games in hand they had on some of their relegation rivals and are still in deep trouble. With very little time to rectify the situation, they will be hoping to make the most of facing a team with nothing to play for. Roy Hodgson was confirmed as England manager on Monday but will see out the season with The Baggies before taking up his fourth international position.
Bolton have a worse goal difference than QPR and so are relying on their rivals slipping up. An emotional return to The Reebok Stadium but Fabrice Muamba in the midweek may galvanise The Trotters who may also welcome back Gretar Steinsson and Nigel Reo-Coker.
West Brom are hoping both James Morrison (who can’t play on broken ligaments) and Shane Long will be back but with only pride at stake and the manager leaving, the players may have their eyes on their passports.
Tim: West Brom
Fulham v Sunderland
Two teams with little to play for will both be pleased that, after torrid starts to the season, they have never been dragged into the relegation battle. While Martin Jol struggled to win over some Fulham fans, he has now made his mark on a team that can be more than a match for most opponents. Martin O’Neill has shown his pedigree since taking over from Steve Bruce, but the real work for him will start next season, with many Sunderland fans likely to hoping for more than mid-table obscurity in the new campaign.
Fulham’s main fitness concern will be the manager who missed being in the dugout for the Liverpool and Everton games after being struck down with a chest infection. They are also without Andy Johnson but Clint Dempsey will be hoping to finish the season well.
Sunderland will be without John O’Shea and also in-form striker Nicklas Bendtner. That’s right, in-form striker Nicklas Bendtner. Who’d have ever thought those words would exist in the same sentence?
QPR v Stoke
Stoke’s season is more or less at an end while QPR need to keep strong over the last two matches if they are to avoid the drop. Adel Taarabt returns to the side after a suspension but Samba Diakite may miss out through a virus. Stoke are without Jermaine Pennant and Rory Delap and Tony Pulis is set to start Thomas Sorensen to help him prepare for Euro 2012.
With Manchester City in line on the final day of the seaon, QPR need to take maximum points in this match if they want to have a realistic chance of staying in the Premier League.
Wolves v Everton
With Wolves already gone and the pressure off in terms of the fight for survival, Terry Connor’s side looked much better against Swansea and may keep up their performance against Everton who look to finish the season above city rivals Liverpool.
Leighton Baines may be fit for this match but Victor Anichebe and Jack Rodwell are out.
Manchester United v Swansea
After throwing away an eight point lead against Manchester City, champions United enter the final two games of the season knowing that even maximum points may not be enough to retain the title. Swansea are a tough proposition, but Sir Alex Ferguson will be encouraged by what looks like a tougher run-in for his rivals. The Scot is without Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans, but Anders Lindergaard is fit for the first time since January, although the improving form of David De Gea may keep him on the bench.
Brendan Rodgers is many people’s choice for Manager Of The Season and the Swansea board will probably be happy that Harry Redknapp has not vacated his position at Tottenham after Rodgers was linked with a move to London.
With his team’s destiny out of their hands, Ferguson will likely field his strongest team, but the question on everybody’s lips will be: is it too little too late?
Tim: Manchester United
Jay: Manchester United
Joseph: Manchester United