WITH THE final round of international fixtures out of the way the focus can turn unswervingly to club concerns for the remainder of 2012.
Andre Villas-Boas said earlier this week that his Tottenham side must finish above local rivals Arsenal if they are to obtain a Champions League spot. Before either can dream of Europe Saturday’s north London derby at the Emirates must be negotiated with neither side performing well of late. Each will hope that a victory can reignite their stuttering campaigns but goals are about the only guarantee in the early kick-off.
Liverpool’s limitations have been plain to see all season and so Wigan visit Merseyside with hope of repeating last season’s result, when the Latics claimed their first-ever win at Anfield with a 2-1 triumph. The solitary point that separates the sides, with labouring Liverpool in twelfth and inconsistent Wigan in thirteenth, is a fair reflection of their respective campaigns to date.
Aston Villa travel to Manchester City with few expecting anything more than an extension of the champions’ two-year unbeaten league run at the Etihad. Paul Lambert’s side need points and while City have been far from sparkling they tend to find the match-winning solutions that characterise champions. This encounter looks set to follow the pattern, barring an upset.
Newcastle and Swansea are sides that have struggled to replicate their form from last season, although it is not surprising in either case. This encounter at St James’ Park brings together two of the more accomplished midfields in the top-flight and offers no foregone conclusions.
It is difficult to see either QPR’s Mark Hughes or Southampton’s Nigel Adkins lasting much longer if one of them leads their team to defeat in this bottom-two meeting at Loftus Road. Both have been hampered by their inexpert summer spending and neither looks robust enough to survive at present.
Their predicaments have imbued this match with resonance which, for winless Rangers in particular, should not be the case given their experience of last season, as well as their outlay on transfer fees and salaries.
Fellow strugglers Reading currently offer one of the more appealing away days in the league and fourth-placed Everton have every reason to believe that they can remain in the Champions League qualification places with a win at the Madejski.
West Brom sit level on points with Everton, and Chelsea, despite their reduced lustre in recent weeks, will offer one of the sternest challenges to Steve Clarke’s side, who will be keen to delay the inevitable descent from the lofty fifth-place they currently occupy.
Norwich entertain Manchester United in the evening kick-off and the Canaries’ shoddy defence face an uphill task to prevent Sir Alex Ferguson’s side maintaining their position at the summit of the Premier League. The Red Devils have been slow starters throughout the campaign thus far but their attacking options have been formidable enough to see them through.
On Sunday afternoon Sunderland travel to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham, who have drawn their last three matches with an aggregate score of 8-8. Martin Jol’s side have discovered their scoring touch and will need their wherewithal to breach a stubborn Mackems backline. Yet the west Londoners’ generous defence also provide Martin O’Neill with hope that his Sunderland can claim their first win since September.
West Ham would love to emulate Stoke’s rise from promotion to Premiership consolidation and the early signs have been promising. Moreover, Sam Allardyce’s side already exhibit a greater capacity for flair, which they hope will give them the edge as they entertain the Potters on Monday evening.