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Premier League Preview

THE CHAMPIONS-elect may be entertaining the champions at Old Trafford on Monday night but the real intrigue lies elsewhere this weekend.
Reading manager Nigel Adkins will have had his eye on tomorrow's early afternoon meeting with his former club Southampton since his appointment at the Madejski Stadium less than a fortnight ago.

The new Royals manager was sacked at St Mary’s in January in an effort to prevent him dragging the newly promoted Saints towards relegation. Yet the equally struggling Reading deemed Adkins fit for purpose despite possessing an inferior squad to Southampton’s.

The Royals’ demotion will be all but confirmed if Southampton reproduce the eloquent and commanding performances that saw off Liverpool and Chelsea in successive home matches and eased their own relegation concerns. The south coast side are a tougher prospect under Mauricio Pochettino than Adkins.

Swansea succumbed at home to the Champions League aspiring Tottenham last weekend but travel to Carrow Road to take on a side with just one win in 14. Norwich's mid-season inertia has seen them drift to just four points above the relegation zone but a reasonable run-in means this particular fixture is not do or die in East Anglia.

Paul Lambert insists Aston Villa can still beat relegation and his argument would be strengthened with at least a draw at the Britannia Stadium tomorrow. Stoke's underwhelming run continued with defeat at Everton last weekend, while Villa remain defensively brittle despite their undoubted attacking quality. A defeat for either would be disastrous. A draw would see similar questions asked next weekend.

A final day victory at West Brom last season was fundamental to Arsenal claiming third place and could prove equally significant this term. The fifth-placed Gunners have been adept at pouncing on faltering teams of late and arrive at the Hawthorns looking to maintain the pressure on Tottenham and Chelsea.

West Ham almost guaranteed their Premiership safety with last Saturday's defeat of West Brom. They may privately concede that defeat at Anfield on Sunday, without Andy Carroll who cannot play against his parent club, is tolerable. It would not be the first time Brendan Rodgers' side lost to supposedly inferior opponents at home this season but the Hammers' prospects of a first win at Liverpool since 1963 are limited.

Tottenham returned to third place last weekend and defeat of a competent Everton would suggest their staying power to maintain that berth behind the Manchester clubs. In footballing terms this could be the most interesting meeting of the weekend. Andre Villas-Boas’ side make up a trio, including Chelsea and Newcastle, hoping for no ill effects stemming from last night’s participation in the Europa League quarter-finals.

Fourth-placed Chelsea would have hoped that their fourth match in eight days was against Martin O'Neill's listless Sunderland as they chase Tottenham. The boss in the opposing dug-out is now Paolo di Canio and it remains to see if the Italian will have a rejuvenating or debilitating effect on the imperilled Black Cats.

Newcastle are another side for whom relegation looms large. Yet Fulham, with just three away wins this season, represent a less daunting obstacle than Manchester City, who thrashed the Magpies 4-0 last weekend.

The reinvigorated Wigan won again last week and should another victory come at QPR's expense it could irrevocably weaken Rangers’ lingering hopes of survival. Few would bet against Roberto Martinez's men at Loftus Road on Sunday.

There is little doubt that the Premier League moved Manchester City's visit to Old Trafford to Monday night in the hope of screening a televised title decider. That is not the case and United are slight favourites.

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