Our reporters see tough times ahead for each of the top four clubs, but they will sneak by lesser rivals with unconvincing victories while the relegation battle steps up a gearWelcome to the latest edition of our weekly series, where we introduce you to the Goal.com UK reporters who will be travelling the length and breadth of the country to bring you all the action from the grounds.
This weekend sees the focus return to the Premier League after the international break, with the league's top sides hoping to avoid potential banana skins against teams fighting to secure their top flight status.
Leaders Manchester United face a tricky trip to West Ham, with Avram Grant's Hammers in resurgent form of late, while Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea will look to secure a smash and grab at the Potters' hunting ground as the men from Stamford Bridge travel to Stoke.
So with 10 matches on offer, here are the predictions of the Goal.com UK team...
| Manchester United
Wayne Veysey says...
West Ham-Manchester United encounters down the years have resonated with drama, goals and significance.
From the last-day Upton Park nail shredder in 1994-95 when Sir Alex Ferguson's team could not inch over the finishing line to last season's 4-0 tanking in United's favour, snore draws rarely come into the equation.
When the home fans are in full cry and blowing bubbles, few arenas are as atmospheric as The Boleyn - and Saturday's lunchtime feast sizzles with possibilities. Both teams can extend impressive recent runs. Avram Grant's Eastenders are resurgent after seeming dead and buried during a bleak midwinter and can draw upon the memories of their 4-0 League Cup thrashing of Ferguson's second string last November.
I was there that night, which was as memorable for the arctic conditions as the against-the-odds result. United will field all their big guns this weekend, but they know they are in for a tasty reception.
Alex Fisher says...
This fixture at St Andrews' will have implications at both ends of the table. Blues need points to get themselves out of the bottom three whereas a victory for Bolton would keep them in the fight for a top six place.
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing Bolton again; they have been a good side to watch this season under Owen Coyle and the addition of Daniel Sturridge has helped fire them up the table. The on-loan Chelsea striker scored for the England Under-21s last week and he will be hoping to add to the four goals he has scored for the Trotters since arriving in January.
I think a 2-1 away victory for Bolton is on the cards, which will pile more misery on Birmingham and keep them well and truly stuck in the relegation dog fight.
| Aston Villa
Mark Fordham says...
Tipped as contenders for European qualification at the start of the season, Aston Villa have consistently struggled all year and must face up to the very real possibility of relegation.
They have lost their last three games and the knives are out once again for Gerard Houllier, but Brad Freidel has been quick to quash rumours, this week, of a player mutiny.
A marked improvement in recent weeks from David Moyes’ men sees them safely sit in the top of the Premier League, a late run for a European spot is not out of the question.
Goodison Park expects a victory with the hosts in form whereas Villa come in a desperate search for three points.
If people are expecting another 3-2 thriller like two seasons' ago then they will be disappointed, Villa’s ability to control their emotions under pressure will go a long way to deciding the outcome of the game.
| Newcastle United
Simon Sinclair says...
Newcastle are in danger of getting sucked into the relegation battle with no win since February and may be without many key players including Leon Best, Jonas Gutierrez, and Cheick Tiote. Last time out Alan Pardew’s side were hammered by Stoke so they will be looking to put that right with the backing of the St James’ crowd.
With Kevin Doyle injured it will be up to players like Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Steven Fletcher to step up and replicate the Irishman's fantastic performances for Mick McCarthy’s side which have helped them take 11 points from 18 in their last six.
I’m looking forward to seeing the battle in the middle of the park and particularly how Wolves deal with Kevin Nolan, who has been on fire this season. This clash will be crucial in a game which is tough to call, but despite Wolves poor away form I'm backing them for a point to put further pressure on Alan Pardew.
| Stoke City
Matt Monaghan says...
Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres haven't clicked at Chelsea but the duo's height makes them the obvious choice to face Stoke City.
Since the Spaniard's £50 million January arrival from Liverpool, manager Carlo Ancelotti has failed to accommodate him with Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. Stoke's physical presence should force the Italian to press the two most similar of the trio together.
If Drogba and Torres finally hit it off, Chelsea's previously unlikely push back to the top of the Premier League table will receive a serious scoring boost. Register a blank again, and more questions will be asked of the record transfer between English clubs.
| West Brom
Greg Stobart says...
Roy Hodgson will try to play it down but a fire will be burning inside the West Brom manager as he prepares for the visit of his former club.
Hodgson flopped in his six months at Anfield, where he joined during a time of turmoil and failed to win over the fans due to his apparent small-time attitude and defensive tactics.
It is unlikely he will be booed by the travelling supporters, but Hodgson was not afraid to attack the Kop for their lack of support for him.
And how will he respond to Kenny Dalglish? From the day Hodgson was appointed last summer at the expense of the Liverpool icon, the Scot's shadow loomed large and he did nothing to stop the rumour or to subdue the supporters who were chanting for him to take the hot seat.
Hodgson will know that his primary task must be to pick up three points to ease West Brom's relegation worries.
It won't be an easy task against a rejuvenated Liverpool side's that has produced displays in recent weeks that the club can rightly claim fully justifies their managerial change.
| Wigan Atheltic
Jonathan Birchall says...
With only one win in five and a resurgent Liverpool on their tail, Spurs must have both eyes on the Spaniard patrolling the Wigan dugout on Saturday, though you’d be hard pressed to find many Tottenham fans at the DW not already dreaming of Madrid.
I hope for the hosts’ sake that their support provide an atmosphere that has, more often than not, been found wanting at Wigan this season. Still rooted to the foot of the table but victory over Birmingham last time out will have offered cause for a little cautious optimism among the Latics faithful.
I’m personally excited to see Tom Cleverley up close once again, and will take a keen interest in seeing how the 21-year-old Manchester United loanee will cope in the face of what is a top-class midfield.
Wigan certainly need a win but I fear for the home sides vulnerability to pace, which Redknapp’s side have in abundance. I think Tottenham will shade it, provided it’s the Latics, not the Galacticos, at the top of the visitors’ agenda.
| Blackburn Rovers
Oliver Yew says...
It will be interesting to see how Arsenal cope with playing after their title rivals on Saturday. Whatever way the results go before them this is a must-win match for Arsene Wenger and his side so the pressure on them will be enormous.
Throw in the fact they haven’t won in any competition since February and it will be yet another test of Arsenal’s mettle.
Something favouring the Gunners is Blackburn’s form. Rovers are lacking in confidence and haven’t kept a clean sheet away all season. Arsenal can take advantage of Blackburn’s defensive woes and get what they have left of their season back on track.
How the north London side cope defensively will be important and although Roque Santa Cruz has not made an instant impact during his second spell with the club he will be looking forward to the prospect of taking on Arsenal.
Josh Clarke says...
The unveiling of Mohammed Al Fayed’s controversial Michael Jackson statue is nothing but a bizarre sideshow to a massive game and proverbial six-pointer at Craven Cottage.
Neither team is rooted to the foot of the table, or indeed, have been there at all this season, yet this is a relegation battle. A couple of bad results would immediately drag both sides into the mire at a very undesirable time of the campaign.
Though Ian Holloway’s team are always good for a humdinger, I think the magnitude of the game may provide a stultifying effect. Since the turn of Christmas, Fulham have rather stealthily set-up a fortress of sorts at home in the Premier League and this will further quell their expansive visitors.
That said, the Charlie Adam factor always plays a large part and I’m looking forward to seeing how he responds after a lacklustre display against Brazil. I think it’ll be tight, with the hosts just edging it.
Steve Hewlett says...
With the huge FA Cup semi-final against local rivals Manchester United on the horizon, many will be wondering if Roberto Mancini’s men will lose focus of their league campaign. Should Tottenham beat Wigan on Saturday, City could have a slender, single-point lead at kick-off.
Visitors Sunderland are sitting nicely in ninth in the table but they are only six points from safety in an incredibly close Premier League table. A loss here and if results go against them Steve Bruce’s boys could be back into the relegation mire.
I’m looking forward to see the reaction of the City fans towards the erratic Mario Balotelli whose antics of late have drawn much unwanted attention. With his sending off against Dinamo Kiev, and the dart throwing incident, the Italian could feel the wrath of 40,000-plus Mancunians come Sunday.
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Last time out, our guys were fared well with their prections. Had Alex Fisher and Jonathan Birchall tempted you to have a flutter based on their predictions you may have enjoyed a cheerful weekend, with both reporters scoring full marks for predicting Wigan and Everton would each record 2-1 victories at home against Birmingham and Fulham respectively.
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