Our reporters envisage some dramatic twists and turns in the roller-coaster that is the relegation battle, while the fires of disappointment are Stoked again for SpursWelcome 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 kicks off with Mick McCarthy's Wolves looking to put last weekend's disappointing result away to Newcastle behind them, as they take on Everton, ahead of the basement battle at Ewood Park as Blackburn lock horns with Alex McLeish's Birmingham City.
Leaders Manchester United welcome Fulham to Old Trafford, while Harry Redknapp's Tottenham look to put Tuesday night's Champions League misery behind them with a success at White Hart Lane - where they face Tony Pulis' Stoke, who worked under the Spurs boss at Bournemouth in the mid-eighties.
So with 10 matches on offer, here are the predictions of the Goal.com UK team...
Ian Murphy says...
It is approaching that time of the season where we start to hear managers using that word “injuries” more and more. For relegation-threatened Wolves, it is the loss of their top striker Kevin Doyle that has thrown a spanner in the works.
Worryingly for the Molineux faithful, Mick McCarthy seems unsure of his best team without the Irish forward – making a change and switching to 4-4-2 after just 30 minutes against Newcastle. Wolves fans will be hoping that both Steven Fletcher and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake are given the opportunity to start this weekend as McCarthy looks for the goals that will keep his side in the league.
Meanwhile, bad luck with injuries seems to have cursed David Moyes during his tenure at Everton. Against Aston Villa, the Scot was forced to name a substitutes' bench without one minute of Premier League experience between them. A raft of first team players are out for Everton, making the decision to send Nigerian striker Yakubu on loan to Championship side Leicester look a little odd, but Moyes will be hoping that the constantly-improving Jermaine Beckford will fire his side to an away victory.
Who needs the glitz and glamour of a title race when there’s the nail biting agony of a relegation six-pointer on the cards? This season is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable at the bottom of the Premier League in its history, so being given the task of predicting which way this one will go is somewhat of a poisoned chalice.
Blackburn’s owners insisted that they wanted to be challenging for fifth come the end of this season, however, two points from safety and having averaged less than a point a game under managerial new boy Steve Kean, Rovers’ football has given very little reason for those in the boardroom to be feeling cock-a-hoop.
McLeish’s sides are somehow on the same number of points as their hosts despite impressing often this campaign. I personally can’t wait to see Steven Carr in the Blues defence, having been rolling back the years this season down the right hand side in a fashion not befitting his veteran status.
Mike Allen says...
West Ham were brought swiftly back down to earth last weekend when throwing away a two goal lead to lose 4-0 to Manchester United. After slipping back into the relegation zone the Hammers have everything to play for.
Bolton meanwhile may have just lost a bit of momentum going into the final month of the season and the defeat at home to Birmingham last week may have been evidence of this.
West Ham have got plenty of goals in them and if they can keep things tight then they have every chance of picking up three points. Bolton haven’t been helped by injuries in recent weeks, while West Ham have been revitalised since the arrival of Demba Ba from Hoffenheim.
Bolton go into the game as favourites but West Ham are fighting for their lives and that could be just enough to see them secure a valuable victory at the Reebok.
I'm looking forward to seeing Fernando Torres. The real Torres. Not the imposter of the last two months or the fraud who sleptwalked through the opening half of the season.
Torres' rebirth under Kenny Dalglish in January now seems like some sort of mirage. But it really did happen. He really did have a renaissance, score goals, move fluently and provide some cutting edge up front. As Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea accountants will need not reminding, that month also probably added another £10 million on to his deadline-day fee.
Since then, the Spaniard has clunked through the gears, still struggling to find his stride. It makes for uncomfortable viewing. His mind must be a tortured place. All the while Carlo Ancelotti keeps picking him for the marquee games. All the while, cynics steers that Abramovich is pulling the strings from his yachts or boardrooms and that's why Torres continues to get a game.
For 90 minutes against Wigan on Saturday, I would love to see the old Torres. I don't like the new one too much.
| Manchester United
Wayne Rooney's suspension has stolen the headlines but Michael Carrick's resurrection against Chelsea could be of real importance for the rest of the season.
The England international had seemed unable to cure the psychological scars incurred in the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in 2009. As the Old Trafford crowds' least favourite player, every misplaced pass and meek tackle since has been met with vocal discontent.
Carrick proved against Chelsea that the kind of performances he consistently put in during his first three seasons at the club hadn't been consigned to the memory banks. Keep it up and the return of an effective midfield anchorman critically absent last term should add new steel to United's bid for a second Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
Sunderland are on a very slippery slope at the minute. A few weeks ago they were thinking about a Europa League place, now they are looking down towards the relegation zone in fear. Steve Bruce still has injury worries and a lot of players out of form so they will need to come together and grind out a result at the Stadium of Light.
West Brom are looking much better of late and their victory against Liverpool will have given them plenty of confidence going into this fixture. Their away record isn't great but under Roy Hodgson they are looking more resolute.
I am looking forward to watching how Sunderland look coming out of the traps after their 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City. If they don’t the fans could get on the backs of the players, which the Baggies will look to take advantage of. Asamoah Gyan hasn’t done much for the Black Cats recently so a performance from their record signing will be what Bruce needs.
| Stoke City
Whatever was wrong with Aaron Lennon at the Bernabeu must have been contagious. Feelings of tiredness and a disconcerting lack of energy? Such symptoms were equally applicable to a whole host of Spurs players on the evening, in an eagerly anticipated performance that left much to be desired.
I’m looking forward to seeing how Spurs will deal with the inevitable European hangover. For all their bluster on the continent, Spurs have slipped behind in the race for fourth slot and unless they sort their act out, will be staring down the rather less-inspiring barrel of Europa League football next term.
And what a game to bring them back down to reality. With Stoke enjoying the thralls of a good run of form and bringing a style as mentally abrasive as it is effective, Spurs face a stern test of their character. I think a hard earned draw is the best they can hope for.
Arsenal may have had a tough time of it lately but a trip to Blackpool now is nothing as challenging as it might have been earlier in the season.
The Tangerines enthralled in the first few months of the campaign but their season has unravelled largely due to naïve defending that has seen Ian Holloway's side concede 63 goals this season, the worst record in the league.
Against the nimble footwork and swift passing of Samir Nasri and Co the likes of Ian Evatt are in for a long afternoon unless Blackpool have somehow found a magic formula in the last week.
It will be interesting to see how Blackpool captain Charlie Adam copes against the passing mastery of the Arsenal midfield as he looks to assure the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United that he can perform in the big games.
| Aston Villa
| Newcastle United
Having recorded a resounding 4-1 victory over Wolves, Alan Pardew’s side travel to face arguably the most underachieving side in the league.
Aston Villa find themselves rooted in a relegation dogfight – just two points above West Ham – and Gerard Houllier needs to get the entirety of the squad on his side; if only until the end of the season, for now is not the time to be neglecting senior stalwarts.
The Magpies are riddled with injury at present, with no fewer than nine squad players on the sidelines – the most in the league – but yet I fancy them to leave Villa Park with a point.
I witnessed Villa spurn a one-goal lead at Tottenham earlier in the season; a match in which newfound England stars Ashley Young and Stewart Downing failed to dominate, and if the hosts manage to compete with the plucky desire of Newcastle, they’ll need their wing-bound sparks to fly, because the 'too good to go down' crutch is well and truly buckling.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini would have identified this match as one of the potential hiccups in his side's quest for a top four finish.
I fully expect City to abandon the attacking ambition displayed in last weekend's win against Aston Villa and revert to their 'big game mentality' of keeping it cagey and playing for a goalless draw.
Liverpool will genuinely feel they can pip a stuttering Tottenham side to fifth place but will be reliant on Luis Suarez to continue his stunning form.
The weaknesses in Kenny Dalglish's squad were once again exposed at West Brom last week but the Reds have proved this season that they can still be a match for anyone at Anfield.
Andy Carroll has looked unconvincing in his four Liverpool appearances so far but his battle with Vincent Kompany could be the key under the lights on Monday night.
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A rough week for our journalists and no doubt a fair few of the betting fraternity as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all failed to win games that they were overwhelming favourites for. So credit to Wayne Veysey, Josh Clarke and Steve Hewlett for correctly predicting wins for Manchester United, Fulham and Manchester City respectively.
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