Our reporters envisage some dramatic twists and turns in the race for the top four, and why Wayne Rooney may yet feature for Sir Alex Ferguson's side at WembleyWelcome 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 return of the FA Cup, and Wembley plays host to the semi-finals, as a Manchester derby descends on the national stadium in Saturday's late kick-off, before Bolton take on Stoke City on Sunday.
But that's not all. A further 12 Premier League sides lock horns as the campaign reaches the final stretch, and with every side feeling there’s something to play for, this weekend will produce another schedule of tantalising, and competitive action.
So with eight matches on offer, here are the predictions of the Goal.com UK team...
Matt Monaghan says...
Sunderland's appalling run has put manager Steve Bruce's reputation at risk and left question marks about whether he can craft the answer to get them back on track.
Bruce has tentatively been linked with future stints in the Manchester United and England hot seats during a steady managerial career to date. His standing was at an all-time high before Christmas as he watched his charges sweep aside Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and look nailed on for a top-eight finish.
Fast forward a few months and the picture couldn't be more different. A run of one point out of the last 24 available has Sunderland looking backwards instead of forwards.
If Bruce still has ambition to replicate the feats from his playing days he must kick-start the big spending Black Cats' squad. Flop again and he can expect to join the likes of yesterday man Alan Curbishley at the back of the managerial pack when the big jobs become available.
Alex Fisher says...
I’m off to the seaside this week to watch a game with massive implications at the bottom of the Premier League table as Blackpool take on Wigan.
I’m particularly looking forward to seeing who will come out on top in the midfield battle between Charlie Adam and James McCarthy. Both players have had good seasons despite their sides being involved in the relegation fight, and I have a feeling whichever player dominates the play could decide this game.
Games involving Blackpool almost guarantee goals this season, as do away games for Wigan, so expect lots of updates from me on Saturday afternoon. As this game means so much to everyone involved I’m struggling to separate the two sides so am predicting a high-scoring draw – which won’t help either side.
Jonathan Birchall says...
Everton’s seeming contractual obligation to start terribly and finish strongly has once again been fulfilled this season. The inconsistency of David Moyes’ side, although infuriating for the fans, is a pleasure for neutrals like myself, with Goodison Park proving itself to be a hotbed of nervous energy that brings out the very best and worst of those that play there.
One that has thrived under such irresolute circumstances is Leon Osman. Uncertainty may reign on Merseyside but a bit of magic from the in-form 29-year-old is looking evermore like a guarantee as each week passes.
As is also the case with Junior Hoilett, a 20-year-old who is certainly too good to go down. The form of the Canadian has seen him touted as Blackburn’s potential saviour, with Steve Kean’s side sat only three points above the relegation zone. An afternoon spent watching Hoilett brings a smile to the face and a crowd to its feet, though whether his wizardry alone can ensure a point for Rovers on Saturday appears very unlikely in my eyes.
Nick Price says...
Chelsea are too schizophrenic to call these days, particularly when Fernando Torres, who I'm particularly eager to see perform in the flesh in a blue shirt, figures from the off. The champions have looked inept and directionless on occasion, but have shown glimpses of the steeliness that took them to the title last year over the past month.
One suspects that after a midweek humbling they'll come out firing, though they could equally as likely put on another limp-wristed display. Regardless of what Chelsea side turns up, they will not come away from the Midlands with three points as Roy Hodgson has his West Brom team united, and an unbeaten six-game run has owed as much to tactical discipline as it has to sheer bloody-mindedness.
The Baggies have become difficult to beat and surprisingly clinical in attack, as evidenced by their three goals at the Stadium of Light last weekend. They have the firepower to nab a score draw against Carlo Ancelotti's chaotic brew.
Andrew Kennedy says...
This should be a determined and feisty affair at Upton Park, with the Hammers aiming to avenge their 3-0 away defeat at the hands of Saturday’s opponents on the opening day of the season.
The signs continue to look ominous for West Ham, who seem to have a knack of pulling themselves above water, before plunging deeper once again into the mire of relegation, as their second-half capitulation against Manchester United and last weekend’s defeat at Bolton showcased.
There has been a similar demise in fortunes for Aston Villa, whose flirtation with the drop zone has become a bit too serious in recent weeks, despite a brief respite coming in last Sunday’s 1-0 home victory over Newcastle United.
The key battle for West Ham should come in midfield, where they will aim to take advantage of their Aston Villa counterparts who have looked lacklustre at times in recent weeks. Yet the east London club’s defensive woes will be the decisive issue here, and something which the pace of Bent, Agbonlahor, Young and Downing should capitalise on.
Wayne Veysey says...
Can Roberto Mancini's team cope without talisman Carlos Tevez? That is the overriding question - and their chances of ending 35 years of hurt depend upon it.
City were toothless against Liverpool on Monday, devoid of inspiration and, more worryingly, perspiration, too. The failure of Edin Dzeko and Mario Baliotelli to offer a concerted threat puts extra pressure on a midfield which has failed to add up to the sum of its parts this season.
When they are good, City feed off Tevez’s spirit and hunger. That is something that United never lack, however lacking in fluency they may be.
The red machine is looking increasingly like an unstoppable juggernaut. If City can halt their bitter rivals' Treble march and make it to a Wembley final, the celebrations will be something to behold.
Greg Stobart says...
Liverpool looked very lively against Manchester City and their strike partnership is sure to worry an Arsenal defence that continues to display considerable faults.
I think the key to this game will be how Arsenal's central defenders can handle the trickery of Luis Suarez and the physicality of Andy Carroll, who scored the winner for Newcastle at the Emirates earlier in the season.
Arsenal need a win to keep alive their title hopes while Liverpool are still in with a shout of qualifying for Europe, meaning both teams will be at full throttle on Sunday.
Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere will look to control the game in central midfield for Arsenal so Lucas will have to be at his very best to break up the Gunners' play.
Arsene Wenger's side drew 0-0 at Blackburn in their last home game and it will be interesting to observe the atmosphere among the supporters if the game isn't going their way. They will be extra-determined to win following the death of director Danny Fiszman on Wednesday.
Oliver Yew says...
In recent weeks both Bolton and Stoke have been in good form and it will be interesting to see which side can keep it going the momentum going at Wembley.
While this match is being played at a neutral venue both sides have pretty poor away records this season. Owen Coyle's side have lost nine times on the road in the Premier League while Stoke have lost 12 matches.
It will be fascinating to see how both sides cope with the pressure of playing in a cup semi-final at Wembley. What could decide this tie is who settles the better at a ground neither side has had much experience of.
With so much at stake I fully expect this semi-final to be a tight, cagey affair with neither side wanting to make a mistake. It could go the full distance and I believe we will get to see which side has been practicing penalties in training.
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In a difficult week for our reporters, Matt Monaghan stole the show having foreseen a 2-0 victory for Manchester United over Fulham, while both Greg Stobart and Wayne Veysey predicted the correct outcome, missing out on a direct hit by one goal apiece at Blackpool-Arsenal and Chelsea-Wigan respectively.
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