The Easter weekend is upon us and the Premier League, which means we have fixtures on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rejoice!
Beginning on Friday, Newcastle United travel to Swansea City in a meeting of two of the league’s surprise packages this season. Swans midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson has just been named the Barclays Player of the Month for March, and he will be looking to continue his good form against a Magpies defence without captain Fabricio Coloccini.
On Saturday, Sunderland host Tottenham as Harry Redknapp’s side look to tighten their grip on fourth place, and possibly leapfrog Arsenal into third, ahead of Chelsea - who face Wigan - fresh off the back of their progression into the Champions League semi-finals.
The table’s bottom side, Wolves, will travel to tackle Stoke City. Terry Connor’s men are six points behind their nearest rivals and have yet to taste victory in the Premier League at the Britannia Stadium. Blackburn Rovers, who also occupy the drop zone, will make the trip to West Brom. Roy Hodgson’s West Brom have been consistently inconsistent at home all season and Steve Kean’s men may look for a win to haul themselves back out of danger.
Two sides in trouble will meet at Anfield as woefully-out-of-form Liverpool face Aston Villa, who are just five points above the bottom three and are struggling for results themselves. The Reds have slipped behind Merseyside rivals Everton, who travel to Norwich City to take on Paul Lambert’s impressive Canaries.
Sunday sees the last of the strugglers, QPR, face the daunting trip to Old Trafford where confidence is high as Manchester United have caught their 'noisy neighbours', City, and now sit five points clear at the top of the league and will look to tighten their grip on a possible 20th league title with a win against former fans’ favourite Mark Hughes’ side.
Finally, we have the best for last. The weekend’s most mouth-watering tie sees Arsenal host Manchester City. Roberto Mancini’s men have stuttered badly in recent weeks and are lagging behind in a title race that many had claimed was theirs to throw away earlier in the campaign. The Gunners’ recent excellent form was stunted by defeat at QPR last time out but Arsene Wenger’s side will almost certainly go into the game the more confident of the two teams.
Here is how Goal.com’s experts see this weekend’s ties panning out ...
JAMIE DUNN SAYS...
If Brendan Rodgers is one of the candidates for manager of the year, then Alan Pardew can't be far behind him. After an impressive start to the season, Newcastle's momentum simply hasn't let up, and the Magpies are on a run of three straight victories following triumphs over Norwich, West Brom and Liverpool.
Swansea, meanwhile, suffered defeat to Tottenham last time out, despite an impressive showing at White Hart Lane, while a loss to Everton at the Liberty Stadium the week before undermined an otherwise-impressive home record.
Both of these sides play an open, passing style of football and boast strikers who are in form this season. Danny Graham has scored 12 times for the Swans and has been ably assisted by Scott Sinclair and loan signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, while Newcastle's 16-goal striker Demba Ba has found support in the shape of Papiss Cisse, who has struck seven times since his January arrival.
|28/1||Jamie Dunn's predicted 3-2 win for Swansea is 28/1 with Bet365
A makeshift defence could leave Newcastle vulnerable to Swansea's attacking play, but Pardew's side boasts extra quality in the form of Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, and may just edge the hosts in a free-flowing and high-scoring game.
ROB STEWART SAYS...
Nicklas Bendtner may be eyeing a return to first-team action at Arsenal when his loan spell on Wearside ends this summer, and if that is the case then this is the perfect chance for him to get back into the Gunners’ good books.
The in-form Dane has scored four goals in his last five Premier League games and represents the most obvious threat to Spurs as the visitors aim to put daylight between themselves and their fellow top-four contenders.
It might not look as though Sunderland have anything to play for now as they seem safe from the relegation scrap and are out of the FA Cup. However, nobody from Tottenham should head to Wearside with a false sense of security, especially with Stephane Sessegnon out to show why Arsenal are reportedly interested in his services.
|11/2||Rob Stewart's predicted 1-1 draw between Sunderland and Tottenham is 11/2 with Paddy Power
Sunderland might have become a soft touch under Steve Bruce but Martin O’Neill will have his players firing on all cylinders against Harry Redknapp’s side. The Londoners should have enough firepower to take advantage of the absence of defensive lynchpin John O’Shea if he misses out through injury, though.
MILES CHAMBERS SAYS...
Bolton head into the match with three consecutive wins in the Premier League under their belt and the Trotters are steadily growing in confidence again under Owen Coyle.
However, the former Burnley boss will have drilled into his men that the survival scrap is far from over, and the hosts will be hoping to push three points further from the drop zone.
Fulham are tricky opponents in front of their own fans but have long-standing problems on their travels, a characteristic that Martin Jol has been unable to alter.
|12/1||Miles Chambers' predicted 2-0 win for Bolton is 12/1 with Bet365
Having only picked up six points in the league outside of London this season, the visitors are unlikely to pose too great a threat at the Reebok Stadium.
I can see the Cottagers succumbing to the same scoreline that they inflicted on Bolton in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign.
JOE DOYLE SAYS...
Chelsea faced a difficult game in midweek against Benfica, and, as a result, will now face a monumental tie against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.
As Roberto Di Matteo pointed out straight after the game with the Portuguese side, the prospect of facing a Wigan side scrapping against relegation will not be straightforward.
I think if Chelsea play anywhere near their potential - which admittedly they haven't done for long stretches this season - they should have more than enough to beat Roberto Martinez's side.
I also believe that if Fernando Torres plays a large part of the game we could see him back on goalscoring form, following his sensational low finish across Shay Given in their last outing in the Premier League against Aston Villa.
SAM BISBY SAYS...
Their loss at Newcastle last week was Liverpool’s eighth in 12 Premier League games this calendar year, with the Reds gaining just eight points from a possible 36 in the process.
Now the Anfield club are at risk of being outdone by local Merseyside rivals Everton, who leapfrogged them in the table after three consecutive victories as Liverpool stumbled to a trio of successive defeats.
After being left empty-handed by Arsenal and Chelsea in recent weeks, Villa will be looking over their shoulders at the relegation battle after falling just five clear of safety.
Liverpool’s fragility against the Magpies and apparent lack of game-plan, perhaps, highlighted why Kenny Dalglish’s side have been such a lost cause for most of the season and another tough battle could be heading their way.
MARK FORDHAM SAYS...
Don't say it too loud but Norwich's game against Everton this weekend is a huge one for the Norfolk side. A few weeks ago, people had suggested that the Canaries had already secured their Premier league safety.
However, having only picked up one win since February 11, Paul Lambert's men are in danger of unwittingly becoming part of the relegation battle that is engulfing a number of clubs.
This makes Saturday's encounter a must-win game to give them breathing space.
Meanwhile, Everton have seemingly popped up out of nowhere to be occupying seventh position in the table - ahead of bitter rivals Liverpool.
The Toffees made what seems to be a customary sluggish start to the season but since making a couple of astute acquisitions in January, David Moyes' men are in a position to perhaps finish in the Europa League places if Newcastle or Chelsea slip up.
OLI PLATT SAYS...
The Premier League's second most futile home attack clashes with the division's worst away defence as Blackburn look to boost their survival prospects at West Brom.
Roy Hodgson's team have the firepower in their ranks – Peter Odemwingie has reached double figures for the season again – but have not found the back of the net with nearly enough consistency at the Hawthorns this season.
They will find chances easier to come by against a leaky Blackburn defence but Steve Kean's side can threaten any side with Yakubu and Junior Hoilett up front and they should keep this match close as a result.
With the Baggies looking to advance towards the top half and Blackburn hoping to lift themselves back out of the bottom three, and Bolton, QPR and Wigan improving in recent weeks, a draw would not help either side in their current predicaments.
ALEX FISHER SAYS...
Things are looking bleak at Molineux. Wolves have only won once in 2012, they are six points adrift at the bottom of the table and now face a trip to the daunting Britannia Stadium - a place where they have not won since 2005.
Stoke continue to drive on up the table and are vying for a top eight finish this season but have stumbled in recent weeks with two defeats and two draws from their last four matches.
Despite the Potters’ defeat to Wolves’ fellow relegation rivals Wigan last weekend, I don’t think they will be as much of a walk over at home. With Wolves on a downward spiral towards the Championship I can only see a comfortable win for Stoke that will push Terry Connor’s side closer to the Premier League trap door.
|Queens Park Rangers
GREG STOBART SAYS...
It’s been a sensational month for United and on Sunday they have a chance to put rivals Manchester City under further pressure in the Premier League title race.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side simply don’t look like dropping points at the moment and their next three fixtures are all against sides in the bottom six.
I’m yet to see QPR in the flesh this season and I’m looking forward to seeing how they approach this game after their victory over Arsenal last weekend. The reality is that the Hoops will be looking to their home form to help their chances of survival and Mark Hughes is likely to target a draw at Old Trafford.
United have been frustrated for long periods of games this season against teams that sit deep, but they are finding ways to win games and in Antonio Valencia boast the form player in the division.
JON BIRCHALL SAYS...
In past weeks Manchester City’s approach to this fixture would have possibly been dependent on United’s clash with QPR earlier in the afternoon, but now, with a 5-point deficit and only seven games to play, Roberto Mancini’s men must simply travel to Arsenal and win.
The Gunners are also in a battle against their own neighbours, as only goal difference separates themselves with Tottenham in the race for third after a 2-1 defeat to QPR brought an end to their recent run of seven straight victories.
As such, the Emirates is set to tingle with nerves from both sets of supporters and one only hopes that such anxiety doesn’t impinge on two sides capable of stunning football.
It is a match that could come to define the season and the top four, with City potentially ending the day eight points adrift of the champions. Squeaky bum time indeed.