Premier League preview: Aston Villa v Liverpool

28 March 2013 10:29

Aston Villa will fight to maintain breathing space between themselves and Premier League relegation when they face Liverpool on Sunday.

The Villans currently occupy 17th position on the table and are just three points clear of the drop zone.

Wigan are 18th, have the luxury of a game in hand on the Birmingham club and would be quietly confident of getting a result against Norwich at the DW Stadium at the weekend.

And given Wigan play on Saturday, Aston Villa could potentially occupy the first relegation spot by the time their game kicks off due to inferior goal difference.

That scenario would intensify the pressure even more on Villa with just eight matches remaining in their campaign.

Liverpool also have a carrot dangling in front of them in the twilight of the season, with a Europa League spot still within their reach.

The Reds are five points behind fifth-placed Arsenal, although the Gunners have a game in hand, and a win against Aston Villa is critical if they wish to avoid missing out on European action for the second time in three seasons.

Villa head into this clash with their tails up after back-to-back league wins against Reading (2-1) and fellow battlers QPR (3-2) – a feat they hadn’t achieved since December 15.

Coincidentally on that occasion more than three months ago, it was a 3-1 win against Liverpool, which followed a 4-1 thumping of Norwich, that delivered the Claret and Blue consecutive victories.

Liverpool’s recent momentum hit a snag last time out when they suffered a 3-1 loss to Southampton, but prior to that match they strung together four wins in a row in all competitions against Tottenham, Wigan, Zenit St Petersburg (Europa League) and Swansea.

Paul Lambert’s men haven’t lost to Liverpool since December 2011 and that fact is sure to give them some sort of confidence heading into this clash, especially given their last meeting against the Reds produced a memorable victory for them.

In a boost for Liverpool, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina are in the mix to return after their respective absences, according to first-team coach Mike Marsh.

“They’re both available for selection, so it’s a possibility (they will both play),” Marsh said.

Marsh also indicated that the Reds escaped injury-free from the cluster of international fixtures that took place during the week.

“I’ve got to be honest, I’m watching the games and hoping that the players come back fit and well,” he said.

“Although you do want the players that are representing their country to get a positive result, I’m more concerned that when they come back to Melwood (Liverpool’s training complex) that they’re fit and ready to play at the weekend.

“We seem to have come through unscathed.”

Premier League preview: Everton v Stoke City

28 March 2013 10:29

Everton have renewed hope of fighting for a Champions League place, ahead of their hosting of Stoke City on Saturday.

David Moyes’ men have won back-to-back league fixtures to stalk fourth-placed Tottenham by six points – and also have a game in hand on Andre Villas-Boas’ men.

Arsenal sit in fifth, four points off Tottenham, but Everton will have all eyes on fourth spot – although there is another carrot of Europa League for the side that misses the top four.

They will however be missing key figures Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini for the visit of Stoke – with both suspended.

Pienaar was red carded in their 2-0 victory over Manchester City – and subsequently ruled out for two games – while a 10th yellow card for the season for Belgian midfielder Fellaini saw him earn a two-match ban.

Adding injury to insult is the absence of goalkeeper Tim Howard (back) and Tony Hibbert (calf), although Phil Jagielka (ankle) should be fit to return to the matchday squad.

Tony Pulis’ Stoke have next to nothing to play for in their final eight games in the league, although on closer inspection of their standing in 11th spot, they are just seven points from the drop.

Wigan – who are 18th – could feasibly be within four points of Stoke if they win their game in hand, which is why there is a little bit of pressure starting to heap on Pulis’ sturdy shoulders.

Pulis has been at the Britannia Stadium since 2006, but they have been winless in four league matches and have just one goal to show for their past 360 minutes on the pitch, and it was a Jon Walters penalty.

Walters has managed to score more for his country in the meantime after he netted a brace for Ireland in their 2-2 draw with Austria in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

There is going to be a fair reliance on him to do so again when they travel to Goodison Park, as Cameron Jerome (one goal in 10 league matches) and Peter Crouch (one in 23) have been found wanting of late.

While their form of late spells doom and gloom for their Merseyside trip, Stoke have not lost to Everton in four – drawing the past two, preceded by two wins.

Last time at Goodison, Stoke earned a 1-0 win courtesy of a Robert Huth goal.

Premier League preview: Wigan v Norwich City

28 March 2013 10:28

Wigan’s bid to avoid relegation faces a crucial test on Saturday when Norwich City travel to the DW Stadium.

Wigan, who won seven of their last nine English Premier League fixtures last season to maintain their top-flight status, look to be finishing strongly again.

Wins against Reading and Newcastle United in recent league clashes have boosted their confidence while they have also reached the last four of the FA Cup after toppling Huddersfield Town and Everton.

Roberto Martinez’s side are still in the relegation zone – they sit 18th – but have a game in hand on their rivals.

And a win against the 12th-placed Norwich City could take them out of the bottom three, depending on Aston Villa’s result against Liverpool on Sunday.

Wigan have had no problems scoring goals in recent times, netting in 12 of their last 13 matches, and the form of Ivorian Arouna Kone has been important.

Kone, who joined Wigan from Levante in the off-season, has scored 11 times in 27 appearances.

Norwich have also been in strong form, losing just one of their last seven, but five of them have been draws meaning they are still in danger of getting sucked into a relegation dogfight.

Unlike their upcoming opponents, Chris Hughton’s men have had trouble converting chances and, with just three goals in their last six matches, need more from strikers Grant Holt, Kei Kamara and Luciano Becchio.

Norwich have also agreed a deal in the past week to sign Sporting Lisbon striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel on July 1 to bolster their attacking options.

City have never lost to Wigan in league competition, with the five meetings ending in two Norwich wins and three draws.

The earlier meeting between the two sides this season ended in a 2-1 Norwich triumph thanks to goals from Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan.

Norwich will be hoping that goalkeeper John Ruddy (hip) recovers in time for their trip north, as back-up shot-stopper Mark Bunn (suspended) will miss out.

Pilkington (hamstring) and Andrew Surman (knee) will not play either but screening midfielder Alexander Tettey (knee) could feature.

Wigan will be without attackers Crusat (knee), Ryo Miyaichi (ankle), midfielder Ben Watson (leg) and defender Ivan Ramis (knee) for the match.

Premier League preview: West Ham v West Browich Albion

28 March 2013 10:27

West Ham United can take a huge step towards Premier League safety with a home win against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

As league action resumes after a week of internationals, Sam Allardyce’s side will take on the in-form West Brom at home.

West Ham sit six points above the relegation zone in 14th and have one game in hand on all bar one of the six teams below them on the table.

They could climb to 11th with victory at Upton Park, where they have been impressive this season.

In 14 home fixtures, West Ham have lost just three – to Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham – and a 3-1 win over Chelsea in December showed what they are capable of in east London.

They have struggled to score this term though, with just 32 goals in 29 matches. Only four teams (QPR, Stoke City, Norwich City and Aston Villa) have netted less.

That has led Allardyce to pursue Ivorian Wilfried Bony, who is an off-season transfer target.

Bony has been in stunning form in the Eredivisie this season, bagging 26 strikes in just 24 matches for Vitesse Arnhem.

For now though, West Ham will have to make-do with the likes of Carlton Cole (two goals in 24 appearances), Liverpool loanee Andy Carroll (three goals in 16), Modibo Maiga (two goals in 16) and Ricardo Vaz Te (one goal in 16).

Marouane Chamakh, who joined on loan from Arsenal in January, may be asked to feature up front as well.

West Ham have lost three of their last four matches but should be much more competitive in this fixture.

Still pushing for a European spot, West Bromwich Albion sit eighth on the table and an away win could lift them above Liverpool.

Steve Clarke’s men have lost just one of their last five but they have not been at their best on the road in recent times.

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, who is at the club on a season-long loan from Chelsea, has been excellent this season and his 13 Premier League goals leave him equal-sixth on the league’s scoring charts.

Clarke will be without Hungarian attacker Zoltan Gera (knee) for some time but Stephen Reid (groin) is a chance to return for the fixture.

West Ham are hopeful of having midfield trio Joe Cole, Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan fit from hamstring, arm and ankle issues respectively.

The last four fixtures between the two sides have been draws, with West Brom not having won at Upton Park since 2003.

That match was one of the club’s most memorable English Premier League wins though, as they came back from 3-0 down to win 4-3 thanks to a late Lee Hughes strike.

Premier League preview: Swansea v Tottenham

28 March 2013 10:27

Swansea entertain Tottenham at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday in what should prove to be a mouth-watering clash.

Spurs have stuttered of late and must quickly regain composure for the Premier League run-in, while Swansea can continue their impressive League Cup-winning season with the three points at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham sit precariously four points ahead of north London rivals Arsenal and will be well aware of late-season lapses that have seen them fall out of Champions League contention in recent seasons.

The Gunners have a game in hand and as well as the reward of Champions League football on offer, would dearly love to wrench it from their hapless neighbours’ grasp.

In Gareth Bale and Michu, Tottenham and Swansea boast two of this season’s best performers.

Spurs’ defence must track the elusive Spaniard closely, with Michu capable of scoring all types of goals, his 15-goal tally proof of that.

Meanwhile, Welshman Bale has been showered with praise from all quarters and is perhaps the most prized commodity in world football at the moment.

He has 16 goals to his name and after his staggering season, you feel Spurs may live and die by his ability to single-handedly pick up the points required to finish in the top four.

Bale picked up a knock against Scotland on international duty but is expected to shake it off in time for Saturday.

Defender Michael Dawson pulled out of England’s squad to face Montenegro and is in some doubt, as is Aaron Lennon (groin).