The race for Europe still has plenty of intrigue left, but it’s the relegation battle that is once again the focus in a week that could turn an already crowded field into a complete and total mess.
Everton vs. Manchester City
Goodison Park; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/8:45 AM ET
Everton spent a great deal of the season right in the thick of the Champions League race, but as the Toffees are prone to do they’ve stumbled down the stretch and now find themselves in a dogfight for Europa League qualification. Everton’s lost only once at home this season, but seven wins from 14 games at Goodison isn’t an especially sterling record. This isn’t a season Manchester City ought to be especially pleased with, but they’ve still been one of the league’s elite; it’s a game Everton would love to win, but given recent form it’s tough to see that happening.
Pick: City, 2-1
Aston Villa vs. Queens Park Rangers
Villa Park; 15:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET
QPR’s position is still far from enviable, but after two straight wins it certainly looks like they’re going to give this whole "survival" thing a go. Aston Villa’s recent record doesn’t look especially impressive but there’s little doubt that this is a much-improved team when compared to their hopelessness in January and December, and a win in this contest would give them three from their last five and do wonders for their survival hopes. Neither of these teams are especially good, but both can be fun to watch and they certainly have a whole lot to play for. Probably the week’s most important game, and it has the potential to be quite enjoyable as well.
Pick: Villa, 3-2
Southampton vs. Liverpool
St. Mary’s Stadium; 15:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET
Just when it looked as though the Saints might have escaped the clutches of the relegation battle, losses to Newcastle and QPR coupled with the improved play of some of the teams below them has pulled them right back into it. Thanks in large part to a significantly better goal difference Southampton is in much better shape than the four sides beneath them in the table, but the pressure is clearly back on. And against a Liverpool side that’s been shredding teams of late and has at the very least a shot at Champions League qualification, it’s going to be really tough for the Saints to do much in the way of improving their standing.
Pick: Liverpool, 3-1
Stoke City vs. West Bromwich Albion
Britannia Stadium; 15:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET
West Brom’s hopes of qualifying for Europe appear to be slipping away, but it’s difficult to see this season as anything but a success--to this point--for the Baggies. Barring disaster they’ll finish the season in the top half of the table, and barring some manner of supernatural intervention they’ll once again have the claim of being the best team in the West Midlands. Stoke’s been, well, Stoke, and though it looked at one point as though this might be the year the Potters broke free from the chains of mid-table mediocrity, an horrific run of form--seven losses versus just one win from their last ten games--has put them in some danger of taking a step back from last season. Games that are aesthetically pleasing by contemporary standards are few and far between at the Britannia, but if you’re not opposed to the way Stoke go about things, this one could actually be fairly intriguing.
Pick: Draw, 1-1
Swansea City vs. Arsenal
Liberty Stadium; 15:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET
Say, where you aware that there are some noticeable similarities between the way these two teams go about approaching the game? Well, now you are! With that out of the way, Arsenal showed some signs of life in falling just short of a spirited comeback against Bayern Munich earlier this week, and their hopes of keeping their Champions League qualifying streak running for another year are still very much alive. Swansea’s not going down and they’ve already qualified for Europa so they’re not playing for much other than finishing position at this point, but it’s difficult to imagine them putting in any kind of performance that isn’t fun to watch.
Pick: Arsenal, 3-2
Manchester United vs. Reading
Old Trafford; 17:30 GMT/1:30 PM ET
Reading looked as though they were primed to follow Southampton’s footsteps out of the drop zone not too long ago, but a run of four straight losses has plunged them into 19th and four points shy of safety. You know that thing about the rich getting richer? Well, this is the opposite of that. (It’s actually exactly that for United, but we weren’t talking about United thank you very much.)
Pick: United, 3-0
Sunderland vs. Norwich City
Stadium of Light; 13:30 GMT/9:30 AM ET
In a roundabout way, this game could potentially have an even bigger impact on the relegation battle than the games actually involving teams in the relegation battle. Sunderland is only six points clear after all, and they’ve been downright bad for a not insignificant period of time. A loss here coupled with some unfavorable results for the teams below could see the Wearsiders thrown right into the thick of the race away from the bottom. Norwich City’s cushion is slightly greater, but given their equally uninspiring play as of late they won’t feel especially comfortable if they leave the Stadium of Light without a point themselves.
Pick: Draw, 1-1
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham
White Hart Lane; 15:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET
It’s too early to say whether Spurs are in fact gon’ Spur, but a home loss to Fulham after last week’s unpleasantness certainly won’t do much to change that perception. Fulham’s almost certainly safe at this point, but a point or three would be a nice bit of insurance for the Cottagers, but unless you’re one of those folks that think that there’s some kind of mystical inevitability blessing (or in this case cursing) certain clubs, it’s tough to see Spurs dropping points.
Pick: Spurs, 2-1
Chelsea vs. West Ham United
Stamford Bridge; 16:00 GMT/12:00 PM ET
West Ham is another of those clubs that don’t currently appear to be in any real danger of the drop, but are still close enough to the bottom so as not to feel completely comfortable. Chelsea isn’t in anywhere near so precarious a position, but it’s far closer to exploding into a brilliant ball of flame and leaving a path of destruction that would make Chelyabinsk look like a hailstorm in comparison. Chelsea still looks a likely Champions League qualifier, but if anything happens to put that position in risk it’s going to be really, really funny to watch.
Pick: Chelsea, 3-1
Wigan vs. Newcastle United
DW Stadium; 16:00 GMT/12:00 PM ET
It’s March and Wigan’s in the bottom three. Who do you think is going to win?
Pick: Wigan, 2-1