Premier League preview and fixtures, week 35: Only two battles remain

Alex Livesey

The title’s been won, but this week features a lot of do-or-die action in the Champions League race and relegation battle, and Monday night’s game is the do-or-deadest of them all.

Manchester City vs. West Ham United
Etihad Stadium; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

With the title now officially out of reach, City doesn’t have a whole lot to play for. There is technically the possibility of total collapse and a slide down the table and out of Champions League qualification, but that seems about as likely as winning the league did this time last week. West Ham is in a similar situation, with safety secured and European qualification well out of reach. It’s an odd time in the Premier League season, with some clubs fighting for their (in some cases literal) lives while most others simply play out the string. The only reason to tune into games between sides in the latter situation is the hope of entertaining football, and in this case, well, you know.

Pick: City, 2-0

Everton vs. Fulham
Goodison Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Last week’s disappointing loss to Sunderland looks to have put to bed once and for all any remaining hope that Everton could barge their way into the top four, and if Wigan manages to pull off a massive upset in the FA Cup final the Toffees could find themselves out of Europe altogether. It’s a disappointing way for Everton to end what was for so long such a promising season, but not an especially unfamiliar one. There’s still plenty of time for the Toffees to right the ship, finish strong and take something very positive from this year, but a win against Fulham at home seems a necessary step to making that happen.

Pick: Everton, 2-1

Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion
St. Mary’s Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Barring a complete meltdown, Southampton is very much safe and with their abundance of young talent and seeming willingness to spend when appropriate, they appear to be a club worth keeping an eye on. Some would call West Brom a model of the way a club of their size should operate, and it’s difficult to find much fault with that assertion. It’s tough to see either of these clubs going anywhere in the near future, and given the way the philosophies driving their (relative) success both on the pitch and off, that seems like a good thing for the league.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

Stoke City vs. Norwich City
Britannia Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Stoke managed to put an end to a three match losing streak (which was contained within a seven match winless run) with a win over QPR last weekend, but it’s still too early to know whether they’ve arrested their tailspin or simply managed to level off temporarily. The Potters are six points clear of the drop, but that might not be enough if they return to the form they’d been showing for most of 2013. Norwich has had a bit of a rough go of things over the last few months in their own right (though never so rough as Stoke) but last week’s win over Reading has probably given them all they’ll need to stay safe. A point for either side will probably be sufficient, and since Stoke is involved that seems like a pretty likely outcome.

Pick: Draw, 0-0

Wigan Athletic vs. Tottenham Hotspur
DW Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

To manage yet another great escape, Wigan is probably going to have to win a game they don’t have much business winning. Spurs and Arsenal stand out from their remaining five opponents as heavy favorites and given the way the Gunners have been playing and the fact that the Latics will be making the trip to the Emirates just three days after the FA Cup final, this weekend’s game seems the more likely candidate for a Wigan upset. At the very least, Roberto Martinez’s side needs to keep damage control in mind if they do end up trailing early on; goal difference is Wigan’s only real advantage over Aston Villa, and if they let that slip their situation will look even more dire.

Pick: Spurs, 2-0

Newcastle United vs. Liverpool
St. James’ Park; Saturday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

Liverpool’s chances of qualifying for Europe were pretty slim before Luis Suarez decided to remind the entire planet once again that he is an absolutely terrifying lunatic, and without him they’re likely close to zero. There’s nothing that says psychopaths can’t be good at football, after all; some might argue that it’s an asset. Newcastle is, by all available evidence, going to stay up. They’re far too talented to be this low in the table, and while their recent form hasn’t been stellar it also hasn’t been so bad as to signify that the kind of collapse required to see them relegated is around the corner. Still, it’s better to be sure than not and if Newcastle can manage a point in this one, they’ll be pretty comfortable the rest of the way.

Pick: Draw, 2-2

Reading vs. Queens Park Rangers
Madejski Stadium; Sunday, 13:30 GMT/8:30 AM ET

There is nothing nice or interesting to say about this game.

Pick: They’ll both lose.

Chelsea vs. Swansea City
Stamford Bridge; Sunday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Chelsea will likely still be fuming over last weekend’s result, and well they should be. If a player that should have been sent off scoring a goal and ends up depriving them a Champions League place, it’s important to remember who’s really at fault: that’s right, Rafa Benitez.

Pick: Chelsea, 2-1

Arsenal vs. Manchester United
Emirates Stadium; Sunday, 16:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET

Robin van Persie walking through the Guard of Honor at the Emirates is going to be one of the most painfully awkward moments in the history of sports. The only thing that will make it any better for anyone involved would be for RVP to go full heel and walk out wearing shades and throwing £100 notes or something.

Pick: Draw, 3-3

Aston Villa vs. Sunderland
Villa Park; Monday, 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

Thanks to a massive win over Everton last week, Sunderland have put some much-needed distance between themselves and the relegation zone. They’re not safe yet, but the team genuinely looks to have gotten a major boost from their new manager and a win at Villa Park would likely seal the deal. Speaking of Paolo Di Canio and Villa Park, the Sunderland boss will not be the most popular man at the stadium on Monday; aside from the same reasons that most people dislike him, Di Canio also taunted traveling Villa fans after his Swindon side was bounced from the Capital One Cup back in October. This game is huge for both clubs and doesn’t really need any additional spice, but any time the home fans actively dislike the visiting manager it can only add to the fun.

Pick: Villa, 2-1

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