Premier League preview and fixtures, week 36: Will things come into focus?

Alex Livesey

It’s been a long and often messy season, but as we come down to the wire the final order of things could finally be shaking itself out with huge games in both the fight for the top four and the relegation battle being contested.

Fulham vs. Reading
Craven Cottage; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Every year, as soon as the first teams are relegated, I hope beyond hope that one of them will do something really outrageous. It could be funny, it could be obnoxious, whatever. Just something interesting. And yet, every season, none of them do. I'm hoping Reading breaks the spell, but I'm not holding my breath. Psh. "Pride" and "professionalism." Who needs ‘em.

Pick: Fulham, 2-1

Norwich City vs. Aston Villa
Carrow Road; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

After capping off what's been a pretty strong couple of months with last Monday's 6-1 demolition of Sunderland, Aston Villa isn't quite safe just yet but their in far better shape than they were a week ago. Everyone's known for quite some time what a special player Christian Benteke looks to be, but Villa's newfound competence has also drawn attention to the quality of Andreas Weimann, Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood. That means Aston Villa have finally moved from the "derisive pity" stage to the "which teams will buy all of their good players?" stage. Congratulations, Paul Lambert; it's been quite a ride, but you've earned it.

Pick: Villa, 3-2

Swansea City vs. Manchester City
Liberty Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

If Swansea City announce Roberto Mancini's entrance onto the pitch with the playing of the third movement of Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, it would be the greatest thing to ever happen to football. It would better than at least 3.5 Messis.

Pick: Manchester City, 2-1

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Southampton
White Hart Lane; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Spurs still have the all-important game in hand over Arsenal, a huge clash with Chelsea mid-week, and a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, but at the moment they're on the outside of the top four looking in. A loss at home to a decent but still dramatically inferior Southampton side would cast an eclipse-like shadow of doubt on their ability to secure a Champions League place, and would also be quite a Spurs thing to do.

Pick: Spurs, 3-1

West Bromwich Albion vs. Wigan Athletic
The Hawthorns; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

At this point, I'm pretty sure the Premier League that I experience is just an enormous game of FIFA. Roberto Martinez is dedicated to realism, and after every season he cranks the difficulty up one notch. There's no other explanation that I'll even consider at this point, frankly.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

West Ham United vs. Newcastle United
Upton Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Newcastle had a pretty bad week. A 6-0 stomping at the hands of Liverpool caused their goal difference to take a dramatic tumble, which was made all the worse after Aston Villa's 6-1 win over Sunderland pushed the Toon into 17th. Newcastle's still got a five point lead over Wigan, but their performance--and notably reaction to things going bad--at home against Liverpool isn't going to inspire much confidence, and their record away from home has been appalling. It's not difficult to see the Hammers pulling this one out and making things really uncomfortable for Newcastle. Of course, it's also not difficult to see Newcastle stealing three points and exhaling a sigh of relief. Analysis!

Pick: Draw, 1-1

Queens Park Rangers vs. Arsenal
Loftus Road; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Big game for Arsenal's Champions League hopes, completely irrelevant game for QPR. How Rangers handle relegation after all of the spending they've done this season will be interesting, and most likely sad and terrifying. Hopefully the "Harry Redknapp, Master Escape Artisit" meme is finally dead for good.

Pick: Arsenal, 3-0

Liverpool vs. Everton
Anfield; Sunday, 13:30 GMT/8:30 AM ET

A game that's almost always worth watching, this particular edition of the Merseyside Derby has the potential to be the best game of the week. Everton's slight dip in form in late winter was enough to keep them out of the top four (probably) but they've consistently been a difficult team for almost everyone to play this season. Liverpool has looked capable of putting a tremendous beating on an opponent on quite a few occasions this season, and they finally came through with one last week against Newcastle. If both sides show up at their best, this will be an exceptional game. Even if they don't, it will probably be pretty fun.

Pick: Liverpool, 3-2

Manchester United vs. Chelsea
Old Trafford; Sunday, 16:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET

And then there's this one. That whole "Super Sunday" thing quite often turns out to be a load of garbage, but they might actually be onto something this time around. The title being secured doesn't really seem like something that's going to keep United from attempting to beat the crap out of teams, while Chelsea have seemingly figured out a method for turning dysfunction into points. A huge game in terms of the Champions League race to be sure, and also because Rafael Benitez will be giving a press conference once it's over and that should be amazing no matter what.

Pick: Draw, 2-2

Sunderland vs. Stoke
Stadium of Light; 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

Wow, great scheduling guys.

Pick: Draw, 0-0

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