Tuesday and Wednesday evenings contain a number of intriguing fixtures, with the pick of the bunch being the Manchester derby hosted at Old Trafford on Tuesday, while Arsenal, with hopes of bouncing back from a crushing defeat at the hands of Chelsea at the weekend, entertain a battling Swansea team.
Elsewhere, Everton travel to St. James’ Park to tackle Newcastle, with both teams fresh from weekend victories that keep their ambitions of European action alive – the Magpies less so, but as long as there’s a mathematical chance …
Anfield is the setting for a clash between a marauding Liverpool side and Sunderland hoping to stave off relegation. The Black Cats will hope to stem Liverpool’s Red Tide, who appear to be scoring at will, while Sunderland themselves have not recorded a victory since their 3-0 away triumph at rivals Newcastle five games ago.
The forecast for midweek: partly cloudy and mild with a 100% chance of raining goals.
The Manchester Derby
United, again off the back of morale-boosting wins over West Ham, away, and Olympiakos to burst into the Champions League last eight, host a devastating Manchester City team steamrolling all who cross their path.
Little needs to be said about the host’s inconsistency this season, while praises for their ‘noisy neighbours’ ability to dispatch opponents with disdain cannot be sung louder. While Sergio Aguero will remain side-lined for the visitors, the likes of Alvaro Negredo, David Silva, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri, Fernandinho and James Milner will all provide a lethal threat for City.
Wayne Rooney will bid for a repeat performance from the weekend where his exquisite strike from the just the right side of the halfway line, alone, would have proved enough to see off West Ham United.
It remains difficult, however, to predict anything other than a Manchester City victory going into this one, with the only real question for me being how much damage will Man United sustain over the 90-minute period.
Prediction: 3-0 to Manchester City – their attack is second only to Liverpool’s so far this season, and their defence has been rock-solid to boot.
Arsenal take aim at Swansea
The Gunners face Swansea at The Emirates amid hopes of redemption after being soundly beaten 6-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieron Gibbs are likely to feature in this match after the latter was dismissed for the former’s indiscretion at the weekend. In fact, neither player will serve a suspension as the handball was deemed to be off-target and therefore not a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Swansea’s form is of great concern as their last victory came at home to arch rivals Cardiff some six games ago. And though they’ve made a good fist of it away to top opposition this season, Arsenal are most likely to keep pace with the top three, rather than Swansea steering clear of the relegation scrap.
Prediction: 3-1 to Arsenal – Garry Monk’s team’s confidence must surely be shaken given their record of late, while Arsenal have repeatedly shown an ability to bounce back after poor results.
Newcastle face Everton
This is a match that will prove very interesting indeed – Alan Pardew is serving a touchline ban, while both team’s form of late is questionable. Newcastle have lost four of their last six home matches, while Everton’s away form reveals three losses and only one victory in their last 6 matches away from home.
Roberto Martinez’s Everton though have shown a lot of grit this season, especially as they’ve stayed within touching distance of a European berth all season. That, coupled with the Newcastle Manager’s touchline ban, should see Everton home in this one.
Prediction: 2-1 to Everton – Newcastle’s doubtful home record and shaky defence of late will likely be put to the sword by the likes of Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku come Tuesday evening.
Rodgers’ Red Army take on Sunderland
This is likely to be another mismatched mid-week fixture as Liverpool host Sunderland at Anfield on Wednesday evening. The Reds have exceeded even their own expectations this season as their initial aim was fourth and Champions League football next season, and they’ve turned that into Champions League football next season with a possible Premier League title this term.
Sunderland, on the other hand, remain entrenched in the struggle against relegation. Though they’ve recorded only two wins in their last six fixtures overall, their away form makes for better reading with three wins in their last six matches away from The Stadium of Light.
All that said, Liverpool’s home form will make for worrying reading for the Sunderland faithful as The Reds look continue their march to the Premier League summit. Liverpool have won twelve of their fourteen home matches this season and will not stand to have that record tarnished by a team in the thick of a relegation dogfight.
Prediction: 4-1 to Liverpool – the home side have scored at a rate of nearly three goals per game this season, though their defensive record has left much to be desired. However, it seems to be the Liverpool way these days that no matter how many goals the opposition may score, they’ll score more!
West Ham vs Hull City
West Ham are currently in no-man’s-land in 14th while their opponents on Wednesday evening occupy two places above them, and are only two points better off. Both these sides are a mere seven points or less away from the relegation trap-door themselves, so victory in this one is key to both sides.
Steve Bruce’s Hull have performed respectfully this season, and even punching above their weight at times with favourable results against the likes of Tottenham and even a 3-1 win against Liverpool in the early part of the campaign.
West Ham meanwhile boast a similar record with positive outcomes against Southampton, Aston Villa and Chelsea, so this game really is in the balance.
My belief stands firm that Sam Allardyce is a top manager having been in the running for the England post not that long ago and leading a Bolton team to within European contention consistently a few years back.
Allardyce has made several claims over the course of the season that his position as West Ham’s manager may be under threat, but I feel otherwise. The Hammers should aim to keep him on for as long as they possibly can, and they will undoubtedly be rewarded for their faith in him.
As far as the Hull City fixture goes though, this one is almost too close to call.
Prediction: 1-0 to West Ham – Both teams need a victory to keep clear of the bottom three, and that both have such similar records over the course of the season makes this a tough call. I feel though that West Ham will edge a victory here purely on the basis that they face a similarly-placed Hull City at home.