Premier League preview
The Premier League title race is set for a decider on Monday night, but before then there are other matters of huge importance.
Last Updated: 30/04/12 12:50pm
The Premier League title race is set for a decider on Monday night, but before then there are other matters of huge importance up and down the table.
Chelsea, fresh from their staggering victory over Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, host West London rivals Queens Park Rangers looking to push for a top-four finish and keep the Hoops stuck in the relegation mire.
Newcastle, also hoping to finish in the top four this season, travel to fourth-bottom Wigan while struggling Aston Villa face a crunch Midlands derby against West Bromwich Albion.
Elsewhere, Bolton go to Sunderland, Arsenal take on Stoke City and Tottenham are pitted against Blackburn Rovers.
There will certainly be no love lost when Chelsea and QPR renew rivalries on Sunday, but the two teams will be spared the pre-match handshake after the Premier League moved to cancel the usual formalities following the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand clash when these sides last met in the league. Terry is accused of allegedly racially abusing Ferdinand during that match, something he strongly denies, but with the QPR defender taking legal advice on whether a snub would possibly prejudice the Chelsea captain's upcoming trial, the Premier League has acted. This is a huge game not just in the context of the bad feeling that has been accentuated between the two clubs this season, but also because of their respective position in the standings. Rangers sit 16th but remain on the precipice of the relegation zone with three matches remaining, while Chelsea, who produced a heroic display at the Camp Nou on Tuesday, will want to make sure of a place in next year's Champions League by finishing in the top four. Watch this game live on Sky Sports 1 and 1HD from 1.30pm.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew has insisted he will not be too disappointed if his side finish fourth this season but fail to qualify for next year's Champions League, should Chelsea win the competition. The Magpies are currently three points ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham going into their game at Wigan, who still have plenty of work to do if they are to avoid the drop. Roberto Martinez's Latics have been resurgent in recent weeks but despite victories over Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, they squandered a lead at Fulham last time out.
Alex McLeish faces the very real possibility of taking both Birmingham clubs down from the top-flight in successive seasons. The Scot's tenure at Aston Villa reached a nadir following Tuesday night's home defeat by Bolton, when the supporters united in anger to protest against McLeish's management. He has three games to preserve Villa's Premier League status but with just three points separating them and the relegation zone, a trip to Midlands rivals West Brom could not come at a worse time. Albion overcame Liverpool last weekend and would like nothing more than to pile the misery on Villa.
Two teams with plenty to play for at opposite ends of the table are Tottenham and Blackburn Rovers, and they meet on Sunday live on Sky Sports 1 and 1HD from 4pm. It has been a stuttering back end to the campaign for Spurs and from title challengers they have fallen back to fifth, fighting to battle their way back into the top four. If they do not pick up three points at White Hart Lane this weekend then their Champions League hopes will hang by a knife-edge, having failed to win in their last three league matches. Blackburn, meanwhile, secured a vital victory over Norwich to keep alive their top-flight ambitions.
The other side fighting to avoid relegation to the Championship are Bolton Wanderers, who play Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Bolton's comeback success at Aston Villa in midweek breathed life into the survival bid, and they will be looking to build on that crucial victory on Wearside. Owen Coyle's men may still be in the bottom three but they have one game in hand over the teams around them, which may prove crucial to the final standings. Sunderland have one eye on the summer break and have not scored in their last four matches.
Arsenal have enjoyed a rollercoaster campaign of ups and downs, but look set to finish the season in the top four. Another year has gone by without a trophy but securing a Champions League place is no mean feat in the current climate. A win for the Gunners at Stoke would consolidate their position in third but it remains to be seen whether Arsene Wenger's charges can stand up to the physical approach of the Potters. Stoke were well beaten by Newcastle but are a different proposition at the Britannia Stadium.
Liverpool may have had success in the domestic cups this year but their league form has been well below par. The Reds risk finishing in the bottom half following their home defeat by Roy Hodgson's West Brom, although in fairness they were desperately unlucky not to win that game. This weekend Norwich are the opponents at Carrow Road, and the Canaries can go level on points with Liverpool with a victory, who could have one eye on next weekend's FA Cup final.
Everton and Fulham have finished the season well and are only separated by two points ahead of their meeting at Goodison Park. The Toffees bounced back from their FA Cup disappointment after twice coming from behind to earn an impressive draw at Manchester United last Sunday and dent the champions' title hopes. Fulham came from a goal down to beat Wigan 2-1 and have impressed in Martin Jol's first campaign in charge. This could be an entertaining encounter with both sides free of pressure.
Finally, already-relegated Wolves will be playing for pride when they make the trip to Wales to play Swansea City. Terry Connor's future is uncertain but he must start preparing the Molineux outfit for life in the Championship after their defeat by Manchester City last weekend. Swansea will have a say in the title race when they play Manchester United in their next game and can move into the top half on Saturday with victory at the Liberty Stadium.