Premier League preview
QPR and Reading cling to survival while Gareth Bale returns for Spurs ahead of another nervy weekend.
Last Updated: 19/04/13 7:10pm
Queens Park Rangers and Reading continue to cling to faint hopes of Premier League survival ahead of another nervy Saturday around the relegation zone while Sunday's focus turns to the race for the top four.
With the majority of clubs having just five league matches remaining in the 2012/13 campaign, it is becoming very tense at the bottom of the table and the anxiety will be felt when 19th-placed QPR host fellow strugglers Stoke City in an immensely important game.
Reading, bottom on goal difference, also face what will be a clichéd six-pointer when they visit Norwich City while FA Cup finalists and relegation zone occupants Wigan Athletic travel to West Ham United, who are still not guaranteed survival.
Sunderland, will want to continue to climb away from trouble when hosting UEFA Champions League-chasing Everton, and Newcastle United need a response at West Bromwich Albion after their derby hammering at the hands of Paolo Di Canio's men.
Despite sitting 12th, Southampton are another side not yet certain of guaranteed survival in the top flight but a victory at Capital One Cup winners Swansea City would move them past the 40-point mark.
Also on a busy Saturday of 3pm kick-offs, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal could again move back above Chelsea into third position if they win in their London derby against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
The higher regions of the table remain the topic on Sunday, when top-four hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester City, while Chelsea interim boss Rafa Benitez returns to Liverpool.
After losing at Everton last weekend, Harry Redknapp's QPR are 10 points from safety with just 15 points left to play for to leave them in an incredibly dire situation. Stoke will therefore travel to Loftus Road with the hope of adding to their hosts' misery. At the same time, victory would ease the troubles of Tony Pulis' men, who have plummeted to 16th position and just three points clear of the drop zone after taking fewer points than any other Premier League side in 2013 and collecting just a single point in their last seven games.
Reading are in an even more perilous position than QPR, with Nigel Adkins' team sitting at the foot of the table, and they know nothing less than a win over 14th-placed Norwich would leave them needing a miracle. Adkins has been unable to inspire a victory since taking charge in March but last weekend's draw with Liverpool at least gave some encouragement. They now want the victory to pull Norwich, who are just four points from trouble, into danger at Carrow Road.
After their midweek defeat at FA Cup final opponents Manchester City, Wigan remain far from safe ahead of travelling to London to face West Ham. Roberto Martinez's side are three points from safety but do have a game in hand on 17th-placed Aston Villa. A win against West Ham, whose engrossing midweek draw with Manchester United leaves them still not safe on 39 points, would move Wigan above a Villa side who do not play until Monday night at Old Trafford.
Sunderland, inspired by boss Di Canio, produced an incredible derby victory at Newcastle last weekend to give them a big boost in avoiding relegation. And the Stadium of Light will now want comforts in their Italian manager's first home game when Everton arrive on Saturday. But David Moyes' sixth-placed visitors have yet to give up on qualifying for the Champions League after drawing at Arsenal on Tuesday and they will be in determined mood.
Newcastle were stunned by that derby defeat by Sunderland, which was marred by fan disturbances, and Alan Pardew apologised to the club's supporters. The manager has promised to not let his players forget about their performance and he will be expecting improvements at West Brom, who continue to sit in an impressive eighth place. Newcastle are also only five points away from the relegation zone and cannot take anything for granted.
It is generally accepted Southampton have improved since Mauricio Pochettino took charge back in January and he will hope to stretch a current five-game unbeaten run when visiting Swansea this weekend. Southampton are seven points above the relegation zone but there is no room for complacency against Michael Laudrup's Swansea, who want to address a run of four Premier League games without a win.
At the other end of the table on Saturday, Arsenal will need to address a disappointing recent record at Fulham if they are to move back into the top three. Fulham are unbeaten in their last four Premier League meetings with Arsenal, drawing three and winning one. Arsenal have also won just one of their last four trips to Craven Cottage in the Premier League, losing their last visit in January 2012.
Attention remains on the upper echelons on Sunday, when Tottenham welcome Manchester City in the lunchtime kick-off. Spurs have slipped out of the Premier League's top four and are in danger of again missing out of the Champions League following a collapse late in the season. They are therefore in no need of motivation but defending champions City will arrive at White Hart Lane aware the title race is not yet completely over. With a game in hand over slightly-wobbling leaders Manchester United, City could move back to within 10 points of their neighbours if they earn a victory at White Hart Lane.
The weekend's final game sees Benitez make what will be an emotional return to Liverpool, when Chelsea visit Anfield. The Spaniard guided Liverpool to success in the Champions League and FA Cup as well as the best Premier League finish in their history during his six years in charge on Merseyside. But his target is now to defeat his former club. Chelsea currently sit third after beating Fulham in midweek and they will want to remain in the box seat for qualification for the Champions League.