Premier League preview: Manchester United meet Liverpool and Tottenham face Arsenal
Liverpool's trip to Manchester United and the derby between Tottenham and Arsenal dominate another pivotal weekend.
By Rob Parrish - Follow me on Twitter @skysportsrobp
Last Updated: 15/03/14 12:42pm
Manchester City have little time to recover from their Barcelona disappointment as they head for Hull City looking to cut the gap to leaders Chelsea, who can restore their nine-point advantage over Manuel Pellegrini's men on Saturday Night Football away to Aston Villa.
After losing the Capital One Cup final and then exiting the FA Cup, Sunderland must now refocus on avoiding Premier League relegation when they host fellow strugglers Crystal Palace at the Stadium of Light.
Rock-bottom Fulham have a home date with Newcastle, Cardiff face a testing trip to Everton buoyed by their win against the Cottagers last weekend and West Brom, who are only out of the bottom three on goal difference, head to Swansea.
Norwich need to improve on their miserable away form to ease their drop fears as they head to Southampton, while Stoke City host West Ham, having already overcome Arsenal and Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium this season.
Liverpool head to Old Trafford for the Super Sunday showdown against Manchester United in a role reversal of recent years; with one team battling for the title and the other scrambling to stay in contention for European football. While United's fortunes have plummeted under David Moyes in his first season at the helm, Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool have shown a steady improvement and know victory at the home of their bitter rivals will ensure they remain second in the standings. The visitors have dropped points in just two games during a nine-match unbeaten Premier League run and their form in front of goal has seen them overtake Manchester City as the leading scorers in the top-flight. United, meanwhile, know their title defence is over and even the Champions League looks unlikely, as they trail fourth-placed City by nine points, having played two more matches.
Arsenal's title ambitions have been hit hard by two defeats in their last four matches prior to the Super Sunday derby date with Tottenham, while their UEFA Champions League dreams were ended for another season by Bayern Munich in midweek. Spurs, meanwhile, head into the contest on the back of their 4-0 drubbing at Chelsea and the harsh words of manager Tim Sherwood in the immediate aftermath, in which he questioned the lack of 'characters' in his side. The Gunners' 1-0 victory over their neighbours at Emirates Stadium back in September was a rare low-scoring encounter between the two teams, as only Liverpool v Newcastle (126) has seen more goals than meetings between the north London duo (125) in Premier League history.
Manchester City followed Arsenal in exiting the Champions League this week, with the title hopefuls suffering a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday night. A Saturday lunchtime meeting with Hull City at the KC Stadium offers little recovery time to Pellegrini's squad, who are facing up to another spell without talismanic striker Sergio Aguero after his latest injury setback. City's title prospects remain in their own hands, as they have nine points to make up on leaders Chelsea with three games in hand and a superior goal difference, but the advantage is surely with Jose Mourinho's men. Hull have a Wembley FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United on the horizon, but must focus for now on guaranteeing their top-flight status for another season, as Steve Bruce's men sit five points above the bottom three.
Chelsea take on Aston Villa, live on Sky Sports 1HD, later on Saturday with the Blues having the distinct advantage of knowing how their key title rivals have fared. The Blues' imperious Premier League form - 11 wins and three draws from their last 14 games - suggests that Mourinho's self-styled 'little horse' would be equally comfortable running in the Cheltenham Festival. The Portuguese coach must juggle domestic demands with their impending Champions League clash with Galatasaray, with the Turkish club to be tackled at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening. Villa climbed to 11th on the back of their 4-1 success over Norwich last time out, but the packed nature of the bottom half of the table means they are closer to Fulham in 20th than they are to ninth-placed Southampton.
Sunderland and Crystal Palace are two of the teams battling to preserve their Premier League status ahead of Saturday's pivotal Stadium of Light meeting. The Black Cats, who earned huge praise for the manner of their defeat by Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley, demonstrated their inconsistency just seven days later with a limp FA Cup exit against Hull City when a trip to the iconic stadium was once again within touching distance. Gus Poyet's side find themselves back in the bottom three after cup distractions, one point from safety but with two or three games in hand on their relegation rivals. Palace have a two-point cushion on the bottom three but have been in miserable form on the road this term, with 10 defeats suffered in their 13 fixtures away from Selhurst Park and only six goals scored.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew's seven-game suspension, of which the first three see him banned from the stadium, commences at Craven Cottage in Saturday's clash against struggling Fulham. One positive for Pardew is that the Magpies are comfortably in the top half of the Premier League heading into the final 10 matches, with assistant John Carver tasked with guiding the side in his absence. Opposite number Felix Magath has significantly greater concerns, with Fulham four points from safety with only nine games remaining. The Cottagers' last Premier League win came on January 1 against West Ham, with the following nine games seeing them suffer a demoralising seven defeats, and leading to Magath's appointment in place of Rene Meulensteen last month.
Cardiff's hopes of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship were given a significant lift by their home win against Fulham last time out. They head to Everton for Saturday's showdown with renewed hope, although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side remain in the drop zone on goal difference and have played a game more than many of the teams above them. Roberto Martinez's hopes of winning back-to-back FA Cups with two different teams after last season's triumph with Wigan were ended by Arsenal last weekend, leaving the top-flight as their only route into Europe. Should Capital One Cup winners Manchester City claim their expected spot in the top four, then sixth would be enough to secure a Europa League berth, a position currently held by Manchester United, with Everton behind the outgoing champions on goal difference, but with a game in hand.
Pepe Mel has now overseen seven Premier League fixtures as West Brom manager and the Baggies are still to record a victory under his tutelage going into Saturday's trip to Swansea. Four draws and three defeats, coupled with reports of dressing room unrest under the former Tenerife and Real Betis boss, leave them only just above the bottom three ahead of a host of fixtures against relegation rivals and title hopefuls. Swansea cannot be discounted from the scrap against the drop, with rookie manager Garry Monk having won just one of his four Premier League games in charge since replacing Michael Laudrup, although that success did come in the south Wales derby. Swansea have won just four of their last 19 home top-flight matches, while the Baggies do not have a three-point haul from their previous 10 away fixtures.
Norwich are another side embroiled in the survival scrap as they prepare for the weekend trip to Southampton, with the away form of Chris Hughton's side a key factor in their struggles at the wrong end of the table this term. The Canaries have managed just two wins and two draws from 14 contests away from Carrow Road, largely due to a meagre goals-scored column which has been troubled on just nine occasions. Southampton returned to winning ways last time out with a 1-0 victory away to Crystal Palace after back-to-back defeats against West Ham and Liverpool when manager Mauricio Pochettino felt they were hard done by. Just over four years ago, this fixture was a meeting between two League One sides, in which Wes Hoolahan and Adam Lallana found the target for their respective clubs.
West Ham are the latest team tasked with denting Stoke's impressive home record at the Britannia Stadium, with Mark Hughes' men having lost just twice in front of their own supporters this season, and with Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd having left the Potteries empty-handed this season. Unfortunately for Stoke, they are another side to struggle away from home, although they hold a six-point cushion on the bottom three. Sam Allardyce's Hammers saw their impressive four-game winning streak halted by a narrow 1-0 reverse to Everton in their last match, back on March 1. Allardyce will hope his side can improve on their poor showing when the two teams met at Upton Park back in August, when West Ham went down to a 1-0 defeat and failed to muster a single shot on target.