Premier League preview
All eyes will be on the title race on Saturday, before Everton tackle Chelsea and QPR face Liverpool in the final Premier League games of 2012.
Last Updated: 28/12/12 1:17pm
All eyes will be on the title race on Saturday, before Everton tackle Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers face Liverpool in the final Premier League games of 2012.
The battle intensified at both ends of the table on a dramatic Boxing Day, and it promises to be a thrilling weekend as Manchester United and Manchester City both face resilient opponents.
QPR and Reading are in trouble at the foot of the table and will be hoping to finish the year with a flourish, while several teams are challenging for fourth place.
The action kicks off on Saturday lunchtime with Sunderland welcoming Tottenham Hotspur to the Stadium of Light in a match that can be seen live on Sky Sports 2HD. Martin O'Neill's Black Cats continued to pull clear of the relegation zone on Wednesday thanks to a surprise 1-0 victory over Manchester City, and will be looking to pick up a third straight win. It will be another tough game against Spurs, though, with Gareth Bale in irresistible form after starring in a 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa which kept their push for UEFA Champions League qualification on track.
Manchester United will head into 2013 in a commanding position after opening up a seven-point lead at the summit on Boxing Day, but they will be keen to tighten their grip on top spot further by defeating West Bromwich Albion on Saturday afternoon. Sir Alex Ferguson reiterated after the thrilling 4-3 triumph over Newcastle United that his side could not afford to keep going behind, and they will need to keep their focus against a Baggies team occupying sixth spot.
Having lost ground on their rivals at the weekend, Roberto Mancini will be aware of how important it is to bounce back immediately when he takes his Manchester City troops to Carrow Road to tackle Norwich City. The Canaries were also beaten last time out, 1-0 at home against Chelsea, but they have claimed the scalps of Arsenal and Manchester United already this season and will fancy causing another upset.
Chelsea are now just four points adrift of Man City, with a game in hand, and they have appeared rejuvenated rather than fatigued since returning home from the Club World Cup. Rafa Benitez faces a stern test in Sunday's early kick-off, however, as he takes his Blues to Goodison Park. Everton are on a seven-match unbeaten run and, fresh from overcoming Wigan Athletic 2-1, they will sense an opportunity to leapfrog Chelsea in the standings.
Sunday's second match, also on Sky Sports 1HD, pits together Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool in a crucial contest at Loftus Road. Harry Redknapp's men have slipped back to the bottom of the table after suffering back-to-back defeats and will be seeking only their second victory of the campaign against Liverpool, who lost 3-1 at Stoke City on Boxing Day.
QPR could find themselves three points behind Reading by the time they take to the field, if the Royals can grab a vital victory of their own at home to West Ham United on Saturday. Reading managed to end a run of seven straight losses by holding Swansea City to a goalless draw, but they will now be determined to pick up all three points against a Hammers side refreshed from having Boxing Day off.
West Ham's game against Arsenal was called off due to a London Underground tube strike, but the Emirates Stadium faithful will get the chance to see their team at home before New Year as Newcastle United make the long trip to the capital. The Gunners will be searching for a fourth consecutive win to boost their top-four hopes, while Alan Pardew's Magpies remain perilously close to the drop zone following their agonising defeat at Old Trafford.
Two out-of-form sides will lock horns in the Midlands as Aston Villa entertain Wigan. The Latics have fallen into the bottom three after collecting just one point from their past six games, while Villa have conceded 12 goals in two matches since beating Liverpool at Anfield a fortnight ago.
Southampton, who are sandwiched between Wigan and Villa, continue their fight for Premier League survival with a difficult journey to the Britannia Stadium. Stoke City have the best defensive record in the league and are unbeaten in nine matches, prompting Tony Pulis to declare that this is the strongest Potters side he has worked with.
Fulham welcome Swansea to Craven Cottage for a clash between two sides eager to return to winning ways. The Cottagers have slowly been dropping down the table over the past couple of months after taking just one victory from their past 11 games, while Swansea have picked up just two points from four matches since beating Arsenal.