Premier League preview

This weekend sees the final Premier League matches of the year and the first of 2012.

United host Blackburn; City go to Sunderland; Bolton host Wolves

It will be a New Year and a new start for a lot of teams at the wrong end of the Premier League, but both Manchester clubs will hope for more of the same in 2012. They are currently level at the summit with 45 points apiece and United host rock-bottom Blackburn on Saturday while City travel to Sunderland the following day. Tottenham are just seven points behind the Mancunian pace-setters with a game in hand and will look to keep the pressure on against Swansea at the Liberty Stadium. Elsewhere, Chelsea and Arsenal both have home games while Bolton and Wolves lock horns in a relegation battle. The action on New Year's Eve kicks off at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime with Manchester United hoping to build on their demolition of Wigan against struggling Blackburn Rovers. Steve Kean revealed in midweek that Sir Alex Ferguson gave him words of support following the abuse from a large section of Blackburn fans, with the club bottom of the Premier League and five points adrift of safety. But rest assured there will be no favours dished out when the two sides take to the pitch as United have the chance to go top of the table, at least temporarily. Despite all the talk of doom and gloom a few weeks back, they have gone from strength to strength and you would bank on a home victory in this one. However, Rovers showed heart at Liverpool last time out and are fighting for their lives.

Credentials test

City will no doubt be keeping one eye on that result ahead of their clash at Sunderland, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 3pm on Sunday. Roberto Mancini's men were held at West Brom on Boxing Day and a tricky trip to a rejuvenated Sunderland will test their title credentials further. Martin O'Neill has restored some confidence at the Stadium of Light since his arrival as manager, and following two victories, a draw and a creditable defeat at Spurs, his players will be motivated to keep moving forward against their big-spending opponents. Stephane Sessegnon, in particular, is in a rich vein of form but will have to be at his best to test City's strong backline. Tottenham will finish the year in third place whatever the results at the weekend, a remarkable achievement considering where they were at the beginning of the campaign and many are tipping them to remain close challengers for the Premier League crown. Harry Redknapp's charges have a difficult match at Swansea to contend with, though, with the Welsh outfit searching for their first win in four attempts. They have only lost one of those games but after an impressive start to life in the top-flight, Brendan Rodgers may be looking nervously at the bottom half of the table with a tricky run of fixtures to come. Speculation surrounds the return of Thierry Henry to Arsenal, with the New York Red Bulls forward to be offered the chance to put on the red and white jersey once again during a two-month loan spell. If he does complete a comeback to North London he may provide some much-needed help to Robin van Persie up front, who despite a fantastic season so far was frustrated by Wolves goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey during their recent 1-1 draw. Arsenal have done well to claw themselves back into the top five and finishing in the Champions League places come May must be a priority for Arsene Wenger. They host QPR at the Emirates on Saturday with Rangers currently on the slide - Neil Warnock's Hoops have not won any of their last six during a tough Christmas period. Despite beating Manchester City just a few weeks ago, Chelsea are 11 points off the top of the table and their chances of a title bid hang by a thread - victory at home to Aston Villa is a must if they are to keep their faint hopes alive. Andre Villas-Boas' side have drawn their last three matches 1-1 since that victory over City, and unless they can produce an impressive run, this will be regarded as a season of transition for the Portuguese coach in his first year in England. Villa have not won for three matches and Alex McLeish continues to endure a rough ride - also in his first campaign with the club. Owen Coyle would have been hoping that victory for Bolton over Blackburn was to be a turning point, but a limp display against Newcastle at home means they are well and truly stuck in the bottom three. It is a big game for Wanderers on Saturday as they face fellow relegation strugglers Wolves, who are one place outside the bottom three. A win for Bolton would see them move just one point behind Mick McCarthy's men but they will need to up their game if they are going to get anything from this one - Wolves earned a creditable draw at Arsenal on Tuesday and have fighting spirit. Fellow Black Country outfit West Brom have been resurgent of late and Roy Hodgson has really got his team playing for each other. Two wins and a draw against Manchester City see the Baggies sitting pretty in ninth, putting distance between themselves and the dogfight. Everton visit the Hawthorns on New Year's Day, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 12.30pm. The Toffees have had a hit-and-miss first half of the season but successive victories would see them leapfrog West Brom in the table.
Close call
Norwich and Fulham are only separated by one place ahead of their meeting at Carrow Road. The Cottagers bounced back from their embarrassing defeat by Manchester United with a deserved point at Chelsea and it remains to be seen which team turns up in East Anglia. Things could begin to get tough for the promoted clubs as the season progresses but Norwich have acquitted themselves well so far - 21 points from 18 games leaving them well-placed in mid-table. Finally, Stoke have the opportunity to consolidate their place in the top half while Wigan can move out of the bottom three when the two teams lock horns at the Britannia. It is difficult to look past a home win here but Wigan have the potential to surprise teams. They have Conor Sammon available after his red card received against Manchester United was rescinded on Thursday. But can their defence stand up from the direct approach of the Potters?

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