With the three sides that drop out of the Premier League finally confirmed as Portsmouth, Burnley and Hull City, attentions are now fully focused on the top of the table with both the title race and fourth spot set to go all the way to the final day of the season.
Manchester United showed exactly what champions are made of last Saturday, securing a hard fought 3-1 victory over in form Tottenham Hotspur and putting the pressure firmly on their title rivals. Chelsea answered in emphatic fashion, demolishing Stoke City 7-0 at Stamford Bridge and moving back above the Red Devils into pole position for the remaining two games of the season. A trip to Anfield is not one to relish at any stage of the season, but for Chelsea the journey to Merseyside has come crucially with just two games to spare, and despite Liverpool’s bitter rivalry with United they still have hopes of claiming fourth spot setting up a mouth-watering clash on Sunday afternoon. While Chelsea have a full week to prepare for the titanic clash, Liverpool have the small matter of a Europa League semi-final second leg on Thursday night and Rafa Benitez will be keen to provide the club with some silverware as consolation for a disastrous Premier League campaign.
Manchester United will take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday just hours after the encounter on Merseyside which they are sure to be interested spectators of. Sir Alex Ferguson has been in a similar situation many times in his career however and will know his team must first concentrate on securing maximum points from their remaining games if they are to have a chance of defending their crown.
The pick of Saturday’s five games sees Manchester City entertain Aston Villa, a game that will surely have a massive say on who claims fourth place. City responded from the agonising defeat in the Manchester derby with a solid defensive display at the Emirates to secure a 0-0 draw with Arsenal and an important point for Roberto Mancini’s men. Aston Villa on the other hand have produced a late surge towards the top 4 with 13 points from their last five games and now have their eyes firmly on the prize. Elsewhere, Tottenham will look to put last weekend’s defeat at Old Trafford behind them when they welcome Bolton Wanderers to White Hart Lane. Bolton have finished the season in a rather lacklustre fashion and with their Premier League status now secure for next season, Owen Coyle will hope that it gives his players a welcome boost to finish the season in strongly.
The remaining three games on Saturday have little riding on them with Birmingham facing already relegated Burnley, Stoke entertaining Everton and Portsmouth, whose financial worries continue to develop, taking on Wolves – who had their survival confirmed last weekend, much to the relief of Mick McCarthy. The same can be said for Sunday’s game at Craven Cottage when Fulham play West Ham United, who will arrive in high spirits after beating Wigan 3-2 last Saturday and securing another season in the top flight. There is still plenty of pride at stake for these sides though and they will all be looking to end the season in a positive manner.
Game of the weekend: Liverpool vs. Chelsea
They don’t come much bigger than this encounter between two of England’s most successful sides. Liverpool still have fourth spot aspirations and need to take maximum points from their last two games to have a chance, while Chelsea have the small incentive of a Premier League title to contend for making for a fiery affair on Sunday afternoon.
Blast from the past: 2nd October 2005 – Liverpool 1-4 Chelsea
Chelsea pulled nine points clear at the top of the Premier League with a dominant 4-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Frank Lampard opened the scoring from the penalty spot before Steven Gerrard equalised nine minutes later for the hosts. Damien Duff restored Chelsea’s advantage just before half time before second half goals from Joe Cole and Geremi capped a fine day for the visitors.
On this day : 10 years ago – 1999/00
Sheffield Wednesday were relegated to Division One after they were comprehensively beaten 4-1 by Coventry City, while John Hartson’s injury time equaliser against Aston Villa pulled them out the bottom three albeit on goal difference.
Five years ago – 2004/05
Everton secured fourth with a 2-0 win over Newcastle while Norwich City claimed all three points with a narrow 1-0 win over Birmingham to move out of the relegation zone and set up a thrilling final day with the bottom four sides separated by just two points.
One year ago – 2008/09
A goalless draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford was enough for Manchester United to secure a third consecutive Premier League title, while at the other end Middlesbrough and West Brom were relegated after both sides failed to register three points.
Week 37 fixtures
Saturday 1st May
Birmingham vs. Burnley – 12.45 – Live on Sky Sports
Manchester City vs. Aston Villa – 15.00
Portsmouth vs. Wolverhampton – 15.00
Stoke vs. Everton – 15.00
Tottenham vs. Bolton – 15.00
Sunday 2nd May
Fulham vs. West Ham – 15.00
Liverpool vs. Chelsea – 13.30 – Live on Sky Sports
Sunderland vs. Manchester United – 16.00 – Live on Sky Sports
Monday 3rd May ESPN
Wigan vs. Hull – 13.30 – Live on ESPN