Five things to watch this weekend in the Premier League (with bonus FA Cup stuff)
Is the title race really back on? Plus, this could be the weekend when all three of last year’s promoted sides ensure safety, an event even rarer than a Kevin Doyle goal this season.
Man-cini on a mission
We are choosing to ignore Roberto Mancini’s talk that the title race is over. He said it after Manchester City went eight points behind Manchester United and he stuck to it after City narrowed the gap to five on Wednesday night.
But we don’t believe you Roberto. With the carrot of the upcoming top-of-the-table clash at the Etihad on April 30, you have to believe your boys can do this. Carlos Tevez scored on his first start since September and with Sergio Aguero now healed and looking hungry, you have two in-form strikers rather than one very difficult one in Mario Balotelli. If you win your final five games you have a shot and that task begins with Norwich at Carrow Road in Saturday’s early kick-off. Norwich are safe (more of that later) so City should arrive as the motivated side and escape with all three points. Over to you Alex...
United will stand
We would have hated to have been in United dressing room on Wednesday night. The league leaders were abject and after putting together such a string of results to clamber over City, they offered their rivals a lifeline with an insipid performance at Wigan. They deserved to lose and we’re sure Fergie dug out the old hairdryer and set it to ‘f*** you’ before turning it on Wayne, Giggsy et al.
As a result, the United team should trot out against Villa on Sunday with their ears still ringing, and if, as we assume, City get three points against Norwich, they really will need to win this one. Alex McLeish and Fergie go way back but there will be no love lost here. In this game a few years back, Federico Macheda effectively won the title for United with a late, late goal to steal a victory. A more straightforward three points on Sunday will probably do the trick.
Irish eyes are sliding
Sunderland take on Wolves this Saturday and it is a handy game to check out the differing fortunes of some Irish internationals. Take Kevin Doyle. Probably a shoo-in for Poland no matter how he plays, Doyle cut a frustrated figure on Wednesday night as Arsenal hammered another nail into Wolves' inescapable relegation coffin. The Wexford man has just five goals to his name this season, and one of those was against Andorra while wearing green. He has managed just two for his club since late October and while the team around him is struggling, it has dragged Doyle’s form down too, not to mention the level that Stephen Ward and Kevin Foley are currently operating at.
A happy Kevin Doyle, a rare sight these days
Meanwhile, James McClean continues to thrive under Martin O’Neill’s (left) wing, John O’Shea is in the form of his life and even David Meyler is edging his way back into contention to start for the Black Cats.
The contrast between both couldn’t be greater and we expect that to be reflected in the scoreline this weekend. If we can get some decent performances out of Wolves' Irish lads it would be a welcome bonus.
Up and at ‘em
Okay, trivia fans. Only once have all three promoted sides stayed in the Premier League, when was it and which teams were they? Answer is at the bottom of the page but it could happen this season. Norwich, as we said, are safe. Swansea, on 39 points, are probably already safe but even a draw against Blackburn this weekend takes them to the mythical 40-point mark.
That leaves QPR and while a Joey Barton-led team managed by Mark Hughes may not be too appealing, a win this weekend over West Brom could move the Londoners five clear of the drop zone with four games left. That wouldn’t make them safe but they would be getting very close and in their 3-0 win over the Swans on Wednesday they looked like a side who have enough about them to stay up.
In case you have forgotten, the FA Cup semi-finals are on this weekend. On Saturday, Merseyside moves to North London as Liverpool take on Everton in what probably won’t be a very pretty game but it should be bloody entertaining. We know that nobody ‘deserves’ a trophy but David Moyes really does deserve a trophy for his years of effort at Goodison. No offence ‘Pool fans but I know who I’m cheering for this weekend. We suspect Damien Comolli will be doing the same.
The other semi sees London rivals Chelsea and Spurs meet. You get the feeling neither side really cares about this and they would rather be continuing the battle for fourth. Instead they have to play this game and fret over Newcastle. Roberto Di Matteo would probably like a trophy but it won’t get him the Chelsea job while the last time Harry won the FA Cup, the club imploded shortly afterwards. This one may not be too hot, and has penalties written all over it.
Answer: Okay, here you go. It was in the 2001-02 season when Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton all came up and stayed up. Feel free to bore your friends with that over the weekend.
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