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City, United continue PL horse race
It’s a massive weekend in the Barclays Premier League, and here are the top six games you cannot afford to miss.
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer)
PREMIER LEAGUE RESULTS:
|Tuesday, March 20|
|Wednesday, March 21|
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WHO TO WATCH: If you’re not watching Robin van Persie, I suggest you visit the optometrist. The Dutchman has scored 37 goals in 44 appearances for club and country this season. It’s not just the number, it’s the quality that takes the breath away.
It took Arsene Wenger far too long to recognize that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the spark plug missing from the team as they went through a season-defining slump. Now that the Frenchman has embraced the youngster, Arsenal has an added dimension. Every player on this team looks sharper when this kid is on the field.
Aston Villa’s Shay Given has been one of the most consistent shot-stoppers over the last decade in the Premier League. If he can get any kind of protection in and around the six yard box, he has the ability to have ‘one of those’ games.
WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Given Arsenal’s recent form, their luck and, more importantly, the belief that is flowing through the team, they’re going to annihilate a very average Villa team that already has an eye on the beach.
Chelsea vs. Tottenham
WHAT THE GAME IS: Despite losing to Manchester City on Wednesday, Chelsea have found the feel-good factor at just the right time in the campaign. Tottenham are sinking faster than a lead balloon. That five-point lead over the Blues could well be down to two and the Europa League beckons.
WHO TO WATCH: For the last fourteen months Chelsea striker Fernando Torres has been a sad punch line. The words listless, depressed and anxious described a player who had once been alive, happy and confident. Well, welcome back Fernando. The spark has returned and I believe that the goals will also return.
It wasn’t that long ago that Gareth Bale was being touted as a possible Chelsea player. The Welshman decided to remain loyal to Spurs…for now. Bale will know that this is an opportunity to impress summer suitors. Pace, strength and the sweetest left foot in north London make the number ‘3’ must-see-TV.
Roberto di Matteo suffered his first reverse against City after a dream start and he’ll be well aware that he’s still under the microscope. However, he’s nowhere near the pressure point of his opposite number Harry Redknapp. From possible England manager to captain of a sinking ship in the space of six weeks, football can be a cruel business.
WEBSTER’S WISDOM: The last time Spurs won at Stamford Bridge, the match was broadcast in black and white. I jest, but it was way back in 1990! If you offered Tottenham a point now they would cut your hand off – and it’s not going to happen. Home win.
Liverpool vs. Wigan (Saturday, 11:00 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer Plus)
WHAT THE GAME IS: There have been some shocking results this campaign – think United-Arsenal, United-City. For me, seeing Liverpool roll over like a puppy at Loftus Road midweek comes to mind. Two-nil up with thirteen minutes to go, the Reds left London empty-handed and Kenny Dalglish without any do-overs.
WHO TO WATCH: The young Uruguayan defender Sebastian Coates opened up a few eyes with his stunning volley in London and you’ve got to wonder why Dalglish has been hiding him in the reserves. If the Liverpool experiment is going to take off, Coates needs to be a regular from now until the end of the season.
Rumors are always going to surround Luis Suarez. The striker has said that he loves Merseyside. But after a troubled season, summer suitors will be sniffing around Anfield come May. The Uruguayan can frustrate and please the eye within the same passage of play, but he will be missed if he decides to move. Enjoy him while you can.
Goals are the currency that saves teams from relegation at this time of the season. However, Wigan has nobody that trades in this commodity. Roberto Martinez must be looking at the likes of Franco di Santo and Hugo Rodallega, and mumbling under his breath ‘you’ve got me the sack.’
WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Liverpool has been a tough nut to crack at Anfield this year. They’ll take three points but it might not be pretty.
Stoke City vs. Man City (Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer)
WHAT THE GAME IS: There are no second chances for Manchester City and they’re well aware that only wins will bring them their first league title since 1968. Playing Stoke at the Britannia Stadium is one of the toughest asks in the BPL, and something has got to give.
WHO TO WATCH: He’ll be on the bench, but every camera in the stadium will be pointed at Carlos Tevez. The Argentinian, who has spent the last five months playing the fool in Roberto Mancini’s doghouse, returned to the team on Wednesday night and did so in grand style. He is a match winner and Mancini knows it.
Samir Nasri has failed to live up to expectations and his City career has been bitty. However, in the match that mattered midweek, he found his ‘bottle’ and lifted his club in their moment of need. With David Silva tailing off, Nasri will be the key as they enter the home stretch.
Ryan Shawcross wins no beauty contests but he does represent what Stoke are all about - fight, commitment, passion and an unquenchable desire to win. His one-on-one battles with the likes of Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and Edin Dzeko will ultimately decide the game.
WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Who would be a City fan at this point of the season? So many times they’ve broken their supporters' hearts by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Every match now is a ‘must win’ and they won't disappoint tomorrow.
West Brom vs. Newcastle (Sunday, 11:00 a.m. ET, exclusively on FOX Soccer)
WHAT THE GAME IS: Conventional wisdom states that WBA are four points away from 40 and safety. Newcastle, on the other hand, has an outside chance of Champions League football, but the Europa League is a more realistic goal.
WHO TO WATCH: I liked Demba Ba at West Ham and he’s really taken off with Newcastle. Geordie Nation should pay close attention to him for the next eight matches. The likelihood of him remaining in the north east is about the same as Magpies owner Mike Ashley. Sixteen goals for a striker who cost nothing is the kind of return Bernie Madoff was famous for.
Ben Foster could be regarded as a selfish player or just very smart. After five England caps he announced he was giving up international football to concentrate on his club career. The 28-year-old is still a baby in terms of goalkeeping experience, with close to 200 appearances under his belt. A move back to the big time is in his future.
WEBSTER’S WISDOM: West Brom under Roy Hodgson is organized, disciplined and always capable of beating one of the top sides. I believe that they’ll do so on Sunday.
Manchester United vs. Fulham
WHAT THE GAME IS: Nobody does ‘squeaky bum time’ better than Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scotsman has made this time of year his own personal fiefdom and to bet against United now would mark you down as a fool. Fulham are playing for prize money here.
WHO TO WATCH: Russian striker Pavel Pogrebnyak is only on a loan deal from Stuttgart until the end of the season, however his five goals in five matches - which included a perfect hat trick - will surely have Fulham’s Martin Jol fingering his checkbook. A goal or two on Monday night will increase his value and the fact that he’s somewhat of an unknown quantity will have the United defenders frantically searching YouTube.
Big games – and that’s what every match is for the Red Devils during this final stretch – require big players. Wayne Rooney is back to being the best that England has to offer; a playmaker, a goal scorer and an overall leader.
It has been said that football is a young man’s game. However when you’re in that final stretch, which two players would you want on the pitch? Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have been down this road for over 20 years and have the T-shirts and medals to prove it.
WEBSTER’S WISDOM: Fulham have turned in some inspirational performances over the years age and they have stunned United on a couple of occasions. On Monday night, with the entire world watching, it’s going to be tight and it’s going to be red.
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