EPL: Week 34 Preview

19 April 2013

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The title race may have already been decided with five matches remaining, but there are still intriguing battles taking place at the top end of the Premier League table.

eplThe race for European football is heating up, and following Arsenal’s goalless draw with Everton at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night, the battle for a top-four position remains wide open.

There is currently five points separating four sides, who are all vying for the remaining two Champions League spots, and the subsequent financial windfall that goes with them.

Chelsea (61 points) leads the pack in third and remains favourite for a return to Champions League football, as they have the luxury of a game in hand on their opponents. However, their game in hand comes against Tottenham (58 points), in what will be a crucial London derby in May.

Tottenham plays the in-form Manchester City this weekend, where a defeat could put a huge dent in their top-four ambitions, while Chelsea travels to Liverpool with a notoriously poor record against the Reds at Anfield.

Arsenal (60 points) is currently in the final fourth spot, yet is sandwiched between the two sides who have a game in hand on them. Their quest for a 16th consecutive top-four finish could come down to the battle of Chelsea and Tottenham later in the season.

Earlier this week, the Gunners played out a scoreless draw with Everton (56 points), who remain the outsiders to qualify for the Champions League. Victory at the Emirates Stadium would have put the Toffees within one point of the top-four, but they were forced to settle for the stalemate.

At the bottom of the table, a Paolo Di Canio-led Sunderland moved three points clear of the relegation zone with an emphatic 3-0 victory over archrivals Newcastle. Superb goals from Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson and David Vaughan sealed the crucial victory, which had Di Canio celebrating his first win in charge of the Black Cats as though they’d won the league.

Sunderland’s win heaped the pressure on Wigan who – despite qualifying for the FA Cup final with victory over Millwall – slumped deeper into the relegation zone. The Latics are now three points behind the trio of Sunderland, Stoke and Aston Villa, with a game in hand (against Swansea) still to be played. Wigan hosts West Ham this weekend.

Norwich, who lost to Arsenal, and Newcastle, who suffered that infamous defeat to Sunderland, aren’t out of trouble either. The Canaries are just four points above the bottom three, while Newcastle are only five points clear with five games to go.

QPR and Reading remain locked on 24 points at the bottom of the table, ten points from safety with five games to go. Such is their task to survive relegation that they have both become almost irrelevant in any discussion of who will go down, with many believing their fate has already been sealed.

QPR hosts 16th placed Stoke this weekend, where a win would close the gap between the two to just seven points, meanwhile Reading faces the under pressure Norwich.

In the Championship, it was a monumental week in Wales, with Cardiff sealing promotion to the Premier League for the first time in the club’s history.

A goalless draw with Charlton moved the Bluebirds 13 points clear on top of the Division Two table, guaranteeing them a spot in the top flight.

Cardiff’s promotion is fully deserved for years of hard work. 41-year-old manager Malky Mackay has got a brilliant football brain, they have a strong core group of players and brilliant fans.  They also have a new owner, Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan, who has promised Mackay in excess of  £25 million to spend over the summer to strengthen his squad.

Their historic promotion comes two years after Swansea became the first ever Welsh side to play in the Premier League. Cardiff, like Swansea, looks set to become a mainstay in the top flight.

 

Predictions (Kickoff times in AEST)

 

Sunday April 21 at 12.00am

Fulham 1-2 Arsenal

Norwich 1-1 Reading

QPR 1-1 Stoke

Sunderland 2-2 Everton

Swansea 2-1 Southampton

West Brom 1-1 Newcastle

West Ham 3-1 Wigan

 

Sunday April 21 at 10.30pm

Tottenham 2-2 Manchester City

 

Monday April 22 at 1.00am

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea

 

Tuesday April 23 at 5.00am

Manchester United 2-0 Aston Villa

 

Riley Beveridge is a second-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @RileyBev.