Norwich v Man City
A SHOCK LOSS to Manchester United on Wednesday has given a glimmer of hope to Manchester City’s title hopes, ahead of their trip to Norwich.
United were beaten 1-0 by lowly Wigan, while Roberto Mancini’s side cleaned up West Bromwich Albion 4-0 at home to cut the gap at the top to five points.
While they must hope for more United defeats in the final five games of the season, City also need to focus on what they can control – their own game – as they prepare to tackle an in-form Norwich, who upset Tottenham at their last start.
City will be without striker Mario Balotelli who is serving a suspension, but their plethora of attacking options means the Italian bad boy will not be overly missed.
Norwich have been enjoying plenty of success in front of goal of late, with goals in each of their past four matches, which has earned them seven points.
Even more promising for the Carrow Road faithful is that their seven goals in that run have come from five different sources, with powerful striker Grant Holt producing three of them.
While the fixture represents little value for Norwich, the Citizens can cut the gap to two points – albeit with United having a game in hand – on Saturday in the Premier League title race, and all they can do is hope their rivals slip up again.
Norwich striker Anthony Pilkington is looking forward to the challenge.
“Manchester City need to come out and beat us to stand any chance of pushing for the championship, but we will carry on doing what we’re doing and take the Spurs win into Saturday and try to take three points off City as well,” he said.
“But this just proves to everyone we are more than a match for anyone in this league.”
Mancini maintains despite United’s loss to Wigan, Sir Alex Ferguson has all but two hands on the title, however do not take the Italian’s word as gospel, given his competitive tendencies.
Sunderland v Wolves
Sunderland have a major opportunity to move into the Premier League’s top 10, and regain some good form, when they host Wolves on Saturday.
Martin O’Neill’s men are winless in their past four matches in all competitions, and strangely were kept scoreless against Everton (FA Cup), Tottenham and Everton again (league) yet put three goals past Manchester City custodian Joe Hart in the same run.
However, they have a good chance to notch a win when they tackle the hapless Wolverhampton, who could be officially relegated as of Monday, should the latter fail to win and Wigan triumph away at Arsenal.
Wolves boss Terry Connor has been defiant in the face of near-certain demotion from the top flight, and this fixture could prove to be the final blow, as they have lost seven matches in succession, and won just one of their past 21 in all competitions.
Coincidentally, their second-most recent triumph came at home to Sunderland in December, when a late Steven Fletcher brace cancelled out Kieran Richardson’s opener to secure victory for the then Mick McCarthy-managed Wolves.
That result continued Wolves’ dominance over their Northern opponents, as the Midlands club have now won their past four Premier League meetings.
Goals can be expected in this fixture as both sides have scored in each of their past 11 matches against one another in an extraordinary run of attacking football.
The last time either side kept a clean sheet in the fixture, Sunderland took a 1-0 away win over Wolves when they were both in the Championship in February, 1998.
Rovers will again be looking to Yakubu (left) and Junior Hoilett. Credit: Jon Super/AP/Press Association Images
Swansea v Blackburn
Blackburn’s relegation battle will see them cross territorial lines to Wales on Saturday, as they visit an out-of-form Swansea City.
However, the two sides are equally out of form as one another, as they have both lost four matches on the trot – with at least one side assured of ending their poor run at Liberty Stadium.
It is of more importance to Rovers, though, as they remain in 19th spot on the Premier League table, some three points from safety.
Steve Kean’s men were also left devastated after a late winner from Liverpool striker Andy Carroll denied them a point at their last start, while Swansea were never a show as they were routed 3-0 by relegation candidates QPR.
In their first-ever head-to-head clash, Rovers defeated the Swans 4-2 in December, with Nigerian Yakubu scoring all four of Blackburn’s goals in a devastating performance.
The striker now has 16 for the season, and in danger signs for Rodgers’ men, two of those came in Blackburn’s 3-2 loss to Liverpool in their last start.
Swansea have no fresh injury concerns with both Kemy Agustien and Ferrie Bodde out for the season.
Rovers are still without Michel Salgado and Vinnie Grella through injury, while striker Anthony Modeste is suspended.
West Brom v QPR
Queens Park Rangers will be flying high as they tackle West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday.
A 3-0 triumph to the Londoners over Swansea in midweek has catapulted Mark Hughes’ men two points clear of the drop zone, while WBA lost their third in four matches when they slumped to a 4-0 loss to Manchester City.
While Roy Hodgson’s men are well and truly safe from relegation, the manager was less than impressed with their efforts at Eastlands, and will want to make a statement against last season’s Championship winners.
QPR, though, have more to play for than pride, as they continue their battle to stay alive in the cut-throat Premier League, with three wins in their past five elevating them to a position to battle for their top-flight status.
WBA seemed to have slumped back into their old habits in recent times, shipping plenty of goals.
Last season, Albion leaked the second-most goals in the league but managed to survive the cut, and in their past six they have kept just one clean sheet – and not co-incidentally, that came in their only win that run.
Outside of that streak, 12 goals in the other five games in that run is a worrying sign for Hodgson, after they had promisingly allowed just one goal in 270 minutes preceding the run.
QPR’s defensive record this season fares significantly worse, as their shutout of Swansea marked their first clean sheet against Premier League opposition since they kept out nine-man Chelsea in October.
Those statistics suggest there will be plenty of goals in the fixture, and both will be desperate to post points – WBA for honour, and QPR out of desperation.