Thursday, March 31, 2011

Manchester United in Pole Position to Claim Premier League Title

Five points clear with eight games remaining. That is the enviable position Manchester United find themselves in as the Premier League gears up for action this weekend following the recent International break.  Granted second place Arsenal do have a game in hand but Manchester United must be clear favourites at this point to capture the 2010–2011 Premier League title.
The crucial ties for Alex Ferguson’s side will be the May 1st visit to London to play Arsenal followed by Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford seven days later. Before United can contemplate those heavyweight clashes they must first visit Upton Park to play West Ham United this Saturday. West Ham themselves are in desperate need of points as they only have their noses just out the relegation zone by virtue of a superior goal difference to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
West Ham are in fine form and have lost only one of their last seven Premier League matches. They are hoping to welcome back striker Frederic Piquionne from injury to bolster their attack. One forward they will certainly have available for selection after a spell on the physio’s  bench is Robbie Keane, who is on-loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Keane’s confidence should be high as he found the net last Saturday for the Republic of Ireland in their 2-1 Euro 2012 qualifier win against Macedonia in Dublin.
The return of Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic from injury will come as a welcome boost to Alex Ferguson as he knows Upton Park can be a tricky place to visit. United’s last visit there resulted in an embarrassing 4-0 reverse last November in the Carling Cup quarter final. This though is the business end of the Premier League and is a very different setting to the Carling Cup on a Winter’s evening. Anything other than an away win really is unthinkable.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal can welcome back from injury key man Cesc Fabregas for Saturdays game against Blackburn Rovers at The Emirates Stadium. Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Abu Diaby also return. Wenger must have sweated a little as he waited to hear the full extent of Robin Van Persie’s injury he picked up playing for The Netherlands during mid week. Van Persie opened the scoring for The Netherlands in that tie but had to be withdrawn on 46 minutes with an injury. This now appears to be a minor knock and he should fit for selection.
Despite Blackburn being five spots above the relegation zone in thirteenth place they are very worryingly for them only one point above safety. Given their perilous position Blackburn would crave anything form this weekend’s tie. Arsenal though are hot on the heels of Manchester United for the big prize and will surely pick up all three points.
Third place Chelsea, four points behind Arsenal, are now almost certainly out of the race for the title. They face a very tricky visit to Stoke on Saturday. Stoke are in high spirits and will be looking forward to their FA Cup semi final against Bolton Wanderers on 17th April. That distraction aside Stoke will fancy their chances against their visitors this weekend and should expect at least a point from the game.
At the other end of the table the clubs currently in the relegation zone Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City and bottom club Wigan Athletic face Newcastle, Bolton and Tottenham respectively. Of the clubs in trouble Wolves are probably best placed to pick up something from these games. However the recent international break was very costly for Wolves as star forward Kevin Doyle picked up and injury playing for the Republic of Ireland. Doyle could be out of action for eight weeks.  With just three points separating Wigan in bottom spot and Blackburn in 13th the race to avoid the drop is even closer than the race for glory at the opposite end of the table.    


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