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Premier League Preview ~ 31st March ~ 2nd April 2012

last updated Saturday 31st March 2012, 12:24 PM

Manchester City will look to return to the top of the table with rivals Manchester United not in action until Monday when they visit Blackburn.

City host Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, while the race for a top four place in the Premier League continues.

Chelsea, fresh from victory over Benfica in Lisbon, travel to Aston Villa hoping to keep their ambitions alive, with Arsenal facing relegation-threatened QPR.

Fulham play at The Cottage hoping to avoid a third defeat on the run. While at the bottom focus will be the clash between Wolves and Bolton

Sunday sees Tottenham take on Swansea at White Hart Lane, with Newcastle and Liverpool locking horns earlier in the afternoon on Tyneside.

Saturday  31st March 2012

15:00 - Aston Villa (15) v Chelsea (5)

Looking to claw back Tottenham in fourth are Chelsea, who have improved during Roberto Di Matteo's short reign as interim manager.

A decent display in Portugal against Benfica puts them in the driving seat ahead of their return leg in the Champions League quarter-final tie, while they are already in the semis of the FA Cup.

However, they have not exactly set the world alight in recent league games.

They lacked a cutting edge against Spurs in a game they needed to win, while before that they let a lead slip at Manchester City.

They go to Aston Villa on Saturday and Di Matteo will be expecting three points from this one - Villa have had a disappointing season and if Chelsea can find some consistency they should prevail.

Villa skipper and midfielder Stiliyan Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia and manager Alex McLeish has to find a replacement for calf injury victim Alan Hutton at right-back.

Eric Lichaj and utility player Chris Herd are the likely players to be in contention.

Winger Charles N'Zogbia will be out for a further month with his knee setback.

Striker Darren Bent (ankle), defender Richard Dunne (shoulder) and midfielder Fabian Delph (ankle) remain long-term absentees while utility player Ciaran Clark is still recovering from a knee problem.

Midfielder Raul Meireles is Chelsea's only doubt after sustaining a knee injury in Tuesday night's 1-0 victory over Benfica.

Branislav Ivanovic and Ramires have been passed fit after overcoming minor knocks.

Last season: Chelsea 3 Aston Villa 3, Aston Villa 0 Chelsea 0

Last five league matches: Aston Villa L D D W L; Chelsea W L W L D

Top scorers (all competitions): Darren Bent (Aston Villa) 10; Frank Lampard (Chelsea) 13

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

15:00 - Everton (9) v West Brom (14)

Fresh from their FA Cup success over Sunderland on Tuesday night, Everton host West Brom at Goodison Park.

The Toffees may have one eye on their upcoming derby with Liverpool at Wembley and the Baggies will look to take advantage of possible rotation from David Moyes.

Albion were torn apart by Newcastle in their last game - three first-half goals seeing the Magpies clinch a comfortable 3-1 victory.

Roy Hodgson will be hoping for a response and a win that would move them back to mid-table.

Everton are likely to be without midfielders Jack Rodwell (hamstring), Seamus Coleman (thigh) and Royston Drenthe (leave).

On-loan midfielder Steven Pienaar returns after being ineligible for the midweek FA Cup replay victory at Sunderland.

West Brom will be without injured midfielder James Morrison, who is likely to be missing for the remainder of the season after suffering knee ligament damage during last weekend's home reversal against Newcastle.

Paul Scharner and Graham Dorrans will be in contention to replace the Scotland international.

Midfielder Zoltan Gera (knee) and right-back Steven Reid (foot) remain long-term absentees.

Last season: West Brom 1 Everton 0, Everton 1 West Brom 4

Last five league matches: Everton D W L L W; West Brom W W L D L

Top scorers (all competitions): Nikica Jelavic (Everton) 20; Keith Andrews (West Brom) 11

Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).

15:00 - Fulham (13) v Norwich (11)

Expect an entertaining encounter at Craven Cottage when Fulham host Norwich City.

Both these sides play the ball on the deck at a high tempo and like to get forward whenever possible.

One would think, therefore, that goals are on the cards and the last time Fulham played at home they were embarrassed 3-0 by Swansea.

Norwich have lost their last two away fixtures 1-0 and may look to be more adventurous away from Carrow Road.

Fulham manager Martin Jol has recalled midfielder Alex Kacaniklic from his loan spell at Watford and he goes straight into the squad to face Norwich.

The Cottagers have no fresh injury concerns with Neil Etheridge (wrist), Zdenek Grygera (knee), Steve Sidwell (hernia) and Orlando Sa (hamstring) all still on the sidelines.

Norwich captain Grant Holt will serve a one-match suspension having been sent off after scoring a brace in the Canaries' home win over Wolves last weekend.

Winger Anthony Pilkington (hamstring) is doubtful, while defenders Marc Tierney (groin) and Daniel Ayala (knee) continue their rehabilitation towards full match fitness, along with striker James Vaughan (knee).

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Fulham W W L L L; Norwich L L D L W

Top scorers (all competitions): Clint Dempsey (Fulham) 18; Grant Holt (Norwich) 14

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

15:00 - Man City (2) v Sunderland (8) ~ ESPN2  

Peter Crouch's stunning goal frustrated Manchester City last weekend but if Roberto Mancini's side pick up three points against Sunderland then they will go top of the table on goal difference, above rivals Manchester United who play Blackburn on Monday.

Sunderland might be carrying a few tired legs following their exertions in the FA Cup on Tuesday evening - Martin O'Neill watched his side drop out of the competition following a 2-0 home defeat to Everton.

O'Neill must now rally his troops once again but with Sunderland well-placed in the top-half and with little to play for, there is perhaps an argument that they may take their foot off the gas.

City need a win and will be expected to keep the pressure on at the top.

Manchester City will again be without top scorer Sergio Aguero due to a foot injury, although manager Roberto Mancini would shed no light on the nature of the problem.

Captain Vincent Kompany (calf) is expected to return after four games out but fellow defender Joleon Lescott (groin) remains sidelined.

Striker Carlos Tevez is again set to start on the bench.

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill will be without left-back Wayne Bridge, who is ineligible under the terms of his loan agreement.

Midfielder Jack Colback, who missed the 2-0 FA Cup defeat by Everton in midweek to attend the birth of his first child, has played in defence this season and could deputise, but central defender John O'Shea (calf) is out and midfielder Lee Cattermole is a doubt with a twisted knee.

Last season: Man City 5 Sunderland 0, Sunderland 1 Man City 0

Last five league matches: Man City W W L W D; Sunderland L D W L W

Top scorers (all competitions): Sergio Aguero (Man City) 24; Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland) 8

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

15:00 - QPR (18) v Arsenal (3)

Across London, Queens Park Rangers host Arsenal at Loftus Road on Saturday afternoon.

After their stunning victory over Liverpool, Rangers took a step back following a 3-1 defeat at Sunderland in their last match.

Mark Hughes saw Djibril Cisse sent off for a reckless challenge and the Frenchman will miss this crucial encounter with the Gunners.

It is an important fixture for both sides, QPR currently occupying 18th place in the Premier League, with Arsenal third and looking to consolidate their position at the top.

Arsene Wenger's charges are on a fine run - seven consecutive victories have silenced the dissenting voices from earlier in the campaign and only a disaster would surely see them drop out of the top four.

QPR striker Djibril Cisse will begin his four-match ban when Arsenal visit Loftus Road.

The France international was sent off at former club Sunderland last weekend and is joined on the sidelines by Armand Traore, who is a week away from returning from a hamstring injury.

Long-term absentees DJ Campbell (hamstring) and Heidar Helguson (knee) are not yet ready for a first-team return.

Arsenal will have centre-half Laurent Koscielny available following a knee problem.

Midfielder Abou Diaby (hamstring) is not expected to be back in contention, but like Francis Coquelin (hamstring) is close to match fitness.

Centre-back Per Mertesacker (ankle) and midfielder Jack Wilshere (ankle) remain sidelined.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: QPR L D L W L; Arsenal W W W W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Heidar Helguson & Bobby Zamora (QPR) 9; Robin van Persie (Arsenal) 33

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).

15:00 - Wigan (19) v Stoke (12)

Wigan will be flying high after their shock victory over Liverpool at Anfield, but Roberto Martinez knows that result now needs to be forgotten when Stoke make the journey to the DW Stadium.

Tony Pulis' men proved their mettle with that draw against Manchester City, and are just pushing for a top-half finish in the league now that they are out of the FA Cup.

Indeed, a win for the Potters could see them rise to eighth.

Wigan, meanwhile, seem to have hit some form at the right time but are still second-bottom.

Back-to-back wins would be a real boon for the Latics at this stage of the campaign.

Wigan hope forward Victor Moses will be fit after scans revealed he did not break his jaw last week.

Midfielder Mohamed Diame (groin) and striker Hugo Rodallega (knee) only have outside chances of playing, however.

Midfielder David Jones (knee) is now back in contention while third-choice goalkeeper Mike Pollitt (shoulder) is also training again.

Stoke striker Ricardo Fuller could return having completed a three-match suspension.

Jonathan Woodgate may feature in the Potters' matchday squad for the first time in more than a month after recovering from a calf problem and fellow defender Robert Huth should be fit despite suffering a leg knock, but midfielder Salif Diao (hamstring) remains sidelined.

Last season: Stoke 0 Wigan 1, Wigan 2 Stoke 2

Last five league matches: Wigan D L D D W; Stoke W W L D D

Top scorers (all competitions): Franco Di Santo, Jordi Gomez & Ben Watson (Wigan) 4; Peter Crouch (Stoke) 12

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

15:00 - Wolves (20) v Bolton (17)

At the other end of the table Wolves and Bolton prepare for a crucial six-pointer.

The Molineux outfit have been in woeful form of late, four straight defeats leaving them rooted to the foot of the Premier League.

Terry Connor needs a positive result as Wolves are four points behind Bolton in 17th, with Wanderers having played a game less.

It was an emotional match with Blackburn last weekend following the collapse of Fabrice Muamba at White Hart Lane in the Cup.

Bolton returned to the Lane on Tuesday but were unable to get a result, yet if they can reproduce their performance against Rovers then Wolves may be in trouble.

Wolves boss Terry Connor will check on the fitness of key midfielder Karl Henry before finalising his side.

Henry has returned to training after four weeks out of action with a hamstring setback.

Fellow midfielder David Davis is making good progress from a rib injury and defender Ronald Zubar will be back in contention after being suspended for the defeat at Norwich last weekend.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle is likely to freshen up his side.

Midfielder Darren Pratley is ruled out after suffering a gashed leg during the 3-1 defeat by Tottenham in Tuesday's rearranged FA Cup quarter-final, but David Wheater could return after being rested.

Fabrice Muamba remains in hospital following his cardiac arrest in the original tie at White Hart Lane.

Last season: Bolton 1 Wolves 0, Wolves 2 Bolton 3

Last five league matches: Wolves D L L L L; Bolton L L L W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Steven Fletcher (Wolves) 10; Marvin Sordell (Bolton) 10

Referee: Jon Moss.

Sunday 1st April 2012

13:30 - Newcastle (6) v Liverpool (7) ~ Sky1

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew will be boosted by the returns of Cheick Tiote and Ryan Taylor from hamstring and calf injuries, respectively.

However, central defender and captain Fabricio Coloccini is out with a torn hamstring, joining long-term absentees Peter Lovenkrands (thigh), Leon Best, Sammy Ameobi (both knee), Steven Taylor (Achilles) and Sylvain Marveaux (groin) on the casualty list.

Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam will miss out as he must wait a fortnight for further assessment of a knee problem.

Manager Kenny Dalglish is hopeful some of his other players will be fit to return, however, with defenders Glen Johnson (calf), Martin Kelly (ankle) and Daniel Agger (rib) all missing for last weekend's defeat to Wigan.

Midfielder Maxi Rodriguez has recovered from the illness but forward Craig Bellamy (calf) has missed four successive matches.

Last season: Liverpool 3 Newcastle 0, Newcastle 3 Liverpool 1

Last five league matches: Newcastle D D L W W; Liverpool L L W L L

Top scorers (all competitions): Demba Ba (Newcastle) 16; Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 12

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

16:00 - Tottenham (4) v Swansea (10) ~ Sky1

Tottenham are unbeaten in their last three matches in all competitions but their place in the top four this term is far from assured.

Spurs may be five points ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea yet there are 24 points left to play for this season and the battle for a UEFA Champions League spot is set to go right to the wire.

Having dispatched of Bolton in the FA Cup this week, they return to the bread and butter of the league against Swansea City - who were beaten 2-0 by Everton last time out.

It was only the third time the Swans had lost at home in the league this season and their last trip to the capital ended in a 3-0 demolition of Fulham.

Expect an open game at White Hart Lane.

Winger Aaron Lennon (hamstring) is expected to make his return from a three-week layoff for Tottenham.

Ledley King (knee) may miss out after playing in Tuesday's win over Bolton but long-term absentees Michael Dawson (ankle), goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes (knee) and midfielder Tom Huddlestone (ankle) are out.

Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers has Nathan Dyer back from a three-match suspension and he will compete with Wayne Routledge for the right wing spot.

Midfielder Andrea Orlandi has stepped up his recovery from a hamstring injury after featuring for the reserves on Thursday, but the visit to White Hart Lane comes too soon for him.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Tottenham L L L D D; Swansea L W W W L

Top scorers (all competitions): Jermain Defoe (Tottenham) 15; Danny Graham & Rory Donnelly (Swansea) 12

Referee: Andre Marriner.

Monday 2nd April 2012

20:00 - Blackburn (16) v Man Utd (1) ~ Sky1

Defender Gael Givet is again Blackburn's only doubt ahead of their clash with leaders Manchester United.

Givet aggravated a slight hamstring problem while warming up during Rovers' victory over Sunderland earlier this month.

Rio Ferdinand will be fit for Manchester United, even though the defender had to be replaced during this week's win over Fulham with a back problem.

Nani (ankle) is still sidelined, along with long-term absentees Michael Owen, Anders Lindegaard, Anderson, Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher.

Last season: Blackburn 1 Man Utd 1, Man Utd 7 Blackburn 1

Last five league matches: Blackburn L D W W L; Man Utd W W W W W

Top scorers (all competitions): Ayegbeni Yakubu (Blackburn) 15; Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 29

Referee: Howard Webb.

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