ESPN commentator Jon Champion on the Premier League
ESPN’s man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend’s Premier League action. Watch exclusive all-day coverage of the FA Cup Final on Saturday from 8amFIXTURES Sat 5th May Arsenal v Norwich Sun 6th May Newcastle v Man City, Aston Villa v Tottenham, Bolton v West Brom, Fulham v Sunderland, QPR v Stoke, Wolves v Everton, Man United v Swansea Mon 7th May Blackburn v Wigan
It goes without saying that this weekend will have a huge impact on the title race. City are in the driving seat after a dogged and disciplined performance gave those 'noisy neighbours' a 1-0 victory over United on Monday at the Etihad Stadium.
The blue half of Manchester will face a stern test in the game of the weekend away at Newcastle, whose own Champions League aspirations were boosted by that superb win at Chelsea in midweek.
It is very much in the history of Manchester City to get into winning situations and see it slip through their hands, but this is the new City, and although many expect them to win their final two fixtures, this is their pivotal game. City will be expecting United to win their last two and must therefore do the same.
Only two teams have managed to beat Newcastle at St James Park this campaign, and City will need to be at their best if they are to avoid coming unstuck and opening the door for the red half of Manchester to regain the title.
Never in their wildest dreams did Newcastle supporters imagine that their side would be on the brink of a Champions League place with two games to go, but they will now be expectant of grabbing it with a win on Sunday. The atmosphere will be electric and passionate as it is the game that decides both clubs’ seasons. Manchester City may find they feeling a long way from home when they step out on the turf of St James Park.
Manchester United will be aware of the result in Newcastle by the time they kick-of at Old Trafford against Swansea, but they must win their final two fixtures. United’s line-up in Monday’s Manchester derby was cautious and they would be expected to return to their standard 4-4-2 formation on Sunday.
Swansea have only won once in their last seven, and as long as United are on their game they should have too much for their Welsh visitors.
Away from the title race the battle for third and fourth place is really hotting up with Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle only separated by a point.
Arsenal contest the only fixture on Saturday at the Emirates against Norwich City, who have had a fantastic season but were well-beaten by Liverpool last week and have not performed well recently. They should be ideal opponents for Arsenal as they look to secure a Champions League spot with six points from their final two matches.
But Spurs will be hoping their North London rivals slip up before they travel to Aston Villa on Sunday. Villa are really struggling but they should scrape over the line. Only one win at Villa Park in six months is not good enough and it will be interesting to see if Alex McLeish is still at the helm next season.
Tottenham looked good at Bolton in mid-week and they seem to be gradually getting back on track. The England management question mark has also been lifted, which will come as a timely relief for their players and supporters. They are in pole position for fourth place but must not take their foot off the gas against Villa, who are desperate for points.
Villa will be looking over their shoulder at how the teams below them get on. One of those, Bolton, face a massive game at home to West Brom, which they must win to stand any real chance of staying up.
Owen Coyle’s side did not get a lift from the emotional return of Fabrice Muamba in mid-week but they face a side who may have their minds elsewhere, as they know that a new manager will be in the dug-out next season, after Roy Hodgson’s appointment as England manager.
It has come to the crunch now and Bolton must capitalize on their home advantage to stay up.
Also battling at the bottom are QPR, who entertain Stoke at Loftus Road. Rangers have won their last four home fixtures and with a trip to Manchester City on the last day this is a must win game for them. Stoke have only won one in nine but they are always difficult opponents and their height and power at set pieces could trouble QPR.
But Mark Hughes has made Loftus Road a fortress over the past month or so, beating the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs and if they can reproduce that form they should beat Stoke. Tony Pulis’ side could have a big impact on who goes down as Stoke entertain Bolton at The Britannia on the final day of the season.
If the bottom sides pick up points on Sunday, Blackburn could well be down if they lose at home to Wigan in Monday evening's game at Ewood Park.
The form book does not favour Rovers, who have lost six of their last seven, while Wigan have won five from the same amount of games. Roberto Martinez’s side have played with real adventure and deserve to be where they currently are but if they lose to Blackburn they will be right back in the thick of things. However if the Latics come away with a victory, they could be assured of survival.
It's credit to the excitement of this season’s Premier League that there are only two games with nothing riding on them in the penultimate weekend of the campaign.
Relegated Wolves host Everton at Molineux, and although Terry Connor’s side showed resilience to earn a 4-4 draw away to Swansea in their last game it is a case of too little too late. Everton have been very solid in recent weeks, and I should be too well drilled to slip up in this one.
If the Toffees win at Wolves they will be pretty much nailed on take seventh place above their Merseyside rivals Liverpool.
The Reds may even be pipped to eighth spot after their mid-week home defeat to Fulham. That win will leave the Cottagers brimming with confidence when they take on Sunderland at Craven Cottageon Sunday.
Martin Jol hopes to be back in the sidelines after a recent chest infection but, Martin O’Neill’s team have been drawing too many games recently. It’s five stalemates in their last six outings and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is another draw for Sunderland here.
Jon Champion is lead football commentator for ESPN, broadcaster of the FA Cup and Barclays Premier League. ESPN will be providing all day and commercial free coverage of the FA Cup Final on Saturday from 8am till 8pm
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