Barclay’s Premier League
Manchester Utd v Everton
It seems that no matter how many times Manchester United leave the door open for their Premier League rivals the opportunities have been repeatedly spurned. It happened again in midweek and again it was a case of dropping points away from home – on this occasion a scoreless draw with Newcastle United.
However, United’s form at Old Trafford has been close to impeccable with a single draw against West Brom the only blemish so far.
The dream of repeating the 1999 treble died last weekend when United lost to Manchester City in the FA Cup but hopes of another Premier League and at least an appearance in another Champions League final are very much alive.
Whether or not both are accomplished will be largely decided over the next two weeks. Games against Schalke in the Champions League are interrupted by a trip to the Emirates to play Arsenal next Sunday and the week after Chelsea arrives at Old Trafford.
But leading off is a game against Everton at Old Trafford in an early kick off on Saturday. Everton fought back from 3-1 down earlier this season to draw 3-3 with United but that was one of their few bright spots during the first two/thirds of their 2010/11 season.
Everton have really only hit their stride over the last 7 matches in which they have won 5 of them. One of the few players who has been consistently good this season has been left back Leighton Baines. Baines scored against Blackburn last weekend and he leads all Premier League defenders in assists with 11 so far.
Although Ashley Cole was named to the PFA team of the year Baines must surely have garnered a number of votes as well.
Chelsea v West Ham
Chelsea are all of a sudden the form team in the Barclay’s Premier League with 16 points from the last 18 available. It has been a roller-coaster season for the Blues with an early surge having many pundits anointing them league champions before the first snows of winter.
A slump then had many doubting their ability to hold on to a top four spot but their recent resurgence has them back up to second place – albeit on goal difference – for the first time since November.
A noticeable feature in Chelsea’s improvement has been the return of a defensive solidity and certainty that had gone awol. Goalkeeper Petr Cech is tied with City’s Joe Hart for clean sheets with 14 and it is now 9 games since Chelsea last allowed more than a goal in a Barclay’s Premier League match.
With West Ham Saturday’s opponents Chelsea fans will be confident that they can again pick up three points. West Ham’s last win against Chelsea came in May of 2003 and a good run of form from the Hammers has evaporated and the have lost their last three league games.
After West Ham, Chelsea have another London derby – this one against Spurs – and then they have to travel to play Manchester United.
In their current position West Ham have no easy games. They finish this season with Manchester City (a), Blackburn (h), Wigan (a) and Sunderland (h). It is going to be a nerve racking few weeks in the east end of London.
Other games scheduled for Saturday are; Aston Villa v Stoke, Blackpool v Newcastle, Liverpool v Birmingham, Sunderland v Wigan, Tottenham v West Brom, and Wolverhampton v Fulham.
Palermo v Napoli
A feature of this match will be the return of Edinson Cavani to play against Palermo.
There were a lot of eyebrows raised when Napoli paid Palermo nearly $30M for Cavani last summer but having scored 32 goals for Napoli in all competitions this season the fee no longer looks excessive.
Despite a terrible run of form Palermo have still beaten Milan and Roma in Serie A in the last few weeks and drew 2-2 in the first leg of the Coppa Italia in midweek away to Milan this week.
While Javier Pastore’s form has headed south for Palermo (his last goal came in mid-February), Abel Hernandez was the game changer last weekend with two goals in the last 6 minutes against Roma.
Inter v Lazio
Lazio are 4th and just two points behind 3rd place Inter and have them in their sights. They must also be aware of Udinese who are only a point adrift in 5th.
Lazio are also coming off an impressive 4-1 away win at Catania last weekend. Only Milan, Inter and Juventus had previously escaped Catania with full points this season.
Before midweek win over Roma in the Coppa Italia Inter had lost 4 of last five in all competitions.
Because of Easter Sunday there is a full Saturday schedule. The other games are Roma v Chievo, Bari v Sampdoria, Bologna v Cesena, Cagliari v Fiorentina, Genoa v Lecce, Udinese v Parma, Brescia v AC Milan, and Juventus v Catania.
Vancouver Whitecaps v FC Dallas
This contest features two teams who have only mustered a win each so far this season. However, with six points from six games the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps can be reasonably pleased with their record so far.
Their two losses have both come on the road and the raucous Empire Stadium crowd has yet to see their Whitecaps lose this season.
FC Dallas however cannot be nearly as happy with their performances. As last season’s runners up in the MLS Cup, Dallas might have expected to push on to greater things.
But after suffering only four losses in 30 games last season Dallas have already lost two of their first five matches this campaign.
Last weekend Dallas lost 3-2 to the expansion Portland Timbers – something that is bound to provide the Whitecaps with added encouragement.
The other matches on the schedule in MLS are Los Angeles Galaxy v Portland Timbers (on Fox Soccer), San Jose Earthquakes v Chivas, Toronto FC v Columbus Crew, New England Revolution v Sporting Kansas City and Chicago Fire v Houston Dynamo.
Valencia v Real Madrid
At face value a match between the teams sitting second and third in Spain is something to look forward to.
However, there are a couple of factors that would lead us to believe that Saturday’s game will be an anti-climax.
Second place Real Madrid trails Barcelona by eight points with six games left and the league leaders also benefit from a straight forward run in – so it is very unlikely that Barca are going to allow the title to slip from their grasp.
Games three and four of el clasico series are set for this coming Wednesday and a week Tuesday so it is certain that Real will rest players on the weekend as will Barcelona when they welcome Osasuna.
No matter what line-up Madrid fields they will have to watch out for a former Real player who is in goal scoring form at the moment. Roberto Soldado has seven goals in his last three matches for Valencia.
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