Premier League preview

04 March 2009 11:34
Sir Alex Ferguson will be determined to avoid any Carling Cup hangover when Manchester United travel to Newcastle on Wednesday evening.

Having claimed their second trophy of the season with a 4-1 penalty shootout success over Tottenham at Wembley on Sunday, United's focus now returns to Premier League matters.

Chelsea and Liverpool closed the gap to four points with their respective victories over Portsmouth and Sunderland on Tuesday night, but United can move clear again as they play the first of their two games in hand.

The Red Devils have won 10 successive Premier League games to move into pole position for a third successive top-flight crown, while Newcastle - who were once among United's title rivals - now flirt with relegation.

Despite Ferguson's warnings against complacency, United remain red hot favourites for the title, but the battle at the opposite end of the table remains packed, pressured and unpredictable.

Tottenham, vanquished by the Red Devils in the contest from 12 yards after 120 energy-sapping minutes on Sunday, must lift their shattered morale and exhausted bodies for a vital meeting with Middlesbrough.

Gareth Southgate's men snapped their 14-game winless run with an impressive 2-0 Riverside success over Liverpool last Saturday to give their hopes of retaining their Premier League status renewed optimism.

But Boro have lost their last six league games on their travels and have taken just two points from their last five visits to White Hart Lane, although they did defeat Spurs on the opening day of the season in the North East.

FormidableHull City's alarming slide towards the relegation places shows no sign of halting with the 2-1 home defeat by Blackburn on Sunday the latest setback for Phil Brown's men.

Fulham are next on the agenda for the troubled Tigers, with Roy Hodgson's side proving formidable opponents at Craven Cottage, with only West Ham leaving the banks of the Thames with all three points this term.

Jimmy Bullard's knee injury rules him out of an emotional return to his former club, while visiting fans will cling to the memory of their opening day success against the Cottagers as they target three much-needed points.

Stoke City's home form is keeping them afloat in the relegation dogfight this season as they prepare to welcome in-form Bolton to the Britannia Stadium.

But it was on their travels that Tony Pulis' men claimed one of their most impressive points of the season last time out as they hit back from 2-0 down away to Aston Villa in the final three minutes of an enthralling derby clash.

Gary Megson celebrated news of putting pen to paper on a rolling contract at the Reebok Stadium with a 1-0 success over Newcastle and Bolton have won three of their last four to climb to the dizzy heights of 10th, seven points clear of the bottom three.

Martin O'Neill was left baffled by Aston Villa's failure to seal victory against the Potters and must lift his side ahead of the trip to Manchester City with Arsenal now just three points adrift.

Villa have just one win from their last four Premier League outings but still remain well placed to upset the established order in the top four and secure UEFA Champions League football next term.

City, meanwhile, have the ambition to be feasting at Europe's top table but are still some distance from the finished article despite the funds lavished on Mark Hughes' squad by club owners the Abu Dhabi United Group.

EfficientEverton cannot be excluded from contention for a top-four finish ahead of their clash at relegation-threatened Blackburn, live on Sky Sports 2 and HD2.

David Moyes bemoaned his side's clear lack of creativity in the victory over West Brom, where success was mainly due to the visitors' defensive deficiencies, and Mikel Arteta's absence until next season will be keenly felt.

Sam Allardyce has Rovers playing organised, efficient and percentage football - what else would you expect from the former Bolton boss - but they are only out of the relegation places on goal difference.

Wigan welcome West Ham to the JJB Stadium with both teams having already done enough to effectively be free of relegation concerns, but unlikely to trouble the clubs above them in the table.

Gianfranco Zola has overcome an indifferent start to his top-flight managerial career to lift the Hammers into the top half of the table and is already being mentioned in connection with other Premier League posts.

Steve Bruce's men, who were unlucky to go down 2-1 at Chelsea last time out, go into the game unbeaten in their last eight home outings and have won five of their last seven in front of their own fans.

Source: SKY_Sports