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Massive Manchester derby to guide destiny of title

ESPN staff
April 27, 2012 « Wozniacki suffers comprehensive beating | Chartbeat test »
The battle between Manchester United and Manchester City is set to decide the destination of the Premier League title © Getty Images
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Liverpool continue their preparations for the FA Cup final with a trip to Norwich on Saturday, and you can watch it live on ESPN. Click here to subscribe

Sir Alex Ferguson has termed Monday's Manchester derby as the biggest in his career at Old Trafford, and it's easy to see why: just three points separate the teams, with three games to go until the end of the season.

Elsewhere the relegation battle rumbles on, and there's still two Champions League places right up for grabs. Read on as ESPN previews all the weekend's games from England's top flight...

Norwich v Liverpool - Live on ESPN

Form: What form? Norwich have lost their last two matches - against Manchester City and Blackburn - with an aggregate 8-1 scoreline, while Liverpool's struggles have been well documented, and they were felled by old manager Roy Hodgson when West Brom were in town last weekend.
Key battle: Stewart Downing will surely produce a goal or assist in the Premier League for Liverpool before the end of the season, and we reckon this might the game in which he does just that. Kyle Naughton, if selected, will need to have his wits about him.
Player to watch: Andy Carroll, who became something of an Anfield hero when scoring the winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final on April 14, will want to make sure he's on the plane to Poland and Ukraine this summer with England, and a goal or two here would not hurt his chances.
Talking point: How focused are Liverpool's players going to be, with the FA Cup final just around the corner? No-one is going to want to get injured and there's nothing to play for in the league, and for that reason it's hard to be too confident they'll triumph. How low could they stoop in the league table?
Bet of the day: Steven Gerrard to score anytime, 7/4 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2


Stoke v Arsenal

Form: The Gunners have faltered just when it seemed their grip on a Champions League spot next season was all but secured, losing at home to Wigan and then drawing with Chelsea. Stoke have just one win in eight, and their season is petering out alarmingly.
Key battle: As always at the Britannia, it's going to be how Arsenal deal with the bombardment of long throws and set pieces that Stoke will subject them to. Thomas Vermaelen's presence at the heart of the Gunners defence is going to be crucial - he is the sort of player you'd want on your side in a scrap.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie has collected both of the major individual Premier League honours over the past week, and in what could well be one of his last games in an Arsenal shirt, will want to impress at a stadium that has never held particularly fond memories for him.
Talking point: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain didn't have the best of games against Chelsea last week - although, in fairness, no-one in an Arsenal shirt performed particularly well. Has his dream of a Euro 2012 place now faded? It's hard to see him being involved from the outset in this one, given the physical test involved.
Bet of the day: Stoke HT/Draw FT, 14/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1


Sunderland v Bolton

Form: Sunderland, ensconced in mid-table security, have not won any of their last five Premier League games, four of which they have drawn including their last match which was a goalless encounter with Aston Villa. Bolton, still fighting to secure their Premier League status, also played Villa in their last game during the week, a 2-1 win which boosted their bid for survival.
Key battle: Sunderland have not found the back of the net in their last four games so Nicklas Bendtner will be eager to right that statistic. The Dane's battle with Bolton defender David Wheater could well be a central theme.
Player to watch: Bolton need the three points much more than Sunderland and their win over Villa saw an impressive display in midfield from Chris Eagles, who could prove the driving force for the Trotters at the Stadium of Light.
Talking point: Bolton's relegation battle. Can they beat the drop? Two teams from a realistic group of five will go down, but will Owen Coyle's team be one of them?
Bet of the day: Bolton to win, 3/1 with bet365
Prediction: 0-1


Aston Villa must face the very real threat of relegation after losing to Bolton © PA Photos
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Swansea v Wolves

Form: Wolves have already been relegated thanks to a miserable run of 11 games without a win, nine of which have been defeats including last weekend's loss to Manchester City which sealed their fate. Swansea on the other hand still have a top-eight finish in sight, and come into this game after a draw with relegation-battling Bolton.
Key battle: Gylfi Sigurdsson against Doris de Vries. Whether the former Swansea man can shut out the Liberty Stadium favourite will be an interesting battle, especially given the on-loan Icelandic's goalscoring form.
Player to watch: Nathan Dyer was hauled off 30 minutes into Swansea's draw with Bolton due to illness, but now fully fit again the winger can enjoy doing what he does best.
Talking point: With Wolves now down the focus will be on Swansea, and whether they can kickstart a push for that top-eight spot which would cap a marvellous first season in the top flight.
Bet of the day: Sigurdsson to score first and Swansea to win 2-0, 12/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-0


West Brom v Aston Villa

Form: West Brom are nestled nicely in tenth position thanks in large part to two wins on the spin coming into this game, including an impressive victory at Anfield over Liverpool. Villa, however, have been sucked into the battle at the wrong end of the table and are only three points above the relegation zone. Their form has been poor and they are winless in their last seven league games, the most recent being a defeat at home to Bolton. West Brom won the first West Midlands derby encounter between these sides in October.
Key battle: Alex McLeish against the Aston Villa fans. The Scot has come under increasing pressure from the Villa Park faithful who have seen their team slide further into trouble. Keeping them off his back this weekend will be a major aspect in remaining focused on the task at hand.
Player to watch: Peter Odemwingie returned to scoring ways against Liverpool and with that reached double figures for his league tally, and the striker will be confident of adding to that against Villa.
Talking point: Villa's fans. Fast losing patience with boss McLeish, can they inspire their side to a vital win which would give them some breathing space?
Bet of the day: West Brom to win 3-1, 16/1 with bet365
Prediction: 3-1


Wigan v Newcastle

Form: A huge game for both sides as they continue to tackle tasks at opposite ends of the table. Home side Wigan have won four of their last six games as they strive to beat relegation, but lost last time out against Fulham. Newcastle have won their last six league games on the bounce, a phenomenal run which has lifted them to fourth position as they push for Champions League football next season.
Key battle: Papiss Cisse appears to be unstoppable at the moment and Gary Caldwell will have his hands full trying to contain the in-form Newcastle striker. Expect a power struggle between the two for the entirety of the game.
Player to watch: At the moment it is impossible to say anybody but Cisse. The man has hit nine goals in the last six games and is well and truly on fire.
Talking point: There are two: Wigan's bid for survival and Newcastle's push for the top four. Neither side can afford any slip-ups with things tight at both ends of the table, and the importance of the game in the seasons of both is massive.
Bet of the day: Cisse to score and Newcastle to edge it 2-1, 13/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2


Everton v Fulham

Form: Both sides have been in good form of late. Everton are unbeaten in their last five Premier League games and Fulham are without a defeat in their last four. David Moyes' side come into this game off the back of that incredible 4-4 draw at Old Trafford, whereas Martin Jol's Fulham beat relegation strugglers Wigan last time out. Everton currently sit seventh in the table, just two points ahead of ninth-placed Fulham.
Key battle: Nikica Jelavic and Brede Hangeland should be a battle of wits as the Fulham defender tries to keep a lid on the Everton striker's phenomenal scoring run.
Player to watch: Jelavic has been in fine goalscoring form since his arrival on transfer deadline day in January, and the Croatian striker has netted five goals in the last three games.
Talking point: Papiss Cisse may have something to say on the matter but can Jelavic reinforce his claim to being the best signing of the January window?
Bet of the day: Jelavic to open the scoring, 9/2 with bet365
Prediction: 2-1

Chelsea arrive on a high after beating Barcelona © PA Photos
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Sunday

Chelsea v QPR

Form: Chelsea will be on a massive high - although tired - after sinking Barcelona to reach the Champions League final in midweek, and winning the competition seems to be their best chance of taking a place in elite company again next season. QPR's recent form has taken them out of the relegation places, but their away record remains wretched, with 12 defeats.
Key battle: If selected, Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has disappointed since making the move to Loftus Road earlier this season, will be keen to make an impression against his old side. Ashley Cole will need to be sharp after helping to stifle Lionel Messi in midweek.
Player to watch: The Anton Ferdinand and John Terry legal situation has surrounded this match, so take your pick of either of those two.
Talking point: The handshakes have been cancelled by the Premier League ahead of this clash, as was the case when the FA decided to scrap the ritual when the two sides met in the FA Cup in January.
Bet of the day: Daniel Sturridge to score first, 5/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-1


Tottenham v Blackburn

Form: The wheels have come off Tottenham's season lately, with Harry Redknapp's team winning just one of their last nine Premier League games as their hopes of finishing in the top three have faded and their prospects of fourth hang in the balance. Rovers have not fared much better as they continue to be embroiled in the relegation scrap, but a timely win against Norwich means they come into this game in winning form.
Key battle: The midfield tussle between Scott Parker and David Dunn will go a long way to swinging the game in either side's favour.
Player to watch: Luka Modric will be one of the players most disappointed with Spurs' dip in form, and the playmaker's display will give an indication as to his motivation as the summer approaches...
Talking point: Spurs spectacular collapse... Rovers' refusal to give up... Both sides have a season to salvage.
Bet of the day: Blackburn HT/Spurs FT, 18/1 with bet365
Prediction: 3-1


Monday

Manchester City v Manchester United

Form: United produced an untypical collapse - particularly at this stage of the season - to draw 4-4 at home to Everton last weekend, not long after a 1-0 loss to Wigan, so they are wobbling to an extent. City have won three on the bounce with an aggregate score of 12-1.
Key battle: Hard to choose just one, but Wayne Rooney v Vincent Kompany does stand out as potentially pivotal. Arguably the best players on both sides this season, and two guys who won't shirk the big occasion and fade under the glare of pressure.
Player to watch: Mario Balotelli. A loose cannon, of course, but as much as you can't rely on him, you also suspect he has the potential to produce something truly special. He's another who won't be afraid to play his natural game and take a risk or too - but will he go too far? A tough decision for Roberto Mancini to make.
Talking point: Will Mancini be bold enough to pick a team to win the game, rather than contain for the bulk of the contest and then open up in the late stages? City have to win, so a midfield of Nigel de Jong, Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry is likely to make the fans' hearts sink.
Bet of the day: The draw, 5/2 with bet365
Prediction: 2-2


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