Apr 17, 2013, 10:10 AM EDT
Six Premier League clubs are in action today in matches with huge relevance at both ends of the standings. Here’s the run-down:
West Ham v Manchester United (2.45pm ET): The visitors are 15 points clear of second-placed Manchester City, so they can afford to slip up here and still cruise to the title. Not that history suggests they will: West Ham haven’t beaten United in the league since December, 2007. United knocked Sam Allardyce’s men out of the FA Cup in January, but first they needed a late equalizer from Robin van Persie to force a replay.
Van Persie scored in the first minute and it was the only goal when these teams met in the league at Old Trafford last November. Three points for West Ham would all but guarantee their Premier League survival. Their defenders, James Tomkins, Winston Reid and George McCartney are fitness doubts. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to rotate his team after Sunday’s 2-0 win over Stoke City. Rio Ferdinand (pictured) could be rested against his former club.
Manchester City v Wigan Athletic (2.45pm ET): The identities of next month’s FA Cup finalists were only revealed at the weekend, and already the fixture list has provided us with a dress-rehearsal. City are odds-on favorites for then and now, having won their past six games against Roberto Martinez’s club without even conceding a goal.
A win for City today would help cement second place, while three points for Wigan would see them move above Aston Villa on goal difference and exit the relegation zone. Wigan have no injury worries but City are likely to be without David Silva, who has a hamstring problem. Defender Micah Richards is back in contention after being sidelined since October last year with a knee injury.
Fulham v Chelsea (3pm ET): These West London clubs are only two miles apart, though the gap in size, wealth and talent is just a little bigger. Yet Chelsea haven’t beaten Fulham in the Premier League since November, 2010. The four subsequent fixtures have been draws, most recently a goalless encounter last November. Chelsea will look to rebound quickly from Sunday’s FA Cup exit to Manchester City by capitalizing on their game in hand over fifth-placed Tottenham, while Fulham are safely mid-table.
A win lifts Rafael Benitez’s side (that’s something we can’t write for much longer) above Arsenal into third. Fulham could leapfrog Swansea into ninth. For the home team, former Chelsea winger Damien Duff is out with a thigh strain and midfielder Steven Sidwell is suspended. Benitez may recall Frank Lampard and John Terry after leaving them out of the Cup tie at Wembley.
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