With Manchester United sailing off into the distance at the top of the table, the battle for second place takes centre-stage this weekend as the prime contenders, Manchester City and Chelsea, meet at the Etihad. Neither have been particularly convincing of late, but this is where City’s failure to reach even the Europa League after their Champions League flop becomes a genuine advantage. While Roberto Mancini’s men have been resting since last Sunday, Chelsea were involved in a tough cup clash on Thursday night that was only settled by Eden Hazard’s last-minute wonder-goal. Prediction: City.
The first major silverware of the English season will be won at Wembley on Sunday — and it will go to one of two unlikely protagonists. Bradford City, now in the fourth tier, will be hoping to relive their Premier League days of the late 1990s when they take on Swansea City, who are playing in their first ever significant final. Phil Parkinson has done brilliantly to guide the Bees past the likes of Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa, while Swansea beat Chelsea over two legs in the semi-final. Boss Michael Laudrup admitted making a mistake by fielding a weakened side at Anfield last week, but they should still have more than enough to see off the Bantams. Prediction: Swansea.
Reading and Wigan both lie in the Premier League relegation zone and, while their clash on Saturday is unlikely to grip the neutral, it could prove significant if the Royals can continue their recent improved form and condemn their rivals to a damaging defeat. Prediction: Reading.
Tottenham have been impressive of late, with only one defeat in their last 14 matches in all competitions. Their Europa League progress ahead of Lyon may have been unconvincing on Thursday, but Gareth Bale and co should have enough to beat stalling West Ham at Upton Park on Monday. Prediction: Spurs.
Arsenal may have won three of their last four league matches, but two costly cup defeats in the last week have left the Gunners staring down the barrel of yet another trophy-less season. Their FA Cup disaster at home to Blackburn was followed by a 3-1 home loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, when they were clearly second best. A win at home to Aston Villa would at least keep them in contention for a vital top-four place. Prediction: Arsenal.
Thankfully this column dodged the Arsenal-Blackburn match last week, as yet again the FA Cup threw up a shock that few would have seen coming. Aside from second-division Rovers’ surprise win at the Emirates, minnows Oldham Athletic grabbed a last-gasp equaliser against Everton to earn a replay at Goodison Park and that dramatic intervention ruined a clean sweep of predictions as Man City, Man United, Millwall and Liverpool (in the league) all did the needful.