Crucial weekend in Premier League title chase

Roberto Mancini this week conceded that the Premier League title race could be over by Sunday, as we enter what will surely be a crucial Easter weekend in the top-flight.

Manchester City trail rivals United by five points having crafted a comfortable lead earlier in the campaign. Mancini’s men play Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday while United host Queens Park Rangers.

The battle for a top-four finish remains tight and Chelsea host resurgent Wigan following their UEFA Champions League victory over Benfica on Wednesday night.

Elsewhere, struggling Liverpool play Aston Villa, Tottenham go to Sunderland and Bolton take on Fulham.

It is fair to say that Roberto Mancini is beginning to feel the pressure as the Premier League title slowly slips from his grasp. Everything seemed rosy for the Italian a few months back but Manchester City must now claw back five points on United if they are going to take the title race to the wire. An away fixture at Arsenal is an ominous task for a side out of form and in desperate need of a win. The Gunners were defeated at QPR last weekend following a lacklustre display, but had been on an excellent run beforehand. City are 13 points above Arsenal in the table but have stuttered in recent matches – indeed, they had to battle from 3-1 down to salvage a draw against Sunderland last time out. This is a huge game in context of the season – Mancini concedes the title may be out of reach if they lose in north London. Watch all the action live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 4pm on Sunday.

Earlier in the afternoon Manchester United will hope to crank the pressure up on Mancini by dispatching of Queens Park Rangers at Old Trafford. An eight-point deficit may weigh heavily on the minds of City ahead of their game at the Emirates, but QPR should not be underestimated and will be on a high following their 2-1 success against Arsenal. It was a fine display from Rangers at Loftus Road, with Mark Hughes’ side showing great character and fighting spirit as they look to avoid relegation. QPR are out of the drop zone on goal difference but know the odds will be stacked against them on Sunday. You can also follow every kick in this one, live on Sky Sports 1 HD from 1.30pm.

Chelsea were made to work for their victory over Benfica in the Champions League quarter-finals in midweek, and will now face Barcelona in the semi-finals. If that task was not ominous enough, they trail fourth-place Spurs by five points in the league and their only route back into Europe’s elite club competition may actually be to win it. Roberto Di Matteo will want to keep the pressure on Tottenham and Arsenal though, with Wigan Athletic travelling to Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Many had condemned Wigan to relegation a few weeks ago but the Latics are now just one point off Bolton in 16th following successive wins against Liverpool and Stoke.

That result against Wigan was Liverpool’s nadir this season – a campaign that has seen them reach the FA Cup semi-finals and emerge triumphant in the Carling Cup, but provided little joy in the league. Six defeats in seven matches has turned the spotlight onto Kenny Dalglish’s position, but the manager insists it is business as usual at Anfield despite having to file a report of the season to the club’s owners. This week Aston Villa make the journey to Merseyside – a side in similarly woeful form. The threat of relegation is now a genuine one for Villa, and Randy Lerner spoke to the players in midweek to give them some encouragement after Stiliyan Petrov’s diagnosis of acute leukemia.

Tottenham appear to have turned the corner after a minor blip in their impressive season. They are now level with north London rivals Arsenal in third and have a cushion over Chelsea in fifth. This week, though, they will be pushed all the way by Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland who were unlucky not to emerge from the Etihad last weekend with three points. Sunderland may not have much to play for – they are sitting comfortably in mid-table but unable to challenge for Europe – which will either mean they take their foot off the gas or relax and release the shackles to produce an accomplished performance.

It has been a surreal month for Bolton Wanderers, that’s for sure. Manager Owen Coyle confirmed on Thursday that Fabrice Muamba is up and walking in the London Chest Hospital following his cardiac arrest at Spurs, a boost for everyone at the club and indeed everyone involved in football. Wanderers must now refocus on matters on the pitch and build on back-to-back wins against Blackburn and Wolves. Coyle recently won the Premier League’s Manager of the Month award but there is still plenty of work to do with eight matches left to play. This Saturday Fulham go to the Reebok Stadium following a win against Norwich – a result that came on the back of three losses.

Battling Blackburn

Blackburn Rovers slipped back into the bottom three following their home defeat to Manchester United, but it was an admirable effort from Rovers, who held the champions for the majority of the game. West Brom are the opponents this weekend and Steve Kean knows a win could see them move above Bolton and boost morale ahead of the end-of-season run-in. The Baggies have been inconsistent this year – some excellent performances cancelled out by inept ones. They come into this one after two defeats on the trot and Roy Hodgson will want to make amends.

The odds against Wolves beating the drop this season are increasing all the time. Six points adrift of safety and with a goal difference of minus 35, it may be time for everyone at Molineux to begin planning for next term. Terry Connor will not view the situation in that light, however, as they prepare for a tough game at Stoke on Saturday evening. Tony Pulis saw his side fall at Wigan last time out as the Potters strive for a top-half finish.

Finally, FA Cup semi-finalists Everton lock horns with Norwich City at Carrow Road. Norwich have enjoyed an excellent return to the Premier League and are on course for a safe, mid-table finish – a credit to the work Paul Lambert has done at the club. Everton will have one eye on next week’s Wembley clash with Liverpool in the Cup, and David Moyes may decide to rest key players. With the Canaries impressive on their home patch, the Toffees face a difficult task on Saturday.