Manchester United v Arsenal
Chelsea, on the other hand, will go level with Man Utd if they win.
For United, the return of key players, such as Keane, Beckham and Ferdinand has come at a good time and helped them embark on a good run lately. Seven wins in their last nine matches have seen Sir Alex Ferguson’s side climb to second in the table.
The return of the injured and suspended offsets the disappointing form of Ryan Giggs, one of United’s most consistent performers in recent years. Giggs has been receving verbal abuse from supporters in recent weeks and there have been reports that he will leave Old Trafford at the end of the season.
Giggs and Veron may be recalled after recovering from injury. Nicky Butt is now fit and should warm the bench after an outing for the reserves in midweek. Indeed, all first-team regulars are available for the first time this season.
Goalkeeper Cudicini is arguably the best in England at the moment and the Italian stopper will be relieved to have escaped suspension for his recent sending-off in the FA Cup tie clash with Middlesbrough. Cudicini has helped the club to eight clean sheets from their last fourteen games.
The continued speculation over striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s move to Barcelona can only be an unwanted distraction for Claudio Ranieri.
For Chelsea, the form of veteran forward Zola has been a revelation this season, though he has not scored in his last twelve matches. Nonetheless, the diminutive Italian may Zola may start with Hasselbaink, meaning Gudjohnsen dropping to the bench. Defender John Terry is definitely out with a back injury sustained last week, as is Mario Stanic with a knee problem, but Mario Melchiot is fit to start after recovering from a thigh strain.
Manchester United: Barthez, G. Neville, Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Beckham, Veron, Keane, Giggs, Scholes, Van Nistelrooy
Chelsea: Cudicini, Melchiot, Gallas, Desailly, Babayaro, Gronkjaer, Lampard, Petit, Le Saux, Zola, Hasselbaink
Southampton v Liverpool
Liverpool currently lie one point and two places behind, but what is particularly galling for their fans is Everton – their fiercest rivals – sitting a place above.
Southampton could join Newcastle in fourth place if they win, no doubt giving their fans nosebleeds in the process.
Saints striker James Beattie is in the form of his life, leads the scoring charts in the Premiership, and is expected to win a call up to the English national side for their friendly next month. Beattie’s good run has mirrored that of the team’s and although a Champions League place may beyond them, Southampton are contenders for UEFA Cup qualification.
In contrast, Liverpool are in their worst run for many years, already out of contention for the league title, several stars performing inadequately (Owen, Heskey, Hypia, etc), the fans losing patience with manager Gerard Houllier’s defensive style of play, recent revelations about Owen’s gambling in Japan last summer. Shall I go on?
The likelihood is Strachan will name the side that drew 2-2 with Middlesborough, so no start for Swede Anders Svensson. Ecuadorian Augustin Delgado will return to the bench after five weeks out.
For Liverpool, Diao is suspended and Hamann still injured which means centre midfield, Liverpool’s strength of late, is short of cover.
Riise may play in midfield with Traore coming in a left fullback. Alternatively, Emile Heskey may start on the left wing
Southampton have drawn four of their last six league games, while Liverpool have taken only five points from an available thirty-three, their worst run for almost 50 years.
Arsenal v West Ham
West Ham Utd are still in the relegation zone and need wins, wins, and more wins to climb out. The pundits say they are too good to go down, but they are seven points away from safety and time is running out.
Arsenal could welcome the return of captain Patrick Viera if he comes through a fitness test on his groin problem. Thierry Henry is showing why managers around the world are proclaiming him Europe’s best striker, while compatriot Pires is nearing his best after a long injury lay-off. However, Freddie Ljunberg is still out of action.
Ray Parlour is set shake off his calf injury and return to the squad, though should Viera fail a fitness test, Gilberto and Edu will probably continue in centre midfield
For West Ham, the signing of Lee Bowyer on the cheap should give the club a boost, whatever doubts about his off-the-field persona, there may be.
The form of young England men Carrick, Cole and Defoe should also give the manager Glenn Roeder encouragement. Unfortunately for the West Ham boss, the club desperately need a striker to ease the burden on young Jermaiine Defoe. Moreover, the defence is a shambles.
For the Hammers, Repka is still suspended but Sebastien Schemmel may return to the startingXI.
Form points to a home win with Arsenal unbeaten in their last six league games while West Ham have drawn five of their lastsix, losing to Manchester United in the other fixture.
Aston Villa v Tottenham
Charlton v Bolton
Leeds v West Brom
Southampton v Liverpool
Fulham v Middlesbrough