Saturday 2/13/16 (4:45 AM PT)
Sunderland vs. Manchester United (2)
With just four points in their last three fixtures, United have slipped six points off the UCL pace, and it's looking a tougher task every week to get back into the thick of the race. If they want to have any shot at it, they are going to need three points this weekend when they visit 19th-place Sunderland, especially with the top four teams all matching up, guaranteeing points will be dropped above them. It shouldn’t be too difficult a task with the Black Cats’
(7:00 AM PT)
Everton vs. West Brom (2)
They’re only separated by six points in the table, but given the sides’ recent forms, it's hard to pick against Everton in this fixture. The Toffees come in flying, having won back-to-back games by identical 3-0 scorelines, and they have given themselves an outside shot at a Europa League place. Meanwhile, West Brom have only three points in their last five games, all coming in draws, against Chelsea and bottom feeders Aston Villa and Swansea. On top of that, the Baggies needed penalties to make it past League 1 Peterborough in an FA Cup replay in the midweek, which does little to help the confidence or the fitness.
Norwich City vs. West Ham (2)
This one has meaning at both ends of the table as a West Ham side pushing for a European berth travels to Norwich to face a Canaries team that just dropped into the relegation zone. Norwich have lost five consecutive Premier League fixtures and are risking falling further into the drop zone, and with their next two games against Leicester and Chelsea, they need to take at least a point from this one. That’s by no means a simple task, however, as the Hammers are far and away the better team. There’s certainly an opportunity for the Canaries, though, as West Ham haven’t won on the road in a month, and with desperation at a high, Norwich will likely bring a ton of intensity to the battle at Carrow Road.
Swansea vs. Southampton (3)
One of the season's biggest turnarounds has been quietly occurring on the South coast, where Saints, who had a miserable start and were underperforming for the majority of the first half, now sit in seventh. With four wins and a draw against Arsenal (thanks to an epic day in goal from Fraser Forster) in their last five, Southampton are only four points behind fifth-placed Manchester United. Swansea have been in solid form themselves recently, claiming eight points in their last four BPL matchups to climb two places,
Bournemouth vs. Stoke (2)
While Stoke are currently a little ways off from achieving their goal of improving on last season’s ninth-place finish, Bournemouth are firmly in the hunt to complete their goal of staying in the Premier League. Getting home wins will be a critical part of that quest, and with a Potters side that’s lost its last three BPL games by identical 3-0 scorelines coming to Dean Court, the Cherries will feel plenty confident of nabbing all three points. Stoke need to find a way to break out of their slump quickly, but they won’t find it easy to do so at Bournemouth, particularly with their back line taking a severe step back over the past few fixtures. There’s plenty of quality in both of these squads, so there are worse choices in this time slot.
Crystal Palace vs. Watford (2)
A couple months ago, hopes were quickly escalating for this pair of sides that had become serious top-third threats, but in just six fixtures, that's all been dashed. In those twelve games, Palace and Watford have combined for just one win and two draws (that win was for Watford over 17th-place Newcastle). Still, the solid first halves helped the teams to relative safety, and unless their miserable stretches continue from now until the end of the season, neither is in danger of ending up in the Championship. It's an average choice in a far from stellar time slot, but it's hard to pick this one given the teams’ recent struggles.
(9:30 AM PT)
Chelsea vs. Newcastle (3)
This is a big battle in the scope of the relegation race, with Newcastle sitting a point out of the bottom three and Chelsea just seven above 18th-place Norwich. Moreover, these teams tend to play extremely compelling games, and Newcastle has a good record against the Blues in recent seasons, with three wins in the last six games between the two. The Magpies have defeated Chelsea at least once every year since 2010-11, and having thrown away a two-goal lead at St. James’ Park in September, they need to win this weekend to keep that streak going. With their track record in the fixture, they certainly have a shot, but Chelsea haven’t lost yet under Guus Hiddink and will be confident of keeping that run going at home against a struggling side in what should be an interesting contest.
Sunday 2/14/16 (4:00 AM PT)
Arsenal vs Leicester City (5)
Having already played Tottenham and Manchester City, the Gunners are the last major hurdle standing between Leicester City and getting a hand on the BPL trophy. It seems ridiculously early and far too tight to say that if the Foxes beat Arsenal, they will surely win the title, but at this point, they seem like the team of destiny. They currently hold a lead of five points over the North London outfits and six over City, and a win would increase that lead over at least
(6:05 AM PT)
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool (2)
Villa are pulling themselves up the table slowly, and they now find themselves within eight points of safety, but they need to continue getting positive results if they want any chance to sneak out of the relegation zone. Against a struggling Liverpool side whose only BPL win since the New Year was a 5-4 one at Norwich in which the defense was miserable, the Villans have an opportunity to keep their run going. The Reds are without question a more talented team, but with their recent struggles, they could well have trouble at what should be a raucous Villa Park.
(8:15 AM PT)
Manchester City vs. Tottenham (5)
Coupled with Leicester’s duel at Arsenal, this contest will go a long way towards determining what the BPL’s title race will look like over the rest of the season. City will have revenge on their minds after losing 4-1 at Tottenham in September, but with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva both missing out through injury, they could well run into problems breaking down a Spurs defense with the fewest goals allowed in the league. For Tottenham, this is a critical fixture as Spurs attempt to solidify themselves as a genuine threat, and a win at the Etihad would convince the doubters that this side is a real candidate to win the title. The winner of this will take a big step towards closing the gap on Leicester and getting within striking distance of lifting the trophy come the end of the season.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Juventus vs. Napoli, Saturday 2/13/16, 11:45 AM PT
Something has to give in a battle for first place between the two hottest teams on the continent. Napoli currently hold a two-point edge atop Serie A over their hosts, and both teams are on unprecedented runs of dominance, with the Naples side having won eight league games in a row and the Old Lady on a 14-game winning streak. Each of these squads is loaded with quality players, including the two top scorers in Italy, Napoli’s Gonzala Higuain and Juve’s Paulo Dybala. That, combined with the