Saturday 2/27/16 (4:45 AM PT)
West Ham vs. Sunderland (1)
On paper, this is a big mismatch. West Ham are in seventh place and battling for a European position, while Sunderland are in 19th and vying for Premier League safety. That said, the Black Cats have been a much different side over the past six league games, with two wins and two draws, and Sam Allardyce will do everything he can to get them a result at Upton Park against his old club. This could prove to be a
(7:00 AM PT)
Stoke vs. Aston Villa (1)
Similarly to the weekend opener, Stoke are the huge favorites at home against an Aston Villa side that has looked a bit livelier in recent weeks, but still is by far the most likely to finish in last place. The Villans’ problems at both ends of the pitch were on full display in their last league game, a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool, and they’ll have a tough time overcoming those issues against Stoke. While they haven’t been great in recent weeks, the Potters looked terrific in a 3-1 win over Bournemouth last time out, and they’ll expect to take the three points fairly easily against Villa, who have just one away win all season.
Southampton vs. Chelsea (4)
Chelsea have still yet to lose a domestic fixture since Guus Hiddink’s hiring, but that record will be tested big time against red-hot Southampton. Saints have conceded just one league goal in 2016, and that came in their first game of the year. Since then, with Fraser Forster in net, Southampton have 16 of a possible 18 points and have not allowed a goal. The Blues have been a lot better in attack in recent weeks, but Diego Costa and co. will find things difficult against a very good defensive side. This is the best matchup of the time slot without a doubt.
Leicester vs. Norwich (3)
At this point, Leicester are worth watching every time they hit the pitch. It’ll be interesting to see how the shock leaders respond to their last BPL contest,a brutal late loss to Arsenal that shrunk their advantage atop the table to just two points over both North London sides. They’ll expect to get a win at home, but Norwich certainly have the motivation to perform as well, as the Canaries sit just a point above the relegation zone. It’s an important fixture at both ends of the table, and while the Foxes should cruise
Watford vs. Bournemouth (3)
It's certainly not the fixture of the matchday, but it’s an important one nonetheless for the teams involved. Watford are still five points off a Europa League spot and could make a surprise run to the competition should they get hot. Meanwhile, Bournemouth are only four points clear of the relegation zone and could use some breathing room to ease fears that the league's smallest team won’t be returning to the BPL next year. Both sides come in with two wins, a draw, and three losses in their last six, so their forms aren’t exactly inspiring for a big fixture.
(9:30 AM PT)
West Brom vs. Crystal Palace (2)
Tied on 32 points — eight above the drop zone — neither of these teams is in serious danger of relegation, but the pair have been in horrible form recently. Palace enter having not won in the BPL since mid-December, while West Brom have only won once in their last six in the league, and, even worse, they are coming off an FA Cup loss to Championship side Reading. On top of that, neither squad has shown the promise in attack to make the fixture interesting, with both offenses in the bottom five in the league in goals scored. It's the only option at this time slot which is the best for the West Coast, but that alone can’t make the fixture particularly interesting.
Sunday 2/28/16 (6:05 AM PT)
Manchester United vs. Arsenal (5)
In recent years, this clash of giants has been a critical one in determining title race ambitions for Manchester United and the ever-famous fourth-place race for Arsenal, but the exact opposite is on the line this year. After a bit of a downturn, the Gunners burst back into life with a massive win over Leicester City last time out in the league. Meanwhile, the Red Devils’ middling form has continued with two wins, two draws, and two losses in their last six. On top of that is the extra element of fatigue, with both teams
Tottenham vs. Swansea (2)
With the teams at opposite ends of the table and the strong favorites hosting, it’s hard to give Swansea much of a chance at White Hart Lane. The Swans’ hope is a defensive battle, as their backline isn’t that bad given their table position. They will certainly have their hands full with the side that has the best defense and goal differential in the league (and is only one goal off of joint-top scorers with Leicester and Manchester City). With serious title ambitions rising in North London, it’s fixtures like these that are must-wins if Spurs want to see themselves hoisting the trophy in the air come May, so expect a resolute attack from Mauricio Pochettino's side.
(8:30 AM PT)
Capital One Cup final: Liverpool vs. Manchester City (5)
Sure, it's the third-biggest trophy in England (fourth or fifth if European competitions are included) but a cup final is a cup final, and neither Liverpool nor City will want to lose after they’ve come this far. It's important for each team in different ways, as well, with Liverpool seeing this as a great opportunity to punch a ticket to Europe next year, as their only other ways in are climbing over some quality squads in the BPL table or running through the Europa League (which hasn’t seen an English team in the quarterfinals for two years running). From City’s perspective, it's a good way to get a trophy in the hands of departing manager Manuel Pellegrini, and after tumbling down the table a bit and being knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend against Chelsea, it’s looking like their last chance to get a domestic trophy this season. On top of all that, it's an old powerhouse meeting up with a new one, and that clash of generations is not to be missed.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Fenerbahce vs. Besiktas, Monday 2/29/16 (10 AM PT)
There are huge games all over the continent this weekend, including a vital Madrid derby, a clash between Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, and an Italian battle between Juventus and Inter. However, we’re going off the beaten path this week with the European selection. Last week, we wrote a bit about the spectacle that can be Turkish football, and this Monday, the two teams at the top of the Turkish Super Lig do battle in a massive Istanbul rivalry clash that will go a long way to deciding the title winner. Besiktas have been the more impressive side this season and have both a one-point lead and a game in hand. But Fenerbahce haven’t lost in league play at home this season, and they know how important this game will be if they are to usurp Besiktas atop the table. Expect a ton of fireworks in this important contest.