Saturday 4/2/16 (4:45 AM PT)
Aston Villa vs. Chelsea (2)
Way back in the first couple months of the season, this would have been an intriguing battle of a pair of struggling clubs looking to break from. But since the Blues turned their season around while Villa’s has taken a complete nose dive, it's hard to look at this one as anything more than a formality. Despite their high-quality run, Chelsea is still 10 points out of a European place and though that's not too much, the fact that they will need to claw their way over five
(7:00 AM PT)
Arsenal vs. Watford (3)
Even if Arsenal win their game in hand, they will still be eight points behind leaders Leicester, so if they want to stay in the title race, every point will be critical for the Gunners down the stretch. The Hornets have been subpar as of late, having lost their last three, and their offense has struggled mightily in the second half, bringing their total goals for the season down to 30 (tied for third-worst, only better than Newcastle and Villa). Their defense, however, has been solid all year, allowing only 32 goals (tied for fifth-best), and that could be worrisome for Arsenal as a goalless draw would be a nightmare. At the Emirates, it's hard to pick against the Gunners getting full points, but in 14th-place, Watford have the ability to punch above their weight.
Bournemouth vs. Manchester City (3)
Similar to the previous one, this contest pits a powerhouse in desperate need of points against a lower half team with grit. Unfortunately for City, however, the Cherries are in much better form than Watford, having won nine points in their previous four matches despite getting smacked 3-0 by Tottenham last time out. Also worse for City is the pressure on their back from Manchester United and West Ham, who are each lurking just one point behind. After drawing Norwich and losing to their cross-town rivals the last two games, a win is exactly what City needs to rev up as they enter the final stretch, but a loss could be devastating for the Sky Blues.
Norwich vs Newcastle (4)
It's the time of the year when relegation battles start getting attention as huge matches, and this fixture will be about as critical as any in deciding who takes the drop. The Canaries are safe for the moment, but they are only three points ahead of 19th-placed Newcastle (and two ahead of Sunderland) so the Magpies (and the Black Cats) are within striking distance. Neither team has played particularly good defense this year, with both having conceded over 50 goals, so despite their offensive shortcomings, it
Stoke City vs. Swansea City (2)
At this point in the season, these two clubs are playing for final positioning after Swansea’s recent streak of three wins in their last four has taken them to a safe perch above the drop zone. That very run of form, however, has made the fixture more interesting given the Swans now look like they can again challenge with top-half teams. Stoke have also been on a quality stretch of their own after a terrible late January and early February. However, all that build up can be wiped away when the fixture is compared in importance to the other five in the time slot, so unless you're a big fan of one of these sides, it's hard to get excited for it.
West Ham vs. Crystal Palace (3)
The Hammers can move into fourth place and a Champions League position with a win and help from Bournemouth. They shouldn’t have too much trouble doing their part against the struggling Eagles. Palace still has somehow not won a PL game in 2016, and it’s hard to see that streak ending against a tough West Ham team away from home. This is definitely an important battle in the top-four fight, but it should be a fairly straightforward one.
Sunderland vs. West Brom (3)
With their main competitors for the final safe spot doing battle at Carrow Road, the pressure is on Sunderland to get a result against a West Brom side that has won three of its past five league games. The Black Cats have drawn three straight games and certainly have a chance to grab at least a point, if not all three, but the Baggies are playing well at the moment and can create plenty of chances for Saido Berahino. There might not be a ton of goals in it, but with so much on the line for Sunderland, this could well become an interesting tactical battle.
(9:30 AM PT)
Liverpool vs. Tottenham (5)
It’s the most glamorous matchup of the PL weekend, and it’s vital to boot. A Spurs win at Anfield would put Leicester in serious need of a win Sunday in their own tough matchup, while also proving that Tottenham will be in the fight until the end. However, a loss would give the Foxes a chance to move eight points clear and close in on the title. Liverpool’s fading European hopes seem to be dependent on a Europa League trophy, and a win against Spurs would give the Reds some serious momentum heading to the Signal Iduna Park to face Dortmund on Thursday. They remain hopeful in the league as well, and with both sides still battling for something and the late kickoff time, this should be a fabulous Saturday watch.
Sunday 4/3/16 (5:30 AM PT)
Leicester vs. Southampton (5)
(8:00 AM PT)
Manchester United vs. Everton (3)
United went into the international break on a high after the 1-0 derby win over City, and even if they haven’t played great football this season, the Red Devils remain firmly in the thick of the battle for fourth. With an underachieving Everton side visiting Old Trafford, they’ll feel confident of getting all three points. The Toffees are inconsistent, but they can score, and they’ll pose a challenge to United’s defense. Still, the Red Devils should be able to get the win and continue their assault on City’s fourth-place position.
Bonus European game of the week: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Saturday 4/2/16, 11:30 AM PT
Just about every time this game is played, it will be our European game of the week, and with good reason. Even though Barcelona are 10 points clear of their rivals — and nine ahead of Atletico — the talent on display in El Clasico makes it can’t-miss. A Real victory would put just the tiniest bit of doubt in Barca’s minds while also avenging the 4-0 thrashing they received at the Bernabeu in November. Alternately, a Barcelona win would secure a memorable double over their nemesis and all but end the title race. It’s not quite as big as it tends to be, but when the two best teams in world football meet, it leads to excitement.