Saturday 4/9/16 (4:45 AM PT)
West Ham vs. Arsenal (5)
It’s an absolute cracker of a match given the talent on display, but what’s on the line makes this London Derby hard to skip, even with the atrocious wakeup time. Trailing Leicester by 11 points, Arsenal need a win to keep their title ambitions alive, but a loss would potentially pull them back into the scope of Manchesters City and United, leaving the Gunners in a dogfight for a top-four place. Over at Boleyn Ground, the stakes are equally high, as a loss will most likely see one or both of the Manchester squads slip further away, and that will put a serious damper on any Champions League hopes for the Hammers. West Ham enter in slightly better form, having not lost in their last six, but that is of little meaning, as both sides will certainly be geared up and ready to go for one of the biggest fixtures each will have coming down the stretch.
(7:00 AM PT)
Aston Villa vs. Bournemouth
If the Villans can't get an equal or better result as Norwich this weekend, they will finally be confirmed as taking the drop. It gives them something to fight for, but, in reality it isn't much, as this has been inevitable for some time now. Meanwhile, the Cherries sit 11 points above the drop zone thanks to a solid second half and only a miserable collapse, combined with some improbable other results, could see them into danger. Though they got smacked by a pair of powerhouses their last two times out, Eddie Howe’s men were riding a three-game winning streak before that. That, however, can't make this mundane fixture any more interesting, and given its lack of importance, it's almost surely a skip.
Crystal Palace vs Norwich (4)
Palace’s ridiculous tumble down the table — thanks to still having not won a PL fixture in 2016 — could get even worse, as a loss to the Canaries would pull the two teams into a tie for 16th and 17th. All it would take from there is a stretch of scrappy results from Sunderland, and the Eagles could amazingly find themselves in the relegation battle. That would have been an impossible thought four months ago, but here we are. The fixture is just as important for the Canaries, who could take a massive step away from relegation with a win, while a loss or tie could take them back into the Black Cats’ range. Each team has a decent enough attack, but the Eagles have a much better defense and combined with hosting the fixture, the slightest of edges tips towards Palace in this critical battle at the bottom.
Watford vs Everton (2)
With the squads sitting just a point apart in an almost surely safe spot, there isn't much to play for this weekend at Vicarage Road. But games that involve the Toffees can be highly entertaining because of their high-risk, high-reward style which has lead to 51 goals for (fifth in the league) but 42 against (tied for sixth-worst). Though they've been in the gauntlet in recent weeks, the Hornets come in limping, having not won any points in their last four and only having scored once in their five. It's a great chance for them to get back on track this weekend in what looks to be a well-contested, but meaningless, affair.
Swansea vs. Chelsea (2)
Guus Hiddink's version of Chelsea has proved to be stellar — the Blues still have not lost in 2016 — and though it was announced that Antonio Conte will be taking over the team come next year, the interim coach will certainly want to go out on a high note. And the revitalized squad will likely want to send him out accordingly. The Swans, like the other teams battling in the bottom third, aren’t mathematically safe, but they are in a great position 10 points clear of the relegation zone, though they will want to put a couple more points under their belt to fortify their position. Much like some of the other games in the time slot, with little on the line for either team, it’s tough to seek this out, especially with the Blues strong favorites to run away with the tie, but the trip to Wales can be deceiving, so maybe their are some fireworks in store.
Southampton vs. Newcastle (3)
For Newcastle, Premier League survival has become a now-or-never affair. The Magpies are six points back of 17th place Norwich and the final safe spot, and they have a draw and five losses in their last six games. If they are going to make a late push for survival, it needs to start soon. That won’t be easy at St. Mary’s against a Southampton side with the PL’s sixth-best home record this season. But Newcastle needs to make it happen, or else their Premier League stay will be in severe jeopardy.
(9:30 AM PT)
Manchester City vs. West Brom (2)
This game has a bit of meaning in terms of City’s fight for fourth place, but that’s about the only draw. West Brom are a good defensive side who will try to stifle the Citizens, but it’ll be a monumental task against a City team that seems to have regained its offensive mojo over the past two games. City will bring tons of confidence in with them after a 4-0 win over Bournemouth and a comeback against PSG to earn a 2-2 draw, and although they’ve lost three of their last four home league games, they should be able to cruise past the Baggies. It’s the late game, which gives this one an extra tick of watchability, but there shouldn’t be a ton of drama in it.
Sunday 4/10/16 (5:30 AM PT)
Sunderland vs. Leicester (5)
While there’s a clearly defined favorite in this game, it’s the most important of the week because of the implications at both ends of the table. Leicester continue to close in on the unlikeliest of titles, and another win this weekend would put them three wins away maximum from lifting the trophy. It won’t come easy against a Sunderland side that’s in desperation mode and needs a win. The Black Cats are four points back of Norwich with a game in hand, and they’ll feel like they have a chance at the Stadium of Light, even with Leicester’s stunning run through the league. The Foxes are the favorites, but they could find themselves in quite a battle against a squad in danger of relegation. Even though kickoff is early, this game could prove to be a critical one in determining the final look of the table.
(8:00 AM PT)
Tottenham vs. Manchester United (5)
Spurs (or at least the fans) will know the Leicester result by the time they kick off at White Hart Lane, but Tottenham is in the position where nothing less than a win will do. They are a better side than United at the moment, and with Leicester threatening to run away with the title, this is a must-win if Spurs want to stay in it. It’s also a vital contest for United, who enter the weekend a point behind fourth-place City. Spurs will be confident of getting all three points against a
Liverpool vs. Stoke (2)
While this fixture has produced some memorable contests in recent seasons, there’s not a whole lot left to play for in the PL for either Liverpool or Stoke. The Reds are focused on the Europa League with nine points separating them from City, and while the Potters are within seven of the Champions League, they’ll need to pass three teams to get to fourth, which seems unlikely with six games to go. It’s not impossible, and both teams are battling to finish higher than the other, but there really just isn’t much on the line, especially compared to the other fixture in the same time slot.
Bonus European Game of the Week: Sunday 4/10/16 (7:00 AM PT)
Nice vs. Rennes
We have previously documented just how tight the Ligue 1 race for European places is, and this week will be a massive one as fourth-placed Rennes visit fifth-placed Nice. Rennes — who are in the only Europa League spot — have just a one-point edge over their hosts and are also just a single point behind third-place Lyon, who occupy the final UCL pace. On top of that, second place Monaco are just four points in front of Rennes, and there are a host of squads who are trailing in 6th through 9th place who would like to see those above them slip up. Every fixture from here on out will be absolutely critical, and an extra level of intensity will be in store when any teams in the top third matchup. It's not a fixture of powerhouses, but it’s mouthwatering nonetheless.