With Chelsea expecting to complete the formalities of a third Premier League title under the guidance of Jose Mourinho within the very near future, focus will shift on those fighting it out at the bottom as teams scramble for survival.
Mathematically the numbers tell us that any three of 8 could be sucked into the relegation zone but if we consider 35-points to be the magical number then realistically five teams [assuming Hull earn a point over the next four games] will slog it out. Sean Dyche [Burnley] and Chris Ramsey [Queens Park Rangers] still maintain their belief publically but barring anything short of a miracle the two will drop down to the Championship.
Momentum and form favour Leicester while Villa can take confidence from reaching this seasons’ FA Cup final which leaves Sunderland a club in turmoil. A temporary manager and a player with a potential prison term hanging over his head; the omens do not look good. However with a game in hand one victory could change the whole complexion of the season finale.
Whatever the scenario – and with four matches remaining – the Premier League will undoubtedly take a few more twists before the dust settles in game week 38.
Leicester City – vs – Newcastle United
Andy King has been ruled out after picking up a hamstring injury against Chelsea on Wednesday night while teammate Robert Huth is awaiting the results of his [calf] scan and remains a big doubt. However Jeff Schlupp has been passed for Saturdays’ crucial game although David Nugent will not be ready in time. Leicester have climbed out of the bottom three on the back of four wins from five and will see the arrival of Newcastle [7-consecutive losses] as a great opportunity to distant themselves further from the relegation zone.
Despite their downturn in form Newcastle can take inspiration from their recent head-to-head record against Leicester - no losses in nine including 5-wins. Siem de Jong won't start at the King Power but the Dutchman is approaching full fitness after completing 90 minutes for the development side midweek. John Carver hinted that Paul Dummett could return after impressing in training while Daryl Janmaat [illness] and Moussa Sissoko [suspension] will be available. Emanuele Riviere “will start this weekend” but the fitness of Papiss Cisse is a concern. The Senegalese striker completes his 7-match ban next weekend but is struggling to recover from knee surgery in time for GW36. Rolando Aarons will miss out again.
Aston Villa – vs – Everton
Gabby Agbonlahor [hamstring] returned to light training this week but the Villa forward won’t be ready; West Ham next weekend is a much more realistic target. However injuries are beginning to ease – Aly Cissokho and Phillippe Senderos were added to the bench last weekend – and Alan Hutton [ankle ligaments] will come into Tim Sherwood’s plans. Scott Sinclair is available after sitting out of the City match [ineligible] under the terms of his loan agreement. The in-form Christian Benteke has scored – 10 in 10 [all competitions] – and the big Belgian could be the difference between relegation and survival in the top-flight.
The unfortunate Bryan Oviedo has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after fracturing his metatarsal in a freak training ground accident. The Costa Rican was approaching full fitness following his recovery from a hamstring strain and was expected to feature for the under-21s on Thursday – Martinez confirmed the player should be back by “the end of pre-season.” No fresh injury concerns so expect little change from the side which emphatically despatched Manchester United at Goodison. Steven Pienaar and Tony Hibbert are lacking fitness.
Liverpool – vs – Queens Park Rangers
Mamadou Sakho and Mario Balotelli have been ruled out with respective hamstring and foot injuries but following ANOTHER poor performance midweek the Italian was never likely to feature. Lucas Leiva and Alberto Moreno have trained fully [both will be involved] as will Steven Gerrard who was rested at the KC Stadium - Brendan Rodgers confirmed the skipper “will be flying.” Liverpool stopped short of ruling Daniel Sturridge out for the season but the striker is currently in America "We've found some underlying issues relating to [hip] problems.” I would expect to hear something very soon regarding his availability for the remaining games - Sturridge may require need to surgery to correct the issue. Jon Flanagan will miss up-to 9 months after the full-back sought a second opinion to cure an ongoing knee problem – Flanagan had surgery this week.
Bobby Zamora is "struggling" to make the Liverpool game "which is a blow" but Chris Ramsey confirms “most of the other players are fit to be involved.” Leroy Fer returned to the bench last weekend and has since been involved in a behind-closed-doors friendly; the midfielder is a potential starter. Mauro Zarate, Adel Taarabt and Suk-Young Yun come into contention while Rio Ferdinand is back training "fingers crossed he'll be in the squad.” Rangers need at least 3-wins from their remaining games and you feel Charlie Austin needs to bring his ‘A’ game if the Hoops are to have any chance of beating the drop; the striker has played a part in more than half of his side’s goals [55%] – the highest proportion within the Premier League.
Sunderland – vs – Southampton
Steven Fletcher [ankle] is still with the medical team and will not recover in time to face Southampton leaving Connor Wickham and Jermaine Defoe to lead the line. Dick Advocaat also confirmed that Adam Johnson would be included in the squad but Wes Brown won’t be back – the defender is hopeful of being with the group early next week. Sebastian Larsson completes his 2-game ban and the midfielder will be pushing Will Buckley for a place in the eleven. Sunderland have scored just five goals in their last 10 outings and have the lowest goals return in the Premier League  along with Burnley and Aston Villa. With trips to Arsenal and Chelsea still to come the Black Cats need to realistically take at least 6-points from their [other] remaining fixtures.
A scan confirmed Morgan Schneiderlin tweaked his knee ligaments last time out and the Saints midfielder will miss up-to five weeks which effectively ends his campaign; Victor Wanyama is available again following suspension and could make an immediate return to the side. Dusan Tadic won’t be considered due to a groin problem but Filip Duričić has recovered from a minor ankle injury and is likely to be added to the match-day squad. Jay Rodriguez was back in full training on Wednesday and Ronald Koeman is confident the striker could play a part in the final game at the Etihad. Southampton put  past the Black Cats during their last encounter and a similar result would go a long way to helping the Saints achieving their goal of European football for next season.
Swansea City – vs – Stoke City
Jefferson Montero was a precautionary withdrawal at St James’ Park [hamstring] but the pacey winger will be available for the visit of Stoke, a game which Garry Monk described as probably “the most important of our season.” Swansea have already surpassed their previous [highest] Premier League points tally and the Jacks are now aiming for their [best] finish with $2 million up for grabs for each place. Neil Taylor is back from suspension and his availability could force Jordi Amat out of the side. Nathan Dyer will hope for a run from now until the end of the season as Wayne Routledge [ankle] has been ruled out. Bafetimbi Gomis is around 10-14 days away from a return.
Mark Hughes will assess Geoff Cameron in training on Friday after a small hamstring issue forced the American off during the final moments against Sunderland – Marc Wilson or Phil Bardsley are favourites for a return if the defender is not risked. Peter Odemwingie will take his place on the bench but the Nigerian could be considered for a possible start next time out if he comes through next week’s under-21 match unscathed. Jon Walters [fractured cheekbone] will ditch his face mask as its “effecting his eye for goal” but despair not as Charlie Adam is likely to go all Phantom of the Opera after breaking his nose in training. Marc Muniesa [hamstring] is a doubt but Peter Crouch will make the squad although a groin problem will keep him amongst the substitutes.
West Ham – vs – Burnley
Despite Sam Allardyce revealing news to the contrary "Unfortunately there's nobody back from last week which means the same squad," Alex Song is expected to return after joining the group on Wednesday. The Cameroonian has struggled with a niggling back issue for the past few weeks but the medical team have given him the green light to resume duties. Long term absentees do however remain the same – Winston Reid [hamstring], James Tomkins [shoulder], Andy Carroll [knee], Guy Demel [calf] and Diafra Sakho [thigh] are on the sidelines.
Sean Dyche will assess Sam Vokes on Friday; the striker missed the home defeat to Leicester because of a minor thigh problem and is rated as "touch and go." No other issues with the exception of long-term absentees Dean Marney and Kevin Long [both ACL]. Ashley Barnes is back after serving a 1-game ban and Matty Taylor will face his former employers - Danny Ings has failed to score in over nine competitive matches [since February, 2015].
Manchester United – vs – West Brom
An unexpected surprise as Wayne Rooney is passed fit for United; there was speculation that the skipper had damaged knee ligaments but “it was not so heavy as we expected.” Robin van Persie – fresh from 2-goals midweek for the U21s – is ready for his recall while van Gaal will assess Phil Jones "we have to see his match rhythm.” What won’t surprise anyone is the news that Luke Shaw and Jonny Evans are injured once again "Shaw has trouble with his groin so he cannot play,” while Evans injured his back "It is unbelievable. For 6 weeks he had nothing, he could play then he had an injury. It is unbelievable, but it is true" confirmed the Dutch coach. Michael Carrick [calf] and Marcos Rojo [groin] won’t be available as their recovery from injury is taking longer than expected.
West Brom will make enforced changes for the trip to Manchester United after sticking with the same squad for the two previous games. Tony Pulis confirmed the Baggies’ "have a few injuries" but refrained from naming individuals. Victor Anichebe, Sadio Berahino and James Morrison are among those currently being assessed. Andre Wisdom and Youssouf Mulumbu will be added to the squad while former United club captain Darren Fletcher can expect a warm reception on his return to Old Trafford.
Chelsea – vs – Crystal Palace
Diego Costa will not be risked on Sunday “when you can protect, you protect" but if Chelsea fail to win and they still need the points against Liverpool then the Spanish international “will probably play next weekend.” Loic Remy "is definitely back available" and could start ahead of Didier Drogba who played 90-minutes in Wednesdays’ win at the King Power. Mourinho gave no indication of who will start between Thibaut Courtois and Petr Cech "I have decided on my goalkeeper for Sunday, but they don't know yet so I can't tell you."
Joel Ward [shin] has a chance of returning this weekend after taking part in training on Friday although others “will need some more work.” Marouane Chamakh and Fraizer Campbell fall into this category having spent almost 3-months out due to hamstring injuries. Alan Pardew could look to change things on the back of two poor results – Jordon Mutch, Joe Ledley and Chung-Yong Lee have another week of fitness work behind them and will be keen to make an impact during the run-in.
Tottenham – vs – Manchester City
Danny Rose times his recovery from a hamstring issue to perfection and the full-back will come straight back into the team after it was announced on Wednesday that Ben Davies would have surgery on his dislocated shoulder. Other than Kyle Walker [ankle] Spurs have no other injury related problems. The home side will need to improve upon their poor head-to-head record against those in the top 6 if Tottenham want to play in Europe next season – Southampton and Liverpool are vying for a place in the Europa League competition.
Yaya Toure [hamstring] will do well to return for the QPR match in GW36 as Pellegrini reveals “I think he will be out at least one more week” but captain Vincent Kompany “is progressing” and maybe has a chance of facing The Hoops. Stevan Jovetic has been ruled out but Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy return to the squad. Sergio Aguero has netted nine goals in six Premier League appearances against Spurs and the Argentine is getting back to his best – 4 goals in his last 3 games – having failed to get on the score-sheet in his previous five competitive games.
Hull City – vs – Arsenal
Mo Diame is "struggling to complete consecutive training sessions" and the Tigers’ midfielder remains a big doubt for Monday Night Football but Steve Bruce should welcome Andrew Robertson back following a minor ankle injury. Nikica Jelavic is improving after knee surgery and the striker has been with the squad for the last four days although this weekend could come too soon. David Meyler is back having missed the previous 3-games through suspension. An unexpected win at Selhurst Park plus a hard fought point against Liverpool has eased the pressure on Hull who are on the brink of safety.
"Everybody is in good shape, apart from Mathieu Debuchy [little hamstring problem],” otherwise everyone should be available. However Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Abou Diaby are lacking match-fitness and won’t be considered. Arsenal are hoping to make it 5-consecutive away wins to keep the pressure on Manchester City – the two teams are currently tied in second on 67-points. Alexis Sanchez has scored in his two previous appearances against Hull and Olivier Giroud has netted in six of his last 7-away games.