Following a hectic seven days, the Premier League has a rather subdued feel to it. Everton, Manchester United, Watford and Crystal Palace are all involved in the FA Cup while West Ham and Norwich City are afforded the luxury of a free weekend.
Liverpool welcome Villarreal to Anfield on Thursday in the Europa League and Manchester’s other half – City – take on Real Madrid in a mouth-watering Champions League semi-final first leg at the Etihad.
Predicting team line-ups is proving to be a logistical nightmare.
Domestically, Tottenham will be hoping Leicester drop more points without their talisman Jamie Vardy in attack. The Foxes forced a last gasp draw against West Ham in game week thirty-four while Spurs were emphatic at the Britannia to close the gap to five.
The relegation dogfight shows no sign of abating. A comprehensive 3-0 win for Sunderland stunned Norwich to drag the Norfolk side back into the mire. Newcastle remain within touching distance – with a win and a draw - although their downfall has been away from St James’ Park this season.
A defeat at Old Trafford condemned Aston Villa to the Championship and an embarrassing loss in the Merseyside derby could yet see Roberto Martinez dumped onto the managerial scrapheap.
Manchester City – vs – Stoke City
Samir Nasri is the only injury concern for City this weekend. “He hasn't recovered 100 per cent. I hope for the next game he'll be OK,” says Manuel Pellegrini. Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and David Silva are all available for selection. Raheem Sterling and Vincent Kompany came through Tuesdays' match at Newcastle unscathed - the skipper "felt good after the game." Expect one or two changes ahead of the UCL semi-final against Real Madrid, but one player who should start is Sergio Aguero. Kun joined the Premier League 100 Club this week with his goal at St James’ Park.
Mark Hughes confirmed: "Marc Wilson has been training for a couple of weeks but he still has a bit of pain, we have a game next week which may help." Glen Johnson "is getting close" although he isn't quite ready. "We hope that he and Jon Walters will see some game-time this season." Xherdan Shaqiri has a slight hamstring injury so he will miss out on Saturday. “We would like to have him available next week." Stoke will look to tighten up defensively after conceding 10 times in less than three and a half hours of Premier League football since the injury to Jack Butland. Marc Muniesa will continue to deputise for the suspended Erik Pieters and Shay Given is expected to start ahead of Jakob Haugaard to become the first Stoke player since Stanley Matthews - in 1964 - to play a league match in his 40s.
AFC Bournemouth – vs – Chelsea
Benik Afobe "is progressing well" but this weekend looks as if it will come too soon. Adam Smith (Hernia) and Harry Arter (Achilles) are still struggling – both are fighting to be fit before the end of the season. Eddie Howe is “pleased” with Callum Wilson: “We'll build his minutes up slowly, there's no rush on him at the moment." No problems with Junior Stanislas who was replaced at half-time against Liverpool on his comeback from a hamstring injury.
Guus Hiddink says Alexandre Pato and Radamel Falcao will continue to be afforded his "fair judgement" in team selection, but in reality, neither will be at the club next season and the Dutchman is more likely to blood youngsters. Kurt Zouma and Loic Remy remain out. Likewise, John Terry who is “hoping” to return next weekend – the captain will travel with the squad to the Vitality. Eden Hazard is back in contention. "He isn't likely to play the whole game but will be in the squad. He has trained well this week." One of the few positives to come out of the defeat to City was the return of some of Chelsea’s first team stars. Diego Costa looked fully refreshed while Willian started for the first time since mid-March. Nemanja Matic also made the squad and Gary Cahill returned to the heart of defence having the missed the last two games. Thibaut Courtois begins a two match ban meaning Asmir Begovic will start in goal.
Liverpool – vs – Newcastle United
Divock Origi’s season hangs in the balance after scans revealed the Belgium attacker damaged ankle ligaments during Wednesday’s Merseyside derby. He will have a second scan this weekend to help determine a time line on his recovery. Christian Benteke is nearing a return and the 25-year-old is expected to re-join his team mates in training next week. Daniel Sturridge looks set to lead the attack during the interim. Liverpool play Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday - but with five full days’ recovery - Jürgen Klopp could resist making wholesale changes. Emre Can and Jordan Henderson may not return before the end of the domestic campaign, although a place in their respective Euro 2016 squads is still a possibility….. if selected.
Kevin Mbabu comes back into contention after more than three months out but Fabricio Coloccini and Daryl Janmaat remain on the sidelines. Still no date on when either will return. Newcastle followed up their 3-0 win over Swansea with a point against City and Benitez could keep faith by naming the same starting XI. In doing so, Rafa would be leaving the likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Gini Wijnaldum on the substitute’s bench. Newcastle need to improve away from St James’ Park - only 8-points taken on the road all season – but recent history suggests they won’t be pulling up any trees at Anfield. No wins in their last twenty (D3, L17).
Aston Villa – vs – Southampton
Kieran Richardson and Ciaran Clark have been ruled out of the Southampton game after picking up knocks in training on Thursday. Gabby Agbonlahor is suspended - pending an internal investigation -following revelations that he was partying in a London hotel with canisters of laughing gas just hours after the clubs’ relegation. Jores Okore will not play again this season after caretaker boss Eric Black revealed the Danish defender refused to be sub against Bournemouth – he will train with the Under-21s for the remainder of the campaign. Libor Kozak is training but lacks fitness.
Jose Fonte and Victor Wanyama are "OK" says Ronald Koeman. "Only one player is not available for the weekend and that is Charlie Austin." Fonte was replaced during the first half at Goodison following a clash of heads which left the skipper concussed while Wanyama sustained a knock to the ribs - Austin twisted his knee during the pre-match warm-up against Newcastle two weeks ago. Florin Gardos made his long awaited return for the Under-21s on Monday – the defender has missed the entire 2015/16 campaign after sustaining a serious knee injury during the close season.
Sunderland – vs – Arsenal
Fabio Borini left Carrow Road last weekend with an ice-pack on his shin following a hefty Andre Wisdom tackle which won Sunderland a first half penalty. Despite the potential leg-breaker, the Italian should be fine. Sam Allardyce has the luxury of an almost fully fit squad after Jeremain Lens and Jack Rodwell returned to training although the former is now a doubt due to illness. DeAndre Yedlin is expected to recover from the ankle injury he sustained earlier this week. The Black Cats could name an unchanged side for the third successive match.
Kieran Gibbs missed the West Brom match due to a minor back problem, but the defender has trained ahead of the game. Jack Wilshere is ready to make his long awaited return with Arsene Wenger planning to name the England international in his match day squad for the first time since May, 2015. Danny Welbeck is expected to return to the starting XI in place of Olivier Giroud while Per Mertesacker should partner Koscielny with Gabriel missing out.
Leicester City – vs – Swansea City
All eyes will be on the Foxes who are missing top scorer Jamie Vardy due to his suspension. The England international has not missed a single game in the Premier League all season. Claudio Ranieri may opt for a slight change in formation, choosing a similar set-up to the one which drew with Tottenham at White Hart Lane in January (FA Cup). This would see Leicester start in a 4-5-1 with Leonardo Ulloa leading the attack. Nathan Dyer is unavailable under the terms of his loan agreement. Matty James is not ready following his recovery from a serious knee injury.
Francesco Guidolin has called on his squad to ‘play without fear’ during the season run-in, starting on Sunday against the league leaders. Swansea had been in decent nick - winning 4 of their six games to hit the 40 point mark – but were terrible on Tyneside and the Italian will look freshen things with a fully fit squad to choose from. Gylfi Sigurdsson is aiming to become the club’s record Premier League goal scorer in own right - the forward is in equal first place with Wilfried Bony (25).
Tottenham Hotspur – vs – West Brom Albion
Nabil Bentaleb (knee surgery) is the only injury absentee for Spurs. Clinton N’Jie is available but the forward may struggle to make the match day squad as "there are other players in front of him." The Tottenham title charge is beginning to gain some real momentum. The Lilywhites arguably played their best game of the season at the Britannia on Monday - Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele et al were all superb. With only four games remaining the chase for the Premier League crown is far from over.
Tony Pulis blamed himself for a lacklustre West Brom performance at the Emirates. "This is the first time we have played on a Thursday night,” said the Baggies boss. “We will look at the preparation.” On a positive note, West Brom came through 90 minutes unharmed although there could be changes for the game at White Hart Lane. Chris Brunt remains a long term absentee while James Morrison isn’t too far away. The 29-year-old has been recovering from hamstring surgery and could be back within the next 10-14 days after nearly four months out.