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It’s crunch time in the Premier League

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Shopprice South Africa

London – After two weeks away, the Barclays Premier League is back with a bang on Saturday. Sportsmail’s Martin Keown examines this weekend’s fixtures, where every game will affect the title race, the battle for European places or the struggle for survival.

Liverpool v Tottenham

We’ve all been so impressed by Tottenham’s young England players but it will be a challenge for them coming back to a title race. They have to manage their energy levels and their emotions after being on such a high. Playing away from home makes that more difficult, especially at a ground like Anfield where Tottenham have an awful record (46 Liverpool wins and 8 Spurs wins). But this Tottenham team has enough quality to get a draw. If they don’t and Leicester, who have an extra day to rest, get a result on Sunday, then the gap at the top will become more and more punishing for them.

My prediction: Draw – a good result for Spurs.

Leicester v Southampton

It was fascinating to see Claudio Ranieri and Ronald Koeman sitting together at Wembley on Tuesday. Koeman is all charm but he is a good manager with a cutting edge. Southampton have probably overachieved in the last few seasons given how many players they have lost. They have European ambitions this season but will look at Leicester this season and think: ‘Why can’t that be us?’

As for Leicester, Ranieri was motionless at Wembley, where he watched England in the week. You could see all he was thinking about was getting Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater through unscathed. I don’t think he was impressed Vardy stayed on – he left before the end!

My prediction: A draw, but no ground lost in the title race.

Arsenal v Watford

Arsenal have some winnable matches coming up, but only seem to find form when it looks like they are out of contention.

Mohamed Elneny and Danny Welbeck have given fresh impetus to the team and playing with two holding midfielders makes them more secure. They will want to put right that FA Cup loss against Watford while Quique Sanchez Flores’s team might not be sure they can go to the Emirates and produce a result like that again.

My prediction: Much-needed home win.

West Ham v Crystal Palace

This could be one of the games of the weekend. This is the best West Ham team we’ve seen in years and if they win they could be in the top four by tomorrow night. Alan Pardew won’t want to lose on his old hunting ground and Palace are a threat on the break, but they have conceded far too many goals.

They are almost back to where they were when Pardew took over. They have the players to get out of trouble but this does not look like a game they will win.

My prediction: West Ham win.

Norwich v Newcastle

This is a game Norwich must not lose but that creates a nervous mind-set. For a game like this you have to prepare your mind as much as your body.

Newcastle, who have now lost two goalkeepers after Rob Elliott joined Tim Krul on the sidelines, will still feel less pressure playing on the road and have to take the initiative. Rafa Benitez will get his team organised and now we’ll see how good he is as he’s not been in this position before.

Norwich have to go for the jugular, but I worry where the goals will come from. If they try to grind out a win that makes everybody nervy. They can’t sit deep and mop up Newcastle attacks, they have to have a go.

My prediction: A nervous, but crucial, Newcastle win.

Sunderland v West Brom

Tony Pulis doesn’t lose too many games on the bounce and, after a disappointing home defeat to Norwich, he will demand an improvement. With West Brom safe, I wonder whether Pulis will try to play more expansive football. If they do, that could play right into Sunderland’s hands. This is an absolute must-win game for Sam Allardyce but if West Brom open up, that could open the door for Sunderland.

My prediction: Home win, but I’m not saying that with much confidence.

Man Utd v Everton

United fans will be encouraged to see the gap closing on their neighbours and there may be a different feeling at Old Trafford after the derby win, especially with the impact Marcus Rashford has made. Romelu Lukaku faces a good battle against the United defence but it’s so hard to tell which Everton will turn up – they have been typical of the unpredictable Premier League landscape this season.

My prediction: United win to keep the pressure on the top four.

Bournemouth v Man City

Bournemouth have done remarkably well this season and will give City an uncomfortable ride. It’s hard to feel any real confidence about City at the moment. Eddie Howe has Bournemouth exactly where he wants them. They are within touching distance of safety and can now look forward to their upcoming games. Quite what Pep Guardiola thinks of all this is anyone’s guess. City have switched off, but they still have Sergio Aguero.

My prediction: Bournemouth to sneak a draw.

Stoke v Swansea

Stoke are still pushing for Europe while Swansea’s good run means they have a 10-point buffer from the relegation zone. But they will be very aware that any revival below them could spell trouble because they still haven’t done quite enough to guarantee safety. How will Stoke cope without the excellent Jack Butland?

My prediction: Stoke surge to continue with home win.

Aston Villa v Chelsea

This is almost a dead game for both sides, although Villa’s new caretaker manager Eric Black will be looking for a reaction – and there hasn’t been much of that all season! Villa have had the stuffing knocked out of them but the players have to stay professional. For Chelsea, this has been their worst season under Roman Abramovich but going to Villa will remind them things could be so much worse. This is a game with two teams searching for a future and the players will show if they want to be a part of it.

My prediction: Away win.

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