FA Cup final / Premier League predictions: Liverpool to save their season at Wembley
Despite the FA and Premier League's best efforts, this weekend's action promises to be enthralling with Chelsea and Liverpool set to square off in Saturday's FA Cup final.
Unbelievably, the sacred 3pm start has been sacrificed in one of the FA's needlessly experimental, inevitably corporate decisions and instead kick-off is at 17:15.
The game will be fascinating, although potentially a little boring given the essentially defensive nature of both teams' style of play.
Recent hat-trick heroes Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres will be on the tip of every headline writer's tongue, though the Chelsea man is likely to give up his place to Didier Drogba.
I've tipped Liverpool to nick it. The regular Total Football readers among you will know that I'm an Everton fan, and I promise this is not some sort of shoddy Evertonian attempt to twist the arm of fate.
Champions League hopefuls Newcastle welcome Manchester City in search of the most important victory in their history, and in keeping with a ridiculous theme, they do so at 13:30, half an hour before all other matches commence. All other matches except Arsenal v Norwich one that is, which will take place a day earlier, on the day of the FA Cup final.
A really peculiar one from the powers that be, but best not to dwell and give them more time than they deserve.
The Premier League has been brilliant this year and bar the relegation of Wolves, all significant judgments are yet to be decreed. Newcastle must back up a tremendous victory over Chelsea with victory over City whilst also waiting on the results of Norwich's trip to Arsenal and Tottenham's game with Aston Villa.
Monday sees the local derby of all local derbies with Blackburn hosting Wigan in one of the most decisive games in this year's relegation battle. A win for the Latics could relegate Rovers - or at best leave them requiring something like a 5-0 victory away at Chelsea to have any chance of staying up.
Last week's score: One out of eight (you may as well stop reading now).
The FA Cup final
Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool (17:15)
This year’s FA Cup final, more so than any game in recent times, represents the real power of the one-off match to make or break a season.
Both of these teams have been at their lowest ebb in years this term. The free-spending Chelsea find themselves unthinkably sixth in the Premier League after finishing runners-up last year, but have turned things around spectacularly with this the first of two major finals for them.
And yet the even more free-spending Liverpool are yet more unthinkably eighth in the table, in danger of finishing in the bottom half. But adding the FA Cup to the Carling Cup, won back in February, would represent a pretty foolproof counter-argument to accusations of failure.
A win for Dalglish would give him plenty of fodder in his efforts to encourage further investment from owner John Henry which is sorely needed, whilst victory for Roberto Di Matteo would provide an excellent reference for his job application.
It couldn't be set up better with each sides' superstar strikers grabbing hat-tricks last week. Suarez will terrorise Chelsea from the start, though Torres is only likely to get a chance from the bench.
Suarez is unplayable at top form and though it is painful to admit as a bitter Evertonian, he showed by his semi-final performance that he can thrive in the Wembley surroundings.
His combination with Steven Gerrard I feel will create the most exciting and incisive moments of the match but finals are all about momentum. I'll tip the two to prove the difference and save Liverpool's season. Having said that, I haven't been doing too well on the predictions recently, so knowing my luck Chelsea will only go and win.
The Barclays Premier League
Arsenal 2-0 Norwich (12:45)
With Spurs and Newcastle just a point behind the Gunners in third, the race for the Champions League has never been tighter. Saturday's clash with Norwich, Arsenal's last home game of the season, is a must-win. Two points from the last nine tells us that Arsene Wenger's men have gone off the boil, two goals in eight games for Robin van Persie tells us why.
Norwich are potentially perfect opponents though, having lost three consecutive Premier League games for the first time this season. The Canaries have been woeful in those games, conceding 11 and scoring just one, but over the past three years, have shown they are mentally strong enough to bounce back. I really wouldn't put it past Norwich to put in a determined performance to regain everyone's respect.
Though with time running out for Arsenal, you would have to assume they will be at it from minute one. Norwich will have to defend flawlessly to prevent their hosts from scoring, and mount a concerted effort to breach a sturdy defence if they fall behind. All things considered, I fancy a well-earned three points for the Gunners.
Newcastle 2-2 Man City (13:30)
After all calling it with United eight points ahead with six games to go, we all had our fingers burned by City, Wigan and Everton proving there were plenty of fireworks left to go off in this season’s title race. Following safety instructions as we must, even if they take the form of vaguely-convincing sports metaphors, I suggest we keep all cats and dogs indoors, stand at least ten metres back, and hold our breaths, because you never know what might happen.
And that just goes to show it is possible to mention 'Man City' and 'fireworks' in the same sentence without resorting to a generic Mario Balotelli quip. The maverick Italian's mention here is required only to make one quite interesting point. Balotelli has scored the same amount of Premier League goals as team-mate Edin Dzeko (13) and by doing so in 22 games to the Serbian's 28, can claim the better of two impressive strike rates.
Neither of them can compare to Newcastle's own 13-goal striker, Papiss Cisse, who has taken just 12 games to reach that total. There are but four words for the sensational Senegalese frontman's latest offering against Chelsea: what a flippin' goal!
Confidence for strikers is about convincing yourself that you will score every time you step on to the pitch. I think it's fair to say he's convinced every observer of the Premier League that he is going to do exactly that. Potentially fantastic game this one. I suggest Newcastle's number nine is Alex Ferguson and Man Utd's last remaining hope in the title race.
Aston Villa 1-2 Tottenham (14:00)
Villa were much-improved against West Brom and that vital point was in no small part down to the performances of Irishmen Shay Given and Richard Dunne. The defensive stability they provided to shut out the Baggies will be questioned to a much greater extent by a Tottenham side who finally got the goals against Bolton to back up fine recent performances.
Villa’s last home game was a 2-1 defeat to Bolton which again does not bode well for them in this one. Alex McLeish's men may well already be safe from relegation but that is deceptive: only Wolves have performed worse in this year's battle to beat the drop.
Two straight wins suggest Spurs have put their awful run of form behind them. A victory here to keep the pressure on Arsenal or even overtake their rivals would be just the tonic Harry Redknapp needs to put a week of personal disappointment behind him.
Bolton 1-2 West Brom (14:00)
Owen Coyle's side were unbeaten in three games heading into Wednesday's home defeat to Spurs, but that run was a fortunate one in my book - they were found out against Tottenham. West Brom possess far less firepower than Spurs but offer a fairly substantial threat of their own.
They also have a potential 'you just couldn't write the script' moment on the cards with manager Roy Hodgson being named as the new England boss this week. A typically resilient, effective display from West Brom would be a fitting tribute to the man who has significantly improved the quality of that team.
Bolton have plenty of bark but their bite is about as toothless as a geriatric chocoholic. Kevin Davies has chipped in with four goals in the last seven but let's be honest, that's near-enough a good year for him in terms of goal return. If Bolton are to get anything here, he needs to play a major part, but I will back West Brom to give the Hodgson doubters some much-needed food for thought.
Fulham 2-0 Sunderland (14:00)
I tipped Fulham to win at Anfield and delightfully, they did and deservedly so. As with Fulham's other trip to Merseyside to face Everton, Martin Jol was missing for that game and may well be missing for this one as he continues to struggle with a chest infection.
I really hope he is able to join the Cottagers to round-off what has been an excellent first season particularly at home. That is not to say that Sunderland will be push-overs for I am sure Martin O'Neill is determined to prove to Roberto Mancini and the rest of the league that his side will be competitive until the very last kick.
But the momentum from their first victory at Anfield should stand Fulham in good stead to notch up their 10th home victory of the season.
Man Utd 3-0 Swansea (14:00)
Monday's defeat to rivals City was the most gutless performance I think I’ve ever seen from United in such an important fixture. Failing to muster a shot on target was frankly something I was lambasting Blackburn players for following their non-performance against Tottenham.
The only way to maintain hope going into the last game is to absolutely hammer Swansea and I fancy them to do that. We can all assume the hairdryer was fully unloaded following Monday's loss compounding as it does United's shakiest title-run in years.
Wayne Rooney is I'm sure determined to score more goals than van Persie and win the Golden Boot. I expect him to spearhead a much more cohesive attacking performance and if doomed Wolves can score four past Swansea, I'd say three is about the minimum desperate United will get.
QPR 2-0 Stoke (14:00)
For the last nine games, Rangers have either lost away or won at home, so as this one’s at Loftus Road, maybe we should just leave it there and get down the bookies. But relegation encounters are never quite as simple as that and more to the point, neither are QPR. Mark Hughes' side followed up the real plus of beating Spurs in a London derby by being hammered 6-1 by Chelsea in the next one.
Stoke finished the game strongly against Everton but did well to claim a draw after the Toffees dominated large sections of the game. Stoke’s lack of intensity that night which is usually something you can bank on at the Britannia suggests the Potters have taken their foot off the pedal.
For that reason, I think QPR will want it more and that determination and intensity will give them the edge on the day.
Wolves 0-3 Everton (14:00)
Wolves showed a lot of meaningless courage to come back and draw with Swansea after being relegated but they also profited handsomely from some shambolic defending to do so. The least they can do for their fans is to give them a performance to offer the thinnest sliver of hope for next season.
That Saturday’s opponents are the in-form and prolific Everton sums up Terry Connor's luck. The Toffees were unfortunate to concede against Stoke but ultimately lucky to escape with a point. Following the Wembley defeat to Liverpool, David Moyes’ side have responded in determined fashion and have given supporters plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Following the injury to Victor Anichebe and Magaye Gueye’s very poor performance, it is likely Moyes will give youngster Ross Barkley more time and possibly even a start. If so, his combination with Marouane Fellaini and Nikica Jelavic could be my personal highlight of the weekend but either way, a comprehensive win for the Blues nonetheless.
Blackburn 1-2 Wigan (20:00)
Blackburn's players should be ashamed of themselves after their performance at Tottenham. To not even produce a shot on target in a game that could have given tremendous momentum heading into this crucial local derby is disgraceful.
Just as the side stood hopelessly as the game slipped away, fans have been forced to watch on gallingly as their club has been mismanaged into failure.
The only potential silver lining for supporters is the possibility of the club coming under the ownership of fans and locally-interested parties which is absolutely what is required to solve the mess Venky’s have created.
Blackburn looked safe a few weeks ago but six defeats in seven means a victory here would not even guarantee survival - Rovers would have to win away at Chelsea to confirm that. The Spurs game clearly demonstrated that Steve Kean's side are susceptible when the pressure is really on, as did the home defeat to Bolton this season.
So I’ll tip the outstanding Wigan on the back of their brilliant thrashing of Newcastle to seal Blackburn's miserable fate.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 and click here to visit my blog, The Russian Linesman