After a two-week pause for Euro qualifiers and meaningless friendlies, the serious business of the Premier League returns. With just eight matches and seven weeks remaining the tension is nearly as unbearable as a speech from Sepp Blatter. Here are the principal runners and riders for the Easter weekend.
Arsenal v Liverpool, 12.45pm
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No doubt the clash of the Easter weekend, Arsenal against Liverpool is always a mouth-watering occasion but this encounter has added piquancy because of their respective positions. The Gunners are third, just one point behind Manchester City and one clear of Manchester United. Liverpool are fifth, six points behind the Gunners, and defeat for the visitors is likely to guarantee Arsenal Champions League football next season. Both clubs have enjoyed a fine run of form this year with the hosts victorious in their last six league matches, while Liverpool's defeat to Manchester United a fortnight ago was their first reverse of the year.
Manchester United v Aston Villa, 3pm
Manchester United have hit a run of form lately that puts them in with a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season. They'll host Villa at Old Trafford knowing the outcome of the Arsenal v Liverpool clash, and they could finish the afternoon in second place, should the Gunners lose (and with Manchester City not playing until Monday evening). But with several of the United players having been on international midweek duty, fatigue may be a factor against the 16th placed club. Captain Wayne Rooney is taking nothing for granted. "Obviously Arsenal play Liverpool as well, so if we can get the win against Villa that will be an even better result than Liverpool was for us," he said. "We are in a good position at the minute so it's in our own hands [and] we have to make sure we do it."
Chelsea v Stoke, 5.30pm
Stoke boss Mark Hughes said earlier in the week that the club is twelve months ahead of where he thought it would be when he arrived at the Britannia Stadium in the summer of 2013. The Potters finished ninth last season and lie tenth at the moment, six points clear of Crystal Palace in 11th. But they were beaten 3-0 at Stamford Bridge in the corresponding fixture last season and with Chelsea – who haven't lost in the Premier League since the 5-3 reverse to Spurs on New Year's Day – closing in on the title, anything but a home win would be a huge shock.
Crystal Palace v Manchester City, 8pm
Crystal Palace will be quietly confident going into Monday night's clash that they can inflict further misery on the defending champions. This has been a poor year to date for the Sky Blues and two defeats in their least four league matches has seen Chelsea take a firm lead in the title race. Six points behind the Blues (who have a game in hand) and with an inferior goal difference, City know that anything other than three points – assuming Chelsea beat Stoke – will effectively end their hopes of regaining the title. When Alan Pardew took over at Palace in the first week of January they were in the relegation zone, but they now lie 11th, and as chairman Steve Parish said earlier this week, morale is sky high at the club. "Alan has that character. He is a leader. Someone that people believe in and follow," says Parish. "He's instilled confidence in players – to be braver and put the ball at risk."
Everton v Southampton, 3pm
Leicester v West Ham, 3pm
Swansea v Hull, 3pm
West Bromwich Albion v QPR, 3pm
Burnley v Spurs, 1.30pm
Sunderland v Newcastle, 4pm
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