Paul Parker

Chelsea pose biggest threat to United

Paul Parker

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MATCH OF THE WEEKEND: Chelsea v West Ham United

This is a match upon which so much hinges at both ends of the table. Chelsea have emerged as the most credible challengers to leaders Manchester United over the past few games, taking 16 points from their last six games compared to the eight Arsenal have accrued in the same period.

The champions are the best hope for those who do not want to simply wait around for United to cross the line.

With Fernando Torres dropped to the bench for the past few league games, Chelsea have reverted to Didier Drogba spearheading their 4-3-3, which has served them so well over the years.

Something else that has characterised the Blues in recent years is the sense of belief and entitlement that seems to permeate through the whole squad. After getting knocked out of the Champions League, they will be hell-bent on claiming revenge via the only prize left on offer to them. They know they still have to go to Old Trafford, so it is imperative that they stay on United's coat-tails until that May 8 meeting.

All this means it really is the wrong time for West Ham to be going to Stamford Bridge. The Hammers have hit an awful patch of form after it looked as though they had finally got their act together, and they will once again be missing Scott Parker through injury.

However, it is a London derby, and you can bet the Hammers will give their all. I expect Chelsea to win this and keep the pressure on United - perhaps even make up ground if the Red Devils slip up at home to Everton in the lunchtime kick-off - but also want to see the Hammers make a game of it.

UPSET OF THE WEEKEND: Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal

As previously mentioned, Arsenal are doing their best to scupper whatever thin hopes they had of catching United. A run of five draws in their last six games has come at exactly the wrong time for the Gunners.

Just as there has been a groundswell of confidence in the Chelsea camp, so it must be sapping from the Arsenal squad with each game.

Bolton were of course on the receiving of an historic FA Cup semi-final drubbing at the hands of Stoke last time out, and they will be determined to make amends on Sunday.

Daniel Sturridge will be back in the side after being cup-tied for that ill-fated trip to Wembley, and six goals from his eight appearances from the Trotters tells you all you need to know about the form the on-loan striker is in.

While the Reebok Stadium is not quite to fortress it was under Sam Allardyce, there will be plenty of Arsenal players in this squad who will have memories of tough games there, and that is something that could add to their already fragile mental strength.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Charlie Adam (Blackpool v Newcastle United)

After seeing Parker win the Football Writers' Association award for his outstanding performances in a team battling relegation, Adam may be wondering why he wasn't higher in the reckoning too.

The Scotsman has attracted plenty of admirers with his pulling of the strings for Blackpool. Quite simply, everything that is good about that team goes through him.

After coming close to an exit in the January transfer window, all eyes are now on him. If he is to complete the job of building the reputation he has gained this season then he needs to stand up and be counted in the final few games as Blackpool fight to beat to drop after slipping into the bottom three. That starts with the game against Newcastle, who he scored against in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

I for one am not convinced that Adam will thrive at a big club. He is one of those players, like Juan Roman Riquelme used to be, who is by far at his most effective when a team is built around him. That simply will not happen if he moves to Liverpool or Tottenham, for example.

However, if he can end the season on a high by keeping Blackpool up, and Ian Holloway can sell him for a big fee in the summer, then everybody wins.

UNDER PRESSURE: Steve Bruce (Sunderland v Wigan Athletic)

Sunderland's travails continued last weekend when they lost 2-0 at Birmingham, making it eight defeats from their last nine league games. Managers have been sacked for a lot less than that truly abysmal run of form.

If it hadn't been for them riding high in the table earlier in the campaign, then they would be in the bottom three and Steve Bruce would have been gone by now.

Of course, there are circumstances to consider. Bruce has seen his defence decimated by injuries, and that run includes games against five of the top six teams.

Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn is a smart man, and he will be hoping that Bruce can turn things around soon so he is not forced into an awkward position. In all probability, the Black Cats need just one more win to ensure survival, and then they can all start to look towards next season and how the money raised by the sale of Darren Bent can be used in the summer.

However, Sunderland's record against Wigan is not good - they have only beaten the Latics once in nine Premier League meetings. Roberto Martinez has developed a knack of claiming vital wins against other struggling teams this season, and it just such a result last week at Blackpool which has moved them out of the bottom three.

If Sunderland cannot end their woeful run on Saturday and other results go against them, then they could easily become fully immersed in the relegation battle.

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