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Fulham have enjoyed a strong campaign but they will have to try to gain promotion via the playoffs now and look set to finish fourth in The Championship. Key frontman Aleksandar Mitrovic returned from a three-match ban at West Brom, where the Cottagers picked up a useful draw, which derailed the hosts’ hopes of automatic promotion. Anthony Knockaert, Bobby Reid, and Ivan Cavaleiro give the side plenty of attacking options, whilst exciting midfielder Joshua Onomah has caught the eye. Fulham will look to maintain their form heading into the playoffs and have won four of their last five.
Sheffield Wednesday arrive at Craven Cottage in mid-table but they have the threat of a possible points deduction hanging over them. The sleeping Yorkshire giant have endured another frustrating season for their big fan base, with their inconsistency hard to fathom. They have managed four points from six after ending a three-match losing run but have suffered heavy away defeats at Brentford and West Brom. Many may wonder if Fulham will relax with the playoffs around the corner but, over the years, teams who keep the momentum going tend to fair better and Fulham will want to ensure they keep producing positive performances.
Preston were unlucky losers at Brentford on Wednesday where they played very well despite suffering a 1-0 loss. This has probably ended their playoff hopes this year but, mathematically, they still remain alive and will want to win their final two games to keep the pressure on rivals above them. They are on an unbeaten three-game run but lack the overall squad strength of bigger clubs in the section. However, they should enjoy themselves against free-falling Birmingham. The Blues have been creeping towards the relegation zone but fans will be thankful those below are still in bigger trouble and they would need a bizarre sequence of results to fall through the trapdoor.
The club are looking for new management after Pep Clotet recently left and appear rudderless at the helm having picked up just three points from a possible twenty-one since the resumption. They were indebted to an injury-time strike to level matters in a 1-1 home draw with Charlton in midweek, which ended a four-match losing run. The club will need to recruit wisely in the summer and they at least will have money following the transfer of Jude Bellingham. For now though, I can’t see anything but a home win.
Swansea have been one of many clubs involved in a titanic battle to force themselves into the top six and are now just three points behind Welsh rivals Cardiff in the chase for the final spot. They were unable to hold onto a lead twice at Nottingham Forest in midweek and were denied at the death during a 1-0 home reverse against champions-elect Leeds previously. They now face a Bristol City team who make the trip down the M4 over the famous Severn Bridge still mathematically in the hunt, but realistically looking to rebuild for another championship campaign next season.
The Robins are also looking for a new manager after long-serving Lee Johnson was recently dismissed and the ambitious club will be targeting promotion next year. Four successive defeats put paid to any top-six finish hopes and, although results improved against relegation-threatened clubs, Swansea represents a much tougher assignment and it is not one I expect them to pass.
This seasons FA Cup semi-finals feature four of the big clubs with thirteen-time winners Arsenal facing current holders Manchester City. The Citizens had reluctantly conceded the Premier League title many matches ago but that has enabled manager Pep Guardiola to rotate his squad and they may feel that gives them a crucial advantage this weekend.
They were comfortable 3-0 winners over the Gunners a month ago in Manchester and had beaten Arsenal by the same scoreline in London back in December so they will be strong favourites to advance to the final. Kevin De Bruyne bagged in both and the exciting Belgium international is favourite to lift the PFA Player of the year award. Phil Foden has been a revelation in midfield and the youngster looks to have a promising career ahead of him. He has even been touted to step up on the international stage with England next. Despite losing star striker Sergio Aguero to a season-ending injury, the goals have not dried up and they put five past both Newcastle and Brighton recently. With 93 goals scored in the top flight, they are easily the section’s top scorers and Arsenal will wonder how they prevent City from scoring in this clash.
Arsenal at least go into the tie on the back of a confidence 2-1 success over Champions Liverpool after coming back from a goal down. But they will need a superb all-round team effort to stop the City bandwagon. They do have the firepower but all too often have been found wanting at the back and it would be a massive surprise if they upset the odds now.
Bournemouth know only two wins in their final games can give them hope of preserving their Premier League status. However, South Coast rivals Southampton will certainly not be looking to do them any favours this Sunday! Manager Eddie Howe insists his side can only concentrate on their own results and performances, but the Cherries may have left survival too late on this occasion. Five defeats in seven makes dismal reading and their only ray of sunshine came in an impressive 4-1 victory over top-four Leicester, who collapsed following a red card. The Saints and Everton are Bournemouth’s final opponents and, with both now seemingly booked for a bottom half finish and little to play for, there are strong hopes six points can be obtained. 62 goals conceded won’t help the goal difference however and that may well decide their fate. But the fixture list has given them a reason to believe they can complete a great escape.
Southampton will be happy enough with their season efforts. Striker Danny Ings has been the star, bagging 20 top-flight goals as he chased the golden boot award. The Saints are difficult to beat, with a five-match unbeaten run behind them but three successive draws derailed their top half bid. However, I envisage Howe taking his fight into the final round and securing the South Coast bragging rights this weekend.