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The battle to avoid relegation and the fight for the top four is again the focus as Paolo Di Canio takes charge at Sunderland.

Last Updated: 15/04/13 at 16:46

Paolo Di Canio: The Italian has taken over at Sunderland amid a storm of controv

Paolo Di Canio: The Italian has taken over at Sunderland amid a storm of controv

Di Canio, the top four, and the relegation scrap take full focus

The battle to avoid relegation and the fight for the top four is again the focus this weekend in the Premier League as Paolo Di Canio takes charge of his first game as Sunderland boss.

Having taken over amid a storm of controversy, Di Canio will on a busy Sunday begin his attempt to ensure his new club stay out of the drop zone when they visit top-four-chasing Chelsea.

It will be no easy task given their hosts are fighting with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, who on the same day host Everton, for a place in next season's UEFA Champions League.

Also on Sunday, Queens Park Rangers will hope to keep alive their faint hopes of surviving when they welcome Wigan Athletic to London, while Liverpool host West Ham United and Newcastle United play Fulham at St James' Park.

Rock-bottom Reading play Southampton in Saturday's early kick-off as Nigel Adkins faces his former club, while relegation zone occupants Aston Villa are at Stoke City later in the afternoon.

On the same day, Arsenal could move into the top four if they win at West Bromwich Albion and a sinking Norwich City meet Swansea City at Carrow Road.

Confidence

Most of the attention this weekend will be upon Di Canio when the Italian, who has had to face accusations about alleged fascist beliefs since last week succeeding Martin O'Neill, takes Sunderland to Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. But Sunderland have problems away from their controversial manager. The Stadium of Light club sit just one point outside the relegation zone and, despite his confidence, Di Canio has inherited a squad who are dropping like a stone after failing to win a league game since the end of January. Chelsea, though, will be equally determined, as Rafa Benitez's side could have been overtaken by Arsenal in the top four. But the Blues are in the middle of a tough fixture list and, having played Rubin Kazan in the Europa League in midweek, they will be facing a fourth game of eight over 23 days.

Harry Redknapp's QPR are in an even bleaker situation than Sunderland following Monday night's error-strewn defeat by Fulham, which left them seven points from safety. A defeat by Wigan, who are only out of the bottom three on goal difference but do have a game in hand, in Sunday's late kick-off would leave QPR almost certain of relegation. And Wigan boss Roberto Martinez and his perennial escape artists will therefore be travelling to London intent on securing a result which would give themselves a massive chance of survival.

Tottenham continue to occupy third place in the race for the Champions League and Andre Villas-Boas' squad have not yet given up hope of catching Manchester City, who on Monday play derby rivals and runaway leaders Manchester United, in second position. But Everton have still to give up on their top-four hopes, with David Moyes' team only four points behind Chelsea ahead of their trip to White Hart Lane, where Tottenham could be suffering from fatigue after their own midweek European commitments. Everton have won three consecutive league games for the first time this season but all of those matches have been played at Goodison Park.

Sam Allardyce will in Sunday's lunchtime kick-off hope for a rare win at Liverpool as West Ham aim to move to within one point of the sought-after 40-point mark. After masterminding a draw on his first Premier League trip to Anfield in January 2002, Allardyce has seen his teams lose on each of his last eight visits to the red half of Merseyside. Liverpool will want a strong finish to the season as they continue the attempt to overtake derby rivals Everton.

Newcastle are another side who are not yet safe from relegation and Alan Pardew's team will have to recover quickly from Thursday's Europa League trip to Benfica when they host Fulham. The St James' Park club are just three points outside the relegation zone and were hammered by Manchester City in their last league outing. Meanwhile, Fulham will hope for at least the draw which would move them to the 40-point mark which is usually enough to secure safety from relegation.

Ambitions

Saturday's games begin with Reading aiming to boost their own dwindling ambitions of avoiding an immediate return to the Championship. They host Southampton and the game has been given an added edge, with Adkins facing his former club in only his second match since taking over Reading. Adkins, who in January was sacked by Southampton, lost his first match to Arsenal but he will want to get off the mark against his ex-employers in the attempt to move off the bottom of the table. Southampton have pulled slightly away from relegation trouble under Mauricio Pochettino, particularly after back-to-back wins over Liverpool and Chelsea. But they are still just four points clear of 18th place.

Aston Villa will begin their game at Stoke City sitting in the drop zone. Paul Lambert's inexperienced team are in huge trouble but a win against Tony Pulis' men could completely change the situation. Like Southampton, Stoke are just four points clear of the bottom three and a defeat would pull them in to massive danger.

Norwich are another of the many teams who cannot be considered free from relegation worries and Chris Hughton's team know a win against an out-of-form Swansea is vital. The Carrow Road club are a mere four points above the dreaded bottom three following a run of one win in 14 games. Hughton will be desperate to add to Swansea's problems, with the Capital One Cup winners' season in danger of ending in a whimper after three successive defeats.

At the other end of the table, a win for Arsenal at West Brom on Saturday afternoon could move Arsene Wenger's much-criticised squad back into the top four. It is a nervy end to the season for the sides competing for a place in the lucrative Champions League and Wenger will be determined to put pressure on London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham. West Brom have been this season's surprise package and boss Steve Clarke will want a response to last weekend's disappointing defeat by West Ham.

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S

terling needs to be told though that upon entering the Arsenal squad he will re-enact the final scene from Highlander where he will be thrown around a warehouse by cartoon dragons and then be a mere mortal that will only ever spend three to four weeks a season playing football and the rest on the physio's bed. There can be only one.....player available at The Emirates.

rodger's gusset
Arsenal interest in Sterling

T

he game changed in our favour when Carrick came on. We were able to play further up the pitch due to having a player who can give and go with the ball and keep possession. Yet barkley made some runs and Townsend scored a good goal but carrick's inclusion and chiellini's withdrawal made the biggest difference to the flow of the game

ricky villa
Hodgson: Barkley was brilliant

N

o, you've not silenced anyone Andros, i'm afraid. We know you can score a great goal, and it's really handy to have your direct running and willingness to shoot on the bench. But until you can do the other things expected of a winger (beat the man, put a decent cross in, stay wide etc) then you can't expect more than a regular cameo. Wonderful goal though, what a hit! No wonder Buffon wanted the shirt.

badwolf
Townsend: I've silenced critics

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