Super Sunday sees Tyne-Wear derby and Stoke host Man Utd
A Tyne-Wear derby with added spice and a huge game for Stoke City against Manchester United take centre stage on Super Sunday, after an important afternoon in the race for the top four and the scrap for survival on Saturday.
There are just seven Premier League matches this weekend due to the FA Cup semi-finals, with Reading and Queens Park Rangers adrift at the bottom of the table and facing must-win fixtures against Merseyside opposition.
Aston Villa and Norwich City are just clear of trouble ahead of games against Fulham and Arsenal respectively, while there is a mid-table battle at St Mary's between two teams who have performed creditably since earning promotion last season as Southampton host West Ham United.
All eyes will be on St James' Park for the early kick-off on Sunday as Paolo Di Canio takes his Sunderland side on the short trip to Tyneside to meet Newcastle United. Papiss Cisse's last-gasp winner against Fulham last week sparked wild celebrations and lifted Alan Pardew's Magpies five points clear of trouble, but they will be keen to ease any lingering relegation fears and heap more pressure on their local rivals. There were some encouraging signs for the Black Cats in the first game of the Di Canio era but a 2-1 defeat against Chelsea left them without a win in nine and outside the drop zone only on goal difference.
Like Sunderland, Stoke have been sliding in the wrong direction after a dismal run of form which has seen them pick up just one win since the turn of the year. Tony Pulis has never been relegated as a manager but he has faced criticism in recent weeks and a 3-1 loss at home to Aston Villa left his side within three points of the bottom three. Next up for Stoke is the toughest challenge they could ask for at their Britannia Stadium home, as Manchester United aim to put their derby disappointment behind them. The Red Devils remain 12 points clear of Manchester City and can take another step towards the title by beating Stoke, in a match also live on Sky Sports 1HD.
Embracing the challenge
Harry Redknapp lamented his toughest moment in football after a late Shaun Maloney goal denied Queens Park Rangers a precious win against Wigan Athletic, but he must now pick his troops up for a journey to Everton on Saturday. Seven points from safety with just six matches remaining, QPR will also be without the suspended Bobby Zamora when they face a side still chasing European qualification. A 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur ended a run of three straight wins for Everton but kept them in contention for a top-four spot and they can close to within three points of Chelsea and Spurs with a home win.
Reading are in even deeper trouble than QPR, eight points away from security after last week's 2-0 defeat at home to Southampton made it seven consecutive losses. The last two of those have come under new manager Nigel Adkins, who says he is embracing the challenge of trying to keep the club up but realistically will know that anything less than victory this weekend could spell the end of their survival fight. Liverpool are the visitors to the Madejski Stadium and are currently seventh in the standings, leading Brendan Rodgers to declare that he would like to qualify for the Europa League but could see the benefits of missing out.
Arsenal have found form at just the right time and will be targeting a fourth successive win against Norwich to climb above Tottenham and Chelsea into third place. Neither of their London rivals are in league action this weekend so the Gunners have an opportunity to capitalise, although they were beaten 1-0 at Carrow Road in the reverse fixture in October. That result ignited a superb run for the Canaries and they could do with another kick-start for the run-in after slipping to 14th place, just four points above the relegation spots.
Aston Villa are just a point behind Norwich and two clear of trouble after claiming three victories in their past four games, including the thrilling win at Stoke last time out. Matthew Lowton's spectacular strike helped boost Villa's survival bid but Paul Lambert will want to keep the momentum going against a Fulham side comfortably placed in mid-table and aiming for a top-half finish.
Southampton and West Ham are locked together on 37 points ahead of their meeting at St Mary's and both teams will feel they are just one win away from guaranteeing their top-flight status for another year. Saints have earned rave reviews for their brand of football under Mauricio Pochettino and can make it four victories in a row if they prevail against a Hammers team that held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield last weekend.