PREVIEW: WEEKEND ENGLISH ACTION
Brad Friedel and Aston Villa head to Wembley to take on Manchester United in the Carling Cup final while Landon Donovan and Tim Howard aim to help Everton rebound from Europa League disappointment versus Tottenham.
Aston Villa - Manchester United
Brad Friedel is expected to continue in goal for Aston Villa as Cup success looms just 90 minutes away in the Carling Cup Final against Manchester United.
The Wembley date could see Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov return to the fray after the midfielder was sidelined due to the two clubs' last meeting via a Luis Nani tackle. Nigel Reo-Coker is the only long term absentee as John Carew looks set to continue up front.
The man of the hour, though, has to be Wayne Rooney. With 19 goals in 19 games in the Premier League, you'd be hard pressed to find a striker firing as consistently as the English front man. United do have injury concerns, however, with captain Rio Ferdinand being ruled out with a back spasm, also dropping him from England's game against Egypt next week.
Anderson has been ruled out for the season after tearing his ACL, and he joins John O'Shea and Owen Hargreaves on the treatment table. Ryan Giggs is not expected to play a part in the Final, but looks to rebound in early April.
Tottenham - Everton
Tim Howard and Landon Donovan will be hard pressed to find a good turnaround after spiraling out of the Europa League on Thursday night as the Toffees now travel to London to take on Tottenham.
Everton took a 2-1 home lead to Sporting Lisbon, but failed to capatalize on the momentum gained from beating Premier League Champions Manchester United the match before.
Everton's injury woes are once again piling up, with six players listed out. Victor Anichebe, Tim Cahill, and Marouane Fellaini have all been out of the Everton attack, while Anichebe and Phillip Senderos could slot back in for the weekend test. Tony Hibbert and Phil Jagielka are both on the cusp of a return, with Hibbert looking to shake off a groin strain while Jagielka is coming off of an ACL knee injury.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto could see a return after suffering a groin strain, but the same injury is keeping Jermain Jenas out of first team contention until next week. Aaron Lennon suffered a setback in his groin injury, whine Jonathan Woodgate and Carlos Cudicini are both out for the season.
Bolton - Wolverhampton
Stuart Holden was a rare shining light in Bolton Wanderer's 4-0 beating at the hands of Tottenham in the FA Cup during the midweek, going 90 minutes in his debut, while Marcus Hahnemann will be in goal for Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Owen Coyle may choose to hand Holden another important role as the American has overcome a nagging injury that kept the midfielder out of contention. Gary Cahill, Mark Davies, and Joey O'Brien have all been sidelined, with Chris Basham and Gavin McCann out until april. Sean Davis is the only long term absentee, out until June with an ACL knee injury.
David Edwards and Michael Kightly could both return after shaking off ankle injuries, while Matt Murray is on the verge or returning from a knee injury. Andy Keogh should return in mid-March after suffering from a sprained ankle, while Stephen Ward has been sidelined due to a knee injury.
Reading - Sheffield Wednesday
Madejski Stadium in Reading will be the sight of two teams fighting to survive relegation as Frank Simek and Sheffield Wednesday take on Reading.
Simek is expected to get the starting nod on the back line for the Owls who now sit just a single point above the drop zone. The Missouri native has started the last four matches for the Championship club.
Wednesday went home with their tail between their legs last weekend after dropping a 0-1 result to fellow relegation strugglers Ipswich Town.
Head coach Alan Irvine is hoping that a date with the Royals will be just the remedy to turn around their season but it will have to be done without midfielders Jermaine Johnson and Tommy Miller and defender Lewis Buxton whom are all out injured.
Reading striker Shane Long is suspended while Marek Matejovsky continues to nurse an abdomen injury and Noel Hunt is sidelined with a hurt knee.
Watford – Newcastle
Watford team captain Jay DeMerit will lead the Hornets into battle when they host Newcastle United on Saturday at Vicarage Road in Watford.
DeMerit will assume his usual position of defender against the Championship leaders.
This affair pits two teams who as recently as three seasons ago were playing in the Premiership and are aching to return to the most elite level of soccer in England.
The Magpies have shown their class thus far accruing 66 points through 32 matches. DeMerit and the rest of the Hornets defense will have their work cut out for them against a team that boasts 56 goals scored on the season including 11 tallied by team leading scorer Kevin Nolan.
Watford head man Malky Mckay might be missing winger Will Buckley due to a thigh strain while Newcastle will be without Nicky Butt, Jose Enrique, Shola Ameobi, Steven Taylor and Joey Barton.
Sheffield United – Plymouth
A tough test awaits Kenny Cooper and Plymouth who venture to Bramall Lane on Saturday to take on Sheffield United in a Championship clash.
The last two times out, Plymouth head coach Paul Mariner has seen his club pull down 1-1 draws, results that are not poor but certainly ones that lack any substance in making a run to climb out of the relegation zone.
With the season ticking down, wins will be at the forefront of the Pilgrims' mind and a solid effort by American kenny Cooper could be the key to that.
Cooper has come off the bench the last four matches and played his best match last weekend versus Leicester City when he fired a shot on goal and drew three fouls.
The Blades have plenty of incentive to protect their home turf as they sit four points behind Cardiff for the final promotion playoff position.
David McNamee will be the lone omission for Plymouth while United are set to be without a slew of players.
Toni Kallio, Nyron Nosworthy, Lee Williamson, Marcel Seip, Chris Morgan, James Harper, Ryan France, Derek Geary and Kyle Bartley are all out injured and team leading scorer Darius Henderson is suspended.
Stockport – Wycombe
It will be a battle between two American strikers when Jon-Paul Pittman and the Wycombe Wanderers visit Jemal Johnson and Stockport County on Saturday at Edgeley Park in Stockport.
Unfortunately for the two yanks, the match is also a battle of the bottom feeders in League One with Wycombe at the penultimate spot in the league standings with 28 points and Stockport eight points behind in last place.
The hosts did manage to pull out a victory last weekend thanks to Johnson who scored the goal of the year for the Hatters when he fired in a laser from 25 yards out to beat Exeter City 0-1. The victory snapped the club's 17 match winless streak.
Both Pittman and Johnson can expect to start up front for their respective squads.
Stockport will be without long term injurees Gianluca Havern and Matty Mainwaring while Wycombe will be missing Gareth Ainsworth to suspension and Leon Johnson, Adam Hinshelwood, Ian Westlake and Matt Bloomfield all to injury.
Northampton – Cheltenham
Seb Harris could very well receive his first ever professional start on Saturday when Northampton Town host Cheltenham Town in League Two action at Sixfields Stadium in Northampton.
Harris played the final 19 minutes in the club's last outing, a solid 0-2 victory at Hereford United.
A calf strain to forward Adebayo Akinfenwa may see head coach Ian Sampson give the nod to the towering Michigan native to fill in against Cheltenham who sit 21st.
Northampton have plenty at stake in this affair as they sit just two points behind Notts County for the final spot in the promotion playoff race.
In addition to Akinfenwa, Chris Dunn, Andy Holt and Steve Guinan are out with injuries while Kevin Thornton will be finishing up his three match ban.
The visitors will only be missing Shane Duff who is sidelined with an achilles injury.
Clint Dempsey is out injured and will not travel with Fulham to Sunderland.
After playing the final few minutes in Leeds United's 2-0 win over Oldham, Mike Grella will hope to see more time off the bench in the second half at Huddersfield on Saturday.
Southend United have reported that Ian Joyce will be leaving the club next week so the goalkeeper is not expected to feature versus Charlton Athletic on Friday.
Zak Whitbread continues to battle a calf injury and will be missing for Norwich City's contest at Oldham.