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Premier League: Key battles this weekend

Sports Mole picks three key battles on the pitch in Saturday's Premier League games.

Most of the teams in the Premier League now have just four games left to play, with the odd side still having a game in hand. Excitingly enough there is still everything to play for at the top of the league and the bottom. With Liverpool not playing until Sunday and Manchester City Monday, Chelsea have the chance to put the pressure on by going top with a win, while the bottom three are all in action on Saturday.

Here, Sports Mole picks out some of the key on-field battles that will take place on Saturday, which could decide the destination of the three points in several of the games.

1. Mohamed Salah vs. Adam Johnson - Chelsea vs. Sunderland

Although there are two London derbies taking place on Saturday, arguably the fixture of the game takes place at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea take on Sunderland. The Black Cats were minutes away from claiming a priceless win away to Manchester City in their last game, which would have seen the relegation battle blown wide open once more, but they will surely take confidence from that into their trip to London to take on a Chelsea team desperate for all three points in the title race.

Adam Johnson of Sunderland celebrates scoring a hat trick during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage on January 11, 2014© Getty Images

With a Champions League semi-final with Atletico Madrid on the horizon, Jose Mourinho could decide to mix up his starting XI which will not only give Sunderland a chance but should also see some big games from fringe players. Mohamed Salah is ineligible for the Champions League, which means that he will start and will have a point to prove. He is tricky and direct, and up against a Sunderland defence that has leaked 14 goals in six games he will cause problems.

In a similar vein for Sunderland will be Adam Johnson. During Sunderland's sudden revival a few months ago he was their key man and had become unplayable for many defences that he came up against. Although he has gone somewhat off the boil recently, against a Chelsea backline that might have changes he could well threaten. A confidence player, should Johnson get a goal early on he will run at Chelsea for the rest of the game and if he is on form then Sunderland have a chance.

2. Christian Eriksen vs. Mahamadou Diarra - Tottenham Hotspur vs. Fulham

Tottenham Hotspur's season has somewhat fizzled out in recent weeks, with the club almost certain to finish either sixth or seventh. They are 12 points ahead of eighth-placed Southampton and six behind Everton, who are currently in fifth. They also have a far inferior goal difference, so will need to win most of their remaining games if they are to make the top five.

Fulham's Mahamadou Diarra in action during the match against Norwich on August 18, 2012© Getty Images

Fulham, on the other hand, have reignited their battle against the drop in the last two fixtures with consecutive wins for only the second time this season. Felix Magath initially went with the experienced players, before trying the youth and finally settling on a blend of the two, and for now it seems to be working. He has already matched both Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen's tallies of 10 points from six fewer games, and although no-one will be expecting Fulham to win on Saturday they could take some bonus points.

The return of Mahamadou Diarra has coincided with the Whites' return to form, but it is no coincidence. Although against Norwich City he was incredibly tired by about 60 minutes, the former Real Madrid man has added a calmness to Fulham's midfield that they have sorely lacked. Should he play against Spurs he will be up against the in-form Christian Eriksen, but if he wins that battle then he will have given his side a chance.

3. Steven Caulker vs. Peter Crouch - Cardiff City vs. Stoke City

Cardiff City have got light at the end of the tunnel once again following their - albeit fortuitous - win over Southampton last weekend. They still have it all to do in the next few weeks, but Saturday's home clash against Stoke City represents one of their most winnable remaining fixtures, and they will certainly be targeting another maximum that could see them move inches away from escaping the bottom three.

Peter Crouch (C) of Stoke celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match against Aston Villa on March 23, 2014© Getty Images

For the hosts, defensive solidity is vital at this stage of the season in the relegation battle and key to that will be Steven Caulker. The centre-back has chipped in with his fair share of goals in important games also, but he will be more delighted at Cardiff's first clean sheet since February. Another one will give them a good chance of winning on Saturday, but he will be up against the handful that is Peter Crouch. Whoever wins that battle could see their team take control of the contest overall.

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Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea looks on prior to during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Chelsea at Craven Cottage on March 1, 2014
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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Manchester CityMan City25185250153559
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd25147453322149
3Leicester CityLeicester25154644271749
4West Ham UnitedWest Ham25136639291045
5Chelsea25127641251643
6Liverpool25117745341140
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12Wolverhampton WanderersWolves2596102632-633
13Crystal Palace2595112943-1432
14Southampton2586113143-1230
15Burnley2577111830-1228
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2551192632-626
17Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2574142643-1725
18Fulham25410112132-1122
19West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom2528151955-3614
20Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd2532201541-2611

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