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Strugglers face Premier League tests

FOX Soccer News: Preview of this weekend's Premier League matches.
FOX Soccer News: Preview of this weekend's Premier League matches.
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Manesh Upadhyaya

Manesh Upadhyaya is an editor and contributing writer to FOXSoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Premier League returns this weekend with some tough matches awaiting strugglers Aston Villa, Reading, Wigan and Queens Park Rangers.

Rock-bottom QPR hosts league leading Manchester United on Saturday while Wigan travels to Reading. Villa continues to tip-toe the survival tight rope and hopes to keep its balance at Arsenal.

The last time Rangers played United, Jamie Mackie gave the west London club a 52nd minute lead only for the Red Devils to score three goals in eight minutes to seal a 3-1 victory at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson's squad will be fully rested for Saturday's contest, benefiting from playing in the UEFA Champions League a week prior.

The only way Harry Redknapp can keep the west London club in the top flight is by taking points from teams around them. Realistically speaking, they're probably not going to beat Manchester United. Yes, their back four has been exploited this season more than others, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand consistently in-and-out of the team, but with 12 games to go don't expect United to drop points to smaller clubs.

March and April will be key months for the Hoops, their toughest opponent being Everton away.

Rangers haven't scored at home in their last four Premier League games, so if they want to grab anything from Saturday's battle at Loftus Road, they need to find some firepower. Having Christopher Samba at the back is a great asset. He is a solid defender, can score goals and has Premier League experience, but is he really worth the $19.3 million QPR paid for him?

Investing in Loic Remy was smart on owner Tony Fernandes' part, but with the striker doubtful for the game with a groin injury, Adel Taarabt and Bobby Zamora really need to pick up the slack. They are the club's joint top goal scorers with four apiece, but the former hasn't scored since November and the latter is still struggling to manage a long-standing hip injury. Djibril Cisse was just behind them with three goals, but he was shipped off to Qatar's Al-Gharafa Sports Club. Goals need to start flowing from somewhere, fast.

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Wigan can potentially move out of the relegation zone if it beats Reading at the Madejski Stadium. The Latics are all too familiar with the situation they find themselves in, but their performance against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup brought confidence to a team with only one win in its last 10 league games. Strikers Franco Di Santo and Arouna Kone have contributed with six and five goals respectively, but it's just not enough at the moment considering the defense has conceded two or more goals in five out of its last six games. Maybe Callum McManaman's outing at the weekend will earn him a start to freshen things up?

This bodes well for Reading, a team able to grind out results of late. They're unbeaten in five straight at the Madejski and tend to keep games quite close in terms of the score line.

Much like the grit Manchester United is renowned for, Reading have begun to develop a similar mentality that even if they score late in a game, they believe they can still go on to snatch a point, like Chelsea at home, or even three - anyone remember West Brom?

The Royals' exit from the FA Cup can only be good for Brian McDermott's squad. He can now focus solely on survival, whereas Roberto Martinez is juggling staying in the league with playing in the FA Cup quarterfinals. Does Wigan have the depth to go for both? I think not. Martinez's priority has to be the league; a potential semifinal appearance should be seen as a bonus.

Paul Lambert's Aston Villa faces an Arsenal side who were left red-faced after losing to Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup and on top of that saw their Champions League hopes evaporate after a 3-1 drubbing at the Emirates by a brutal Bayern Munich side.

Villa must come at the Gunners with everything they've got for the first 20 minutes, taking advantage of Arsenal's midweek exertions and making it difficult for them to breathe. If Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann can continue their current form, Villa's front line could prove to be a handful. Per Mertesacker has not been as resilient in the air as he has been in the past given his height and Laurent Koscielny is always error prone, something Benteke's playing style will benefit from.

Since the New Year, Villa's Achilles heel has been the inability to close out games, conceding late goals and thus dropping points. Brad Guzan's displays between the sticks are sometimes what make the difference between a draw and loss. Arsenal's attackers are more than capable of scoring and bear in mind, the last time Villa traveled to London they were hammered 8-0 by Chelsea.

Experienced players such as Stephen Ireland, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Charles N'Zogbia and Darren Bent need to start producing. These guys are on big money and have yet to deliver. The team definitely has a difficult schedule from now until the end of the season and Lambert will be expecting his senior men to come good for the run-in.

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