Are you sitting comfortably? Thought not

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“Squeaky bum time” was a phrase coined by Sir Alex Ferguson when the title race entered its final stages in 2003. Seven years on, the squeaks will be starting to get louder and louder.

All three title contenders face tricky tasks on Saturday. Manchester United go to Bolton, Arsenal are at Birmingham and Chelsea welcome Champions League-chasing Aston Villa to Stamford Bridge. It could be a defining weekend.

First up, United, and after last Sunday’s curiously low-key win over Liverpool they’ll be flying high before the short trip to the Reebok Stadium, these days home to the new free-flowing, easy on the eye Bolton Wanderers.

Perhaps the new style that Owen Coyle has implemented on his team is a detrimental one when facing the big boys. The “old” Bolton could always be relied upon to bruise a few bones and egos, but they haven’t beaten one of the recognised forces of the game in Coyle’s, admittedly brief, time in charge.

What they have done though, is beat the teams around them. Recent victories over Wigan, West Ham and Wolves – a www that produced a welcome web of celebration amongst the Bolton support – have seen them steer clear from the choppy waters of the relegation zone, but they could do with another couple of wins to be certain of safety. How they’d love for one of those to be against United.

No such relegation worries for Birmingham, who must have been expecting them at the start of the season.

Alex McLeish’s side have at times been excellent this campaign, but Arsenal will be buoyed ahead of their weekend task by the fact that Blues have tailed off a bit lately. Their solidity and toughness, which has seen them take points off the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City this season, has abandoned them somewhat in recent weeks, and back-to-back defeats against Sunderland and Blackburn will ensure that they’ll be up for the fight on Saturday.

Fight might be the word on Arsène Wenger’s mind, as Eduardo makes a first return to the ground where he sustained that horrific broken leg two years ago. He’ll need to be strong to overcome his personal demons, and the Gunners will need to be strong collectively if they are to take anything from St Andrew’s. A win could be the making of them.

Arguably it’s Chelsea who face the toughest task of the three, although it is an off form Aston Villa who will arrive at Stamford Bridge tomorrow afternoon.

Martin O’Neill’s men have won just one of their last four in the league, and taking only two points from their last two home fixtures against Wolves and Sunderland will have hurt. They were expected to take six – probably by themselves as much as anyone – and the lost ground in the race for Champions League football will be difficult to claw back, especially in fixtures as tough as this one.

The Blues slipped up spectacularly in their last home game against one of the sides chasing the top four, losing 4-2 to Manchester City, but Carlo Ancelotti’s determination should ensure that that doesn’t happen again. The Italian has spoken of his side’s remaining games as “cup finals”, and he’ll fancy their chances of winning them, starting with this one.

So it’s “squeaky bum time” then, with all three title contenders ready to provide twists and turns in their remaining matches, starting with their tricky tests tomorrow.

Come the end of the season, two of Ferguson, Wenger and Ancelotti will have been given the bum’s rush, with only one left sitting pretty.

This weekend could go a long way towards discovering who that will be.



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