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Premier League returns with crucial weekend fixtures

At least one English Premier League fixture is slated each day over the following six days, but a pair of monumental matches on Sunday will be the main highlight kicking off the final stretch of a long season.

Easter Sunday will see Premier League leaders Manchester United host a QPR side that is battling against relegation, followed by second-place Manchester City squaring off against Arsenal with the Gunners closing in on a top-three finish.

Should Sir Alex Ferguson's men defeat QPR at Old Trafford in Sunday's early kickoff, they will move eight points clear atop the Premier League table.

The tension between the two Manchester rivals is palpable and it has left the city buzzing with anticipation. Even former stars are weighing in on the action.

"Sometimes you only get to know your players and manager when your back is up against the wall," former Manchester United Dwight Yorke told the club's television network. "We all know [QPR manager & former United player] Mark Hughes and we wish him well. He's coming in off a great result against Arsenal and another against Liverpool so Sir Alex knows it will not be easy. But of course, [United] are at home which helps so hopefully [United] can go eight points clear and put the pressure on City.

"This weekend is crucial for City, in terms of the mentality throughout the team. [United] are five points ahead and victory against QPR would send [them] eight clear, which is a massive difference. At five points, they are still hanging in there but you can't afford to let United go eight points clear with six games to play - you just can't afford that sort of leeway."

QPR should put up a strong fight though, coming off of a 2-1 victory against London rivals Arsenal at Loftus Road last weekend. The Rangers will be desperate for points to ensure Premier League safety, and if last weekend was any indication, they could be poised for a shock result at Old Trafford.

Should the Red Devils slip up at home, Manchester City will have the extra impetus to take three points from Arsenal at the Emirates. The Citizens should be buoyed by the return of their leading scorer, Sergio Aguero, who is expected to be back from the foot injury that kept him out of the squad for their 3-3 draw against Sunderland.

All four clubs will return to action on short rest as Manchester City welcomes West Bromwich to the Etihad, Manchester United heads to Wigan, Arsenal faces Wolverhampton at Molineux and QPR hosts Swansea City, all on Wednesday.

Swansea City kicks off the eventful week on Friday with a clash against Newcastle at the Liberty Stadium, and the Magpies will return home to face Bolton on Monday.

Also on Monday, Everton welcomes Sunderland to Goodison Park, Tottenham hosts Norwich City at White Hart Lane, Stoke City travels to Villa Park to face Aston Villa and Champions League semifinalist Chelsea squares off against Fulham in what is expected to be a fierce contest at Craven Cottage.

Prior to the latest installment of the West London derby, Fulham will head North to face Bolton, and Chelsea will welcome Wigan to Stamford Bridge, both on Saturday. The Trotters are looking to secure their fourth straight league win when they face the Cottagers at the Reebok, while Chelsea is hoping to deny the Latics a five-game unbeaten run.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Sunderland hosts Tottenham at the Stadium of Light, Everton heads to Carrow Road to face Norwich City, West Bromwich welcomes Blackburn to the Hawthorns, and Wolverhampton meets with Stoke City at the Britannia.

Apart from the matches with major title implications, one of the more interesting things to monitor during the dense spell of fixtures is how Liverpool rebounds from its latest woe, a 2-0 loss to Newcastle at SportsDirect Arena.

The Reds have lost three league games in a row, as well as six of their last seven, to fall firmly out of the race for Europe (though they will qualify for the Europa League automatically by virtue of winning the Carling Cup). They have two potentially tricky fixtures in which they will try and right the ship as they host Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday before heading to Ewood Park to face Blackburn on Tuesday.