Premier League preview
The Wear-Tyne derby between Sunderland and Newcastle United takes centre stage this weekend, while Chelsea host Man City.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 26/10/13 4:15pm
The Wear-Tyne derby between Sunderland and Newcastle United takes centre stage this weekend, as Crystal Palace begin life without Ian Holloway.
Elsewhere, title hopefuls Chelsea and Manchester City lock horns and Steve Clarke, Mark Hughes and Malky Mackay take their current sides out on the road against former employers.
The Premier League action kicks off at Selhurst Park, with managerless Crystal Palace charged with the task of kick-starting their season and derailing Arsenal's pursuit of the top-flight crown. Holloway packed his coaching bags on Wednesday, with a larger-then-life character revealing that he was too 'tired' to embark on another basement battle. Filling the void in the dugout is a top priority for Palace, but so is generating results on the field - with three points taken from a possible 24 on offer. In contrast, Arsenal already have 19 in the bag and have opened up a two-point lead at the summit. Their 12-match unbeaten run was ended in UEFA Champions League combat by Borussia Dortmund in midweek, but the Gunners have gone seven games - stretching back to the opening day - since suffering a domestic setback.
Manchester United were victorious at Old Trafford in Europe on Wednesday, but need to start getting things right on home soil in the league if they are to avoid surrendering their title with a whimper. David Moyes' men have taken one point from their last two games in front of their own supporters, with seven having now slipped through their grasp this term. A former fans' favourite will be hoping to pile on the misery this weekend, with ex-United striker Mark Hughes back in familiar territory with Stoke City. The Potters will have taken inspiration from the exploits of West Bromwich Albion and Southampton, but have offered little of late to suggest they are capable of replicating those heroics. Three defeats in four, and no win in five, has Hughes' men perched just a point above the drop zone.
Liverpool will need no reminding how dangerous a West Bromwich Albion side under the tutelage of former coach Steve Clarke can be on their travels, with the Baggies having collected more points on the road than they have at The Hawthorns. A visit to Anfield will provide another stern test of their credentials, though, with Brendan Rodgers' hosts riding high in the standings. Liverpool have suffered just one defeat so far, conceded only seven goals, and believe they are capable of pushing for a top-four return after a longer than anticipated absence from European football's grandest club competition. West Brom, meanwhile, will be looking to climb into the top half of the division, with a five-match unbeaten run moving them in the right direction.
Another coach set to find himself back on a former stamping ground this weekend is Cardiff City boss Mackay, who takes his troops to Norwich City. The Scot spent six years at Carrow Road during his playing days, but will be expecting few favours when he heads back to Norfolk on Saturday afternoon. Norwich are very much in need of points, with their last five outings having delivered just three. Four defeats during that run mean, unsurprisingly, that the Canaries have slipped into the relegation zone. There is still plenty of time to get things right, but they need to start doing that as a matter of urgency. Should they click in their latest outing, Cardiff will replace them in the bottom three, with the Bluebirds in a slump of their own - claiming one win in six.
Among those more concerned with events at the opposite end of the table are Everton, with Roberto Martinez's side brimming with confidence. Only leaders Arsenal can better their points return in the last five rounds of Premier League fixtures, with 12 points gathered from four victories. The challenge now is to break into the top four and mount a sustained push for Champions League qualification. Standing in their way this weekend will be Aston Villa. Inconsistency continues to be a problem for Paul Lambert, with Villa collecting points in clutches. A leaky defence is also something of a concern, with a run of 15 games without a clean sheet on home soil unlikely to inspire confidence ahead of a visit from the Toffees.
The final game on Saturday sees Southampton play host to Fulham in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The Saints have been the success story of the season so far, with Mauricio Pochettino having overseen a remarkable upturn in fortunes. The foundations were laid by the Argentine last term, and have been built on since the 2013/14 campaign opened. A 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last time out proves how far Southampton have come in a short space of time, with few surprised to see them match the reigning champions in their own backyard - and they still boast the meanest defence in the division, having been breached just three times. Fulham will hope a four-goal showing against Crystal Palace has seen them rediscover their shooting boots and will be looking to make it back-to-back successes in front of a televised audience, and three wins in a row.
The first helping in a Super Sunday double-header promises to provide thrills and spills aplenty, with fireworks guaranteed whenever Sunderland lock horns with arch-rivals Newcastle United. North East rivalries will be rekindled at the Stadium of Light, with Gus Poyet taking in a derby duel in just his second game in charge of the Black Cats. Given how his first went, the Uruguayan will be demanding a much-improved performance in what could be a pivotal contest for a side that remains rooted to the foot of the table with just one point to show for their efforts. Newcastle, though, would like nothing more than to put another nail in Sunderland's coffin, and will have revenge in mind after going down 3-0 at St James' Park in the last meeting between two sides.
After events on Wearside, attention will then turn to west London, with Chelsea welcoming Manchester City to Stamford Bridge. In the second Super Sunday offering, Jose Mourinho will be looking to get the better of Manuel Pellegrini - a man he should know all about following their time spent going head-to-head in La Liga. Chelsea's record on home soil under Mourinho suggests they have every reason to be optimistic - with the self-proclaimed 'Special One' unbeaten in 64 Premier League games at the Bridge. If City are to disrupt that impressive record, they will need key men to fire on all cylinders. Pellegrini's troops have endured their struggles on the road this term, but have come through potentially tricky trips to West Ham United and CSKA Moscow in their last two fixtures to help raise morale.
Talking of West Ham United, they too are in action on Sunday afternoon. Sam Allardyce will be demanding a response to the setback against Manchester City when the Hammers go to Swansea City. A return of only two wins from eight is not what Allardyce would have been expecting at the start of the season, but there has been enough promise to suggest that better days lie ahead. The same could be said for Swansea, who picked up their first victory at the Liberty Stadium in nine attempts last time out against hapless Sunderland. Michael Laudrup is, however, still juggling the demands of domestic and continental competition and needs to strike the right balance when it comes to squad rotation.
The last of the weekend fixtures will be staged in north London, with Tottenham Hotspur - another team taking in Thursday night action this season - hoping to show no signs of fatigue when they entertain Hull City. Spurs offered the perfect response to a derby defeat against West Ham United when they travelled to Aston Villa last weekend and will want to move back into the title race and prove that they have the firepower to be serious challengers - with an eight-goal return bettered quite considerably by those above them at present. Hull have also found goals hard to come by - netting just seven times - but have impressed upon their return to the top flight and will recall that they have taken four points from their last two visits to White Hart Lane.