Premier League preview: Manchester derby dominates top flight action
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 01/11/14 3:18pm
The Manchester derby will take centre stage on Super Sunday, with form sides Chelsea, Southampton and West Ham United in action on Saturday.
All eyes will be on the Etihad Stadium on Sunday as City host arch-rivals United, looking to cement their standing as top dogs in that part of the world.
Aston Villa will also be aiming to break out of an alarming slump against Tottenham Hotspur in front of the Sky cameras, before Crystal Palace bring the curtain down on the Premier League weekend at home to Sunderland on Monday Night Football.
Prior to all of that, rejuvenated Newcastle United get things up and running against Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime.
There are then six 3 o’clock kick-offs, with leaders Chelsea seeking to preserve their four-point lead at the summit at home to capital rivals Queens Park Rangers, while Southampton endeavour to close the gap at Hull City.
West Ham will want a fourth straight win away at Stoke City, Arsenal entertain winless Burnley at Emirates Stadium, Everton play Swansea City and Leicester City will look to start edging away from trouble at home to West Bromwich Albion.
There is no escaping the fact that the tie of the weekend sees Manchester City lock horns with Manchester United, with roles having been reversed somewhat in the north west and United now the ‘noisy neighbours’ wanting to knock the defending champions off their perch. Louis van Gaal’s side remain a work in process, but they are four unbeaten in the league and will hope that a lack of European football to contend with works in their favour as they look to make it four without a win in all competitions for City and fire themselves towards the UEFA Champions League places.
After the action at the Etihad, the focus of Super Sunday shifts to the Midlands for Aston Villa’s clash with Tottenham. Villa have been in freefall of late, with five straight defeats dropping them to within two points of the drop zone and piling pressure on manager Paul Lambert – who only penned a new four-year deal in September. Spurs have also been struggling of late, losing their last two and collecting only one win from their last seven in the league.
Their most recent setback came against Newcastle, who open the weekend at home to Liverpool. Calls on Tyneside for Alan Pardew to be sacked have started to ease in intensity, with a run of positive results getting disgruntled supporters back on side. Newcastle have taken seven points from their last three fixtures – including back-to-back wins – and will feel that a Liverpool side still searching for consistency and the spark of last season could be there for the taking at a buoyant St James’ Park.
Table-topping Chelsea have now negotiated their opening nine games unbeaten, collecting seven wins, and are already looking the team to beat. The chasing pack will be hoping that they are brought back down to earth with a bump against London foes QPR, but Jose Mourinho’s formidable record at Stamford Bridge suggests it would take a superhuman effort from the visitors to make the short journey home with a shock scalp. Harry Redknapp’s men are, however, coming off the back of a welcome return to winning ways against Aston Villa and will revel in their role as the underdog.
Another of those hoping to spring a surprise on Saturday will be Burnley, as they travel to the Emirates to take on Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s side have yet to hit their stride, but still sit fifth in the standings with the promise of much more to come. Burnley will be determined to ensure that the shackles are not shaken off this weekend, but Sean Dyche is now fully aware of the size of the challenge facing him in the top flight. Burnley have yet to register their first win of the campaign and have hit rock-bottom after taking just four points from a possible 27.
At the opposite end of the form scale stand Southampton, who are now second in the table and the closest challengers to unblemished Chelsea. Few could have predicted things would start so well for the St Mary’s outfit, with Ronald Koeman probably exceeding his own expectations. Southampton are flying high on merit, though, winning six of their last seven and having acquired a useful knack of grinding out results – an 8-0 thumping of Sunderland aside. Their weekend opponents, Hull City, are also a tough nut to crack, having already collected five draws this season, but they will hope that home soil advantage at the KC Stadium works in their favour when the Saints come marching in.
One more of those clubs brimming with confidence right now are West Ham and a trip to Stoke should hold no fear for Sam Allardyce’s men. A visit to the Britannia Stadium is never an easy afternoon out, but the Hammers will feel like world-beaters at the moment. They stunned Manchester City last time out to make it three wins from three and four in their last five. Halting that momentum is the challenge facing Stoke, with Mark Hughes looking for his team to start delivering on a regular basis, rather than in fits and starts.
Elsewhere, Everton will be hoping to make it three wins in a row when Swansea travel to Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez will once again come face-to-face with his former employers on Merseyside, but friendships will be put to one side once competitive action begins. Everton are starting to move through the gears, following a slow start, and will be pleased to see that the top-four battle looks like it could be wide open this year. Swansea may not be setting their sights quite so high, but they are two points better off than the Toffees at present and are a match for anyone on their day.
The final game on a busy Saturday sees Leicester play host to West Brom at the King Power Stadium. A remarkable 5-3 victory over Manchester United feels like a long time ago now for the Foxes, with four fixtures since then delivering one point. Nigel Pearson was under no illusions as to what to expect this season, though, and is unlikely to change too much at this stage. West Brom are, however, proving to be a difficult side to shake off, with 2-2 draws in their last two outings seeing them hold Manchester United and hit back from two goals down to snatch a dramatic point at home to Crystal Palace.
Palace may still be reeling from that stalemate last Saturday, but need to dust themselves down and look to go again when Sunderland make the long journey to Selhurst Park for Monday Night Football. Palace also need to ensure that takeover talk does not become a distraction, with it up to Neil Warnock to put his vast managerial experience to good use. Out-of-sorts Sunderland will be hoping the home side do take their eye off the ball, with Gus Poyet in desperate need of a pick-me-up following back-to-back defeats that have seen his side concede 10 times and offer nothing in reply.