Premier League preview

Brendan Rodgers (L) greets Roberto Martinez 2012
Image: Brendan Rodgers & Roberto Martinez: Will lock horns on derby day

The Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool takes centre stage as Premier League football returns after the international break.

Toffees tackle Reds; Hammers host Blues; City face Spurs

The Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool takes centre stage as Premier League football returns after the international break. Elsewhere on Saturday, first plays third as Arsenal entertain Southampton, while London pride will be put on the line in front of the Sky Sports cameras when Chelsea take in a trip across the capital to face West Ham United. As if that was not enough, a Super Sunday double-header sees title hopefuls Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur go head-to-head at the Etihad Stadium and Cardiff City welcome reigning champions Manchester United to south Wales. The weekend action gets underway at Goodison Park, and there promises to be fireworks on Merseyside as Liverpool make the short journey across Stanley Park to face Everton - their fiercest foes. Spoils were shared between the pair in the league last season, with a 2-2 draw on the blue half of the divide followed by a goalless stalemate at Anfield. Everton will be hoping to build on those results this term, but will need no reminding that they have taken just four points from the last six derbies in their own backyard. It will also be a case of starting afresh this weekend, with Roberto Martinez set to take in his first tussle with the Reds since taking the Toffees' managerial reins. Victory for Liverpool in the lunchtime kick-off would take them to the top of the Premier League table and throw down the gauntlet to current leaders Arsenal. Success for the Gunners in their latest game would guarantee that they cling on to the loftiest of perches, but they may have their work cut out against surprise package Southampton. The Saints are just three points off the pace at present and are a club very much riding the crest of a wave. The involvement of Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert in the latest England squad will have them in buoyant mood, while Mauricio Pochettino's side can take heart from the fact that they have already taken positive results (and four points) away from Anfield and Old Trafford this season. Occupying a standing just below the Saints at present are Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho's men continuing to fly just under the radar. They will be delighted about that, with more having being made of the form of the frontrunners and the struggles of those below them. Upton Park has been a happy hunting ground for the Blues in the past, but their last trip from west to east London proved to be a forgettable one. West Ham United secured a 3-1 victory almost exactly 12 months ago to put an early nail in the coffin of interim Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez. Sam Allardyce could do with more of the same on Saturday Night Football, with the Hammers without a win in four and only outside of the bottom three by virtue of a superior goal difference. Two of the four sides currently languishing below West Ham are Stoke City and Sunderland, and they will lock horns on Saturday afternoon at the Britannia Stadium. It is still far too early to be billing top-flight fixtures as 'must-win', but Mark Hughes and Gus Poyet will be aware of the need to avoid defeat against a fellow struggler. Sunderland have shown signs of life of late - collecting impressive victories over Newcastle and Manchester City to restore belief within their camp - and they are now just three points adrift of safety. Success against Stoke would draw them level with their weekend opponents and stretch the Potters' winless sequence to eight games - which could see pressure piled on Hughes' shoulders. Another manager firmly under the spotlight at present is Martin Jol, with Fulham having flattered to deceive thus far. Three straight defeats have dropped them into the relegation zone - with nine goals conceded and only one offered in reply during an alarming slump. Jol remains upbeat and is showing no signs of feeling the heat, but he has been around long enough to know that he is in the results business. Taking that into account, a visit from Swansea City may have arrived at a good time. Michael Laudrup's men have stuck to their footballing philosophies and remain pleasing on the eye, but they have also gone three games without a win and have come unstuck in their last two Premier League trips out on the road.

Trouble

Those troubles are nothing compared to Crystal Palace's, though, with a side rooted to the foot of the division still without a manager and in danger of being cast adrift. A return of one victory and just four points from 11 games suggests it is going to be a long, hard slog at Selhurst Park. Finding someone to take on the challenge of turning the tide is proving to be an unenviable task, with reported interest in Aitor Karanka and Dan Petrescu coming to nothing and former Stoke boss Tony Pulis yet to be lured back into the dugout. Keith Millen remains in caretaker charge of the Eagles for now, and he will have readied his troops for a trip to Hull City. The Tigers were promoted alongside Palace last season, but have fared considerably better back among the elite and could move back into the top half of the table on Saturday. Hull are one of five teams yet to taste defeat on home soil this season, while Palace are the only side yet to pick up a single point on their travels. The last of the three o'clock kick-offs is at St James' Park, where Newcastle United will tackle Norwich City. The Magpies have surged back into form following derby disappointment against Sunderland, with title hopefuls Chelsea and Tottenham humbled in their last two outings. Clean sheets have been taken from each of those fixtures and things are suddenly looking a lot rosier in the north east. Former Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, now in his second season in charge of Norwich, will be fully aware of that fact and will also need no reminding that the Canaries have collected just one point from their five previous visits to Tyneside during the Premier League era. Once attention turns to Sunday's action, the eyes of the sporting world will descend on the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City's home date with Tottenham Hotspur. The Sky Sports cameras will be there to capture all of the action, with heavyweight tussles coming thick and fast at the moment. City boast an unblemished record in front of their own supporters this season and will be looking to build on a return of 20 goals in five outings. Spurs' defensive record, which has seen them breached just six times, suggests City may not have things all their own way, but Andre Villas-Boas' side have struggled for goals and need to find a spark from somewhere if they are to sustain a push for a top-four finish. City would clamber above arch-rivals Manchester United for a few hours at least with a victory over Spurs, but the Red Devils will get the opportunity to offer a response when they bring the curtain down on the Premier League weekend away at Cardiff City. United, written off by many just a few weeks into David Moyes' reign, are starting to move ominously through the gears, with four wins taken from their last five in the league and no defeats suffered in nine in all competitions. Halting the United juggernaut is the challenge facing Malky Mackay's Bluebirds, and they will need to summon up the same strength they displayed against Manchester City during a 3-2 victory back in August if they are to claim another notable scalp and offer themselves a bit of breathing space.

Around Sky