Premier League preview

Manchester United, in need of a spark in the title race, kick the weekend off, while Everton end it looking to claim another away scalp in the form of Arsenal.

United face Magpies; Gunners tackle Toffees; City go to Saints

Manchester United, in need of a spark in the title race, kick the weekend off, while Everton end it looking to claim another notable away scalp in the form of Arsenal. High-flying Chelsea and Manchester City will also be heading out on the road, to Stoke City and Southampton respectively, while West Ham United face the challenge of trying to stop Liverpool talisman Luis Suarez. Crystal Palace welcome Cardiff City to Selhurst Park and Norwich City go to West Bromwich Albion before the Saturday Night Football cameras descend on the Stadium of Light for Sunderland against Tottenham Hotspur and the first instalment of a Super Sunday double-header sees Fulham host Aston Villa. Defending champions Manchester United are beginning to lose their grip on the top-flight crown, with a midweek defeat at home to Everton leaving them 12 points off the pace. David Moyes conceded after a shock setback against his former club that the Red Devils have it all to do if they are to end the season on top. There is, however, still a long way to go and United will be back at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime for a visit from Newcastle United - a side who have failed to emerge victorious on their last 29 visits to the Theatre of Dreams, coming unstuck in 21 of those fixtures, and one who saw a run of four straight wins brought to an abrupt halt by Swansea on Wednesday. If the title is to return to Manchester in May, it could end up at City - with the Blues having found a cure for their travel sickness at West Brom. Manuel Pellegrini will hope that a 3-2 success at The Hawthorns has turned the tide for his troops, as they prepare to make the long journey south to face Southampton. City sit just six points off the pace at present and will view the busy festive period as an ideal opportunity to close that gap. They would appear to be running into the Saints at a good time, with the St Mary's bubble having burst of late. Three successive defeats have dropped Mauricio Pochettino's men into eighth spot - with a previously watertight defence having shipped eight goals during that wobble. Chelsea are the closest challengers to table-topping Arsenal at present, with the Gunners holding a four-point advantage. With Arsene Wenger's side not in action until Sunday afternoon, the Blues could move to within touching distance of the summit away at Stoke City. Chelsea have won their last three in the league, finding the target on at least three occasions in each of those contests, and boast an enviable record against the Potters. Stoke have failed to win any of their last 12 meetings with the Blues, failing to score in their last four. That record does not bode well for Mark Hughes, with only four points separating his team from the top-flight trapdoor. Any slip-up from Chelsea at the Britannia Stadium would present Liverpool with an opportunity to move back up the standings. They offered the perfect response to a shock defeat at Hull City when they put five past hapless Norwich in midweek. Suarez was - again - the Canaries' chief tormentor at Anfield, with the Uruguayan plundering four goals during a spectacular individual showing to make history as the first man to net three hat-tricks against the same opponents in Premier League competition. He now has 13 goals for the season and will be looking to add to that tally when inconsistent West Ham United - who suffered a potentially costly defeat to fellow strugglers Crystal Palace on Tuesday - travel to Merseyside.


Tottenham Hotspur broke out of their winless run at derby rivals Fulham on Wednesday, with a first success in five helping to lift some of the pressure on Andre Villas-Boas. The Portuguese tactician feels his position has been unfairly questioned of late, and he has a point as Spurs are just three points adrift of the UEFA Champions League places. Scoring goals has been something of a problem for the capital outfit, but they managed another two in midweek and will be facing a Sunderland defence on Saturday Night Football that has been breached a division-high 28 times this season to drop the Black Cats back to the foot of the division - five points from safety. Crystal Palace moved off the bottom with their victory over West Ham on Tuesday - with Tony Pulis having plenty to celebrate after his first home game in charge of the Eagles. His second arrives on Saturday afternoon, with Cardiff City travelling between the Welsh and English capital cities. No added incentive is required for those currently inside the bottom three, but Palace will be aware of the importance of taking points off those in and around them - and victory at the weekend would close them to within a point of Cardiff. On the other side of the coin, Malky Mackay will be hammering into his troops the need to collect a positive result and offer a bit of breathing space in the battle to avoid the drop. The last of the fixtures set to be staged on Saturday sees West Bromwich Albion entertain Norwich City, with there little to separate the two sides at present. There are just three places and one point between the pair as they prepare to lock horns at The Hawthorns. West Brom will probably feel that their return is not a true reflection on the performances they have put in, with Steve Clarke's men unfortunate not to have a healthier tally. They have, however, collected just one win from their last eight Premier League matches - against lowly Palace - and there is only so long that the hard-luck stories will hold up. Norwich could argue that they are in a similar boat, but they have been conceding goals at an alarming rate over the course of the last month or so and have obvious issues to address. Two intriguing tussles will be screened by Sky Sports on another Super Sunday, with the first of those broadcast live from Craven Cottage. Fulham desperately need to get their season back on track, with the wheels having fallen off their campaign in spectacular fashion. Martin Jol has been relieved of his managerial duties and replaced by Rene Meulensteen, but the Dutchman's first game in charge - against Spurs in midweek - brought a sixth straight defeat, despite a much improved performance. Hoping to inflict more misery on the Cottagers this weekend will be Aston Villa, who have moved quietly into the top half of the table. A five-match unbeaten run has carried them there, with Paul Lambert getting the best out of a tight-knit group who are all pulling in the same direction. The curtain will come down on the Premier League weekend at the home of the leaders - with Arsenal guaranteed to be occupying top spot when they take to the field at Emirates Stadium to tackle Everton. The Gunners can take considerable heart from that fact, but will be determined to ensure that there remains clear daylight between themselves and the chasing pack. They will have their work cut out, though, against the one side in the division who have suffered fewer defeats than them this season. Everton have been beaten just once in 14 outings this term and enhanced their claims of a possible top-four finish on Wednesday as they left Old Trafford with a credible, and long awaited, 1-0 win.

Around Sky