Premier League preview
The Premier League returns on Saturday after a week of shocks, rants, exits and injuries in the UEFA Champions League.
By James Riach
Last Updated: 09/12/11 3:16pm
It was midweek misery for both Manchester clubs in the Champions League but the bread and butter of the Premier League returns on Saturday.
United are renowned for vicious responses after rare calamitous results so beware Wolves, who visit Old Trafford on the back of an impressive victory over Sunderland.
Martin O'Neill was in the stands for that game, and he will take charge of his new side for the first time when Blackburn visit the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
In-form Tottenham go to Stoke, while Arsenal and Liverpool both have home fixtures they will want to take maximum points from.
Defeat in Basel on Wednesday night was a disaster for Manchester United - indeed, just a few weeks back Sir Alex Ferguson walked out of a press conference when asked why his side were struggling in Europe. That has now come back to haunt him following a limp display that sees the Premier League champions fall into the Europa League for the first time in their history. With Champions League silverware now out of the equation, the league takes centre stage. United currently trail Manchester City by five points and with Roberto Mancini's men not playing until Monday, when they take on Chelsea, it is an opportunity to gain some ground and restore a bit of pride. But they were dealt a major blow when Nemanja Vidic was forced off injured in Switzerland - and the commanding centre-half will now be out for the season with a serious knee problem. Wolves had been struggling before last weekend's win over Sunderland, but that comeback success will have restored some spirit in the camp.
Tottenham sit third in the table with a game in hand over the teams around them, following their comfortable 3-0 victory over Bolton. Stoke are the opposition for Harry Redknapp and co on Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 4pm. Last weekend Redknapp quashed suggestions of winning the league, but Spurs fans are beginning to believe they can mount a serious challenge after some fine recent results. If they do have a vulnerability it is away from White Hart Lane, and a trip to the Britannia is always tricky. Stoke have been a bit patchy so far this season but come into this one on the back of successive league wins.
Defeat to Olympiakos in the Champions League on Tuesday meant little to Arsenal as they had already topped their group, and Arsene Wenger will revert to his strongest line-up for their home meeting with Everton. They are unbeaten in the league since early October and got back to winning ways with a 4-0 romp at Wigan. David Moyes has seen his side struggle for consistency this year and last weekend's home reverse to Stoke was another disappointing display. On the road they have won three and lost three but given Arsenal's, and Robin van Persie's, recent form then a point would be a good result here.
Martin O'Neill is back in the dugout for the first time since his departure from Aston Villa in August 2010. Sunderland recently parted company with Steve Bruce and the Wearsiders are currently 17th in the table. One place below them are Blackburn Rovers, who are their opponents on Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 1.30pm. Yakubu was the hero against Swansea as a four-goal salvo earned Steve Kean's men a much-needed victory, and they now have a mini-run of three fixtures that they will hope can pull them away from the relegation zone. But if the results do not come their way, then the Ewood dissenters will find their voice once more.
Luis Suarez is never far from the headlines at the moment and was the centre of a storm following Liverpool's 1-0 defeat to Fulham on Monday night. Kenny Dalglish has also been outspoken about the Uruguayan's treatment this week as the Reds manager has backed his player to the hilt. A meeting with Queens Park Rangers at Anfield is a good opportunity for Liverpool to get back in touch with the top four, with the gap currently five points. Rangers are steadily going about their business although a defeat and a draw in their last two matches has pegged them back slightly.
Newcastle were beaten 3-0 by Chelsea last weekend but the scoreline was certainly harsh on Alan Pardew's team. A controversial decision not to send off David Luiz and pushing for the equaliser were the undoing of the Magpies, but they are still sitting pretty in sixth. Norwich, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from their 5-1 defeat at Manchester City. That result aside, the Canaries have been impressive on their return to the top flight and will be difficult to beat at Carrow Road - having only lost twice there in the league this term.
Two managers under pressure are Aston Villa's Alex McLeish and Bolton's Owen Coyle. McLeish was never the fans' choice to take over at Villa following his cross-city switch from Birmingham, and a difficult start to the campaign has not made things any easier. His style of football has also not won him any plaudits with Darren Bent often cutting a lonely figure up front. Villa are well positioned in the top half though, while Bolton are in the doldrums. Coyle came out fighting following the defeat at Tottenham but it has been a year to forget for Wanderers. This clash at the Reebok is a big one for both bosses.
Wigan are rooted to the bottom of the division after their home humbling by Arsenal and despite two decent performances beforehand, are well and truly in the mire. Roberto Martinez remains positive and his relationship with Dave Whelan may be the reason that the pressure is not straining the Spaniard too much at this stage. Having said that, nine points from a possible 42 is a woeful start to the season and their away record reads won one, drawn one and lost five. The Latics go to West Brom on Saturday to face a Baggies outfit that has certainly been inconsistent - Roy Hodgson will want three points from this one.
Finally, Swansea City and Fulham lock horns at the Liberty Stadium. Martin Jol saw his side edge past Liverpool on Monday night and that could be a springboard after a difficult start to his tenure at Craven Cottage, where a run of good performances has yet to come. The Swans fell to Blackburn last time out but Danny Graham should return to the starting line-up for this one.