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Image: Barry: Liverpool showdown

The fixture compilers clearly have a sense of humour, sending Liverpool to Aston Villa just before the transfer window closes.

All eyes on Barry; London rivals clash; Ince returns to Upton Park

The Premier League fixture compilers clearly have a wicked sense of humour, sending Liverpool to Aston Villa in the final match before the transfer window closes. Even before the curtain fell on last season, the Anfield outfit had made it clear that their main summer target was Villa's England international midfielder Gareth Barry. The saga has rumbled on all summer, with claim and counter-claim from both camps, Barry's criticism of manager Martin O'Neill, Rafa Benitez's thinly-veiled digs at his board, reports of deadlines being set and breached, bids made and rejected, before, finally, what appears to be an end to the speculation. The midfielder's agent Alex Black - who should be arguably the most well-informed throughout the whole lengthy episode - has now stated that his client will not be leaving before the transfer window closes at midnight on Monday. Whether this is just another smoke-screen to prevent the eager press pack from sniffing around the story as the clock ticks down remains to be seen. But all eyes will be trained on Barry at Villa Park on Sunday, with the match live on Sky Sports 1, as he lines up in claret and blue, while many were fully expecting him to be wearing the red of Liverpool. Early Premier League leaders Chelsea open what promises to be a Super Sunday with a chance to exact a measure of revenge over beleaguered London rivals Tottenham. Blues fans are not used to losing to Spurs, having been beaten just once by the White Hart Lane side in league action since the Premier League was formed in 1992, but they endured Wembley misery in the Carling Cup final back in February. That piece of silverware has done much to disguise the fact that Juande Ramos is still some distance from turning Spurs into a side capable of challenging for a place in the UEFA Champions League. Back-to-back defeats to Middlesbrough and Sunderland, coupled with the on-going Dimitar Berbatov transfer wrangle, has left Ramos under the greatest pressure since his much-trumpeted arrival in North London less than 12 months ago.

Tricky trips

The Premier League's three other point-less sides, West Brom, Portsmouth and Wigan, face tricky away days to Bolton, Everton and Hull, respectively. That FA Cup winners Pompey have nothing to show from their opening two fixtures is not the greatest surprise, given that they were away to Chelsea and at home to Manchester United, but a lack of goals from new-look strike-force Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch will be a concern for Harry Redknapp. The Baggies impressed in their narrow opening day defeat at Arsenal, but followed that with a home setback against Everton, where some shoddy defending proved costly, and a Carling Cup embarrassment away to Hartlepool. Bolton endured similar misery in midweek, crashing out at home to Northampton, and Gary Megson will not accept another meek display against the club he managed for over 200 games, but left in acrimonious circumstances. Hull have already confounded many critics in their debut top-flight season with a home win over Fulham and a solid draw at Blackburn, but were another side to exit the Carling Cup in midweek as they were knocked out at Swansea. They welcome a Wigan team to the KC Stadium who played well against West Ham and were unfortunate to leave Upton Park with nothing, before running Luiz Felipe Scolari's star-studded Chelsea close at the JJB Stadium.
Ince returns
The hottest reception of the weekend, if not the season, will be reserved for Paul Ince as he returns to West Ham at the helm of Blackburn. Hammers fans have never forgiven young midfielder Ince for the manner of his departure from Upton Park when he left for Manchester United way back in 1989, and 19 years of simmering anger could reach boiling point on Saturday. Newcastle's solid start to the season has been somewhat overshadowed by continued suggestions of unease between manager Kevin Keegan and the club's complex hierarchy over their transfer plans. Keegan also has unhappy memories of Emirates Stadium ahead of this weekend's clash with Arsenal, having endured two 3-0 defeats there in the space of four days shortly after his shock return to St James' Park in January. The Gunners suffered a shock setback against Fulham last weekend, before brushing aside Steve McClaren's FC Twente in their UEFA Champions League qualifier in midweek, and know they cannot afford to lose further ground, even at this early stage. Middlesbrough boast the country's in-form striker in Egypt international Mido, who has three goals in as many games, as they prepare to tackle newly-promoted Stoke at the Riverside. The Potters opened their Premier League account last Saturday as they edged a five-goal thriller against Midlands rivals Villa, but must improve their defending if they are to avoid an immediate return to the Championship. Manchester City travel to Sunderland on Sunday, with Shaun Wright-Phillips poised to make his second debut for the Blues. The England winger ended his unhappy three-year stay with Chelsea on Thursday, returning to the North West on a four-year deal for an undisclosed fee, which is certain to be substantially less than the £21million the Blues shelled out. The Stadium of Light showdown also sees two of Sir Alex Ferguson's former charges, Roy Keane and Mark Hughes, battling it out for supremacy in the dug-out.

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