Premier League preview

There is no time for festive cheer in the Premier League as the busy winter period continues in midweek.

City host Stoke; United face Fulham; Tottenham take on Chelsea

There is no time for festive cheer in the Premier League as the busy winter period continues in midweek. It was a bumper Sunday in the top flight but there is no respite as all clubs dust themselves down and go again for the last fixtures before Christmas. Manchester City will be looking to make it two wins from two and stay top of the table when they host Stoke, but Manchester United may have different ideas as they go to Fulham. Elsewhere, Aston Villa host Arsenal while an intriguing game on Thursday night sees London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea meet at White Hart Lane. David Silva scored the only goal of the game when Manchester City beat Arsenal at the weekend, during an entertaining battle that saw Roberto Mancini's side hold onto their two-point lead at the top. A victory against Stoke at the Etihad Stadium would ensure they stay at the summit over Christmas, but the Potters will prove equally difficult opponents. Stoke are in impressive form and have won four league games in succession, recovering after a blip earlier in the campaign. Manchester United are unbeaten in the league since their heavy defeat at the hands of City back in October, and will be happy to have closed the gap on their rivals to two points. Without the UEFA Champions League this season, the Premier League must now be a priority for Sir Alex Ferguson and his team play Fulham on Wednesday night. Wayne Rooney looks like he is beginning to find some form after a lull, but Martin Jol's Cottagers were impressive during their 2-0 victory over Bolton on Saturday. The axis of Clint Dempsey, Bryan Ruiz and Moussa Dembele will have to be contained by United.

Capital battle

The battle for supremacy in London will take another twist on Thursday night as Tottenham host Chelsea live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 7.30pm. Third-placed Spurs lead Andre Villas-Boas' charges by two points and have a game in hand, with Chelsea dropping points following their 1-1 draw with Wigan at the weekend. Gareth Bale is expected to return to the Tottenham starting line-up after missing the narrow win against Sunderland, a result that got Harry Redknapp's side back to winning ways. This one could be a Christmas cracker as both teams look to consolidate their position at the top and fight their way into the title race. Liverpool looked in good shape as they overcame Aston Villa at the weekend and they have another away test at Wigan. A short journey for the Reds could see them move into fifth with a win, as long as Arsenal lose their midweek match. However, Kenny Dalglish will be wary after the Latics' gutsy display against Chelsea, battling back from a goal down to earn a point. As often is the case with Wigan, it remains to be seen what side turns up. There is no doubt they have quality in the side when going forward, but Liverpool will hope to expose their vulnerable defence. This one is live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 7.30pm. Arsene Wenger conceded that Arsenal were virtually out of the Premier League title hunt following defeat at Manchester City, but there were many positives to take from Eastlands. The game reflected how far the Gunners have come since their disastrous start to the campaign, although many argue without Robin van Persie they carry little threat going forward. Wenger will want to get back to winning ways at Aston Villa, who appear to be going through a transitional period. Alex McLeish's critics found their voice again after a limp performance against Liverpool, but the Midlands outfit are sitting comfortably in mid-table. Everton fought back and earned a late draw against Norwich and take on another promoted side when Swansea City visit Goodison Park. Brendan Rodgers has won many plaudits this season and rightly so, his side look to get the ball on the ground and play but are also a tight unit at the back, with their goalkeeper Michel Vorm a great signing. Goals are what the Toffees are lacking but Royston Drenthe came off the bench to make an impact against the Canaries - the Dutchman may return to the starting XI.
After a superb start to the season Newcastle's form has dipped slightly, which many expected during their fine run. Despite this, though, they are well-placed in seventh and were in fact unlucky not to take all three points against Swansea on Saturday - Demba Ba coming close on a number of occasions. They play West Brom who won at Blackburn and look to have enough quality to avoid a relegation dogfight this season. Roy Hodgson has recalled a number of players from their loan contracts elsewhere as he prepares for a busy run of games. Finally, QPR take on Sunderland at Loftus Road with both clubs seeking to move away from the bottom three. Only two points separate these sides and they both lost at the weekend - Rangers falling to Manchester United with Sunderland losing at Tottenham. Martin O'Neill insists there is still confidence in the camp as he takes charge of the Black Cats for the third time, and he says if his team replicate their display at Spurs then they will get a positive result.

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