Premier League preview
With the league leaders not in action until Monday, Man Utd and Tottenham could pull level with Man City at the Premier League summit.
By Chris Burton
Last Updated: 14/01/12 9:05am
With the league leaders not in action until Monday, Manchester United and Tottenham could pull level with Manchester City at the Premier League summit.
Queens Park Rangers will begin life under a new manager, Robbie Keane could make his Premier League return and the scrap for a top-four finish intensifies with Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle all in the mix.
Manchester United will have taken heart from their FA Cup victory over arch-rivals Manchester City, but they will need no reminding that they have suffered back-to-back defeats in the league. The challenge facing Sir Alex Ferguson's troops this weekend is rediscovering the winning formula, with lowly Bolton due at Old Trafford on Saturday. The Trotters have moved to within a point of clambering out of the drop zone, but they have picked up just a solitary point from their last 14 meetings with their North West neighbours and were soundly beaten 5-0 in the reverse fixture at the Reebok earlier in the season.
Should the Red Devils suffer another untimely slip-up, they will leave the door open for Tottenham to surge into the top two and further underline their title credentials. A midweek victory over Everton saw them draw level with Manchester United and they are now setting their sights on top spot - with 45 points having been collected from the last 54 on offer. Wolves will have something to say about that on Saturday, though, with Mick McCarthy's men next up at White Hart Lane. A six-match winless run has Wolves looking anxiously over their shoulder and they could end the weekend inside the bottom three if results go against them.
Chelsea occupy the final UEFA Champions League place at present, but they have a number of clubs breathing down their neck. Andre Villas-Boas will not need to be told that one win in five is not good enough, or that the Blues face another tough test this weekend. Sunderland will arrive at Stamford Bridge brimming with confidence, with Martin O'Neill having overseen a remarkable reversal in fortune on Wearside. The Black Cats have already picked up 13 points under their new boss, with that return enough to have them back in the top-half of the table.
It has already been a productive week for Liverpool, with a Carling Cup victory over Manchester City complemented nicely by the news that talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard has penned a new contract at Anfield. He can expect a hero's reception when he takes to the field on Saturday, with the Reds looking to avenge the defeat they suffered against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium back in September. The Potters do not have the best of records in the red half of Merseyside, but they have won five of their last eight fixtures to cement themselves inside the top eight.
Aston Villa's 13-year wait for Keane's arrival came to end in midweek, with the Republic of Ireland international agreeing a short-term loan deal with the Midlanders. He is expected to be thrust straight into Alex McLeish's side for Saturday's home date with Everton. Should he play some part against the Toffees, the former Tottenham and Liverpool striker will come face-to-face with his Los Angeles Galaxy team-mate Landon Donovan, who is taking in a loan stint at Goodison Park. Both sides could do with a morale-boosting win, and three points may be enough to see them into the top-half of the division.
More protests are planned at Ewood Park this weekend, with disgruntled Blackburn supporters set to air their disapproval at the Venky's regime. Steve Kean has slipped out of the firing line for now, but he is still the man at the helm of a side that sits rock-bottom of the Premier League standings. Three wins all season and the joint-worst defensive record in the league tells its own story and offers hope to weekend visitors Fulham. The Cottagers have found form of late and will be keen to continue edging themselves away from the basement battle that is unfolding just below them.
The last of Saturday's fixtures sees West Brom looking to bounce back from successive defeats when they welcome Norwich to The Hawthorns. The Baggies are closer to the top half of the table, in terms of points, than they are to the drop zone, but they will be keen to put clear daylight between themselves and the basement dwellers. Norwich, though, are proving to be a tough nut to crack, with a ninth place standing just reward for the effort Paul Lambert and his troops have put in since re-joining English football's elite.
Sunday's action kicks off at St James' Park, with Newcastle providing the opposition for Mark Hughes' first game in charge of Queens Park Rangers. The Magpies will be forced to cope without top scorer Demba Ba and influential midfielder Cheick Tiote for the first time in the league, as they have headed off on African Cup of Nations duty, so the pressure will be on others to step up to the plate. The QPR squad will need no added motivation, as they attempt to catch the eye of a new manager and pull clear of trouble, and you can catch all of the action from Tyneside live on Sky Sports HD1.
The second of the afternoon's fixtures is also live on Super Sunday, with Arsenal travelling to fortress Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea. Manchester United remain the only side to have left South Wales with three points this season, while the Swans have conceded just four times in 10 outings in front of their own supporters. That is the size of the challenge facing the Gunners, who are looking to move back into the top four. Their not-so-secret weapon this weekend will be record goalscorer Thierry Henry who, fresh from netting on his second debut for the club in their FA Cup victory over Leeds, is set to take in his first Premier League fixture since heading for Barcelona in 2007.