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Chelsea Host Leaders in Weekend Highlight
Spurs could open and close gaps at the same time, while United can pile on pressure
Posted Dec 09, 2011 by Chris White
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With both Manchester clubs knocked out of the Champions League this week, it’s time for both to ensure that they qualify for next year’s competition, and that mission starts this weekend. The leaders of the Premier League will have to wait until Monday night, however, to get back to domestic business, in what is the biggest clash of the week.
Manchester City travel down to London with their unbeaten run still intact, and having beaten Bayern Munich 2-0 in the Champions League, to take on a Chelsea side buoyed by their qualification for the knockout stage. Chelsea looked much more solid in midweek, beating Valencia 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, and manager Andre Villas-Boas will have a tough decision to make over whether or not to bring Frank Lampard back into the starting line-up. For City, they have doubts over the fitness of Micah Richards, and the clash between David Silva and Juan Mata could be intriguing.
With a home fixture against Wolves on Saturday, Manchester United have the opportunity to close the gap on their rivals to just two points, and extend their advantage over Tottenham to five, with Spurs not in action until Sunday. The champions have been disappointing in recent weeks, failing to score more than one goal in a game for seven league games since a 2-0 win against Norwich back in October. They are almost certainly going to be without Nemanja Vidic who was stretchered off during the nightmare night in Switzerland in midweek, with Jonny Evans a likely deputy. Michael Carrick will return to the midfield after his European ban in what is likely to be a hotly contested battle in the middle of the park. Wolves have struggled for consistency this season, but did win 2-1 against Sunderland last time out, so they will be taking that confidence up the M6 on Saturday afternoon.
Arsenal can keep the pressure up on those above them when they take on Everton at the Emirates. The Gunners sent a second string side to Greece in the week, choosing to rest a number of their big names, so they will almost certainly all return. For Everton, it’s a case of responding to a horrendous display and result last weekend against Stoke, with the Potters taking all three points from their trip to Goodison.
It’s a case of finding a response to a defeat for the red side of Merseyside too, with Liverpool hosting QPR. Coming off the back of a 1-0 defeat at Fulham on Monday night, the Anfield side are in danger of losing touch with the teams above them in their quest to get back into Europe for next season, and they were dealt another blow in their already sparse midfield, with Jay Spearing now joining Lucas and Steven Gerrard on the sidelines. For QPR, it’s a chance to test themselves against a top side away from home – where they’ve actually picked up more points. The Hoops have won just once on home soil this season, and travel to Liverpool on the back of a 1-1 draw against West Brom last weekend, which they were unlucky not to win, with a Shaun Wright-Phillips volleyed ruled out for offside.
Both Bolton and Aston Villa are struggling at the moment, with Villa down in ninth place and Bolton 19th, only off the bottom of the table on goal difference. Villa striker Darren Bent has looked isolated of late, with support severely lacking, while Bolton will be able to call upon key defender and former Villa man Gary Cahill after his red card at Tottenham last week was rescinded by the FA.
Newcastle lost their unbeaten home record last weekend at the hands of Chelsea, and with it they lost their place in the top four, so in order to keep in touch with the big boys, a win away at Norwich this weekend is a must. For the Canaries, meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to climb up the table from eleventh with Stoke in eighth and West Brom in fourteenth separated by just three points. With the backing of the Carrow Road faithful, Norwich have looked impressive this season, holding their own much better in comparison to their last spell in the top flight, and they’re currently the best placed of the promoted sides.
The lowest placed of the promoted teams, Swansea, have struggled so far this season. Their free flowing football has left them exposed at the back at times this year, and going forward they just seem to be lacking that cutting edge that’s needed to mix it up with the best sides. This weekend it’s Fulham who cross the Severn Bridge into south Wales, who looked in fine form against Liverpool on Monday night. Clint Dempsey scored the only goal of that game, and Andy Johnson threatened, so Swansea will need to ensure that they stick to their game plan to get anything out of the fixture.
West Brom and Wigan may not sound like the most exciting of fixtures, but those normally throw up some pretty entertaining clashes in the end. Wigan are horribly out of form at present and already look like a relegated side after 14 games, leaking goals and failing to hit a barn door going forward. Despite beating Sunderland two weeks ago, Wigan cannot seem to get any consistency or fluidity going around the football pitch and Roberto Martinez needs to find it, and fast. For the Baggies, it was a gritty 1-1 draw last week and they will have to be equally determined in order to wear down their struggling opponents.
Martin O’Neill will take charge of Sunderland for the first time on Sunday lunchtime, when Blackburn make the journey to the northeast. The sides are separated by just one point at the wrong end of the table, and although Rovers were convincing winners against Swansea last week, both have struggled for wins. Sunderland have played the better football of the two this season so far, but are prone to making mistakes, while you can never guess which Blackburn side will turn up, so expect a dull affair, or a thriller.
Tottenham are possibly the most in-form side of the country, playing outstanding football week in, week out at present, and they’re going to take some stopping. They’ve risen to third in the table and are just two points behind Manchester United with a game in hand, and they take on a Stoke City side who are leading the way in mid-table, so to speak, five points behind the big guns and two clear of everyone else behind them. Stoke are always difficult to break down, and hard work to play against so it could be a cracking game at the Britannia on Sunday afternoon, watching Spurs trying to carve their way through the solid Stoke line-up.
This weekend’s fixtures (3pm kick off unless stated):
Arsenal v Everton, Bolton v Aston Villa, Liverpool v QPR, Manchester United v Wolves, Norwich v Newcastle, Swansea v Fulham, West Brom v Wigan.
Sunderland v Blackburn (1.30pm), Stoke v Tottenham (4pm)
Chelsea v Manchester City (8pm)