Arsenal aim to reclaim top spot as Man Utd unveil front three
Premier League preview: Chasing pack jockey for position before Chelsea-City showdown on Monday
WHEN the dust has settled on the now-traditional chaos that accompanies transfer deadline day, it will be back to the business of winning football matches, as another crucial weekend in the Premier League arrives.
Undoubtedly the outstanding tie of the round is the massive clash between league leaders Man City and third-placed Chelsea, which takes place on Monday night. Many believe this match represents the last chance for Chelsea (or anyone else for that matter) to derail City before Manuel Pellegrini's juggernaut disappears over the horizon.
But before then there is plenty more to look forward to at both ends of the table. Here's our pick of the weekend's action:
Arsenal v Crystal Palace:
The injury-hit Gunners could return to the top of the table on Sunday if they can overcome a rejuvenated Palace who have climbed out of the relegation zone under new manager Tony Pulis. There is still a considerable gap between the two teams and on paper Arsenal should stroll to victory, but it might not be that simple. Having been held at Southampton in midweek and relinquished top spot to City, anxiety may be starting to bite at the Emirates. Then there is the fact that Wenger will be without the banned Mathieu Flamini and the injured Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey in midfield, as questions about the depth of the Gunners squad begin to emerge. The presence of Marouane Chamakh in the Palace line-up might also cause butterflies. So it might be a nervier occasion than Gunners fans might like, but they should prevail and return to the summit of the league. If they don't then surely it's farewell to their title aspirations.
West Brom v Liverpool
The other Sunday game is also intriguing, as Liverpool travel to the Hawthorns to face West Brom. The Reds will be bubbling after their Merseyside derby win over Everton on Tuesday, and with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge scoring for fun they will fancy their chances of moving to within one point of third-placed Chelsea. West Brom on the other hand have won only one of their last 14 games and are just three points above the relegation zone. They really cannot afford any more defeats but new manager Rene Mel will have a job on his hands inspiring his team to get anything from this one. They have won only three of 11 home league games this season, and managed a paltry 13 goals. A Liverpool win could be on the cards.
Hull v Tottenham
How do you bounce back from a 5-1 home defeat? We'll find out on Saturday by watching Spurs take on Hull. Tim Sherwood enjoyed a great start to his reign as Tottenham boss, but his two defeats have been painful ones. Losing to Arsenal in the cup was bad enough, but the mauling by Man City would have hurt a lot and has allowed Liverpool to sneak ahead in the race for fourth place. Spurs cannot afford to slip up here. This will be a stern test of Spurs' resilience against a Hull side who have lost four in a row but have the ability to trouble most teams. Anything less than three points will be a serious setback for the Londonders.
Everton v Aston Villa
If Spurs need to bounce back quickly, then so do Everton. They welcome Aston Villa to Goodison on Saturday in the wake of their 4-0 capitulation in the Merseyside derby. They are now four points behind Liverpool but only one behind Tottenham in fifth so their season is far from over. This match should have been billed as the clash between two terrifying Belgian strikers, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke. However, Lukaku picked up an ankle injury against Liverpool and is out for several weeks, presenting manager Roberto Martinez with a real headache as his team was build around the forward's presence. Benteke, on the other hand, is back from injury, but looks short of form. The manner in which Everton respond to Lukaku's absence will probably determine the outcome of this one.
Stoke v Man Utd
Juan Mata made an impressive debut for United against Cardiff on Tuesday, and with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney also fit and ready to go, David Moyes could start with his new-look front-line at Stoke. Whether he decides to field all three away from home at the Britannia remains to be seen, and if he does err on the side of caution it will be interesting to see which of the three is relegated to the bench. This is the sort of game that United used to expect to win, but these days things are different for the champions. However, Mata's arrival has lifted the mood and United will be hopeful, if not confident, of a win over a Stoke side that has not scored for three games and has lost four on the bounce.
Newcastle v Sunderland
The weekend kicks off with the blood and thunder of a North East derby that could spring a surprise, as Newcastle welcome Sunderland to St James' Park. Newcastle have lost three and won only one of their last five and will be without striker Loic Remy, who was sent off against Norwich, and the departed Yohan Cabaye. Sunderland have lost only one of their last eight and Gus Poyet has breathed life into a team that seemed dead and buried just a few weeks ago. Adam Johnson, the Sunderland winger and talisman, will be the key player.
The weekend's other fixtures:
West Ham v Swansea
Cardiff v Norwich
Fulham v Southampton