Chelsea, QPR in talks to 'defuse tension' ahead of tricky fixture
Premier League preview: Race row still looms, Van Persie injury upsets Fergie, Arsenal sweat over Diaby
THE Premier League returns tomorrow after the international break, no doubt looking fresh, tanned and raring to go. God how we missed it – England's half-hearted performance against the Ukraine was a reminder that football isn't always a beautiful game.
Not that there'll be much beauty on show at Loftus Road tomorrow afternoon when QPR host Chelsea. Last season's corresponding fixture between the two clubs ended in acrimony amid claims Chelsea's John Terry racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. The case went to court and Terry was finally acquitted of the charge in July.
Regardless of what one thinks of Terry, he's been found innocent in a court of law and the matter should therefore be finished. But Ferdinand has reignited the row by indicating that he won't shake Terry's hand prior to kick-off; it's also reported Ferdinand may blank Ashley Cole because the Chelsea star testified as a character witness for Terry during the trial.
The BBC reports that officials from the two clubs are in talks to "defuse the growing tension" surrounding the London derby that police worry might spill onto the terraces.
As for the game itself, leaders Chelsea welcome back Terry and Cole after injury and the Blues will be confident of making it four wins from four against a Rangers side lying second from bottom.
Alex Ferguson spent last weekend in New York cheering on Andy Murray to victory in the US Open. The Manchester United manager was all smiles on that occasion but his mood will have darkened on his return to Old Trafford with the injury to Robin van Persie ahead of the Wigan game.
The former Arsenal striker, who scored a stunning hat-trick for United against Southampton a fortnight ago, picked up a thigh injury on international duty for Holland on Tuesday. United have yet to reveal the extent of the damage but with Wayne Rooney sidelined until October with a gashed leg, Ferguson can ill-afford to lose Van Persie. Then again, even an under-strength United should be too much for the Latics.
Reigning champions Manchester City won't be relishing their visit to the Britannia Stadium to face [B] Stoke, particularly as the Potters are likely to hand a debut to Michael Owen.
The former England striker joined Stoke from Manchester United at the start of the month but manager Stoke Pulis refused to confirm on Thursday if he'll blood Owen against City: "He's come back a lot fitter than we thought he would, but it's too early to say whether he can play straight away."
The same could be said of City striker Sergio Aguero, who is back in training after three weeks out with a knee injury. Roberto Mancini may decide not to risk the Argentine although with Stoke unbeaten this season the City manager will need all the goalscoring options he has.
Arsenal host Southampton and the Gunners will be looking to build on their 2-0 win away at Liverpool a fortnight ago though they're sweating over the fitness of Theo Walcott and the influential Abou Diaby.
The England winger was struck down with a virus earlier in the week and is struggling to get back on his feet and the French midfielder picked up a knock on international duty. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger revealed yesterday that Diaby will have a fitness test today before any decision is made.
Southampton must be wondering what they've done to deserve such a punishing start to their season. Having already played the two Manchester clubs, the Premier League new boys now travel to the Emirates to face the meanest defence in the league. Arsenal have yet to concede a goal and it's unlikely the Saints will be the first to breach their increasingly rock-solid back four.
In the rest of Saturday's matches, Sunderland host Liverpool at the Stadium of Light, third place West Bromwich Albion will look to maintain their excellent start to the season with a victory away at Fulham and another high-flying club, Swansea, travel to Aston Villa. The Swans are currently second and it's not inconceivable that come Saturday night they'll be leading the Premier League.
At the other end of the table, Reading welcome Tottenham on Sunday with both sides still searching for their first win of the season. Another defeat for the Lilywhites will increase the pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas, already feeling the heat just a month into the job.