Puerile Premier League: another week, another handshake row
Premier League preview: Good manners hoped for as Man U take on Liverpool, Chelsea look to extend lead
YET ANOTHER handshake row is threatening to overshadow this weekend's domestic fixtures in the perennially puerile world of Premier League football.
Last week QPR's Anton Ferdinand refused to press the flesh with Chelsea captain John Terry following their bust-up last season, and this weekend the world waits to see if Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez man up and shake hands. The Olympics feels such a long time ago...
Last season Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Evra, and the South American didn't react well to his punishment. When the two sides met again he ignored Evra's extended hand – an inexcusable snub considering Suarez had been the one doing the abusing.
Manchester United travel to Anfield on Sunday with Liverpool confident that there will be no repetition from Suarez. United, for their part, have called on their supporters to refrain from mocking the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy with Alex Ferguson telling fans to show "complete support for Liverpool Football Club" in the wake of the harrowing revelations into the tragedy released last week.
As for the football, Liverpool welcome United to Anfield still searching for their first league win of the season. Currently lying one place above the relegation zone, the Reds are enduring their worst start to a campaign for 50 years.
United, on the other hand, are second, one point behind leaders Chelsea, with three wins from their last three games. One player who won't be involved on Sunday is England striker Wayne Rooney. Rumours began circulating in midweek that Rooney had made a rapid recovery from the thigh injury he picked up last month against Fulham, but Ferguson says he won't be involved against Liverpool.
Chelsea host Stoke City on Saturday, knowing that a win will extend their lead at the top of the table to four points, at least for 24 hours. The Blues were held to a 2-2 draw by Juventus in midweek, having led 2-0 at one stage, and they face an awkward challenge in Stoke.
The Potters are unbeaten this season, having drawn all four of their matches, and their physical approach is sure to test Chelsea's tired bodies. Roberto di Matteo has yet to reveal if South American sensation Oscar has recovered from the injury he received against Juventus. The 21-year-old scored both his side's goals but was later forced off after Leonardo Bonucci stepped on his ankle.
The most mouth-watering clash of the weekend is Arsenal's trip to Manchester City, a tie that pits third against fourth. The Gunners are unbeaten in all competitions this season while the defending champions have won just two of their five competitive games.
A 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid in midweek won't have done much for the morale of the Sky Blues, and midfielder Gareth Barry acknowledges the importance of getting a result against Arsenal. "This game against Arsenal is massive," he said. "They are a great side and we have got to try to continue our fine home form."
City have won four of their last five home games against the Gunners although the last time the teams met was at the Emirates last April when a goal from Mikel Arteta gave Arsenal the win. "It is going to be tough," said Arteta ahead of Sunday's game. "City have not lost at home for a long time. It is a big test."
In the pick of the other games, fifth-placed Swansea host seventh-placed Everton and Southampton will be hoping they pick up their first points of the season when they entertain Aston Villa.