Is AVB after revenge as Chelsea face Spurs? Can Liverpool win?
Premier League preview: Chelsea face Spurs without Terry, Rooney’s ten years at the top
THE PREMIER LEAGUE returns this weekend after the international break with some big games to look forward to. There are derbies in London and the North East and the opportunity for some of the big clubs to pick up points against 'smaller' opposition. But nothing is ever straightforward in the Premier League so there could be plenty of upsets, with at least one big-name manager knowing that any more slip-ups could be costly.
The biggest game of the weekend is the one that gets us underway on Saturday lunchtime. Spurs versus Chelsea pits the league leaders against fifth-placed Tottenham at White Hart Lane and is being billed as the opportunity for former Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas, now in charge of the Lilywhites, to get one over on his old employers.
Certainly the Portuguese could be forgiven for wanting to exact revenge on the club that unceremoniously dumped him earlier this year after less than a season in charge. However, AVB has tried to play down his animus towards Chelsea. "This is certainly not a personal matter," he said earlier this week.
And there are plenty of other storylines to give the game some spice. Firstly, Chelsea will be without their skipper and spiritual leader John Terry after he elected not to appeal against the four-match ban imposed on him by the FA for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand last year.
The match is also a London derby. The rivalry between Chelsea and Spurs may not be as well documented as the dislike felt by Spurs towards Arsenal and Chelsea's distaste for Fulham and QPR, but there is no doubt that there is no love lost between the teams.
It should be a good game as both sides are in fine form. Spurs have not lost since the opening day of the season and Chelsea are unbeaten so far this term. Something has to give and it could be that Spurs, with Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale on the wings, have the edge over the league leaders, who will still be top at the end of the weekend whatever the result.
It may be hard to believe but this weekend marks the tenth anniversary of Wayne Rooney's arrival on the English football scene. It was back in October 2002 that the 16-year-old announced himself with a wonder strike for Everton against Arsenal. On Saturday he will be hoping to mark the occasion with a goal for Manchester United against Stoke at Old Trafford.
The United striker was below par for England in midweek, even though he did net a rather fortuitous header, but he has been in fine form for his club this season and has already started to develop a lethal partnership with Robin van Persie. United still have problems at the back, but at least they have enough defenders to put out a specialist back four, Chris Smalling could even make the bench.
Stoke managed a draw against Liverpool at Anfield last time out, but they will be lucky to escape from Old Trafford with anything at all. Manchester United lost their last home game against Spurs, and Alex Ferguson won't let his troops make it two defeats in a row.
Arsenal travel to Norwich in the evening game on Saturday, and will not be able to afford any slip ups if they want to keep pace with the league leaders. The Gunners are down in seventh place and are already seven points behind Chelsea, despite some impressive performances.
Norwich, though, could be there for the taking. They are languishing down in 19th place with just three points so far this season. They have also conceded nine goals in their last two games, against Liverpool and Chelsea. It could be a good weekend for Olivier Giroud to find his scoring boots.
Floundering Liverpool welcome Reading to Anfield on Saturday hoping that Luis Suarez can stay on his feet long enough to lead the line on his own. Brendan Rodgers has only one recognised forward to call on now that Fabio Borini is injured, and there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that Liverpool's only fit striker spends a large amount of his time pretending to be injured.
Rodgers has been cut some slack by the Anfield faithful, but his side cannot afford any more slip-ups. Incredibly the Reds have not won at home since the league season started. In six matches in all competitions at Anfield they have drawn three and lost three, and they have just two points from four league matches at what used to be their fortress. After defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United and draws with Manchester City and Stoke anything less than victory over Reading will be unacceptable.
The main game on Sunday sees Newcastle make the short trip to Wearside to take on Sunderland, where managers Alan Pardew and Martin O'Neill will renew hostilities after their set-to last season. Newcastle are hoping to prove that last season's assault on the top four was not a fluke, while Sunderland are progressing under the direction of O'Neill.
If the game is to be decided by strikers then Newcastle will be favourites. The Magpies have in-form Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse up front with Hatem Ben Arfa lurking behind them. The Black Cats have just five goals all season and only two at the Stadium of Light, and all of them have come from Steven Fletcher.
Elsewhere this weekend champions Manchester City travel to surprise package West Brom, who are only one point behind them in the table, on Saturday. It could be a closer encounter than it looks on paper.
In the other matches this weekend Fulham play Aston Villa, Swansea entertain Wigan and Southampton travel to West Ham. On Sunday the afternoon game sees bottom club QPR welcome Everton to Loftus Road.