Pint-sized Chelsea face tough test against Man Utd's big guns
Premier League preview from United's trip to Chelsea to Jack Wilshere's return
IT'S ANOTHER big week in the Premier League, and after some underwhelming performances from England's biggest clubs in Europe there will be players and managers with a point to prove over the next couple of days. There are plenty of tasty-looking clashes to savour as well, with a smattering of derbies and a real humdinger at the top of the table.
The biggest game this week is the meeting at Stamford Bridge on Sunday between league leaders Chelsea and second-placed Manchester United. For some reason this fixture does not have the romance of some of the other clashes between England's big guns, but that is strange as between them the two teams have won seven of the last eight Premier League titles and even met in the Champions League final in 2008.
Even though he will not be playing, the talk before the game is likely to revolve around John Terry, who serves the second of his four-game ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, whose brother Rio is likely to be in the United starting XI. He has pledged to shake the hand of Terry's main defence witness Ashley Cole, despite their spat on Twitter earlier this year.
It is a sign of how the Terry row has spiralled that all eyes will now be on two players who were not even involved in the original confrontation.
Then there is the issue of whether Ferdinand, and other players, will wear Kick it Out anti-racism T-shirts. Ferdinand refused to do so last week apparently incurring the wrath of Alex Ferguson as a result, and with the charity's awareness drive still in effect it will be interesting to see what he does this time.
But back to the football, and it promises to be an enthralling match.
Chelsea suffered a setback in midweek, losing to Shakhtar Dontesk in the Champions League, but they remain unbeaten in the Premier League and have looked very impressive at times. Highlights of their season so far include away wins at London rivals Arsenal and Spurs, but the visit of United represents their toughest test yet.
Roberto di Matteo has reinvented Chelsea and their diminutive midfield trio of Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard have run rings around opponents so far this term. They could prove decisive, as observers have long been pointing out that Manchester United's midfield is not what it once was.
Alex Ferguson does, however, have a terrifying strike force of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, who have already struck up a powerful partnership. Whether Gary Cahill and the erratic David Luiz can cope remains to be seen. Unfortunately for Blues fans, the Chelsea forwards are not in the same league as United's at the moment, and Fernando Torres is still flattering to deceive. But if the midfield functions properly the Blues could shade it.
Before the big game of the day there is the small matter of a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park to consider. Liverpool have endured a torrid start to the season but, perversely, a trip to Everton could be the perfect tonic for Brendan Rodgers' men.
The Reds have been lacklustre at home this term and are hamstrung by the fact that they only have one recognised striker in the squad, and Luis Suarez is, as ever, at the centre of a controversy over diving. With so much weighing them down it might be a relief for Liverpool to get stuck into a full-blooded battle with their local rivals.
Everton will be the more confident side before the game. They are sitting pretty in fourth place after a wonderful start to the season. However, they only have two wins in their last six games. David Moyes will expect his team to take advantage of Liverpool's woes, but with Steven Pienaar suspended and Marouane Fellaini doubtful much rests on the shoulders of Nikica Jelavic. It's quite possible that Liverpool will leave Goodison with at least a point in their back pockets.
It has been a terrible week for Arsenal. They lost to Norwich, capitulated against Schalke, there was plenty of disquiet at the AGM on Thursday and now there are rumours of a rift between Arsene Wenger and his assistant Steve Bould. The Gunners badly need a boost, and a win over bottom club QPR plus the long-awaited return of Jack Wilshere will give them that.
But neither are certain to come off. QPR badly need a boost themselves, and Mark Hughes is just the sort of manager who enjoys raining on Arsene Wenger's parades. After 14-months out Wilshere is likely to be on the bench against the Hoops, but he cannot be expected to make much of an impact after so long on the sidelines, and it remains to be seen if he comes on or not.
If the Gunners are to win they need the players who have failed in the last two games to make a better fist of things. They can do it, but it's not guaranteed.
Another team that needs to make a statement is Manchester City. The champions failed badly against Ajax in Europe this week and they will want to take out their frustrations on Swansea at the Etihad on Saturday evening. It could be a long afternoon for Michael Vorm in goal for the Welsh club.
In this weekend's other games Aston Villa play Norwich, Reading entertain Fulham, Sunderland travel to Stoke, Wigan welcome West Ham, and on Sunday West Brom visit Newcastle while Tottenham head for the south coast to face Southampton.