Liverpool could hand title to Man Utd with win over City
Premier League preview: Reds could do United a favour, while Shawcross and Ba face a rough ride
WITH THE excitement and drama of the transfer window behind us it is back to the business of scoring goals for Premier League clubs this weekend. It was a relatively quiet January so fans shouldn't have too much difficulty in recognising their teams when they take to the field, unless they support QPR and Newcastle, who both brought in six new faces last month.
None of the top six are playing against each other but there are still some tasty-looking clashes.
The biggest game of the weekend is the last to kick off, pitting second-placed Manchester City against Liverpool, on Sunday afternoon.
City are in danger of relinquishing their Premier League crown. Whatever Manchester United's result on Saturday, the Sky Blues cannot afford to drop points at home as they try to reel in their local rivals, who had a seven-point lead at the top of the table going into the weekend.
Worryingly City failed to score against QPR on Tuesday and Roberto Mancini must spend the rest of the campaign with just three front-line strikers, having offloaded Mario Balotelli to AC Milan. The pressure is now on for Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko.
For the first half of the season Liverpool were the team with the striker crisis, and Luis Suarez did an admirable job of leading the line on his own. But now he has been joined by Daniel Sturridge and the pair have already struck up a formidable-looking partnership. They should provide a test for the Manchester City defence.
Another trump card for Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers could be 20-year-old Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who joined the Reds on deadline day. A debut against the defending champions would be a memorable occasion for the youngster.
When these two teams met at the start of the season it required a howler from Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel to rescue City. His awful back pass allowed Tevez to score a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw. Mancini will be hoping that things will not be quite as close this time round. While Liverpool fans have reason to feel confident, the downside is that victory would all but hand the title to their arch-rivals United.
Arsenal and Manchester United both face teams that have been their undoing in recent years. United travel to Fulham, who are having a torrid timel and are down in 12th place with only two wins in their last eight games.
However they have something of a track record against United in London. True, Fergie's men won 5-0 last time they visited Craven Cottage, and they beat Fulham 4-1 in Manchester in the FA Cup last month. But Fulham have lost only two of their last five home meetings with United.
There could be a debut for Urby Emanuelson, who is on loan from AC Milan for the rest of the season. Fulham manager Martin Jol was busy during January, bringing in Emmanuel Frimpong of Arsenal and three other new faces. Optimistic Cottagers may not be ruling out a draw.
Arsenal face one of their bogey clubs, Stoke, at the Emirates on Saturday. But although Arsenal have a distinctly average record against the Potters away from home, they have won their last four encounters in London.
Gunners fans are still smarting over the gruesome tackle by Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross that destroyed Aaron Ramsey's leg three years ago this month, and the two players are hardly on the best of terms. There are plenty of Arsenal supporters who maintain that Ramsey is still not the player he was before the double-fracture. The good news for Ramsey, who has become something of a Gunners scapegoat, is that the fans may stop abusing him for the afternoon and turn their attentions to Shawcross.
Talking of grudges, it will be interesting to see how the Newcastle United fans react to the return of Demba Ba, who heads to St James' Park for the first time since joining Chelsea last month. Whether Blues boss Rafa Benitez chooses to start him remains to be seen. Last week he picked the woeful Fernando Torres ahead of the free-scoring Ba.
Most of Newcastle's new faces come from French clubs, prompting suggestions that the city should be renamed Newcastle-upon-Seine. The Magpies, who remain in dire need of points, beat Aston Villa last time out, but Chelsea will be a tougher prospect.
The weekend begins with QPR taking on Norwich and Harry Redknapp is likely to give many of his new signings a debut. Christopher Samba, brought in for £12.5m, will be centre-stage at centre-back, but Jermaine Jenas and Andros Townsend, picked up from Spurs at the last minute, could also feature.
A win would leave QPR just one point away from safety, but only until the other games kick off.
Saturday also sees second-from-bottom Aston Villa travel to Everton, while Reading, level with Villa on points, entertain Sunderland. Wigan face Southampton in a real six-pointer and West Ham take on Swansea.
In the early match on Sunday ninth-placed West Brom play Spurs at the Hawthorns.