In Review

Can Arsenal and Man City find European form in the league?

Premier League preview: second play third, fifth face sixth and ninth take on tenth this weekend

A glance at this week's round of Premier League fixtures may not get neutral's pulses racing, but closer inspection will reveal some serious games that pit second against third, fifth against sixth, ninth against tenth and 11th against 12th.

And for those that enjoy blood and guts football, the clashes between the teams placed 19th and 16th in the table (Burnley and Aston Villa) and bottom-dwellers QPR and third-from-bottom Leicester promise much.

It promises to be an intriguing weekend if nothing else. Here's the best of the action to look forward to.

Southampton v Man City.

At the start of the season you would have got long odds on this match being a contest between second and third, and still longer odds on it being Southampton who were the team in second. But that is the scenario heading into the Sunday lunchtime clash at St Mary's.

The Saints have been a revelation this season but they would have fancied their chances against City a lot more before the defending champions went and beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

However, this is far from a foregone conclusion. True, Southampton did not have the toughest start to the season fixture-wise but they are not at the top of the table by accident. Two defeats in 12 matches with only six goals conceded tells its own story. The next best defence in the division is Chelsea's and they have conceded 11. Chelsea are also the only team to have scored more goals than Southampton this term.

With no new injury concerns Ronald Koeman will have faith in the abilities of players like Jose Fonte and Nathaniel Clyne at the back, Victor Wanyama and Dusan Tadic in midfield and Graziano Pelle up front to get something from this game.

City have spluttered this season, but the massive win over Bayern Munich, no matter how undeserved, should galvanise the team, and if it doesn't questions must be asked of Manuel Pellegrini. Much will depend on Sergio Aguero, who is a force of nature at the moment. If his team-mates can rouse themselves then City have what it takes to take the points. If not the Saints could establish themselves as Chelsea's main challengers.

West Brom v Arsenal

This is not one of the head-to-head clashes. Arsenal are five places above West Brom, but it could say a lot about where Arsenal are mentally. With Jack Wilshere the latest name on the injury list the Gunners are, as ever, short on personnel. However, victory over Borussia Dortmund on Wednesay should have put a spring in their step.

The Gunners may be in the Champions League knockout stages for the 15th year in a row, but they are enduring their worst start to a league season for 32 years and are already out of the title race. Dropping points against the Baggies would not do Arsene Wenger's prospects much good as the Arsenal faithful look forward to another season scrapping for fourth place.

West Brom have two wins in their last seven games, and both of those were against teams currently in the bottom three. But with striker Saido Berahino catching the eye this term there is no reason why the Baggies shouldn't expect to give Arsenal at least a run for their money. After all, the Gunners four league wins this season have come against teams in the bottom seven. West Brom are eighth from bottom.

Liverpool v Stoke

The Premier League's other crisis club this season is Liverpool, who find themselves in 12th place, one point behind their visitors on Saturday afternoon, Stoke.

But, like Arsenal and City, they can take some solace from their Chamions League performance this week. They may only have drawn against Ludorets of Bulgaria but they put in a much-improved performance. The challenge for Brendan Rodgers is now to get the team to translate that into a result in the league.

Problem striker Mario Balotelli may be fit to return, but with Rickie Lambert finding the net twice in his last two games, what reason is there to recall the misfiring Italian?

Stoke lost to lowly Burnley last time out and have a raft of injury concerns. If they get anything out of this game it will be a major plus for them and a major setback for Liverpool.

Tottenham v Everton

On paper in August this looked the pick of this week's games, which explains why it kicks off at 4pm on Sunday - that and the fact both teams played in the Europa League on Thursday. But both club's indifferent form this season means it is a clash between ninth and tenth in the league.

However, both sides have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. Everton's recovery from a bad start has been more impressive, they have not lost in the league since early October, and with Romelu Lukaku scoring two in two games they will fancy their chances against Spurs. The Lilywhites have won four of their last five but their league form remains indifferent, with three wins and three losses from their last six.

A good, closely-fought game could be on the cards even if they are battling in mid-table rather than the European places.

Sunderland v Chelsea

The runaway league leaders head to Sunderland on Saturday afternoon with people talking not about whether they can win the league, but whether they can get through the season unbeaten. Given the way they are playing at the moment, likened by Cesc Fabregas to some of the best teams the world has ever seen, it would be some shock if their unbeaten run ends on Wearside.

However, it was Sunderland who robbed Jose Mourinho of his unbeaten league record at Stamford Bridge last season. Can lightning strike twice? Not likely in the case of Mourinho, who will set out to ensure that nothing goes awry for the Blues.

This might not be the prettiest game of the weekend, as both sides like to get behind the ball, and such is Chelsea's lead at the top of the table and their reputation both sides would probably also settle for a draw.


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