In Review

Balotelli takes his bow, but Spurs can derail Liverpool

Premier League preview: Man United and Liverpool feel early season heat, Chelsea face old-boys

We're only two weeks into the season and already the campaign is shaping up to be an intriguing one. Top the table are early pace-setters Spurs, but title-favourites Chelsea and Man City also boast 100 per cent records.

Manchester United's grim start to the season has left them with just one point from their opening two games and they desperately need to get their season going against Burnley, one of three clubs still with zero points on the board.

Week three could be regarded as the first weekend of the season proper as the gaps between teams begin to count. Liverpool, for example, could end the weekend six points behind their title rivals.

At the other end of the table it is an equally important week for teams expected to struggle, for example Aston Villa and Hull. They will both be desperate to maintain their good start to the season – after all, having a five or six point advantage over possible relegation rivals at this stage of the season could prove crucial in May.

There are a few tasty-looking encounters coming up over the next couple of days. Here's the best of the weekend's action:

 

Tottenham v Liverpool

It's a close call for game of the week, but the encounter between table-topping Spurs and last year's runners-up Liverpool could be a classic, particularly as it should feature the return of Mario Balotelli to the Premier League. Will Super Mario start? Will he finish? How will he fit into the Liverpool team? We will find out on Sunday lunchtime.

But this game is about much more than Balotelli... the result could have far-reaching consequences for both sides. Spurs have won every game this season under new boss Mauricio Pochettino, and the fans will be praying that their impressive start to the season is not another false dawn. A win over Liverpool would be significant for the development of Pochettino's side and could see the north Londoners lay claim to the 'surprise package' tag that Liverpool had last season. A home win would also put them six points clear of the Merseysiders and could tarnish Liverpool's title credentials even before the end of August.

The Reds, for their part, cannot afford two defeats in a row early in the season and will know that this is exactly the sort of game they have to win if they are serious about the title. However, a repeat of last year's 5-0 win looks unlikely, and a draw might be the more sensible bet.

Everton v Chelsea

Another intriguing clash takes place on Saturday at Goodison Park as Everton entertain Chelsea, who face their first real test of the season, having beaten newly-promoted clubs in the first two games of the campaign. After drawing their first two fixtures Everton are in danger of being forced to play catch-up in the race for Europe, but they will have to produce something special to get one over on the Londoners. However, in Romelu Lukaku and veteran Samuel Eto'o they will have two very motivated strikers, determined to get one over on their former club.

The key figure at Goodison, though, is likely to be Cesc Fabregas, who has been inspirational in Mourinho's new look side. If he can maintain the form he showed in Chelsea's first two games then an away win looks the best bet.

Burnley v Man Utd

What a massive game this is for both sides. Last time they were in the top flight, in 2009, Burnley stunned United on the opening day of the season. Everyone took that result with a pinch of salt, but this time round the stakes are much, much higher. After the humiliation of losing to MK Dons, Louis van Gaal badly needs a win, while defeat could see his rebuilding efforts holed below the waterline.

Angel di Maria could take his bow for United, but fans have been warned not to expect miracles. What will be more significant is how United play at the back. The defence has struggled with the new three centre-back formation so far, and all eyes will be on how they perform on Saturday lunchtime. Burnley have lost all three of their games this season, ending that run with a win or draw against United would delight the home fans. United will be under pressure nervous, if Burnley can exploit that they could get something out of the game.

Leicester v Arsenal

The Foxes have not had the easiest of starts on their return to the Premier League. They have acquitted themselves admirably against Everton and Chelsea but have only a solitary point to show for their efforts, and now they must welcome Arsenal to the Walkers Stadium. It should be an attractive game, worthy of the Sunday afternoon TV slot, with both sides peddling a pacy brand of football, but experience suggests that Arsenal thrive against likeminded opponents. Yet the Gunners are without Olivier Giroud and are not without problems, despite Champions League qualification.

Arsene Wenger's choice of striker will be interesting. But whether he opts for the muscle of Yaya Sanogo or the rather more nimble Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners will expect to win. Leicester will give it a go, but ultimately they know that games like this are not the ones that will decide their fate this season.

Man City v Stoke

Champions City have started the season where they left off last time, and will expect to carry their 100 per cent record into the international break after the visit of former manager Mark Hughes and his Stoke side. Hughes's team are no pushovers, but City already look in ominous form this season.

With Stevan Jovetic among the goals already, Manuel Pellegrini has another string to his attacking bow, and Stoke's chances of leaving with a clean sheet look slim at best. At the other end, new Stoke striker Bojan Krkic, who swapped Barcelona for the Britannia this summer, was relegated to the bench last week. Could he make a name for himself this week?

Other fixtures

SATURDAY:

Newcastle v Crystal PalaceQPR v SunderlandSwansea v West BromWest Ham v Southampton

SUNDAY:

Aston Villa v Hull

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