Manchester derby: will City or Utd emerge to take on Chelsea?
Etihad showdown on Sunday could determine the rest of the season for both Manchester clubs
Two big derbies dominate this week’s action and events at Stamford Bridge and the likelihood is that the Etihad could have a major impact on the way the rest of the season unfolds.
If things go Chelsea's way, as they have for most of the season, they could finish the weekend with a nine point lead over their closest realistic challengers. Southampton and West Ham will be out to prove that their presence in the top four is not down to luck, as they face tough away games at Hull and Stoke.
There are plenty of other games to look forward to this weekend. Here's the best of the weekend action:
Man City v Man United
Sunday afternoon's game at the Etihad will be a fascinating affair that will reveal plenty about the balance of power not just in Manchester but also the Premier League. First, the home side, who have not won in three games and have just four wins from their last 12 matches. Manager Manuel Pellegrini has admitted he is "worried" by his side's lack of confidence, and it is hard to know how he should address it. The squad has not suffered unduly with injuries this season, yet City’s European hopes hang by a thread. They have relinquished the League Cup and their title challenge would be seriously compromised if they lost to their neighbours, not to mention the additional psychological damage it would inflict. This could even be billed as the key match of Pellegrini’s stint as manager.
The big question is whether Man United have it in them to go for the jugular on Sunday. Louis van Gaal's team remain a bit of a curate’s egg – good in some parts (going forward, usually) and not so good in others (defending, mainly). There have been encouraging signs in recent weeks, not least their sudden rediscovery of the art of scoring late goals, but the fact remains that they have won only three games all season. Wayne Rooney's participation remains in doubt and Radamel Falcao could also be missing. The possible absence of Phil Jones at the back could also be significant.
United should technically be the underdogs, but they appear to be the team with momentum, and a win at the Etihad would breathe more life into Louis van Gaal’s side. They have nothing to lose, whereas there is an awful lot at stake for City. Another home defeat would not just see them lose ground on Chelsea, it would also send a message to the rest of the division that City’s reign is over.
If Stoke and Newcastle can win in City's back yard then surely United can too? But this will be a far more intense encounter than those two matches and it's by no means clear whether United are battle hardened enough as a unit to beat an, albeit wounded, City side.
Chelsea v QPR
Saturday afternoon’s clash at Stamford Bridge sees league leaders Chelsea take on basement dwellers and fierce local rivals QPR. It may not have the glamour of El Clasico or even the Manchester derby, but there is no love lost between these two west London sides.
Jose Mourinho will be anxious that his side do not lose their cool in the febrile derby atmosphere, as there is little doubt that on paper Chelsea are by far the superior side. A draw against Man United last time out at least maintained Chelsea’s unbeaten start to the season, and it is unlikely to come to an end here. The likely return of Diego Costa will give the Blues an additional boost, and take the pressure off veteran striker Didier Drogba, who can take his place on the bench.
QPR notched a handy win against Aston Villa on Monday, but they are unlikely to find Chelsea in such an obliging mood. Their main hope is getting under Chelsea’s skin, but even if they do their chances look slim at best. A win for Chelsea looks almost inevitable.
Newcastle v Liverpool
This intriguing encounter at St James's Park pits a rejuvenated Magpies, who were unbeaten in October, against a misfiring Liverpool outfit.
Given the history between these two sides who’s to say there won’t be another classic on Saturday at lunchtime? Anyone who has seen either of these two sides attacking this season will have their doubts about the possibility of a goalfest. Mario Balotelli may have only scored twice this season, but that still makes him Liverpool’s most successful forward, with pretty much all the goals coming from midfield this term. Newcastle may be without their main marksman Papiss Cisse, so last week’s hero Ayoze Perez will continue up front.
Hopes of goals will be increased by studying the defences of these two teams, which remain pretty soft. That at least means that the chances of a first 0-0 between these two adversaries since 1974 are slim. A win would do both teams a world of good, but it’s hard to know who to back.
Arsenal v Burnley
The Gunners really could do with a nice home win on Saturday, just to give their long-suffering fans a rare afternoon of enjoyment at the Emirates. The visit of Burnley surely offers them just that opportunity. However, it also could provides the fans with plenty of reasons to gripe.
How will the Emirates react if bottom club Burnley, with five goals in nine games, find a way through the Gunners’ defence? How long until the crowd grow restless with a lack of goals? We will find out on Saturday if Arsene Wenger’s troops don’t come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders.
One thing that should give them a boost is the return of Theo Walcott, who is expected to be on the bench, if not the starting line up, after ten months out of the game with a knee injury. Surely a front line of Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez will be too much for Burnley?
Hull v Southampton
They may not have had the toughest start to the season but Southampton are not to be taken lightly. The Saints keep on beating whatever is put in front of them and as a result Ronald Koeman’s side are second in the Premier League and in the last eight of the League Cup.
An away trip to Hull is next up for the likes of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic this week, although team mate Shane Long will be able to give them tips on what Hull is like to visit.
The Tigers have something of an injury crisis on their hands, with Michael Dawson and Nikica Jelavic both still out. So the Saints will expect to head back south with all three points and a firm grip on second.
The weekend’s other fixtures:
SATURDAYEverton v SwanseaLeicester v West BromStoke v West Ham
SUNDAYAston Villa v Tottenham
MONDAYCrystal Palace v Sunderland