Man City v Tottenham
The first of the weekend’s stand-out fixtures brings two of the Premier League’s showpiece sides who could be performing better of late. Despite only being two points off the pace, Manchester City will be disappointed about how things have prevailed, seeing their European hopes dashed for a second year, and struggling to overcome sides like West Brom, Swansea and West Ham in the League. Goals haven’t been as abundant as they were 12 months ago, and they could be vulnerable to a fired-up Tottenham side.
Tottenham however, haven’t been fired-up like the side that finished fourth last season. They have taken a mere 8 points from a possible 18 at home, succumbing to draws from West Brom and Norwich, and most recently a defeat by Wigan. Andre Villas-Boas is still yet to prove himself as a Premier League manager, guiding Chelsea to their lowest-placed finish of the Abramovich era, and having a slow start with Spurs this year. However, Tottenham do excel as an away side and their last visit to Manchester brought a 3-2 victory at Old Trafford, which will give them renewed hope.
This was a 3-2 thriller last year, with a 95th minute Balotelli penalty being the difference between the sides. If Bale, Dembele and Vertonghen are on-song on Sunday then we could see something similar. But Manchester City have to be favoured. They have an ability to find goals when they matter, and with the behemoth of attacking talent that Tottenham lack, they look the team to break open the opposition defence.
VERDICT: MAN CITY
Chelsea v Liverpool
Glen Johnson’s late winner gave Liverpool a valuable three points in this fixture last year and again it looks like this could be a tough encounter for Chelsea. The Blues are on the back having played Tottenham, Man Utd and Swansea in succession and this has caused them to drop to second place in the League. Home games are crucial if Chelsea are to mount a serious threat for the title, including this fixture, and so we would expect them to be performing here.
Liverpool have again ruled themselves out of contention in the title race, calming the pre-season buzz. Europe is realistically their top aim as of now but a win against Chelsea would be a good turning point to a forgettable season so far. Recent results have brought 2 wins and 3 draws from the last 5 so confidence should be present across the team.
Chelsea will be rocked after a slip-up at Swansea so this game should be closer than the League standings would suggest. With Chelsea needing to win to mount a genuine title threat, a close 2-1 home win is appealing, with the ever impressive Eden Hazard being the stand-out man.
Aston Villa v Manchester United
It’s difficult to look against Manchester United here, in full confidence after going top. Villa did however manage a win last weekend, but that was against a Sunderland side in all sorts of trouble. They will struggle to contain a quality United team who will be looking to send out a statement to title rivals. Fellow contenders Chelsea and Manchester City both have tough games come Sunday and so a high scoring victory for Man Utd would really mount on the pressure.
Sir Alex Ferguson publicly stated that he wasn’t happy with his side’s finishing recently and would like to see them to convert chances into goals more often. If Robin van Persie can continue his lethal run of form then this shouldn’t be too much a problem. They haven’t defended as well as they can this season but then Aston Villa should offer less in the way of goal threat. They may be able to steal a goal with strikers like Agbonlahor, Bent and Benteke fit and so a 0-3 or 1-3 victory is favourable.
VERDICT: MAN UTD
Arsenal v Fulham
Arsenal will be without Jack Wilshere after his dismissal at Old Trafford last weekend. Aaron Ramsey also misses out due to a groin strain, so an in-form Theo Walcott looks certain to come in. Walcott has been Arsenal’s stand-out man recently, looking more and more like a centre forward and it is possible he could get on the scoresheet again here. Arsenal have struggled for wins of late, and this could be a tricky home tie for them, but will have the advantage over a Fulham side who have experienced mixed fortunes since their 5-0 opening day romp over Norwich. Fulham’s last six games have been settled by a goal or less, including draws at Premier League newcomers Southampton and Reading, which would suggest they would find it difficult to overcome Arsenal at the Emirates.
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