Manchester City’s 6-1 demolition of rivals Manchester United was arguably the biggest shock in Premier League history.
Of course, the squad housed at the Etihad Stadium is bordering on the sublime, but United are United – they are Premier League wizards – and they were taught a shuddering spell on their home turf.
But like a club captain stepping forward to take his side’s first penalty of a shoot-out, it is Sir Alex Ferguson side who feature first this weekend, as they travel to Goodison Park for their clash with Everton.
Just 45 minutes after the whistle is blown in Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal will commence battle at Stamford Bridge, on the turf which the Blues' fans failed to conquer in a midweek vote held by the Chelsea Pitch Owners.
The three o’clock kick-offs see Manchester City, fresh from their midweek win over Mick McCarthy’s Wolves face, well, Mick McCarthy’s Wolves, while Norwich host Blackburn at Carrow Road.
Darren Bent returns to the Stadium of Light for the first since leaving Sunderland for Aston Villa in January, as Bolton travel to Swansea and Fulham take the trip north to Wigan.
Saturday’s action concludes with Roy Hodgson’s reunion with Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool, in the late kick-off at The Hawthorns.
Following a frantic showcase of football last Sunday, this weekend sees just the one Premier League game on the schedule, as QPR face Tottenham at White Hart Lane. A familiar setting for Adel Taarabt, with familiar bus routes no doubt.
The final curtain on this round of Premier League action comes down in the Potteries, as Stoke City welcome Newcastle United to the Britannia Stadium on Monday night.
So with another 10 matches on offer, here’s what our reporters envisage from the weekend’s fixtures...
GREG STOBART says...
After the darkest day of his footballing career, how will Sir Alex Ferguson respond to Manchester United's drubbing at the hands of Manchester City last week?
United took a small step on Tuesday night with a 3-0 over Aldershot, but a trip to Goodison Park will be the true test of their mental strength in the wake of a result no-one could possibly have foreseen.
It will be interesting to see what sort of balance Sir Alex strikes between showing faith in his squad and admonishing the stars who failed him at Old Trafford on Sunday. Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Anderson could well find themselves out of the starting line-up.
The atmosphere is always hostile when Wayne Rooney returns to Merseyside but he has proved in the past that he can produce a positive response to abuse from the stands at Goodison Park. As one of the senior men in this young United squad, it will be up to him to lead by example and get things back on track.
RICHARD PARRY says...
Saturday's game is expected to mark Fernando Torres' return to Premier League action, having missed the past three fixtures following his dismissal in the victory over Swansea.
Having seen the Spaniard quietly rediscover his form in Europe, Andre Villas-Boas has been afforded another dodge of the selection bullet which plagued the final months of Carlo Ancelotti's tenure, with Didier Drogba collecting a red in the derby defeat to QPR.
But Torres hasn't been the only one finding his form, Arsenal are on the way too.
Arsene Wenger's side, since losing to Tottenham, have won four games on the trot, and victory against Marseille - in which their defence stood firm - places the Gunners in good stead for their trip to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea's defence is rocking, and Robin van Persie is on fire, so Torres will need to make his impact on domestic duties an immediate one.
JONATHAN BIRCHALL says...
It took only 90 minutes and six goals for Manchester City to emerge from their neighbours’ shadow and into the Premier League spotlight, as Roberto Mancini’s men caused Sir Alex Ferguson a nightmare at the Theatre of Dreams last Sunday.
I’m expecting a raucous homecoming for City when they return to the Etihad Stadium to face Wolves and it will be fascinating to see how the Italian’s side respond. Can they maintain their professionalism or dare they believe the hype?
The Blues face an interesting prospect in Mick McCarthy’s outfit, who will have no doubt been bolstered by their late fightback at home to Swansea, but may still be hurting from the jeers that came their way in Saturday’s 2-2 draw. The former Republic of Ireland boss has slammed the, in his words, “idiot” boo boys, but a hammering in Manchester is unlikely to keep them quiet.
GEORGE ANKERS says...
After deservedly stealing a point from a rollercoaster match at Anfield last weekend, Norwich are buzzing ahead of Saturday's game. Paul Lambert's side have won many admirers for the stylish way that they have raced into the top half of the table, with the enterprising wing play of Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington particular highlights. The Scottish manager certainly seems to have the better grasp of his team's strengths and limitations, and knows when to bring on substitutes to change the game, as evidenced by Grant Holt's instant impact against Liverpool.
Blackburn's thrilling 4-3 extra-time victory in the League Cup against Newcastle was their first win since September 20, with their disappointing form up until then leaving them bottom of the Premier League with just five points. It's fair to say that Steve Kean still has yet to win over Rovers fans, who will demand that they build on Wednesday's win against what should, on paper, be a weaker team, and a loss here could cause the sack race to get serious.
They will find it tough going, though. Norwich have won two in a row at Carrow Road, backed by a boisterous home following, and their more consistent performances should see them favourites to add a third. Rovers clearly have it in them to pull off spectacular wins, as evidenced as well by the 4-3 triumph over Arsenal in September, but they inspire no great confidence. Expect the Canaries to prevail in this one.
SIMON SINCLAIR says...
Darren Bent makes his first return to the Stadium of Light on Saturday since his move to Aston Villa from Sunderland in January, and have no doubt the home fans will let him know what they think of him.
Steve Bruce will be hoping to build off last week’s win over Bolton which eased the pressure on him slightly however more performances of that nature are needed for Bruce to comfortable.
Villa weren’t great against West Brom, with their midfield was out-battled even when they did have 11 men on the pitch, and this must improve against the Black Cats.
Alex McLeish must figure a way to bring Bent and Charles N’Zogbia into the game more as last week they were spectators as on their day they can cause any defence in the league problems.
Sunderland looked to have turned the corner if they can keep up that level of performance shown last week I can see them beating Villa comfortably; however, Bent could hurt his old club.
| Swansea City
SAM BISBY says...
Swansea put on quite a display to worry Wolves at Molineux last weekend and would have taken their first away win in the Premier League if it wasn’t for some slack defending and a resurgent effort from Mick McCarthy’s men. However, they can take many positives from that game and use that confidence against a side that is a little hit and miss right now.
Bolton got their second victory away from home almost a fortnight ago, but in their latest outing slumped to their fifth home defeat of the season against Sunderland and need to start adding a bit of consistency to their efforts or it is safe to say the relegation zone may become a regular placement for Owen Coyle’s side.
Saturday’s hosts, unlike their guests, are currently unbeaten on their own turf and will be a stubborn force to break down for the Trotters as the Lancashire outfit attempt to break free of the bottom three once more.
ALEX FISHER says...
It’s been a tough start for Wigan and Fulham, with both sides in the bottom four of the league with one win apiece, so this could be the first six-pointer of the campaign.
This game with be Fulham’s 22nd of the season so Martin Jol will be hoping that fatigue doesn’t play a factor and all eyes will be on the strike force of Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson to start finding the net again.
The early return of Hugo Rodallega has been a huge boost for the Latics and he, along with Victor Moses, hold the key to their revival.
A draw looks the more likely result but the importance of three points should drive both teams to push for a victory, and I expect to see the visiting fans celebrating their first away win of the season at the end of the game.
|West Bromwich Albion
JOEL LAMY says...
As with last year, the attention for this match will centre around the West Brom manager. Roy Hodgson endured a horrible time at Liverpool last season, being sacked after just 191 days in the job, but got some revenge when the Baggies won this fixture 2-1 last year. And no matter what he says, he will hope to put another one over his former club.
Liverpool may be unbeaten in four matches, but their failure to beat Norwich last week will be seen as two points dropped. Kenny Dalglish needs to sort out his attacking set-up and Andy Carroll could be the man to help Luis Suarez find the back of the net.
West Brom showed their spirit last week in overturning a deficit without their top scorer and they will need to show it again with Liverpool looking to close the gap on fourth place.
JOSH CLARKE says...
Tottenham have looked strong of late and, more importantly, they’ve been mighty stealthy about it too. Ten games unbeaten – thanks in part to Rafael van der Vaart, who is seemingly back to his majestic best - have left Spurs clinging to the tailcoats of the Premier League’s frontrunners.
The remarkable ill discipline that allowed QPR to pick Chelsea’s pocket for three points has left Neil Warnock’s team in a similarly respectable position, though it’s very difficult to see the Hoops pulling off back-to-back wins for the first time this season at White Hart Lane.
Despite Warnock’s assurances, it’s very much the Joey Barton show down at Loftus Road and it’s abundantly clear that the recently assembled support acts are yet to plateau at a consistent level.
I would like to see another Van der Vaart stonker – it’s been a long time. Failing that, Barton never lets down in the entertainment department.
ED MALYON says...
It's almost become a cliché now to say it, but no team looks forward to a trip to the Britannia and Newcastle's visit will be a true test of their credentials for a top-six finish.
If they're to overcome the Potters, then they will need to address the aerial threat of Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, something that Fabricio Coloccini has occasionally struggled with. That said, their midfield has been outstanding this season and they seem able to eke goals from nowhere, like Yohan Cabaye's strike last weekend.
Expect a tight game, and a low-scoring draw.
||2 CORRECT 1 PERFECT 7 WRONG
Understandably, City’s thunderous result at Old Trafford caught us off guard. Nonetheless, Matt Monaghan stole the show with his perfectly predicted 2-2 draw between Wolves and Swansea.
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