Our reporters are expecting the league leaders to pick up their first defeat of the season and Sir Alex Ferguson's champions to bounce back from miserable week on the continent
It has been a week of woe for most of the country's top sides, with Liverpool kicking off the hoodoo with a controversial defeat to Fulham at Craven Cottage on Monday to leave them stumbling in the race for the top four. The Reds will look to bounce back against QPR on Saturday, with Neil Warnock's side travelling to Anfield.
The next Premier League giant to fall was Arsenal, whose under-strength side fell to a 3-1 defeat in the Champions League against Olympiakos on Tuesday. Arsene Wenger's men had already progressed through to the knockout stages, but there can be little doubt that the Frenchman will be expecting his team to pick up a positive result against Everton as to continue their recent upturn in form.
The biggest losers of the week unquestionably came from Manchester, with both City and United crashing out of the Champions League at the first hurdle. Sir Alex Ferguson's men were embarrassed in Basel and will go into Saturday's clash with Wolves a little shaken, whereas their table-topping neighbours will look to maintain their superb domestic run when they travel to Chelsea on Monday night in a potentially huge title match-up.
Elsewhere in the division, Aston Villa travel to Bolton on Saturday whilst Swansea host Fulham at the Liberty Stadium.
Struggling Wigan will look to climb off the foot of the table away to Roy Hodgson's West Brom side and Newcastle will look to pick up their first win in four in a potentially tricky clash away to Norwich after losing at home to Chelsea last week.
Sunday kicks off with Martin O'Neill's first game in the Sunderland dugout as the Black Cats host Blackburn, who will no doubt be feeling buoyant after their win over Swansea last weekend.
Also feeling confident will be Tottenham, who are aiming to increase their recent unbeaten run to 12 games away to a Stoke side chasing a third straight league win after overcoming Blackburn and Everton in recent weeks.
It's another jam-packed weekend in the ever enthralling Premier League and our reporters have put forward their predictions for the 10 forthcoming matches...
JOSH CLARKE says...
Last time I was at the Emirates you could almost taste the discomfort in the air. Yet I hazard a guess that a couple of months – plus the Champions League exit of two of your supposedly more equipped rivals – will make a colossal difference.
Back then, it was only Robin van Persie pulling his weight but this time round, I’m looking forward to a performance from a much more cohesive unit. The Gunners have evolved beyond measure as this season has developed and I’m intrigued to see how Wenger’s midfield three function.
Everton are about as inconsistent as a Louis Saha haircut at the moment and I fear they may be brushed aside by an Arsenal side brimming with confidence – with old boy Mikel Arteta pulling the strings.
SAM BISBY says...
Alex McLeish is having a hard time of it lately at Aston Villa, but has insisted he’s “no quitter” after a string of results that sees them without a win since Bonfire Night and still missing that elusive away victory.
The Scotsman has bemoaned the lack of creativity and scoring in his ranks and is looking to the likes of the so far disappointing Charles N’Zogbia and Darren Bent to start lighting up the pitch for the Villans, with the former set to return to the starting lineup after breaching club discipline and being dropped to the bench for the game against Manchester United.
Bolton meanwhile seem to have reverted back to their slumping form, losing all three games since their 5-0 thrashing of Stoke City, which is the Trotters' only home win of the season so far. They could be the perfect team for an ailing Villa side to face and get their inaugural win on their travels this campaign.
DAVID LYNCH says...
Despite five draws in just seven homes games this season, Kenny Dalglish's side remain hard to bet against at Anfield.
Their six-game unbeaten run may have ended after a 1-0 defeat to Fulham on Monday but the Reds can count themselves extremely unfortunate after having a goal disallowed and a man sent off, both controversially.
Fulham's winner came courtesy of a rare Pepe Reina mistake and, should the Spaniard avoid such blunders here, then the Reds' defence may well prove as impenetrable as it has in previous weeks.
Neil Warnock’s men have yet to draw a game away from home this season, having won three and lost four, but a sensible approach here may be to seek the one point which so many have successfully plundered at Anfield.
That said, Liverpool have struck the woodwork 11 times this season and it feels like someone may soon be on the end of a hiding.
ROB STEWART says...
Mick McCarthy ended up in trouble with the football authorities for sending a severely weakened Wolves side up to Old Trafford as he effectively wrote off the points, but with the champions looking more vulnerable than ever the Yorkshireman should be bullish about the prospects for success this time.
With key midfielders Tom Cleverley and Anderson out injured, United are looking vulnerable and McCarthy, whose club received a £25,000 fine when 10 first-teamers were rested at the Theatre of Dreams, should fancy his chances of rubbing salt into the Red Devils’ wounds following their Champions League exit in Basel.
The pressure will be on United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to get his team back to winning ways after their Champions League calamity and while they should edge this one it is bound to increase doubts about their chances of overtaking Manchester City in the title race.
GEORGE ANKERS says...
Things had been going ever so well for Newcastle until they received the double blow that both first-choice central defenders, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor, have been struck down by injury, the latter for the rest of the season. The Magpies' odds-defying march to the upper echelons of the Premier League table has been built on a strong, unchanged back line, but that is very much not the case anymore, with Mike Williamson still not expected to be quite fit enough to return, meaning that Alan Pardew will likely have to field the inexperienced James Perch alongside Tamas Kadar, who does not even have a squad number yet.
Expect the visitors to be vulnerable at the back, then, but, on the other hand, so should the hosts. Norwich still have yet to keep a clean sheet this season and shipped five away to Manchester City last week despite resolutely parking the bus throughout. Looking at the forward line, though, Paul Lambert seems to have a little more at his disposal than Pardew, with Steve Morison in an excellent run of form and perennial miracle substitute Grant Holt awaiting another chance to make a difference from the bench, just as he has done in three of the last five games.
I would previously have expected Newcastle to put up a fight but they now look like a gutted side at the back, so expect the Canaries to pick up a result.
| Swansea City
JOE WRIGHT says...
These two last met in the FA Cup in 2009, with an entire division to separate them; now, it’s just a single point.
After suffering a heavy defeat to bottom-club Blackburn last weekend, Swansea will be hoping to bounce back quickly. Brendan Rogers’ side’s impressive unbeaten run at the Liberty Stadium was ended by Manchester United only last month, and with the Swans now without a win in four, they will be looking to get back to winning ways against a Fulham side with an uninspiring away record.
Martin Jol’s men secured their first victory in five last Monday with aterrific 1-0 win over Liverpool, a result which moved them above their Welsh opponents in the table. But with the Cottagers struggling to score in recent weeks, they will be hard pushed to breach a Swansea defence which has conceded just two league goals at home all season.
JOEL LAMY says...
After three matches Wigan had five points and were lying sixth in the table, but once New Year comes around, after they play Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, they could be marooned at the bottom of the league. Therefore, this match at the Hawthorns has become an absolute must-win, but they are unlikely to have things their own way.
Roy Hodgson must be frustrated that as soon as he gets Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie back together he loses Zoltan Gera for the rest of the season. Added to that are the series of penalties which the Baggies seem unable to stop giving away at home, with their last three matches seeing the opposition score from the spot.
However, I find it difficult to see how they will not win against a poor Latics side who look open at the back and don’t offer much of a threat going forward.
| Blackburn Rovers
SIMON SINCLAIR says...
Martin O’Neill couldn’t have asked for more important game for his first match as Sunderland manager in what could be billed as a relegation six-pointer. The Black Cats will hope O’Neill can reinvigorate their season after back-to-back defeats to Wigan and Wolves.
The defeat to Wolves last week showed how brittle confidence is at the Stadium of Light and a result against fellow strugglers Blackburn will be just what the doctor ordered along with a few goals as Sunderland have lacked a clinical edge of late.
Rovers had a great result last time out and will look again to four-goal hero Yakubu to fire them to victory. Steve Kean’s men have played better football recently and will look to continue that on Wearside.
This game is crucial for both sides and could have major implications come later in the season, but I think the O’Neill effect might just be enough for the Black Cats to get the win they desperately need.
NICK PRICE says...
It's a lazy cliche that Stoke is a difficult place to pick up a result, and it is a received wisdom that does not reflect reality.
However, it is true that the swirling bowl of wind and grunts known as the Britannia Stadium is a gigantic thorn in the side of many teams with title aspirations. Chelsea and Manchester United, amongst others, have failed to come away from Stoke with three points in 2011, but with the way Tottenham are playing, Harry Redknapp will be far from happy to see his name added to the list of 'top six' managers to have settled for a point or been smashed into pieces in the Potteries.
Tottenham have been electric in recent weeks, with Gareth Bale typically effervescent. His sustained form has mirrored that of his team, and they should confirm their status as bona fide title challengers with an 11th win in 12 league games.
WAYNE VEYSEY says...
Manchester City, scorers of 48 goals in 14 Premier League games, have bizarrely been accused of being "boring" by Jens Lehmann in a critique that made little sense.
Chelsea fans would not have minded that kind of winning tedium in a campaign in which they have been too unpredictable for their own good at times, as a new style, high defensive line and gradual transformation of the team has unsurprisingly brought some mixed results.
I fully expect Andre Villas-Boas to stick with the counterattacking tactics that worked so well against Valencia in midweek, allowing City plenty of the ball and using the pace of Daniel Sturridge, Didier Drogba and Ramires on the break.
It will be fascinating to see how City's slickers react. Will they be patient and comfortable enough in their variety of attacking options to bide their time? If Didier Drogba gets into some good positions, how will Vincent Kompany and Co. handle him? He was unstoppable against Valencia, when hardly a defender on the planet would have lived with him.
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An improvement this week from our reporters with over half of the results predicted correctly from the last round of 10 games. Special mentions must go out to Joel Lamy and Sam Bisby, who rightly foresaw Manchester United's 1-0 win away to Aston Villa and Wolves' 2-1 victory over Sunderland respectively. Congratulations, gents!
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