Last weekend we were treated to a mixed bag on the entertainment front, with Chelsea’s 3-3 draw with Manchester United enthralling all who watched, while Tottenham’s trip to Liverpool was remembered more for Kenny Dalglish’s post-match comments than football, but maybe this week’s treat will be consistency.
Manchester United versus Liverpool, the Premier League’s definition of ‘the big one’, kicks off the action on Saturday, with the match expected to see Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez go head-to-head – hopefully not literally, of course – for the first time since the Uruguayan was alleged to have racially abused the left-back in October.
United will be looking to overtake Manchester City, at least for 24 hours, with a win. Roberto Mancini’s side will have to wait until Sunday before they get play, travelling to Aston Villa, who seem to be on a bit of a landslide at the moment having won just one of their last five.
Fellow title contenders Tottenham welcome surprise Champions League chasers Newcastle United to White Hart Lane in Saturday’s late kick off as Harry Redknapp looks set to return to the dugout, while Spurs’ fierce rivals Arsenal travel to Sunderland earlier in the day.
Chelsea will also be involved in a three o’clock kick-off, heading up to Goodison Park to face Everton, seeking to improve their chances of a Champions League finish, while Swansea welcome Norwich, and Stoke go to Fulham.
Strugglers Bolton and Blackburn both have the pleasure of home matches as they face QPR and Wigan, respectively, while Sunday’s early match is a Black Country derby between Wolves and West Brom at Molineux.
Once again, Goal.com's expert reporters will be on hand to provide you with quality coverage and analysis, but here's what they think may unfold over the weekend.
GREG STOBART SAYS...
After the drama of the last few days, we can get down to the business that really matters. And I don’t mean handshakes.
Luis Suarez is likely to come up against United for the first time since his eight-match ban for racially abusing defender Patrice Evra and, while the pair will shake hands before kick-off, the Uruguayan can expect a hostile reception at Old Trafford.
It will be interesting to see whether the abuse from the home fans spurs Suarez on, or if he shows the signs of frustration and petulance that were apparent when he came on as a substitute in Monday night’s 0-0 draw with Tottenham.
For United, this is not about beating their greatest rivals, but about picking up three points to put pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester City. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side showed tremendous heart to draw 3-3 against Chelsea last weekend but they still lost two points on City.
Old Trafford will be angry on Saturday lunchtime, and Suarez could have an uncomfortable afternoon, but I expect the match to follow a similar pattern to the rather dull FA Cup tie between the sides two weeks ago. I’m tipping United to edge a narrow victory.
JAKE WATSON SAYS...
With just three points separating these two sides this fixture will be seen as a must-win by both sets of supporters. QPR were the busiest side in Premier League during the transfer window, bringing in no less than six players, while Blackburn’s window was all about keeping hold of their best players, where they succeeded as both sides gave themselves their best chance of surviving the dreaded drop.
QPR transfer target and Blackburn defender Chris Samba is unlikely to be involved after his wish to leave the club was blocked though they will welcome back Yakubu from his suspension which will come as a huge boost to Steve Kean’s men. QPR strengthened impressively upfront with the capture of Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse though the latter will sit this one out after being sent off against Wolves.
The season is approaching crunch time for both clubs as they try to pull away from the drop zone and, with both sides seeing this as a winnable fixture, I expect them to go all out for the win.
ALEX FISHER SAYS...
When you are faced with a game between two of the bottom sides in the league there is part of you that thinks 'this is going to be dreadful' but, having experienced Wigan against Blackburn earlier this season, I am confident that this game will have plenty of action.
Bolton have improved in recent weeks and have not lost at the Reebok since Boxing Day. Wigan will be glad to get away from the DW Stadium where they have not won since August and their away form has been slightly better, with two of their three wins coming on the road.
The Latics really need a victory in this game to avoid getting set adrift at the bottom of the table so they have to attack and look to score a few goals, however, Bolton’s recent improvements should see them record a narrow victory.
DAVID LYNCH SAYS...
Having not lost in the league in five outings - one of those being a victory over league leaders Manchester City - it appears that Everton may just be about to perform their usual trick of hitting a run of form toward the end of the season after an indifferent start.
They face a Chelsea side whose confidence will be severely rocked, having blown a three-goal lead against Manchester United last week to draw at Stamford Bridge. That said, they have already posted victory at Goodison Park earlier this season in the League Cup.
On a personal note I am excited to see a Toffees side with more cutting edge, thanks to the addition of Nikica Jelavic and Steven Pienaar. But, as a probable lone outlet, the Croatian striker is likely to have his work cut out for him getting beyond a Blues defence which is boosted by the return of John Terry.
Home advantage, however, may just ensure David Moyes' side get a point, which would be considered a fine result.
WAYNE VEYSEY SAYS...
I am looking forward to seeing what life is like for Fulham without their Bobby Dazzler. Or, indeed, a proven centre-forward of any description.
Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey were shunted forward into more advanced roles against Manchester City last weekend but it proved to be an unhappy experience for the pair, who prefer to operate in attacking midfield roles.
Deadline day signing Pavel Pogrebnyak overcame an extensive medical in Munich and work permit issues to move to Craven Cottage and, while Saturday may prove too early for his debut, he will eventually be expected to take over the targetman role from Zamora.
The England international's departure from Fulham was a calculated gamble by Martin Jol, who has promised to imbue the Londoners with greater flair and far less reliance on the early 30-somethings who have performed so capably in recent years.
ROB STEWART SAYS...
Martin O’Neill is famed for his motivational skills and the Sunderland manager will have to put them to good use when Arsenal head to Wearside needing to invigorate their push for a Champions League place.
O’Neill will have to revive his own players following their midweek exertions in the FA Cup replay at Middlesbrough that went to extra-time and is bound to leave his team heavy-legged.
Arsenal’s season could very well be defined by the two visits to the Stadium of Light, as they return to Sunderland next weekend for their FA Cup fifth-round tie, and they could do with Thierry Henry to re-produce the exploits of one of his previous visits to Wearside.
It was in 1993 when he received a standing ovation from all four corners of the ground as Arsenal demolished Mick McCarthy’s doomed Sunderland side 4-0. With O’Neill around it will not be as one-sided but Arsenal should take advantage of weary opposition.
CHRIS TEALE SAYS...
These two promoted sides have impressed so far, winning praise from all corners for their respective styles of play. The Swans in particular have gained plaudits for a slick passing game that has seen them beat Arsenal at home and hold Chelsea to a draw at Stamford Bridge this season, with some of their players being touted for England call-ups. Norwich have also been impressive, with manager Paul Lambert earning much praise for instilling a superb work-rate and drive in his players.
This game will be very evenly matched, and is infinitely winnable for both teams, as they are both in the top half of the Premier League table. However, given the formidable home form that has seen the Swans lose only one game at the Liberty Stadium all year, Brendan Rodgers' men will be confident of gaining the three points here, and should have enough to overcome the challenge of the Canaries.
JAY JAFFA SAYS...
What a week for Tottenham! It began with a well-earned point at Anfield, improved as Harry Redknapp was acquitted on charges of tax evasion, but ended with England announcing the departure of Fabio Capello.
Naturally, Redknapp, the bookmakers favourite, is widely anticipated to take charge of England's Euro 2012 campaign and although Spurs fans will pray his devotion to their chase for Champions League football remains unaffected, the next few weeks will be telling.
What must not be forgotten is the importance of the late kick off on Saturday. Third host fifth in the Premier League and another contender for the England job, Alan Pardew, will be aiming to make it five wins from six as Newcastle push for Europe too.
I expect the Magpies, boosted by their new number nine Papiss Demba Cisse, to have a go at Tottenham. I'm predicting goals too, but any attacking intent from the away side could well play into the hands of Redknapp's Spurs.
| West Brom
SAM BISBY SAYS...
The Black County derby has returned as Wolves host their neighbours and fierce rivals West Bromwich Albion in what is one of the world’s oldest match-ups of its type, with both these sides being founding members of the English Football League.
Roy Hodgson’s outfit ran out as victors at the first meeting of the season with a 2-0 win at the Hawthorns, but Mick McCarthy’s men might take some solace in their last result at Molineux against the Baggies being a 3-1 victory.
It’s been a topsy turvy year so far for McCarthy, with the Barnsley native having more negatives than positives thrown his way and his position as Wanderers boss is beginning to look somewhat shaky as they struggle to break free of the drop zone.
With neither side having any sort of consistency in their form the match on Sunday is a tough call and the result will most likely fall to the team who rise the occasion with the most.
JOEL LAMY SAYS...
Two teams in need of a win come to face-to-face but the need for three points is for different reasons. Aston Villa have started to slip down the table and, despite Robbie Keane’s introduction resulting in an increase in goals, defensively there are problems to address. Alex McLeish has to decide whether to stick with the out-of-form Stephen Warnock at left-back and if Charles N’Zogbia – who recently tweeted about his discontent at Villa Park – deserves to keep his place in the team.
Roberto Mancini has different concerns, notably how he can get his team to start winning away from home. With Mario Balotelli still suspended the spotlight will once again be on Edin Dzeko to see if he can fire his team to an important victory
There should be a few goals in this game but I’m expecting Manchester City to edge it and pile more pressure on McLeish.
||2 CORRECT 2 PERFECT 6 WRONG
Overall, a bittersweet week for our reporters last time out with the overriding stat being six incorrect predictions, however, we had two perfect calls. Firstly, Greg Stobart correctly forecasted Manchester City's 3-0 win over Fulham, while Rob Stewart followed suit, being spot on with Newcastle's 2-1 win at home to Aston Villa.