Our reporters expect the champions to pick up a point at the Emirates and think Roberto Mancini's table-toppers will fail to overcome Spurs at the Etihad StadiumWith the season well into it’s second-half, teams have the chance to make amends for mistakes, performances and results earlier in the campaign, and this weekend in particular offers that opportunity.
The round’s two showpiece matches see Manchester City welcome Tottenham to the Etihad Stadium in the early kick-off on Sunday, before being followed by Manchester United’s trip to Arsenal.
Few will have forgotten the results from these fixtures back in August as Arsene Wenger’s injury-ravaged side capitulated at Old Trafford, losing 8-2, while Spurs lost 5-1 at home to an Edin Dzeko-inspired City as the Bosnian scored four, and the London clubs will be eager for revenge.
Before that mouth-watering Sunday action however, eight matches will take place on Saturday with Chelsea’s away-day in Norfolk kicking off the weekend, and a win for Norwich could see them move up to eighth, while Andre Villas-Boas’ side look to close the gap the top three.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Mark Hughes will continue his attempted revival of QPR as the Hoops welcome bottom club Wigan to Loftus Road, while fellow relegation battlers Blackburn Rovers face a tough match at Goodison Park where Everton await them.
Wolves will be hoping to bounce back from their FA Cup exit at the hands of Birmingham on Wednesday when they face fellow Midlanders Aston Villa while Mick McCarthy's former club, Sunderland, host a Swansea outfit no doubt buoyant following Sunday's win over Arsenal.
Saturday also sees Fulham host Newcastle and West Brom travel to Stoke with a view to putting their run of four consecutive league defeats to an end.
The evening kick off then sees Liverpool make the relatively short trip to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton, with Kenny Dalglish's men still looking for their first league win of 2012.
Our reporters have stuck their necks on the line yet again with their predictions ahead of another fascinating Premier League weekend.
GEORGE ANKERS says...
Chelsea captain John Terry declared on Wednesday that he is still aiming for the title and, with the other four of the top five squaring off against each other, this trip to Norwich City is a vital one. That is certainly true, but it will be far from a 'gimme' for the Blues. They were made to struggle mightily before finally seeing off the Canaries when the two teams met at Stamford Bridge early in the season and there is no question that the home side will feel that they can pull off an upset on Saturday.
It will certainly be a tough start to life in a blue shirt should Andre Villas-Boas hand new £7m recruit Gary Cahill a debut, with Norwich's strong, defence-rattling forwards Steve Morison and Grant Holt having been complemented by the improving form of the pacy Simeon Jackson in recent weeks. The Blues will be forced to play either an unfamiliar centre-back pairing or an existing-but-unconvincing one, and it is their back line on which the game may hinge.
It will be fascinating to compare how Chelsea tackle a challenging atmosphere to how their nearest rivals, Tottenham and Arsenal, did, both of whom emerged with comfortable wins - and I have a feeling that the west Londoners could underline their work-in-progress status by stuttering at Carrow Road.
JAKE WATSON says...
Blackburn’s win against Fulham in their last fixture was costly as Yakubu was sent off, robbing this game of its main talking point. The Nigerian striker left Goodison in the summer for just £1m and has gone on to be a huge hit for Steve Kean at Rovers.
Everton have struggled for goals all season where as Rovers have been shipping them at both ends of the pitch. David Moyes has a well drilled side that offers few thrills and despite Steve Kean being under incredible pressure from the clubs fans he has the Rovers players fighting for him and playing an exciting brand of football.
Everton will be expected to get a result against Blackburn, who are sitting just above the drop zone, though I fancy a confident display from the visitors taking advantage of David Moyes’ injury hit side. I think Blackburn will edge this one.
JAY JAFFA says...
Currently only seven teams have spent longer in the Premier League than Fulham, but as Martin Jol's revolution continues to blow hot and cold, fans will be staring perilously at their current predicament.
Their traditionally strong home form has flattered to deceive this term, churning out just five wins from 10 games at Craven Cottage, leaving the club in 14th position.
Alan Pardew meanwhile, has overseen huge changes at Newcastle since being given the brief to continue where Chris Hughton left off. Following Mike Ashley's decision to cash-in on the troublesome egos of Andy Carroll, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan, Pardew's squad have a more Gallic charm.
There is a less high-profile feel to his team, but results have continued to surprise pundits in what is their second season back in the top-flight.
Back-to-back wins over Manchester United and QPR have seen the Magpies climb towards the European places their strong early form suggested they may occupy come May. A word of warning though – Newcastle are historically woeful travellers to London and make the trip without two key men in Demba Ba and Cheikh Tiote.
JOE DOYLE says...
Mark Hughes didn't exactly get off to the perfect start this week with QPR, starting with a loss away at Newcastle, followed by a narrow win over League One opposition in the form of MK Dons.
And he now faces his first real test as manager with the crunch match against fellow relegation strugglers Wigan. Hughes said following the FA Cup win that he would hope his team were better organised after a longer break between matches, and they will have to be if they are to halt their current slump in league form.
Roberto Martinez's men have been a mixed bag of late: they took points from games against Liverpool, Stoke and Chelsea in recent weeks, but have also slipped with some disappointing results against Sunderland and Swindon in the FA Cup.
It will be a very tight game, but if Hughes can get his tactics right and the best out of his team, they should win. I think it will be a draw though, with Wigan posing a threat on the counter attack with players such as Victor Moses and Crusat.
|West Bromwich Albion
SAM BISBY says...
It’s been a contrasting month for the two sides set to meet at the Britannia Stadium this Saturday, with Stoke City taking at least a share of the spoils in all of their Premier League outings since the New Year, whereas West Brom’s success has only been in the FA Cup as they haven’t even collected a single point in January.
Tony Pulis will have been particularly pleased with his side’s efforts at Anfield last weekend, forcing Liverpool into their seventh home draw of the campaign and currently the Potters sit in an impressive eighth position in the top-flight.
The midlands outfit meanwhile are five points off the drop zone and three losses already this month have not helped their progression into a safer position and an afternoon at Stoke doesn’t look like an opportunity they will be able to make the most of.
ROB STEWART says...
Beating Arsenal on home turf is one thing but Swansea are about to find out that winning at Sunderland is an altogether different and tougher proposition.
Brendan Rogers inspired his side to raise their collective game against the Gunners and recorded one of the club’s most famous victories, but it would be a better measure of the Swans’ Premier League credentials if they do not come down to earth with a bump on Wearside.
The Arsenal win is bound to have taken a lot out of the Welsh side and Sunderland, who showed they are a force to be reckoned with in their 1-0 defeat at Chelsea last weekend, will be poised to exploit any weaknesses.
Martin O’Neill has invigorated the Wearside club and if – and admittedly it’s a big if -Nicklas Bendtner remembers his shooting boots to silence his doubters then Swansea should be given a reality check while the Black Cats maintain their upward mobility.
JOEL LAMY says...
The obvious talking point for this fixture is the return of Robbie Keane to Wolves, the place where he first made his name as a teenager. It was interesting to note Alex McLeish say Keane had teamed up well with fellow Irishman Stephen Ireland in training and a first start can now be expected for the much-travelled striker.
Aside from Keane’s return, the reaction of Wolves to their disappointing cup upset against rivals Birmingham will be important. After their late loss to Chelsea, where Mick McCarthy fumed in his post-match press conference, they went and drew at White Hart Lane, so expect a response in this fixture as the Wolves boss was clearly upset with their defeat once again.
A Midlands derby, this match should be fiercely competed with both managers favouring gritty, determined players, but on paper and form these two teams appear to cancel themselves out.
DAVID LYNCH says...
The struggles endured by Owen Coyle's Bolton this season are well documented and they are unlikely to have earmarked back-to-back outings against Manchester United and Liverpool as fixtures where they may pick up the points to get them out of the relegation battle.
Last weekend they were outclassed and outthought at Old Trafford but the Trotters may well feel more comfortable facing equally illustrious opponents on their home turf.
The Reds themselves are not without their troubles after yet another disappointing draw at home to Stoke City in their last game. Though they remain unbeaten at home, they may well feel the shackles come off when they face sides away from the high-pressure atmosphere at Anfield.
Kenny Dalglish's men have in fact won more games away from their famous ground (5) than they have at home (4) and, facing a side who are clearly struggling, they will be confident of picking up the points to resurrect their top four challenge.
What their charismatic Scot might say about their Champions League hopes if they were to fail to pick up maximum points here could be very interesting indeed.
GREG STOBART says...
Who could have predicted a few years ago that this fixture would pit the leading club in Manchester against the top team in north London?
In the last two seasons, Champions League qualification has been riding on this fixture and I’m looking forward to seeing how each side copes with title talk surrounding the game this year.
City have a perfect home record in the Premier League this season but on Sunday it could come under its sternest test with the hosts missing the influence of Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany.
Roberto Mancini’s side have been superb at the Etihad Stadium this season but if they have looked vulnerable, it has been against teams that play on the counter-attack.
Spurs’ speed and skill mean they will ask questions of the City defence but I think the visitors will miss the influence of on-loan striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who is ineligible to play against his parent club.
WAYNE VEYSEY says...
The Manchester derby has become more compelling. And Manchester United-Liverpool is more intense.
But this fixture still retains a lustre of its own even though Arsenal have been left trailing in the wake of the club that counted Arsene Wenger's team as their strongest rivals either side of the millennium.
It will be intriguing to see not only how Arsenal treat the opponetns who humiliated them with an unforgettable 8-2 walloping last August but how their supporters approach it too.
Will there be severe tension at Emirates Stadium? A sense of revenge? It will certainly be hard for the home side to treat this as an ordinary fixture given the historical importance of the occasion and the recent memories of Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, Arsenal were terribly weakened by injury that day and embarked on a shopping spree immediately afterwards that brought five new players to the club in 48 hours.
Despite losing their last two Premier League games, Arsenal can fondly recall the surprise 1-0 win against United last May. A repeat on Sunday will reignite their hope of Champions League qualification.
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The unpredictability of the Premier League was clear for all to see yet again last weekend, with Arsenal's defeat to Swansea and Tottenham's disappointing draw with Wolves at White Hart Lane the most prominent shocks. However, congratulations are in order for Greg Stobart, who correctly foresaw Manchester United's 3-0 victory over Bolton.
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