Premier League Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Week 3

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

Premier League Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Week 3

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    Premier League teams are gearing up for their final fixture before the first international break of the season.

    A decent result at this stage could provide a vital boost. After this set of matches, the table will sit still for two weeks.

    The transfer window closes this Friday, meaning we'll finally get to see a clearer picture of each team's credentials.

    Will last minute signings have an impact? Or will marquee names fail to make an impression? We'll start to find out this week.

    Here, I look ahead to the six key battles from week three of the Premier League.

West Ham United vs Fulham

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    It's been an indifferent start to the Premier League for West Ham.

    Sam Allardyce's men took three points from Aston Villa on the opening day, but were resoundingly beaten by Swansea City last week. The Hammers conceded three poor goals against the Welsh side, and will be looking to bounce back against London rivals Fulham.

    Martin Jol's side will be content with how their first two fixtures have gone. A 5-0 thumping of Norwich was followed up by a decent display at Old Trafford, where the Cottagers narrowly missed out on snatching a point.

    The 3-2 away loss to Manchester United should be encouraging to Fulham fans. Jol has installed a sense of discipline into a team that no longer possesses the goal scoring power of Clint Dempsey.

    Another huge loss for Fulham is the departure of Moussa Dembele. Tottenham Hotspur have had a bid accepted for the versatile midfielder (via BBC Sport), who caused problems throughout the match against United.

    Dembele's speed, power, and direct style of play will be difficult to replace, but a positive result against West Ham will ease the pain.

    Key Battle: James Collins vs Mladen Petric

    The Englishman will be looking to overcome a torrid match against the Swans. His mistake lead directly to Miguel Michu's goal, and his performance lacked the stability he was bought for. With Dembele and Dempsey out, Fulham will look to serve Petric at every opportunity.

Tottenham Hotspur vs Norwich City

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    Andre Villas-Boas will be desperate to get a win against Norwich.

    Audible boos ran out across White Hart Lane last week after Spurs failed to beat a dogged West Brom side.

    The Portuguese manager is keen to shake things up at the club, but right now, he seems to be undoing a lot of the previous regime's hard work.

    Spurs are being linked with many high-profile signings as the transfer window draws to a close. Villas-Boas has already indicated he is willing to sell players that have been at the club for a long time, with Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone expected to make way.

    Aaron Lennon's name has been added to that list (via The Daily Mail), as the new boss continues to impose his authority.

    Emmanuel Adebayor should start against the Canaries. It's likely a handful of other signings will also be at the club within the next two days.

    Players such as Willian, Joao Moutinho and Nani have been linked with a move to North London. Right now, Dembele is most likely to join up with the rest of the squad in time for the match against Norwich.

    For Chris Hughton's side, anything other than a loss will be an excellent result.

    His team have started life after Paul Lambert slowly, suffering a 5-0 defeat to Fulham and drawing 1-1 with QPR. Gaining a point against Spurs would be a massive step in the right direction.

    Key Battle: Emmanuel Adebayor vs Sebastien Bassong

    Adebayor will terrorise the entire defence, but his contact against Bassong is pivotal. The French defender has only just left Spurs and will be looking to get one over his former teammates. Bassong needs to improve on his performance last week where he conceded a penalty. If he can, Villas-Boas might end another match frustrated.

West Bromwich Albion vs Everton

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    Both of these sides have enjoyed a scintillating start to the Premier League season.

    When the fixtures were first announced, new West Brom boss Steve Clarke would have been ruing his luck.

    An opening day encounter against Liverpool followed by a trip to Spurs is enough to worry any club. Four points later, Clarke will feel a lot better about his team's prospects against an impressive Everton outfit.

    David Moye's team have enjoyed plenty of praise already this season.

    A stunning victory over Manchester United was followed by an efficient dispatching of Aston Villa. The tag of 'Notorious Slow Starters' has finally been shook off via lethal attacking play and physicality.

    Central to this is the threat of Marouane Fellaini.

    The giant Belgian has been at the heart of Everton's productive play, often embarrassing the opposition with his powerhouse ability. It'll be interesting to see how he stacks up against a West Brom side that hasn't been intimidated so far this season.

    The Hawthorns crowd have a part to play in this one. If they can create a daunting atmosphere, the home side is likely to respond. Both teams will be desperate to keep their good form going in what should be a hard fought encounter.

    Key Battle: Jonas Olsson vs Marouane Fellaini

    Olsson is best equipped to deal with Fellaini's towering presence. Keeping him quiet will be the catalyst to any West Brom success. Luckily, both Olsson and Gareth McAuley match up to the man with the afro.

Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers

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    Hold on, haven't we seen this fixture before?

    Yes, it's forever ingrained into Premier League history. Sergio Aguero's title winning goal will be on the minds of all City fans this weekend, but that shouldn't distract them from a must win match.

    Roberto Mancini's men have played averagely so far this season. A rousing comeback against Southampton took three points on the opening day. A week later, they were lucky to escape from Anfield with a 2-2 draw.

    QPR shouldn't pose much of a threat. Even so, City have a statement to make. A massive scoreline would indicate they mean business. Unfortunately, last year's corresponding match winner won't be on the pitch for the hosts.

    Mark Hughes would love to nab a point from his former employers. He's already made a string of impressive signings with the likes of Jose Bosingwa and Junior Hoilett joining the club. If all goes to plan, he should have one more before the match against City.

    Julio Cesar is expected to complete his move to Loftus Road within the next couple of days (via The Daily Mail). His experience in goal could make all the difference. Current number one Rob Green continues to make mistakes and needs to be replaced quickly.

    Key Battle: Carlos Tevez vs Anton Ferdinand

    The bullish Argentinian has had a superb start to the season. With Aguero injured, his goals have proved vital. Now he's fit, Tevez will continue to produce for his side. Anton Ferdinand must be ready to stop him.

Liverpool vs Arsenal

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    Anfield will be rocking once more against Arsenal.

    Brendan Rodgers celebrated his side's performance against Manchester City, even though he knew the Reds should have come away with the win (via Yahoo! Sport). Consider the fact Liverpool were slaughtered 3-0 a week earlier, the new manager has a right to feel his team are improving.

    Such progress must continue against Arsenal.

    Bizarrely, the Gunners haven't scored or conceded a goal so far this season. This is encouraging from a defensive standpoint, but until Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla are knocking in the goals, Robin van Persie's name will continue to haunt.

    It'll be interesting to see how both sides set themselves up. Raheem Sterling thoroughly impressed against the champions. It could be asking too much of the 17-year-old to play in such an intense match for the second time in a week.

    Arsenal also have options. Arsene Wenger might decide Giroud needs a partner up front, and it's likely Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will start, especially if Theo Walcott's contract dispute continues to run (via The Guardian).

    After last week's performances Arsenal will be happy to gain anything from this match.

    Key Battle: Luis Suarez vs Thomas Vermaelen

    Arguably the two best players on the pitch. Suarez found his goal scoring touch last week with a superb free kick. Arsenal's Belgian captain will have to dominate the Uruguayan pest, snuffing out any twists and turns before Suarez can gather pace.

Southampton vs Manchester United

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    Zero points from two games is a worrying sign for Southampton.

    Even worse, the newly-promoted side now face Man United. Many fans will see this as a guaranteed win for Sir Alex Ferguson's men, but I don't think it's that simple.

    A disappointing turnout for Southampton's home game against Wigan should be improved upon. It's likely St Mary's will be packed against last year's Premier League runners-up.

    United haven't started particularly well this season. An opening day defeat to Everton humbled Fergie's squad, while a tightly fought win over Fulham provided moments to worry about.

    Defensively, the Red Devils continue to fall victim to the injury bug that has attacked Old Trafford all too often.

    Southampton won't have to deal with Wayne Rooney, who is out of action for around two months (via The Telegraph). Even though the England international may have been benched for this fixture, the Saints will be relieved he isn't going to make any appearance at all.

    If the hosts can steal a point, Nigel Adkins' season will be up and running.

    Key Battle: Jose Fonte vs Shinji Kagawa

    Fonte often got caught out against Wigan. He'll need to shut Shinji Kagawa down quickly, or else the Japanese midfielder will take control of United's final third. Fonte needs the help of his midfield and defensive colleagues if Kagawa and Robin van Persie are to be stopped.