Premier League Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Week 4
Premier League football is back after a two-week hiatus.
The international break is over. Players have returned to their clubs and will be looking to boost their start to the season with a win in the fourth set of fixtures.
As ever, there are plenty of interesting encounters worth looking forward to. This is the first week in which clubs can use all of their new signings, meaning plenty of new talent will be heading out onto the pitch.
I've totted up the six key battles of the week. Do you agree? Let me know in the comments section below.
Norwich City vs West Ham United
Sam Allardyce will have rested easy over the international break.
Six points from three games is an excellent start to the Premier League season for the Hammers.
The acquisition of Andy Carroll on a season-long loan seemed to rejuvenate the side against Fulham. With the England international leading the attack, a sense of hard work and determination swept over the rest of the team.
Interestingly, Carroll's height didn't lead to endless punts up the pitch. Instead, Allardyce's side passed confidently and fed the 23-year-old when appropriate.
Against Norwich, the side from Upton Park will be without their new arrival. A hamstring injury has left Carroll sidelined for six weeks (via BBC Sport). Other key players will have to impose themselves more readily on the game.
Both sides are fancied for relegation at the end of the season. Chris Hughton's tenure as Norwich manager still doesn't include a Premier League win. In front of the Carrow Road crowd pressure is starting to build.
Anything other than victory for the Canaries could signal panic. Even at this stage of the season these so-called "six-pointers" must be overcome with a decent result.
Key Battle: Robert Snodgrass vs Kevin Nolan
Both of these players have the ability to win the match. Personal duels in the midfield must be won here. If Snodgrass or Nolan are allowed to get forward, the other team will be in trouble. The West Ham man in particular should be watched. He's scored two goals in three games this Premier League season and will be out to get more in Carroll's absence.
Fulham vs West Bromwich Albion
Fulham's prospects have changed over the past couple of weeks.
An excellent 5-0 thrashing of Norwich on the opening day has been followed by two defeats. Important players such as Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembele have left the club.
Martin Jol has worked hard to replace them by bringing in Dimitar Berbatov and Giorgos Karagounis. Both players are extremely talented and should prove successful at Craven Cottage, but I can't see them providing an immediate fix.
It doesn't help that Fulham must entertain Steve Clarke's West Brom side. The Baggies are flying high after an unbeaten start to the Premier League season. Liverpool, Spurs and Everton have all failed to overcome Clarke's organised outfit, indicating Jol's team have a difficult task ahead of them.
Both clubs will believe they are favourites to win this one. Fulham need three points to silence any doubters and West Brom will want to continue their stay at the Premier League summit.
Key Battle: Brede Hangeland vs Shane Long
Hangeland is so often Fulham's most effective player. He'll fancy himself against Long in an aerial battle. On the floor, this gets a little more interesting. The West Brom player continues to irritate defences with his movement and determination. Hangeland must stop Long from charging down every ball by physically imposing himself on the Republic of Ireland international.
Arsenal vs Southampton
Arsenal are unbeaten this season and Southampton are without a win.
The script seems to be pretty straightforward. Despite a professional performance against Liverpool, the Gunners weren't so tidy at the Emirates on the Premier League's opening day.
Arsene Wenger's men need to rack up a win against the Saints. The home crowd shouldn't expect anything less than a victory, even though Southampton competed with both of the Manchester clubs right until the final whistle.
Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla keep improving in Arsenal's red (or should that be purple?). Together, their smart passing and ability to dribble will trouble Southampton's shaky defence.
The trip up to London represents a tough draw for Nigel Adkins. His side have already battled with the Premier League champions and runners up from last year. Now, another top-four contender is waiting.
If Southampton are to get anything from this fixture, Adkins must have more confidence in his team. He can no longer afford to sacrifice all of his threatening players if his side take the lead.
Key Battle: Olivier Giroud vs Jose Fonte
Fonte was at fault for Manchester United's winning goal at St Mary's. He has a habit of switching off at the wrong time, often bringing down opponents or punting the ball out of play. I think his battle with Giroud could decide this match. Giroud's teammates will do everything they can to nab the Frenchman his first goal for the club, meaning service into the box should arrive at every opportunity.
Queens Park Rangers vs Chelsea
This is arguably the weekend's most interesting fixture.
Recent history tells us QPR and Chelsea aren't fond of each other. The match at Loftus Road is the first meeting since Chelsea captain John Terry was cleared of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand (via BBC Sport).
Both Terry and Ferdinand may miss out due to injury. Either way, the home crowd will create a hostile and intimidating atmosphere for the European Champions.
Mark Hughes will finally have all of his new signings ready to play. The likes of Jose Bosingwa, Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilet, Julio Cesar and Park Ji Sung represent quality that has been long missing from the club.
Each player will be hoping to make an immediate impact against a Chelsea side that is yet to drop any points this season. Roberto Di Matteo will expect another confident display from his Premier League leaders.
Key Battle: Jose Bosingwa vs Eden Hazard
Hazard's start to life in the Premier League has been nothing short of sensational. The Belgian starlet will be up against former Chelsea player Jose Bosingwa, who will have plenty to do the entire game. Expect Hazard to interchange with Juan Mata throughout the match. Whoever the Portuguese defender finds himself battling with, he must stay on his feet and refrain from lunging into tackles.
Reading vs Tottenham Hotspur
A match away from White Hart Lane could work in favour of Spurs.
Andre Villas-Boas' side haven't won a game this season. The pressure is starting to build already. Spurs fans aren't encouraged by Villas-Boas' record at Chelsea and may be worried he'll struggle with their beloved side.
They face a Reading team that has suffered a disjointed start to the Premier League season.
A draw against Stoke was followed by a decent display against Chelsea. This resulted in a loss but plenty of signs indicated Brian McDermott's side have what it takes to compete in England's top flight.
Unfortunately, the team's last scheduled match against Sunderland was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. It has been three weeks since Reading played together, indicating rustiness might still be a factor.
The Madejski Stadium should be buzzing for this one. Spurs must grab a win while Reading will be pleased with a point. Villas-Boas will be hoping his new signings can impact the North Londoners' season in a major way.
Key Battle: Pavel Pogrebnyak vs Jan Vertonghen
Pogrebnyak is an absolute menace when he's on form. He worried the Chelsea defence at Stamford Bridge and must do the same against Spurs. With decent service, the big man will prove dangerous against a defence that hasn't got a clean sheet so far this season. Vertonghen needs to try and intimidate the striker physically and stop him from getting on the end of crosses.
Everton vs Newcastle United
David Moyes will be content with Everton's start to the season.
The recent defeat to West Brom will have dampened the Scot's mood over the international break. The Toffees beat Manchester United at home on the opening day of the season and will want to ensure Goodison Park remains a fortress across the entire year.
Newcastle travel to Merseyside in search of form. Alan Pardew's side have accumulated four points from three games so far. Key players have struggled to replicate their stunning displays from last season. Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba are still the biggest goal threats but continue to misfire alongside one another.
This should be a fantastic match. Goodison Park is one of the toughest grounds to visit in the Premier League. Moyes will believe his team can finish inside the top six this season. If that is to happen, Everton must rack up points against opposition of similar ability.
The loss to West Brom must be forgotten with another intimidating, physical and dynamic display by those in blue. I expect this match to be tight from the off. I'm leaning towards Everton for the win, especially with home advantage.
Key Battle: Marouane Fellaini vs Yohan Cabaye
A mismatch in the air, Cabaye will have to halt Fellaini via other means. The giant Belgian is likely to maraud into Newcastle's box every time Everton attack. The visitors are likely to be without Cheick Tiote and Fabricio Coloccini, leaving a huge gap down the centre of the pitch. Cabaye has the quality to hold the ball up and distribute play across the pitch. If he can keep the ball moving and intercept Everton attacks, the Magpies could see greater success.