Premier League Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch in Week 5
Important games continue to arrive in the Premier League.
Manchester United face a difficult trip to Liverpool in an encounter that is sure to grab the headlines one way or another.
At the opposite end of the table, Southampton go in search of their first point against an erratic Aston Villa side.
Looking ahead to such fixtures, I've totted up the six key battles to watch out for this week.
Do you agree with my choices?
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Swansea City vs Everton
Swansea generally play their best Premier League football at home, something Everton's David Moyes will know all too well.
Both come into this one on the back of disappointing results. While the Swans handed Aston Villa their first win of the season, Everton surrendered the lead twice to finish 2-2 with Newcastle.
The Toffees were desperately unlucky against Alan Pardew's side. Three disallowed goals, two of which should have stood, saw the match end level.
Moyes couldn't hide his frustration after the game and has demanded goal-line technology be installed soon (via The Telegraph).
This is likely to be a physical encounter.
Michael Laudrup has continued to place an emphasis on the passing style Brendan Rodgers installed before moving to Liverpool. Against an Everton midfield that includes the towering presence of Marouane Fellaini, possession could be key.
If the Swans are to be successful they must utilise the wings. Leighton Baines performed admirably against Newcastle but is often open to counter attacks. With Nathan Dyer, Miguel Michu and Wayne Routledge in excellent form the Blues will need to keep an eye on quick breaks.
Key Battle: Ashley Williams vs Marouane Fellaini
The Swansea captain has had a tough couple of weeks. Mistakes have started to creep into his game. Most notably, Williams' poor pass allowed Villa to seal the points in their last match. He'll come face-to-face with Fellaini every time Everton attack. Whoever wins this battle could shape the outcome.
Chelsea vs Stoke City
Stoke have caused problems for the elite clubs again this season.
Tony Pulis' side troubled Arsenal into a 0-0 draw and equaled Manchester City 1-1 at home. Away from the Britannia, draws have also been on the agenda. So far the Potters are unbeaten but are yet to register a win.
At this point Pulis will be extremely happy with his side. They journey to Stamford Bridge knowing the European Champions are under pressure to perform.
Roberto Di Matteo's side filed a scoreless draw against Queens Park Rangers in their last Premier League outing. This was followed by the Blues giving away a 2-0 lead in the Champions League match against Juventus.
Stoke's physicality is well-documented. Pulis must ensure his team work quickly to shut down the flair of Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres. If the threat of those two is quashed, they have a real chance of leaving London with a result.
Key Battle: John Terry vs Peter Crouch
Terry seems to have lost his edge this season. The former England captain struggled against the height of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Euro 2012 and I think the same could happen again. Crouch must impose himself on Chelsea's defence and hold the ball up for his teammates. Set-pieces will be crucial here.
Southampton vs Aston Villa
You have to feel sorry for Southampton.
Nigel Adkins' men fought excellently against the two Manchester clubs and lost 3-2 both times. In their last fixture against Arsenal the newly-promoted side scored two own goals and were eventually crushed 6-1.
The Saints manager has shown signs of naivety across the opening four Premier League matches.
He is quick to substitute vital attacking players when the team is ahead. This strategy leaves them vulnerable as it invites the opposition forward without fear of being caught at the back.
Southampton face an Aston Villa side that is showing steady improvement under Paul Lambert. A decent win against Swansea finally bagged the new manager his first Premier League win at Villa Park. He'll be looking to notch up another victory against a side who are yet to register a single point.
Key Battle: Rickie Lambert vs Ron Vlaar
Lambert has adapted well to life in the top division. His emergence echoes Grant Holt's transition last year. The burly forward will throw his weight around the box against a Villa defence that kept its first clean sheet of the season in their previous match. Vlaar must use his experience to stop Lambert and the home crowd from gaining momentum.
West Bromwich Albion vs Reading
West Brom's brilliant start to the Premier League campaign halted against Fulham.
Steve Clarke's side were thrashed 3-0 in a match that saw Peter Odemwingie dismissed for serious foul play.
The Hawthorns will expect a comfortable win against a Reading side that is yet to snatch three points.
This match is extremely important for both sides. The Baggies will want to return to winning ways in fear of dropping down the table. Clarke's men have played effective football so far this season and will quickly fall under pressure if a second loss comes so soon.
Reading should be happy with a point. Brian McDermott has had a difficult week dealing with a Twitter row centred on his decision to axe Adam Federici (via The Daily Mail). He'll hope the Royals can put this to one side in order to kick-start their season.
Key Battle: Shane Long vs Alex Pearce
With Peter Odemwingie suspended, the onus is on Shane Long to score. The West Brom forward has been in decent form so far this season, notching up one goal in four matches. His persistence continues to irritate defences into making mistakes. Pearce had a tough time against Tottenham Hotspur in Reading's last match. If West Brom play between the two centre backs, they will cause major problems.
Liverpool vs Manchester United
The hottest match in English football doesn't need much hype.
It has been a difficult couple of weeks for everyone at Liverpool. As the fight for justice continues in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster, a match against the club's fiercest rivals will be a welcome distraction.
Manchester United have already lost once on Merseyside this season. They've struggled at Anfield in recent campaigns and will be content with anything other than a loss.
Plenty of sub-plots could take the headlines here. Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra would be foolish not to shake hands, although the BBC suggests the two will finally put their differences aside.
A handful of United fans mocked the Hillsborough deaths last week at Old Trafford and have been urged to show solidarity with the Liverpool support (via The Daily Mail).
On the pitch we have a cracking match in store.
Brendan Rodgers will be desperate to get his first Premier League win for the Kop. After United's poor Champions League showing against Galatasaray, I think Liverpool will fancy their chances.
If this fixture is played in the correct way, and supporters work together for once, this could be a landmark encounter for the Premier League.
Key Battle: Luis Suarez vs Nemanja Vidic
Vidic has a history of poor performances against Liverpool. He has been sent off twice in this fixture and suffered terribly when Fernando Torres was in the side. Suarez will be the main threat for the hosts. If he can attack in a direct and tricky manner the goals will follow. Vidic doesn't like players who twist and turn around him, making this battle key to the result.
Manchester City vs Arsenal
Arsene Wenger takes his side up to Manchester in jubilant mood.
The Gunners remain unbeaten across all competitions this season. New signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla have settled in brilliantly, providing the team with creative flair in Robin van Persie's absence.
Manchester City must get over the dramatic 3-2 loss to Real Madrid. Roberto Mancini's men have no time to worry about the defeat with Arsenal in town.
City have been less than impressive so far. Even so, decent results have continued to arrive on the domestic front. An improved performance must come against a confident Arsenal side. Either way, the Etihad will expect a win.
Key Battle: Yaya Toure vs Abou Diaby
This is undoubtedly a battle of the midfield. Both sides possess a powerhouse who is in impressive form. Much of the game will be dictated by either one of these players. If either side's forwards are going to thrive, the engine behind them must perform. An absolutely fascinating battle.
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