Premier League Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch
The English Premier League enters its eighth round of matches, and Bleacher Report brings you the key battles across the division.
Aston Villa, Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool will be desperate to find a result this time around as each of them desperately need points. Will they get the critical tactical decisions right and win the important individual battles on the pitch?
How can Mark Hughes silence Marouane Fellaini, and how will the Tyne-Wear derby be won?
Dembele and Sandro vs. Hazard, Oscar and Mata
As I alluded to in my preview of Tottenham vs. Chelsea, the premier event will be how Moussa Dembele and Sandro cope with Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard.
The Blues trio swap positions across the advanced midfield three constantly and will represent the greatest threat Tottenham's midfield pivot have dealt with so far this season.
Dembele and Sandro have very much had the run of the midfield in matches they've played so far, with the Belgian in particular impressing in a deeper role than he played at Fulham.
Whichever way this battle swings, the match result will too.
Darren Bent vs. Christian Benteke
Who will win the battle of strikers this weekend in claret and blue?
Darren Bent was controversially benched for Aston Villa's encounter with West Bromwich Albion after sitting out the Capital One Cup victory over Manchester City, but he came on to score the equalising goal.
Many expected the England international to win his place back in the side, but Paul Lambert persevered with Belgian international Christian Benteke, who can't find international form for his club.
Fulham away is never an easy fixture, despite the fact that the atmosphere at Craven Cottage is far from hostile, and Lambert has to make the right choice this weekend. Villa need goals and points.
Larsson and Colback vs. Cabaye and Tiote
The Tyne-Wear derby is usually a mouthwatering affair, whether it's 3-3 or 0-0. The very essence of the match, the atmosphere and the playing style is entirely different to any other game in the English Premier League.
Martin O'Neill and Alan Pardew are two managers who believe in playing a similar style of football, so you're going to see two similar templates clash head-to-head here.
The midfield battle is always key in a local derby, so Sunderland's pairing of Sebastian Larsson and Jack Colback have it all to do against an imposing Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote.
The former will likely have Stephane Sessegnon dropping in slightly to help, and they'll need him—there's no better two-man central midfield in the EPL than Newcastle's duo.
Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines vs. Park Ji-Sung
Sir Alex Ferguson sometimes used Park Ji-Sung to mark specific players in big games for Manchester United.
It didn't always work—Yaya Toure ate him for breakfast in the Manchester derby toward the end of last season—but the South Korean has certainly been useful in that role on a number of occasions.
I can see Mark Hughes employing a similar strategy.
Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar pose a serious threat down an extremely strong Everton left, so the midfielder may well be deployed on QPR's right to stop that tandem from functioning so well.
Shane Long vs. Manchester City's Defence
Manchester City's defence has been in disarray so far this season, and that's largely due to Roberto Mancini's attempts to successfully craft an alternate formation in the form of a 3-5-2.
The result is, unfortunately, that everyone is confused. The defensive line has had its struggles this season against strikers who can run the channels and move into space well.
Shane Long, while not a household name for many, is as lively as they come. The young Irishman's movement creates space for others and attracts serious attention from opposing centre-backs.
His willingness to drift wide or come deep allows West Bromwich Albion to create overloads in certain areas, and his work off the ball is very much unsung.
City should be in for a tough afternoon at the back again.
Kebe and McAnuff vs. Johnson and Wisdom
Liverpool have chopped and changed their full-backs a fair amount this year due to injuries, loss of form and squad rotation.
The pair that look set to take to the field on Saturday—Andre Wisdom and Glen Johnson—will have their work cut out against two very traditional wingers in Jimmy Kebe and Jobi McAnuff.
The two Reading widemen will look to isolate the full-backs whenever possible and swing crosses in toward the head of Pavel Pogrebnyak. So the Reds duo will need to be on their best form defensively.
Wisdom, typically a centre-back, is quite inexperienced, so this could be a tough game for him despite his burgeoning talent. And Johnson—out of position on the left side—will be stretched to the limit.