6 Key Premier League Battles to Watch This Weekend
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It's Thursday, which means it's time for me to preview the six key Premier League matches I'll be watching this weekend.
Last Sunday, Manchester United overcame a plucky Liverpool side, who will feel unlucky that they didn't come away with a point.
Daniel Sturridge had a hatful of chances but couldn't find the net to add to his earlier strike.
Manchester United's win put pressure on their city rivals and defending EPL champions Manchester City.
Roberto Mancini's side went to the Emirates and came away with a comfortable victory, which has piled the pressure on beleaguered Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.
The fixtures don't get any easier for the Gunners as they travel to Stamford Bridge for a crucial match against Chelsea.
The latest London derby kicks off at 1:30 p.m. GMT (8:30 a.m. ET) on Sunday, and Wenger will have to come up with something to appease the disgruntled Arsenal fans.
All in all, its shaping up to be another tantalising Premier League weekend, so lets take a look at the games I'll be watching with interest.
Saturday: Liverpool vs. Norwich
Daniel Sturridge made a big impact at Old Trafford last Sunday - Image courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk
Brendan Rodgers will have been disappointed with Liverpool's first-half showing at Old Trafford last Sunday.
They lacked the energy and drive they've shown in recent weeks, and their first-half performance was lacklustre at best.
Rodgers isn't afraid to change things up though, and he introduced his latest signing, Daniel Sturridge, to the fray at half-time for his Premier League debut.
Sturridge looked hungry and showed a great appetite (no pun intended) for the game when he came on.
He'll be frustrated that he couldn't add to the goal he scored to bring the score back to 2-1.
He had a bucketload of chances and if he'd taken just a couple of them, Liverpool could have ended up with an undeserved point or victory.
Sturridge, and Rodgers, will be looking for a vast improvement when Norwich come calling to Anfield on Saturday.
After their unbeaten run came to an end a few weeks ago, it'd be fair to say that the wheels have fallen off a bit over the past few weeks.
They're playing well enough, but they just can't seem to pick up the points that their performances warrant at the moment.
Chris Hughton will be concerned that his team have lost four of their last five games, although they picked up a point against Newcastle last time out.
Hughton could be boosted by the return of Grant Holt to the starting lineup this weekend.
Last season's top scorer has been out for a few weeks with a hamstring problem, but he played the last 20 minutes or so against Newcastle.
Norwich look like a completely different side when Holt plays, and they've definitely missed him.
It's no coincidence that they've not won a game since he was injured, which just goes to show how important he is to Norwich.
In terms of the match itself, I think it'll be a close contest.
If Holt plays, Norwich might well sneak a point. If he doesn't, it's a home win.
I've just got a sneaky feeling that the extra firepower Liverpool have will just see them over the finish line.
Prediction: Liverpool win
Saturday: Manchester City vs. Fulham
Edin Dzeko missed a penalty last week but still got on the scoresheet
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Manchester City might have only lost two matches this season, but it's due to the number of draws they have that they trail Manchester United by seven points at the top of the table.
Thirty-seven years after their last victory at either Highbury or the Emirates Stadium, City went to Arsenal last week and comfortably won the match 2-0.
Granted, the early sending off of Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny helped, but City were never really in any danger of losing.
They'll be boosted by the fact that Vincent Kompany's red card against the Gunners was overturned earlier this week (reported via The Guardian website among others).
It might be a little bit early to say this, but City are already seven points behind United, so they can't really afford to drop any more points.
Even their Spanish maestro David Silva admitted as much earlier this week in an interview with BBC Sport. Silva said: "If we lose, then suddenly the gap is 10 points, and that is when it gets really difficult."
Simply put, City have to win to keep the pressure on United, just in case Spurs do them a favour on Sunday.
It won't be easy for City against Fulham, though.
Martin Jol's side are a match for any side in the league on their day, and Roberto Mancini would be well-advised not to underestimate them.
There's a solid spine to the team in Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland, the in-form Giorgios Karagounis and Dimitar Berbatov.
With others like Bryan Ruiz, Damien Duff and Mladen Petric in supporting roles, Fulham carry enough threat to cause City problems if they're given the chance to.
The problem is that despite City being without Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero, I still think they've got too much strength in depth, and they'll more than likely dominate proceedings.
Prediction: Manchester City win
Saturday: Newcastle vs. Reading
Newcastle face a battle to hold on to Fabricio Coloccini
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After such an excellent season last year, it's somewhat of a surprise to see Newcastle struggling this time around.
When their squad is fully fit, they're a match for anyone in the league, and they proved that on a number of occasions last year.
However, the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Fabricio Coloccini have all been injured at various stages and others like Cheick Tiote and Jonas Gutierrez have just simply underperformed.
Talking of Coloccini, reports surfaced earlier this week that he was set for crunch talks about his future at the club.
The Daily Mail's Colin Young reported on Tuesday that Newcastle were attempting to hang on to their influential skipper until the summer at least, when both parties would review the situation.
If Coloccini does end up leaving Newcastle, they'll be in even more trouble than they are already.
Newcastle are in serious danger of being dragged even further into the battle for relegation, and they'll be under pressure when Reading come calling on Saturday.
Last Saturday, Reading somehow managed to score three late goals to secure a 3-2 smash and grab victory over West Brom.
Jimmy Kebe, Adam le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak scored in the last eight minutes to give Reading a victory from out of nowhere.
After pulling that result off, they lifted themselves off the bottom of the table and pulled a couple of other clubs in to the mire.
Brian McDermott will hope that last week's win will just see his side get that little bit of momentum and confidence, and to be honest, there's no better place to go than Newcastle right now.
The home side are in freefall, and if Reading can keep things tight for the first 20-25 minutes, there's no reason why they can't pile even more pressure on Newcastle by 4:45 p.m. GMT on Saturday.
Newcastle will be the more nervy of the two sides, but I just can't split them.
Prediction: Score draw
Saturday: West Ham vs. QPR
Mohamed Diame's return couldn't have come at a better time for West Ham
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It's another week in the Premier League, which means it's time for our customary London derby of the week.
West Ham might have gone out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 loss to Manchester United last night, but Sam Allardyce will be pleased with his team's performance.
They were shocking against Sunderland last weekend, so to go to Old Trafford and perform the way they did, especially in the second half, will no doubt please and frustrate Big Sam.
Mohamed Diame is fit and available again for the Hammers, and he was impressive last night at Old Trafford.
The big Senegalese midfielder has been top class since moving to London in the summer, but if reports are to be believed, he might be on the move again soon.
Phil Thomas of the Sun reported on Tuesday: that Diame was being scouted by Arsenal with a view to a potential £3.5 million transfer.
Yesterday, in a follow-up to that article, the Sun quoted Sam Allardyce as saying: "I can’t see where he is going to fit in. There is no point him going if he is not going to play."
Clearly Big Sam wants to keep hold of one of his most influential players.
It's easy to see why.
With the misfiring Carlton Cole still keeping Andy Carroll's place warm for him, Diame's influence and form will be critical to West Ham consolidating their place in the Premier League this year.
Saturday's match sees bottom club QPR visit Upton Park, which inevitably means the return of Harry Redknapp to West Ham.
Harry must have thought that last week's result against Spurs would've been good enough to see them off the bottom of the table, and it was—for a few hours at least!
Make no mistake, Redknapp has already started working his magic at QPR.
They've picked up four points from their last two games against Tottenham and Chelsea.
That's no mean feat.
Hell, there are clubs at the top end of the table who would kill to have had results like that against those sides.
Redknapp has brought in his first fresh face of the transfer window this week, with the £8million signing of Loic Remy from Marseille (reported via skysports.com among others).
The striker is clearly talented, but not every signing from the French league makes an impact at Premier League level, so it may take him time to settle in to life at Loftus Road.
This result is entirely dependent on which QPR side show up.
If it's the one that's drawn with Spurs and beaten Chelsea in their last two Premier League games, then they'll win.
I just don't think they have enough about them to get a result at Upton Park, simply because Big Sam will demand a reaction from his team, in front of their own fans, in direct response to last week's awful performance at Sunderland.
Prediction: West Ham win
Sunday: Chelsea vs. Arsenal
John Terry returned from injury last weekend—can he inspire Chelsea?
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The first of Sunday's live Premier League games comes from Stamford Bridge where Chelsea take on Arsenal.
Speculation over the long-term future of the Chelsea job continues, especially with yesterday's news (reported via Sky Sports among others) that Pep Guardiola is now off the market after agreeing to take over at Bayern Munich in the summer.
I genuinely hope that Roman Abramovich wasn't putting all his eggs in one basket with Guardiola, because if he was, he's ended up with egg on his face.
Chelsea have got to stop hiring and firing managers on a whim, and if they want to create a dynasty, they need to have stability and consistency.
You can't do that if your chairman doesn't have the patience to give anyone longer than a season or two in the manager's chair.
Getting back to on-field matters and the Blues' stuttering home form continued last night as they surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with struggling Southampton.
John Terry is back in the fold after recovering from injury, and he's been on the bench for their last couple of games.
Rafael Benitez might feel that Terry's experience could be crucial to their chances of success on Sunday, so I wouldn't be surprised if Terry starts the match.
One thing that would surprise me would be the inclusion of Fernando Torres ahead of Demba Ba.
Ba has started at Chelsea where he left off at Newcastle—scoring goals for fun.
The frightening thing is that this Chelsea side create more chances than Newcastle do, so who knows how many goals he could end up with by the end of the season?
He could end up with a hat-trick on Sunday when Arsenal come calling.
To say the Gunners' season so far has been a disaster would be an understatement.
The table doesn't lie.
Arsenal are a massive 21 points behind Manchester United and 14 behind Manchester City.
If Arsene Wenger's side lose against Chelsea on Sunday, they'll likely be 24 points and 17 points behind United and City respectively.
That's just not good enough for a club like Arsenal.
Yes, they do have a game in hand, but there's no guarantee that they'll beat West Ham.
Even if they do win, there's nothing to say that their league position will improve.
Some of their players haven't been good enough, and it's time for major investment in the squad if they're to have any chance of competing at the highest level over the next few years.
There's at least some good news coming out of Arsenal, with reports surfacing earlier today that Arsene Wenger is hopeful that Theo Walcott will sign a new contract in the next couple of days.
"My optimism is at 99% now. I was scared that he could leave. It took us some time to get where we want to get and it's still not finalised, but hopefully it will be done by this weekend."
Walcott has arguably been Arsenal's best player this season, and they'll need him to be at his best on Sunday.
Last time around, Arsenal went to Chelsea and won an astonishing game 5-3, but I don't think that's going to happen this weekend.
Both sides are struggling to find their rhythm right now, and I can see this match ending all square.
Prediction: Score draw
Sunday: Tottenham vs. Manchester United
Manchester United will have to keep an eye on Gareth Bale
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The final game to catch my interest this week will be Manchester United's trip to Tottenham.
Spurs are on an amazing run in the league at the minute.
Since losing 5-2 at Arsenal on November 17, Spurs have lost just one of their last 10 league games and they've won seven of those.
That's an amazing set of results by anyone's standards.
Yes, they had a sticky patch at the start of the season, but they've come through it and look to be almost a lock for Champions League football next year.
Andre Villas-Boas deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the way he's carried himself since taking over from Harry Redknapp, and he'll have a degree of satisfaction that he's now doing himself justice in England.
Spurs are the only side to have beaten United at Old Trafford this season, when Andre Villas-Boas mastermined a sensational 3-2 victory, with Gareth Bale among the scorers.
Despite all the controversy over whether he's a diver or not, Bale is a fantastic player.
He may even be world-class.
He's got pace, skill, strength and the ability to score goals.
Those are qualities that United will need to be aware of when they travel down to London on Sunday.
I'm going to say something that might surprise a few people.
It's really easy to praise United's attacking players like Robin van Persie and the fit-again Wayne Rooney, but one player who's really come in to his own this season is Rafael.
I'll be honest and say that the little Brazilian was someone who I never really appreciated as a player, but this season, he's been excellent.
Yes, he's still a little naive at times, but he's learning with every game, and he's become a real fixture in Sir Alex Ferguson's plans.
It would've been so easy for Sir Alex to go out and spend a fortune on an experienced right-back, but he's kept faith with Rafael and all at Manchester United are reaping the benefits.
He'll have a key role to play on Sunday as he'll likely be up against the aforementioned Bale.
Rafael is quick enough to keep up with the Welshman, and whoever manages to win that battle will no doubt have a key impact on the game.
There are going to be goals and great football in this one, and I can't wait to see what happens!
In terms of the result, its tough.
Van Persie is becoming almost talismanic at United, and with the return of Wayne Rooney, it's going to be tough for Spurs.
I just think that Spurs will be strong enough defensively to come away with a win and exploit United's problems at the back.
Prediction: Tottenham win