6 Key Premier League Battles to Watch This Weekend
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After a busy week that included some midweek Premier League action, as well as the close of the winter transfer window, it’s set to be another weekend of frenetic, nervous, all-action Premier League football.
On Tuesday night, Manchester City missed the chance to narrow the gap on Manchester United at the top of the table after a disappointing goalless draw with QPR.
Roberto Mancini’s side face a difficult test this weekend, when Liverpool travel to the Etihad.
Both sides have been involved in transfer activity over the past few days, with Mario Balotelli leaving City to sign for AC Milan and Liverpool signing Phillipe Coutinho from Inter—both on long-term deals.
The match at the Etihad is the stand-out fixture of the weekend, but there’s still another few matches that have a lot riding on them—either in terms of battling against relegation, or fighting for a European place.
Let’s take a look at what are, in my opinion, the six key Premier League battles to watch this weekend, as well as my predictions for what the results will be in each game.
Saturday: QPR vs Norwich City (12:45 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
Loic Remy has impressed since signing for QPR
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The first game to watch on Saturday sees Premier League strugglers QPR take on Norwich at Loftus Road.
There’s no doubting the improvement QPR have made since Harry Redknapp took over late last year.
QPR have had some creditable results of late, including that famous 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier this month, as well as picking up a well-earned point against Manchester City on Tuesday night.
Redknapp isn’t resting on his laurels, though. He knows QPR need to invest in their squad.
Speaking to BBC Sport after the 0-0 draw with City on Tuesday (sourced via BBC Sport), Redknapp said: "We have to make signings. We can’t go the rest of the season with 17 or 18 players"
Although QPR have brought in reinforcements like Loic Remy, Yun Suk-Young, Chris Samba and Tal Ben Haim already in January, they’ve lost three senior players—Djibril Cisse, Anton Ferdinand and Ryan Nelsen—so Harry’s right to be concerned.
Reports earlier this week (sourced via The Independent) linked QPR with a move for Peter Crouch, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll walk through the revolving door at Loftus Road and sign for QPR.
Their opponents on Saturday, Norwich City, continue to be linked with a move for Celtic striker Gary Hooper.
After having two bids for the striker rejected, The Daily Mail reports that Celtic would reject any third approach for Hooper.
In light of Celtic’s apparent position on the matter, Chris Hughton has moved quickly to address the situation.
He's signed Sporting Kansas City striker Kei Kamara on a loan deal, although The Guardian website reports that deal is still subject to immigration clearance.
As far as the match itself goes, Norwich have picked up just one point from their last six games, whereas the home side are unbeaten in their last four.
The fact that QPR are at home should see them pick up the points on Saturday and Norwich’s recent poor run will continue.
Prediction: QPR win
Saturday: Everton vs Aston Villa (3:00 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
Can Paul Lambert get Aston Villa out of trouble?
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The next match on the list sees free-falling Aston Villa travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton.
To say Villa’s confidence is shattered right now would be a massive understatement.
They were turfed out of both English cup competitions by lower-league opposition and are without a league win in their last seven league games.
That’s a run stretching back to 15th December and it’s responsible for the fact that they’re now in serious danger of being relegated.
Villa have the worst defensive record in the league, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of them getting out of this mess.
Speaking to Sky Sports on Monday, Villa manager Paul Lambert admitted that there was little chance of any signings before the end of the transfer window.
Villa’s lack of experience has cost them dearly.
The likes of Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Darren Bent have all been unable to force their way into the manager’s plans, though in Dunne’s case, it’s been a series of injuries that have kept him out.
Even the experienced players in the squad like Ron Vlaar, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor just haven’t delivered and it’s time they stood up and led by example.
Things don’t get any easier for Villa as they travel to Everton this weekend.
The sad thing is that a couple of years ago, this match would’ve been a contest between two challengers for a European place.
Since then, Everton have pushed on to become one of the best sides in England, whereas Villa are struggling to keep their head above water.
David Moyes deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the job he’s done at Everton, but if there’s one thing that will have frustrated Moyes this season, it’s the fact that Everton have drawn a lot of games that they should have won.
Having said that, they’re still just a point behind Tottenham in the race for Champions League football, so Moyes will be confident that his side can get a result on Saturday to pile the pressure on Spurs.
Some of their football has been scintillating to watch, but they just haven’t been able to kill teams off of late.
That might very well change on Saturday, because Everton will be far too strong for Villa.
This is the perfect opportunity for Everton to make a statement and it could finally be the time that Nikica Jelavic finds his shooting boots again.
Prediction: Everton win
Saturday: Newcastle vs Chelsea (3:00 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
Yohan Cabaye's return from injury has given Newcastle a boost
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Chelsea travel north to St James’ Park to take on Newcastle this weekend, with the home side seemingly back on track and boosted by their raft of recent signings during the January transfer window.
Yohan Cabaye’s return from injury couldn’t have come at a better time, and the talented midfielder has chipped in with a couple of vital goals lately, most notably on Tuesday in their 2-1 victory at Aston Villa.
His form will be vital to the Geordies’ chances of pulling away from the relegation zone.
Newcastle have a couple of tough fixtures ahead. They travel to Tottenham next Saturday, but before that, Chelsea come calling this weekend.
Chelsea’s arrival coincides with the return of Demba Ba to Newcastle for the first time since his move to Stamford Bridge.
The Senegalese striker has been impressive since moving south, and although he’ll have fond memories of his time on Tyneside, his priority will be ensuring that Chelsea win on Saturday.
The Blues struggled against League One side Brentford last weekend in the FA Cup and, in truth, they were extremely lucky to come away with a 2-2 draw.
Fernando Torres still seems to cut somewhat of a forlorn figure whenever he plays, so it would surprise me if he starts ahead of Demba Ba this weekend.
As far as predicting the scoreline goes, if Chelsea can assert themselves in the early stages, much like they did against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago, they should win.
For me, the new faces at Newcastle should see them turn the corner, and that should be enough to earn them a point against the current European champions.
Prediction: Score draw
Saturday: Fulham vs Manchester United (5:30 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
Michael Carrick has been in terrific form for United of late
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These sides only met last weekend, but that was on FA Cup duty when United comfortably saw off the Londoners’ to progress to the next round.
This time around it’s a league match, and United travel south to Craven Cottage looking to increase their lead at the top of the table.
Fulham have really been struggling of late
When Dimitar Berbatov isn’t on form, it’s difficult to see where their next decent result will come from.
There’s no doubting the Bulgarian’s talent, but he just doesn’t perform on a consistent enough basis.
While he might be able to get away with that at a big club like Manchester United, he can’t do it at Fulham because they rely on him for goals, assists and inspiration.
Talking of inspiration, one of Manchester United’s most underrated performers of late has been Michael Carrick.
The midfielder has always had talent, but it was almost as if he was overawed by some of his teammates in the Manchester United engine room, like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
Over the last couple of months, Carrick’s performances have been just as important to United as the goals of Robin van Persie.
His passing has been excellent, his vision is second to none and his reading of the game has really set him apart from any other midfielder in the league in recent games.
He looks calm and assured under pressure, and this could be the most confident he’s ever felt at Old Trafford.
His recent displays have even drawn praise from his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.
When Ferguson spoke to the club’s official website, just over 10 days ago, he said of Carrick: "I think he’s been magnificent, it’s his best-ever season at the club and he’s commanding that position. He’s doing absolutely brilliantly."
Fulham will have to stop Carrick from controlling the game on Saturday if they’re to have any chance of getting a result, but the form they’re in suggests that’s not going to happen.
Carrick will be a key part of the United side that travels back north with all three points on Saturday night.
Prediction: Manchester United win
Sunday: West Brom vs Tottenham (1:30 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
Will Lewis Holtby be the "deal of the century"? - Image courtesy of Matthew Childs/Action Images
High-flying Spurs travel to Birmingham in Sunday’s early kickoff, with Andre Villas-Boas looking for a reaction from his team after their surprising FA Cup loss to Championship side Leeds United last weekend.
They won’t have it easy at West Brom, though.
Steve Clarke’s side have been excellent at home this season, losing just three times in 12 matches at the Hawthorns.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ll know that Peter Odemwingie has been trying to force his way out of the club.
The striker took to Twitter last week to launch an attack on the club and according to The Telegraph, he’ll soon find out whether he’ll face disciplinary action or not.
Steve Clarke has already stated that he wants the striker to stay (sourced via The Independent), but if Odemwingie’s disruptive behaviour continues, he might be best just cutting his losses and letting the player go.
Their opponents on Sunday, Tottenham, have been a far more settled side lately, but Sandro’s injury forced them to push through the transfer of Lewis Holtby from Schalke earlier than expected.
The German was expected to link up with Tottenham in the summer, but he’s moved to London early to help them cope with the loss of Sandro.
Holtby has been a stand-out performer for Schalke in recent times and The Guardian has gone as far as to say that signing Holtby early, for just £1.5million, is the deal of the century.
It’ll take time to see whether or not that’s the case, but the midfielder is extremely talented and more than capable of shining in the Premier League.
Sunday’s encounter should be full of free-flowing, attacking football as both sides like to keep the ball on the deck and pass it around.
West Brom’s exceptional home form should cause Tottenham problems, but they should still travel home with three points in the bag.
Prediction: Tottenham win
Sunday: Manchester City vs Liverpool (4:00 p.m. Kickoff GMT)
Daniel Sturridge could be key for Liverpool on Sunday
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Undoubtedly the match of the weekend sees Liverpool go to the Etihad in hope, more than expectation, of causing a surprise result against the reigning Premier League champions.
Roberto Mancini must be, at least inwardly, breathing a huge sigh of relief now that Mario Balotelli has signed for AC Milan on a permanent, long-term contract.
Although supremely talented, the young Italian caused more than his fair share of problems during his time at City, and it’ll be a weight off Mancini’s shoulders that he’s now moved on to pastures new.
City have been in imperious form of late, so they’ll have been disappointed not to have taken all three points from their game against QPR on Tuesday night.
They still have hopes of catching Manchester United at the top of the table, so nothing less than a win will do against Liverpool on Sunday.
Brendan Rodgers’ side were knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend, but, to be honest, that competition shouldn’t be top of his list of priorities.
Daniel Sturridge has been in terrific form since signing for Liverpool, and Rodgers might just believe that starting Sturridge up front with Suarez will cause problems for the City defence.
The ex-Chelsea and Man City striker made a huge difference to Liverpool at Old Trafford a couple of weeks ago, so starting him against City should be a must.
Rodgers has also added to his squad this week, with the signing of Phillipe Coutinho from Inter Milan confirmed yesterday afternoon.
The Guardian’s website reported that Liverpool have paid in the region of £8.5million for the Brazilian, and that he’s signed a long-term contract.
It’s a good sign that Rodgers is building for the future and the Reds have the makings of a decent side, but City will just be too strong on the day and they should have enough about them to see off Liverpool on Sunday.
Prediction: Manchester City win