Premier League preview

Premier League preview

Chelsea play QPR; Villa take on West Brom; Wolves host Swansea

It is the same fixture that provided the goal of the season last year, and with both teams flying at the top of the Premier League, the first Manchester derby of 2011/12 is arguably the most-anticipated fixture of the campaign so far.

United host their neighbours City at Old Trafford, with Wayne Rooney scoring a spectacular overhead kick the last time the sides met in the league.

In a week when the Stone Roses announced their return to the music scene, and with both clubs flourishing at this early stage, it is a good time to be a Mancunian – be it a Red or a Blue. But who will be celebrating to the beats of Ian Brown and co on Sunday afternoon?

Elsewhere in the top flight there are more notable matches to whet the appetite as the table begins to take shape after eight games.

There are other local derbies as Chelsea take on Queens Park Rangers for the bragging rights in West London, while Aston Villa host West Brom in a Midlands encounter.

It is a mark of the transformation at the Etihad Stadium in recent years that only two Manchester City players remain from the side that last beat United on their own patch only three years ago. Joe Hart and Micah Richards are the survivors from that day, and there is no doubt that Roberto Mancini’s XI this weekend is a far cry from the one Sven Goran Eriksson fielded in 2008. The same result would see City go five points clear of their rivals although the stats are against them – Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have been victorious the last four times the two teams have met at Old Trafford, and City failed to win away at any top-seven opponent last season. Every kick will be live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 1.30pm on Sunday.

Under the radar

While the spotlight will be elsewhere this weekend, Chelsea may not be too concerned about that as they begin to click into gear under Andre Villas-Boas. A 5-0 demolition of Genk in the Champions League on Wednesday saw Fernando Torres score two and took the Blues to a total of 13 goals in their last three matches. A local derby in the league against QPR has not been seen since 1996, although twice the two sides have met in the Carling Cup and the FA Cup in recent times – with Chelsea winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on both occasions. This clash, though, will be played out at Loftus Road, and Neil Warnock will have his players stoked for an upset. Watch the action live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 4pm on Sunday.

More animosity will be shared in Birmingham on Saturday when West Brom make the short journey from the Black Country to Aston Villa. Alex McLeish’s start since switching allegiance from the blue half of the city has been a relatively solid one – the Scot building foundations at the back, especially at home. West Brom, meanwhile, started dreadfully but have picked things up. The Baggies are unbeaten in three games and Roy Hodgson will hope last week’s success over Wolves will spark their season into life.

The owners of Blackburn Rovers, Venky’s, issued a statement earlier in the week, like many other clubs, that they were steadfastly against the suggestion from the League Manager’s Association chief executive, Richard Bevan, that relegation from the Premier League could be scrapped. But having accrued just five points from eight games this season, dropping out of the top flight could become a reality for Rovers. Steve Kean remains at the helm as Blackburn play Tottenham, who come into the game on the back of a Europa League victory over Rubin Kazan.

Arsenal are slowly turning the corner after their woeful start, having won five of their last six matches in all competitions. Yet there is still a sense of unease at the Emirates Stadium and when Stoke come to town on Sunday, you can put your house on the Potters not making it easy for the North Londoners. Two more contrasting styles you could not wish to see, with Arsenal’s free-flowing approach at odds with Stoke’s physical tactics. Both teams won in Europe in midweek, but this is a game Tony Pulis will relish.

The row involving Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra shows little sign of abating and it will be interesting to see if the Uruguayan is at all affected by off-the-pitch matters when Liverpool welcome Norwich to Anfield. Kenny Dalglish’s side have been in good form since their battering at Tottenham in September, with three wins in four matches. Steven Gerrard marked his return to the fold with a goal against Manchester United and they will expect to come out of the Canaries clash with three points. However, Paul Lambert’s team will be up for the challenge.

There is no doubt that the surprise package of the season has been Newcastle, and Alan Pardew deserves great credit as his side currently sit fourth in the table. This weekend the Magpies take on struggling Wigan Athletic, who are in a real rut. Roberto Martinez may now be wondering if he should have taken the Aston Villa job when it was offered to him in the summer, as his Latics side have lost five on the bounce. A sixth at St James’ Park would increase the pressure on the Spaniard.

Basement battle

Bolton and Sunderland have also endured torrid starts and while Wanderers emerged victorious at the DW Stadium last weekend, Owen Coyle will not be happy with the fact that they sit 18th in the table. Steve Bruce’s Sunderland are on the same points, six, and were perhaps unlucky not to pick up a draw at Arsenal last time out. The Black Cats have had a terrible 2011 in terms of results and with two months to go until the New Year, Bruce will be desperate for a turnaround before that comes to pass.

Everton have lost three games in succession but in fairness to the Toffees those defeats have come against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. They will be looking to take advantage of Fulham’sfatigued Europa League legs on Sunday. The Cottagers lost in Krakow on Thursday and also fell to Stoke on their last Premier League outing. With both sides on seven points, they will want to move away from the bottom three.

Wolves play Swansea in the first kick-off of the weekend on Saturday, live on Sky Sports 2 and HD2from 12.45pm. Wolves are on a dreadful run having lost their last five league games, while the Swans are beginning to get to grips with the standard required. Having said that, they are the only team in the top flight who have not earned a point away from home and Mick McCarthy will see this as a major opportunity to get back on the winning path.