THIS WEEKEND sees the first round of 39 Premier League matches over the course of the next fortnight. The packed festive schedule presents an opportunity to claim quick points ahead of the opening transfer window.
Wigan welcome Arsenal in Saturday’s early kick-off. The faltering Gunners hit a high note in their 5-2 mauling of Reading on Monday evening but Wigan often acquit themselves well in this fixture. Drawbacks for the Latics include their own poor form and the absence of the injured James McCarthy.
Champions Manchester City host bottom club Reading in an ideal opportunity to narrow the gap at the top to three points with Manchester United not playing until Sunday. Roberto Mancini’s side have been well short of their fluent best but it is unlikely that the flimsy Royals will prevent the expected home win.
Newcastle have been shocking in recent weeks and should they lose at home to QPR tomorrow their subsequent meetings with Manchester United and Arsenal could see them take zero points from the end of year run-in. Harry Redknapp’s relegation threatened side finally have a win under their belts and no longer prop up the table. Injuries permitting, the clash between Hatem Ben Arfa and Adel Taarabt could help settle a contest between two sides who are unsure of themselves.
Southampton host Sunderland, who sit a point ahead in sixteenth. The Saints’ home advantage and greater creativity marks them down as favourites but the absence of their injured captain Adam Lallana may stimulate Martin O’Neill’s side.
Tottenham versus Stoke has been widely billed as a clash of styles. Each side knows what to expect and should Andre Villas-Boas’ charges deal with the Potters’ physical and aerial threat then they will be confident of a victory that retains their place in the top four.
West Brom host Norwich in a meeting of the campaign’s greatest overachievers. Steve Clarke’s seventh-placed Baggies earned their first point in four matches last Sunday and will need a victory here to convince observers that their best form is not already behind them. Chris Hughton’s Norwich began the campaign the other way around and will be adamant to show that their resurgence is not temporary.
Everton’s trip to Upton Park offers the wearying prospect of a stalemate. The visitors are without Kevin Mirallas and the suspended Marouane Fellaini, while Sam Allardyce laments the absence of seven West Ham first team players. The Hammers eked out a soporific 0-0 draw at the Hawthorns last weekend in a match that hints at little creative inspiration.
Liverpool may refuse to accept the moniker of a mid-table team but the Reds’ results suggest otherwise. All teams need to be able to fall back on their home form when required and Brendan Rodgers’ Reds have been unable to. Perhaps this is an ideal time to welcome a Fulham side with just one away win to their name. In the late kick-off, Liverpool fans hope rather than expect.
On Sunday Swansea host the league leaders Manchester United, who were one of the few teams to rattle them at the Liberty Stadium last season. Michu has been in prolific form for the Swans but the visitors’ match-winning firepower befits a team who will likely be top as 2013 dawns if they win.
Chelsea’s players cited their floundering league campaign as their focus following defeat in the World Club Championship final and the visit of Aston Villa is the first objective. Paul Lambert’s side will rely upon travel fatigue and the expected anti-Rafa Benitez chants to affect their hosts, as it is difficult to see a Villa win emanating from elsewhere.