THE RETURN of the Premier League this weekend offers a further glut of goals amid the various sub-plots that always present themselves.
To kick us off QPR manager Harry Redknapp welcomes Tottenham to Loftus Road for the first time since his sacking at White Hart Lane. The vagaries of a local derby in part allowed the Rs to triumph at Stamford Bridge recently and will need similar levels of commitment – and luck – if the west Londoners are to reduce the deficit that sees them marooned at the bottom. The safe money is on Spurs in the early match.
Aston Villa appear to stumble from one farce to another at present and if they hint at similar foibles then tomorrow’s visitors Southampton will be looking to leapfrog their hosts in the scramble to avoid relegation.
Swansea’s visit to Everton is the latest in a run of matches that could define the course of the Swans’ season. David Moyes’ side will be well aware of the threats posed by the Welsh side but his armoury, which includes the sparkling form of Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar, is well-stocked as Everton continue their pursuit of a top four finish.
Fulham have started 2013 in good spirits having won only their second match on the road this season and it is a rare double they will be hoping to complete with victory at home to Wigan tomorrow. If Martin Jol’s side have truly begun to arrest their decline then it could be another difficult weekend of Roberto Martinez’s Latics.
Norwich will be seeking to end their run of four matches without victory and Newcastle’s form suggests that their visit to Carrow Road could be just what the Canaries need. Chris Hughton has made Norwich a tough prospect and a Newcastle defeat could leave Hughton’s former side languishing in the bottom three.
Reading’s commitment and the affability of their manager Brian McDermott is unlikely to keep them in this division and it will take wins, including one upon the visit of West Brom, to alter that perception. The Baggies’ recent results have not matched their exploits earlier in the campaign but that should not be used to harshly judge Steve Clarke or his charges. In any case, they travel to the Madejski with reasonable hopes of success.
Stoke will look to keep Chelsea at bay and that may include stifling the man who failed a medical at the Britannia in 2011, Demba Ba. The strengths of each side are well documented and while Stoke are always confident on home turf Chelsea have the talent to upset home expectations, should they perform adequately.
Sunderland’s generally poor form offers hope to any side visiting the Stadium of Light but it is questionable whether Sam Allardyce’s West Ham will be equipped to profit. Yet if the Hammers can subdue Steven Fletcher their hopes will rise considerably.
Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon is the fixture of the weekend despite the current disparity between the sides. Given the form of Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez it is likely to be a goal-laden occasion, but one league leaders Manchester United will feel is there for the taking as they look to strengthen their position at the top.
Following the north-west derby, Arsenal host champions Manchester City in a contest where a draw will be a source of some frustration. The Gunners risk losing momentum in the race for Champions League qualification, while a City side missing Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero could be as many as 10 points behind United at the start of play.