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Premier League preview

FOUR GAMES in and the top four is already occupied by the usual Champions League contenders. Yet this familiarity does not make the weekend’s Premier League fixtures any easier to accurately predict than usual given the reservations that abound.

Everton travel to Swansea in the early kick-off on Saturday still smarting from dropping two points at home to Newcastle on Monday night.

They were punished by poor refereeing decisions and their own wastefulness yet the Toffees were slick in their approach play and if they can overcome their profligacy then Swansea face a considerable proposition.

Chelsea entertain a Stoke side who will look to contain the Blues in the manner QPR successfully achieved last weekend. The hosts are clear favourites with a side packed with creative intent but doubts remain as long as they lack a prolific goal scorer and a measure of last season’s defensive rigour. Chelsea’s goal happy midfield cannot compensate for Fernando Torres’ poor finishing indefinitely.

Aston Villa finally kick-started their season in dispatching Swansea last Saturday and Paul Lambert will likely have the game plan to exploit Southampton’s porous defence at St Mary’s. There could not be a more welcomed fixture for building momentum that the Saints at present.

West Brom will relish the prospect of a Reading side that looked pedestrian in defeat to Tottenham last Sunday. At the Hawthorns Steve Clarke’s side will be confident of extending their impressive run at home against a side yet to win this term.

In truth West Ham versus Sunderland is not a fixture that whets the appetite of football purists. The hope is that West Ham’s 100 per cent home record will entice the east Londoners to set the agenda at Upton Park.

Fulham travel to Wigan with greater confidence in light of Dimitar Berbatov’s scoring touch. The hosts are unlikely to be unduly traumatised by last weekend’s thrashing at Old Trafford and there is hope for an entertaining contest.

Manchester United travel to Anfield to face a Liverpool side carried by the emotion of playing their first home match since the publication of the independent report that exonerated Liverpool fans of culpability in the Hillsborough disaster.

United have possessed enough quality to prevail in their last three matches but their weaknesses in defence and lightweight midfield will be severely tested on Merseyside for the second time this season.

Norwich’s visit to Newcastle sees manager Chris Hughton return to St James’ Park with a point to prove to the club that discarded him so callously in 2010.

If nothing else last weekend’s dour draw with West Ham proved that the Canaries are difficult to break down and that is the test that faces a Magpies side that found inspiration at key moments during Monday evening’s 2-2 draw with Everton. If Papiss Cisse and the unsettled Demba Ba fire then Norwich could face a long afternoon.

Manchester City’s clash with Arsenal is perceived as the meeting of the weekend and the Citizens’ inability to keep clean sheets hints at a more open game than those usually contested between these sides.

Yet it may not be prudent to read into that given that by 6 o’clock the result will have revealed the true nature of Arsenal’s title credentials. A moment of inspiration or perhaps controversy is most likely to separate the sides.

Tottenham finally got their first win of the campaign away to Reading, courtesy of a Jermain Defoe brace, and their midfield sparkled with invention and energy.

QPR are clear underdogs and their poor record on the road under Mark Hughes – one point since his appointment in January – does not favour their chances.

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