We’ve barely managed to digest the midweek Premier League action yet once again we find ourselves with another full schedule of top-flight football to feast our eyes over this weekend.
London and Midlands derbies, bottom-of-the-table scraps, unsavoury reunions and a showdown between the season’s surprise packages will all be on show.
And while there are plenty more things to look forward to, here are the pick of the bunch…
After their respective problems last season, who would have guessed that West Ham United versus Swansea City would be billed as a clash between two sides challenging for Europe? After a minor blip the Irons have won their past two games and are riding high in fifth with 24 points, while the Swans sit two points and two places below them, still very much in the hunt for the European qualification places after an important home victory against QPR on Tuesday. Both sides will be desperate to avoid defeat which could mean a tight affair at Upton Park on Sunday, however with the two teams playing attractive football this season and containing a number of flair players, there remains the potential for the game to be a cracker.
Despite a remarkable start, Southampton’s season is in real danger of careering off the rails; an agonisingly late defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday means the Saints are on a three-match winless streak, and an ever-growing injury list makes Monday night’s home tie against in-form Manchester United a daunting one for Ronald Koeman’s side. Although the Red Devils have significant injury problems of their own, they boast greater depth in their squad, and will be confident of securing a result on the South Coast. Indeed, it is the Saints’ lack of effective options beyond their first team that could be their downfall this season. The tie will also be an intriguing one given that Koeman and United boss Louis van Gaal – who once worked together at Barcelona in the late 1990s – are supposedly not on good terms, dating back to a feud which developed when the pair were working at Ajax.
Stoke City versus Arsenal at the Britannia has become one of the Premier League’s most hostile encounters, partly because of the perceived jarring contrast between Stoke’s rough and physical approach to the game and Arsenal’s more delicate and aesthetically pleasing style of play, but mainly due to the animosity which has existed between the two teams following a horrific leg break suffered by Gunners midfielder Aaron Ramsey in 2010 after a challenge by Potters defender Ryan Shawcross. While it may be lazy to continue labelling Stoke as an ugly side more concerned with tackling and shoving than with passing and moving – indeed, they played some wonderful football at times last season under Mark Hughes – this particular tie still seems to motivate the Potters more than any other game. Arsenal’s record against Stoke at the Britannia has been awful in recent years – will Arsene Wenger’s men show some resilience and mental fortitude to grind out a victory and silence the doubters? Or will they wilt yet again?
Two crucial relegation clashes in the space of a week at Loftus Road for Harry Redknapp’s QPR side – while last weekend’s hard-fought 3-2 victory over Leicester City may have briefly boosted the team’s confidence, the Rs came crashing back down to earth in midweek with a limp defeat at Swansea City. Burnley are the visitors on Saturday; considered to be dead certs for the drop just a few weeks ago, the Clarets have astounded everyone by embarking on a four-match unbeaten run, and three points this weekend would lift them out of the relegation zone. This is a game that QPR simply must win in their fight for Premier League survival; they may be pre-match favourites, but they certainly shouldn’t take buoyant Burnley for granted.
Sitting precariously in 16th and 17th place respectively, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City would not have liked to have gone into their tie at the KC Stadium as possible relegation candidates. Nevertheless, a dire run of form for both sides has rendered them thus; four successive losses means that Baggies boss Alan Irvine is currently the bookies’ favourite for the sack, while Hull manager Steve Bruce hasn’t exactly excelled this season either, despite significant investment in the summer. Another damaging loss could signal the end for one of these embattled managers.
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