The weekend kicks off with the always fiercely passionate north-east derby between Newcastle United and Sunderland, who are looking to complete a league double over Newcastle for the first time since 1966-67.
Sunderland’s results have steadily improved since Gus Poyet became manager in October culminating in their Capital One semi-final success over Manchester United last week which has set them up for a Wembley date with Manchester City in March. In the other matches on Saturday, Manchester United visit Stoke City, Cardiff City host Norwich City, struggling Fulham entertain Southampton and West Ham are at home to Swansea.
Manchester United, boosted by the arrival of 37.1 million pound ($61.5 million) club record signing Juan Mata who had a fine debut in the 2-0 win over basement club Cardiff City on Tuesday, face another old favourite on Saturday.
They make the short trip to Stoke City, managed by ex-United striker Mark Hughes, for the second time in five weeks after winning a Capital One Cup quarter-final there 2-0 last month. Wayne Rooney is still sidelined with a groin injury, but is reportedly back in training. If the striker is fit, Manchester United could feature a front three of Robin Van Persie, Rooney and Mata. Van Persie just returned to the League after missing close to a month with a knee injury. He scored in his comeback game against Cardiff City last week.
Stoke badly need a win after no victories in eight league matches, a run which has seen them slip from 10th to 16th in the last month, while seventh-placed United need to close the gap on the top four.
Everton, who have slipped from fourth to sixth in the last two weeks, will be looking for a quick return to form against erratic Aston Villa, but will have to look elsewhere for goals following top scorer Romelu Lukaku’s ankle injury against Liverpool which could sideline him for weeks.
But the bigger clashes of the weekend are reserved for Sunday and Monday.
Manchester City will bid to extend their perfect Premier League home record this season when they defend top spot against third-placed Chelsea on Monday. Manchester City, who went top of the table with a crushing 5-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, host Chelsea after Jose Mourinho’s team were held 0-0 at home by West Ham United in a London derby on Wednesday.
Chelsea visit City
The big clash at the Etihad, where City have scored 42 goals in 11 league wins this season, will be a prelude of the team’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at the same stadium in mid-February.
Former leaders Arsenal, who dropped two points in 2-2 draw at Southampton on Tuesday and are now one behind City, face improving Crystal Palace at home on Sunday in a rarely-played derby between the two London sides.
Arsenal have lost three times against Palace in 34 matches since they first met 80 years ago and while they should beat them again as they usually do, Palace have become far more resilient since Tony Pulis became manager in November. Palace were bottom when Pulis arrived but are now 14th, five points clear of the relegation zone after losing only one of their last four league games.
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