Premier League Preview - Bragging rights at stake as Merseyside derby takes centre stage
There was a short break in the Premier League calendar last weekend as all 20 Premier League sides began their quest for FA Cup glory. It was a short lived challenge for five clubs as Liverpool, Sunderland, Newcastle, West Brom and Blackpool all went crashing out at the first hurdle. Current holders Chelsea managed to put some horrid league form behind them to record a 7-0 crushing of Ipswich Town and progress to the fourth round along with ten other Premier League sides.
The Premier League is the bread and butter though and nothing less than three points will do when they entertain Blackburn Rovers at Stamford Bridge on Saturday afternoon. The absence of Frank Lampard throughout the first half of the season has clearly dented their title challenge. However, the England midfielder signalled a return to full fitness with two goals last weekend and could provide the inspiration they so desperately need to reignite their title challenge.
Sunday serves up a feast of Premier League football. Three of the countries most famous local derbies along with a top four clash provide the most anticipated edition of Super Sunday this season.
Birmingham and Aston Villa lock horns at St Andrews on both keen to ease their relegation fears with three points. Aston Villa have dominated this meeting in recent years, currently unbeaten in their last 7 Premier League matches against Birmingham.
The Tyne-Wear derby will see some of the countries most passionate football fans come together when Sunderland and Newcastle United clash at the Stadium of Light. The reverse fixture earlier this season saw the Magpies hand out a 5-1 hammering to their neighbours, a result that has haunted Black Cats boss Steve Bruce ever since. His side reacted in a positive manner though - their consistent league form pushing them into the top six places and with the chance of playing in Europe next season.
Next up is the Merseyside derby, a fixture that never fails to get pulses racing around the world. A 3-1 defeat by Blackburn Rovers last week finally saw Roy Hodgson relieved of his duties after a difficult time in charge at Liverpool. Reds legend Kenny Dalglish was quickly appointed as the man to succeed Hodgson until the end of the season, a decision that has clearly gone down well with the Anfield faithful. However, a 1-0 Fa cup defeat by Manchester United was followed by yet another defeat on the road by Blackpool on Wednesday night and a reminder to Dalglish of the mighty task that he faces.
Everton have struggled themselves for consistency this season, but will be fully wound up for the trip across Stanley Park hoping to win at Anfield for the first time since 1999 and complete an historic Premier League double after a 2-0 victory at Goodison Park back in October.
Finally, pacesetters Manchester United can move a step closer to regaining the title when they travel to Tottenham for a top four clash at White Hart Lane. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp is adamant his side can mount a title challenge this season but defeat on Sunday would leave them 11 points adrift of the Red Devils, a deficit that may prove a bridge to far for his side.
Game of the weekend: Liverpool vs. Everton
The Mersey side derby is one of the most famous derbies in world football and this one carries even more significance then ever. Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish will take charge at Anfield for the first time in his second stint in charge of the club. A much needed victory for the home side would move them above the Toffees and moving back in the right direction after a 2010 to forget.
Blast from the past: 29th September 2001 – Tottenham 3-5 Manchester Utd
Tottenham dominated the first 45 minutes and goals from Dean Richards, Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege put them firmly in control heading in the break. The Red Devils were a different proposition in the second half though and three consecutive headed goals from Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc and Ruud van Nistelrooy got them back on level terms. They weren’t finished there however, Sebastian Veron firing them in front late on before David Beckham unleashed a ferocious drive past Neil Sullivan to complete an unbelievable turnaround that shocked the White Hart Lane faithful.
On this day : 10 years ago – 2000/2001
Manchester United increased their lead over the chasing pack to 11 points with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Bradford City while Middlesbrough moved out of the relegation zone with a 4-0 win over fellow strugglers Derby County at the Riverside.
Five years ago - 2005/06
Manchester United reduced Chelsea’s lead at the top to 14 points, Rio Ferdinand’s injury time goal helping them to a narrow 1-0 defeat over third placed Liverpool. Birmingham crushed Portsmouth 5-0 to move above their opponents into 18th, just three points off safety.
One year ago - 2009/2010
Nicolas Anelka and Frank Lampard bagged a brace a piece as Chelsea hammered Sunderland 7-2 to stay one point clear of Manchester United who comfortably secured three points of their own with a 3-0 victory against Burnley at Old Trafford.
Round 23 fixtures
Saturday 15th January
Chelsea vs. Blackburn - 15.00
Manchester City vs. Wolves - 15.00
Stoke City vs. Bolton - 15.00
West Bromwich Albion vs. Blackpool - 15.00
Wigan vs. Fulham - 15.00
West Ham Utd vs. Arsenal - 17.30 - Live on ESPN
Sunday 16th January
Birmingham vs. Aston Villa - 12.00 - Live on Sky Sports
Sunderland vs. Newcastle Utd - 12.00
Liverpool vs. Everton - 14.05 - Live on Sky Sports
Tottenham vs. Manchester Utd - 16.10 - Live on Sky Sports