Premier League Preview – Chelsea make room for Manchester United at top of table

Chelsea’s title defence has been derailed in remarkable fashion with Carlo Ancelotti’s side losing three of their last four Premier League games and throwing the title race wide open.

Despite struggling to hit top form so far this season, Manchester United have gradually gained ground on their rivals and are now level on points with Chelsea after last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Wigan. A Wayne Rooney penalty against Rangers on Wednesday night secured their progress to the knock out stages of the Champions League, while extending their unbeaten run in all competitions to an impressive 28 games.

Sir Alex Ferguson decided to rest a number of key players in the week, including central defensive pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanji Vidic. Their both expected to return to action on Saturday afternoon when the Red Devils can move to the top of the Premier League with a victory over Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford.

Arsenal looked to be heading to the top of the league last Saturday, cruising into a two goal lead against North London rivals Tottenham. Their ambitious attack minded approach proved to be their undoing though, Tottenham eventually running out 3-2 winners as the Gunners suffered a third defeat in seven Premier League games at the Emirates this season.

They travel to Villa Park at the weekend where they will face an Aston Villa side down in 13th, having been plagued by injury throughout the season. Their injury woes continued this week when rising star Marc Albrighton was ruled out for up to four weeks, joining other notable absentees Emile Heskey, John Carew, Nigel Reo Coker, Stilian Petrov and Steven Sidwell on the sidelines.

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has been widely criticized for employing what some consider to be over conservative tactics both on the road and in front of their home fans. However, his side responded to those critics with a 4-1 demolition of Fulham at Craven Cottage, producing arguably their best performance of the campaign so far. Last weekend’s comprehensive victory reignited their title challenge and they can heap more pressure on the leaders when they take on Stoke City at the Britannia stadium.

After a stuttered start to the campaign, Stoke have quickly found their feet with three successive wins over Birmingham, Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion lifting them out of the bottom three and up to 8th. West Bromwich Albion have collecting just one point from a possible 15 and having been up with the pace setters early on, must now face up to the reality of a relegation scrap. Their task doesn’t get much easier on Saturday when they travel to Merseyside to lock horns with Everton who despite some eye catching results, not least their win over Liverpool, are worryingly close to the bottom three.

Newcastle United suffered an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at Bolton last weekend and Magpies boss Chris Hughton will be expecting a positive response from his players on Sunday when they entertain a Chelsea side looking far from their formidable self on the pitch while rumours continue to circulate concerning developments off it.

Finally, two potential challengers for a top four place meet on Sunday when Tottenham entertain Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool at White Hart Lane. There have been encouraging signs for Liverpool recently but they are still to find the formula away from home with just one win on the road all season.

Game of the weekend: Tottenham vs. Liverpool

Despite their inconsistency, Tottenham are just six points behind pace setters Chelsea and Harry Redknapp believes a title challenge is certainly within the realms of possibility. In contrast, Liverpool boss Roy Hogdson will just be pleased to see his side inside the top half after a torrid start to his reign at the club. A win at White Hart Lane on Sunday would leave them hot on the heels of Tottenham and reignite their challenge for Champions League football next season.

Blast from the past: 24th April 2010 – West Ham United 3-2 Wigan

The hosts were behind after just 4 minutes, Jonathan Spector turning it into his own net. Goals from Ilan and Robert Kovac seemed to put West Ham in command before Wigan striker Hugo Rodallega slotting home to set up a tense finale. Scott Parker proved to be the hero, latching onto a loose ball and firing home from 25 yards to the Hammers take a massive step towards survival.

On this day : 10 years ago – 2000/2001

Manchester United recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory over Derby County, extending their lead to eight points at the top after Arsenal were beaten 1-0 by Leeds United at Elland Road.

Five years ago – 2005/06

Chelsea maintained their 10 point advantage over Manchester United with a narrow 1-0 defeat of Middlesbrough. Elsewhere, Charlton were thumped 5-2 by Manchester City, dropping to 12th after four consecutive defeats.

One year ago – 2009/2010

Manchester United cruised to an impressive 4-0 victory over struggling West Ham at Upton Park, closing the gap at the top of the table to just two points. Elsewhere, Carlos Tevez and Emanuel Adebayor inspired Manchester City to a 2-1 win over league leaders Chelsea.

Round 15 fixtures

Saturday 27th November

Aston Villa vs. Arsenal – 12.45 – Live on Sky Sports

Bolton vs. Blackpool – 15.00

Everton vs. West Brom – 15.00

Fulham vs. Birmingham – 15.00

Manchester Utd vs. Blackburn – 15.00

Stoke vs. Manchester City – 15.00

West Ham vs. Wigan – 15.00

Wolves vs. Sunderland – 15.00

Sunday 28th November

Newcastle vs. Chelsea – 13.30 – Live on Sky Sports

Tottenham vs. Liverpool – 16.00 – Live on Sky Sports

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