Premier League Preview – Alan Pardew’s Newcastle debut cannot detract attention from an open title race

Whilst the managerial debut of Alan Pardew in the Newcastle hotseat has eyebrows raised, the title race is what is really getting pulses racing. The number one spot at the top of the Premier League table is beginning to change hands on a weekly basis, with Arsenal taking over the role as pacesetters after Samir Nasri inspired them to a narrow 2-1 victory over Fulham. Manchester United were dislodged at the top as their encounter with Blackpool fell victim to the big freeze that has struck across the country.

These two title contenders will go head to head in what promises to be a memorable Monday night clash at Old Trafford. For all their attractive and jaw-dropping football, Arsenal have struggled to make an impact in the title race in recent seasons. Many put this down to their record against the other so called big sides and they must achieve better results this season to have any chance of Premier League glory.

Manchester United extended their impressive UEFA Champions League unbeaten streak on Tuesday night, a 1-1 draw with Valencia enough to secure their progress to the knockout stage as group winners. Wayne Rooney showed signs of returning to his best in midweek and is sure to provide numerous problems for the Gunners defence alongside Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov.

Defending Premier League champions Chelsea looked invincible earlier in the season but after picking up just three points from their last six games have quickly relinquished their place at the top of the table. Remarkably though, they can go back above Manchester United and Arsenal on Sunday with a victory over fellow Londoners Tottenham at White Hart Lane. Tottenham could well enter Sunday’s encounter as slight favourites, having reignited their title challenge in recent weeks while qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League. Recent meetings at White Hart Lane also point to a home triumph with Tottenham winning three of the last four encounters.

On Saturday evening, Newcastle United will take on Liverpool with newly appointed manager Alan Pardew taking charge for the first time. The announcement on Thursday afternoon came just three days after the sacking of former boss Chris Hughton and it remains to be seen what effect his departure will have on the Newcastle squad. Liverpool continue to gradually improve their league position after a disastrous start to the campaign, recording a comfortable 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on Monday night to move into the top eight.

Elsewhere on Saturday, two local Midlands rivals Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion lock horns at Villa Park. The lengthy injury list is beginning to take its toll at Aston Villa. Four consecutive defeats has seen Gerard Houllier’s side drop to 16th and in danger of dropping into the bottom three on Saturday night. In contrast the Baggies will be full of confidence for the short trip to Birmingham having registered back to back victories over Newcastle and Everton.

Finally, with all the other title contenders facing each other in the next few days Manchester City have a glorious chance to extend their six game unbeaten run and gain ground on their rivals when they take on a struggling West Ham United at Upton Park.

<Game of the weekend: Tottenham vs. Chelsea

Tottenham have been presented with a golden opportunity to get one over on their fierce local rivals who continue to fail miserably on the pitch. White Hart Lane has been the scene of many great triumphs for Spurs over the years, not least last months 3-1 victory over European champions Inter Milan which proved they are more than a match for anyone this season.

Blast from the past: 28th December 2008 – Newcastle 1-5 Liverpool

Liverpool dominated proceedings from start to finish, Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia giving them a comfortable two goal lead. However, David Edgar’s goal on the stroke of half time gave the Magpies hope in the second half. Liverpool continued to run riot though and got their reward as second half goals from Ryan Babel, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso from the penalty spot wrapped up the three points in breathtaking fashion.

On this day : 10 years ago – 2000/2001

Ray Parlour notched his first Premier League hat-trick as Arsenal hammered Newcastle 5-0 to close the gap on league leaders Manchester United to six points who were held to a 3-3 draw by Charlton.

Five years ago – 2005/06

Bolton continued their impressive form with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park while a Michael Owen hat-trick helped Newcastle defeat West Ham United 4-2.

One year ago – 2009/2010

In the battle for fourth spot, Tottenham ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over big spending Manchester City while Bolton moved out of the relegation zone courtesy of a 3-1 victory over a struggling West Ham United.

Round 17 fixtures

Saturday 11th December

Aston Villa vs. West Bromwich Albion – 15.00

Everton vs. Wigan – 15.00

Fulham vs. Sunderland – 15.00

Stoke vs. Blackpool – 15.00

West Ham Utd vs. Manchester City- 15.00

Newcastle vs. Liverpool – 17.30 – Live on ESPN

Sunday 12th December

Bolton vs. Blackburn – 13.30 – Live on Sky Sports

Wolves vs. Birmingham – 13.30

Tottenham vs. Chelsea – 16.00 – Live on Sky Sports

Monday 13th December

Manchester Utd vs. Arsenal – 20.00 – Live on Sky Sports

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