Premier League preview – Man Utd and Chelsea look to get back among the points

The beginning of 2011 will be celebrated with a traditional full Premier League fixture list. Liverpool and Aston Villa will hope the New Year brings them a change of fortune as they look to put an unsuccessful 2010 behind them. On the other hand, Premier League newcomers Blackpool have had a remarkable 12 months that has seen them transform from an over achieving lower league side into an established Premier League club and they’ll be hoping their rapid progress continues in 2011.

Manchester United will head into the New Year top of the pile in one of the most competitive title races in the history of the Premier League. Sir Alex Ferguson saw his side drop valuable points in the dying seconds against Birmingham on Tuesday night, something that has become a regular occurrence away from home this season.

They’ll be looking to record just their second away win of the season on Saturday when they take on West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. The Baggies looked to have squashed any relegation fears with back to back successes over Everton and Newcastle. Three defeats on the bounce however have seen them drop to 14th and dangerously close to the bottom three. The head to head statistics are worrying for the home team as well, Manchester United winning all nine Premier League meetings between the sides.

Manchester City will look to extend their winning streak to three games when they face a Blackpool side who added Sunderland to their impressive list of scalps in their travels this season. Manchester City put a disappointing 2-1 defeat by Everton behind them to record comfortable victories over Newcastle and Aston Villa and move level on points with fierce rivals Manchester United. Summer signing Mario Balotelli has had his troubles over the past few months but a hat-trick against Aston Villa suggests he’s beginning to adjust to the demands of English football.

Elsewhere on Saturday West Ham United and Wolves meet in a crucial clash at the bottom of the table. Stoke City welcome an Everton side unbeaten in six games to the Britannia Stadium while Birmingham, who took points off Manchester United in midweek will be hoping for a similar result over an Arsenal side who having confirmed their title credentials with a win over Chelsea, could only secure a point against Wigan on Wednesday night and must bounce back to form immediately.

Chelsea ended a torrid run of six games without a win on Wednesday night with a narrow 1-0 victory over Bolton at Stamford Bridge. The champions were still far from their invincible self but showed signs of returning to form and can continue their recovery with three points against Aston Villa on Sunday. Villa were brushed aside with ease by Manchester City in the week and have picked up just four points on the road all season, offering little in the way of hope for a trip to Stamford Bridge.

Game of the weekend: West Ham United vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

The bottom two sides in the Premier League table lock horns in a mouth watering relegation six pointer at Upton Park. The Hammers temporarily moved off the bottom of the table having picked up five points from their last three games, however, Wolves ensured their time at the foot of the table was short lived with a memorable 1-0 defeat over Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday night.

Blast from the past: Wed 26th December 2007 – Tottenham 5-1 Fulham

Tottenham dominated the early exchanges and opened the scoring on 27 minutes, Robbie Keane slotting home from close range. Tom Huddlestone doubled their advantage on the stroke of half time with an unstoppable drive from 20 yards. Clint Dempsey gave Fulham brief hope, pulling a goal back after the break but Robbie Keane restored Tottenham’s two goal cushion just a few minutes later. Huddlestone added a fourth, again from outside the penalty area before Jermain Defoe completed the rout in stoppage time to cap a fine attacking display from the home side.

On this day : 10 years ago – 2000/2001
Manchester United recorded a comfortable 3-1 victory over West Ham United to move 11 points clear of Arsenal who were joined on 38 points by Sunderland, who moved up to third with an emphatic 4-1 defeat of fourth placed Ipswich Town.

Five years ago – 2005/06
Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to 13 points with a 3-1 victory against West Ham United while their closest challengers Manchester United and Liverpool were both held to draws by Arsenal and Bolton.

One year ago – 2009/2010
Manchester United cruised to a 5-0 win over Wigan Athletic to move within two points of league leaders Chelsea. Elsewhere, a second half Stephen Hunt brace saw Hull City come from behind to secure a 2-2 draw with fellow strugglers Bolton.

Round 18 fixtures

Saturday 1st January
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester Utd – 12.45 – Live on Sky Sports
Liverpool vs. Bolton – 15.00
Manchester City vs. Blackpool – 15.00
Stoke City vs. Everton – 15.00
Sunderland vs. Blackburn – 15.00
Tottenham vs. Fulham – 15.00
West Ham Utd vs. Wolves – 15.00
Birmingham vs. Arsenal – 17.30 – Live on ESPN

Sunday 2nd January
Chelsea vs. Aston Villa – 13.30 – Live on Sky Sports
Wigan vs. Newcastle Utd – 16.00 – Live on Sky Sports

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