Barclays Premier League Week 15
Another set of Premier League encounters promises much in terms of drama, including Sunday's Manchester and London derbies - with both colossal clashes screened
Champions Manchester United head to Eastlands to tackle bitter rivals Manchester City in the first instalment of Sunday's pre-festive feast of football; an excuse to early indulge your footballing bellies. Sir Alex Ferguson faces an affluent City outfit led by his former striker Mark Hughes, who boasts two previous wins over his mentor, as the clubs engage in their 150th meeting.
Bragging rights were with City last season as they conquered their adversaries with success in both league meetings. The ambitious club, who are set to have British record signing Robinho in tow, will be eager to build on last weekend's scalp of a vulnerable Arsenal side, while Ferguson has issues on the road to address after managing just three wins in their last 11 top-flight away games.
Fear not, the banquet is ongoing, for at 4pm another epic kicks-off. Chelsea host London foes Arsenal with the two sides separated by 10 points in the table. It is a gap that has come about through Luiz Felipe Scolari's imposing beginning in England coupled with Arsene Wenger's handling of a young side that has reeked of turbulence of late - although some see a 21-year-old as their saviour.
Cesc Fabregas will lead the Gunners out in the Premier League for the first time since he succeeded former Blues defender William Gallas as skipper, with the Frenchman's latest outburst - this time Stamford Bridge-related - adding further dynamite to a potentially exploside match-up. The saying suggests that Wenger's charges rise to the big occasions (see Stoke City, and then Man United) and Scolari will be all too wary of what would be an upset and dent to his, and a fillip to Arsenal's, title aspirations.
Remaining on Sunday, the day of rest, there are two 3pm matches as Portsmouth host Blackburn Rovers and Everton travel to Tottenham Hotspur. Tony Adams is yet to record his first home win as Pompey manager, although he came within a whisker during midweek after AC Milan denied his troops with seconds to spare. Rovers, meanwhile, are wobbling and lie second from bottom. They are without three points in eight outings, and Paul Ince knows deliverance is a calling.
Tottenham are having a whale of a time under Harry Redknapp, who has won seven of his nine encounters at the helm since replacing Juande Ramos last month. The North Londoners will be buoyed by Thursday's European triumph and Redknapp will be confident of outwitting his counterpart David Moyes after he beat the Toffees 3-0 earlier this season as Pompey chief. Everton have yet to really find their feet this term after they lost their balance at Wigan Athletic, following a promising run of form.
On Saturday, the Tees-Tyne derby takes place as Middlesbrough do battle with Newcastle United. Goals could be plentiful in this one as supporters at the Riverside Stadium have witnessed a hatful in recent times: 29 net-ripplers in eight league fixtures. Magpies permanent boss Joe Kinnear appears to have brought about a balance at St James' Park and the Toon faithful will give few 'Fs' if they can replicate their Chelsea resilience of last week. Gareth Southgate, meanwhile, will demand his team turn chances into goals after squandering cost them versus Bolton Wanderers seven days prior.
Bolton tackle a partially creaking Sunderland outfit at the Stadium of Light. Roy Keane, who despite achieving so much on Wearside in his short time, has recently felt the infamous chill of pressure run down his spine. Fives losses in six spells issues but Keane will be confident that with the players at his disposal he can turn his fortunes around. The Trotters, while not particularly pleasing on the eye, head into the clash boosted by three wins in four matches.
Fourth-placed Aston Villa are in action with Fulham, who must shrug off their lingering bout of homesickness if they are to set their sights a little higher. Away from the comfort of the Cottage, the West London team have won only three of their last 42 Premier League away games. Fragile stomachs, indeed. But 12 points from a possible 21 is certainly encouraging form. Villa, most people's favourite to shake-up the 'big four', will be seeking to build on their nullifying of United.
Newly-promoted duo Stoke City and Hull City are in action at the Britannia Stadium, the former on the up after a stuttering start while the latter on a downer after a brilliant beginning. The Potters will be eager to continue their excellent home form, after amounting four straight league victories. The Tigers' early displays have afforded them minimal slippage in terms of positioning in the table but, with the table so chock-a-block with teams in the teens, a sixth outing without a win could spark whispers of worry.
Saturday's final match-up is at Wigan as they meet bottom-of-the-table West Bromwich Albion, whose pretty play has rewarded them little. Tony Mowbray's Baggies, who have gone 298 minutes without a top-flight goal, have received pat-on-the-backs from certain circles for their ethos, but seven matches without three points nudges a rethink. The Latics, meanwhile, proved their mettle with a footballistically poor, but nonetheless successful, display versus Everton on Monday to climb out of the relegation zone.