1. Toffees must lose that drawing feeling
David Moyes continues to perform miracles at Goodison Park yet four straight draws has blunted the Toffees’ recent charge up the table. Failure to beat Wigan, QPR, Liverpool and Fulham heaps the pressure on Everton to defeat an out-of-sorts Sunderland this weekend and solidify their top four berth.
2. Wes Hoolahan
The Republic of Ireland international has been earning rave reviews since Chris Hughton altered his starting formation to allow the diminutive midfielder play just behind lone-striker Grant Holt. It’s no coincidence that Norwich have picked up seven points from their last three games once Hoolahan was granted a more central attacking role culminating in the Irishman netting City’s goal in a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa. Giovanni Trapattoni bowed to public demand and included the Norwich midfielder in his squad for the upcoming Greece friendly and on current form he deserves a starting place.
3. Adkins last stand
Rumours of Nigel Adkins impending departure from the Southampton hot seat are certain to overshadow Swansea’s visit to St Mary’s. Guiding the club to the promised land will not be enough to save his job following a dreadful start that sees Southampton propping up the table with just one win from ten matches. Big money signings Gaston Ramirez and Jay Rodriguez have failed to inspire to such an extent that not even a badly needed home victory over Swansea is likely to save Adkins from the chop.
4. Can the Emirates become a fortress once again?
Arsenal’s record of one win from four home fixtures is as worrying as their recent European form making Saturday’s encounter with Fulham a must-win game. Arsene Wenger’s assertion that his team has lost self-belief in recent times was underlined by the squandering of a two-goal Champions League lead for the first time since December 2000 away to Schalke on Wednesday night. The Emirates Stadium must become a fortress once again if Wenger’s side is to make any sort of impact in this season’s Premier league, starting with a win over Fulham.
5. Etihad showdown for two under-fire managers
Both Roberto Mancini and Andre Villas-Boas have endured difficult weeks raising the stakes for Sunday’s lunchtime fixture. Villas-Boas drew the ire of Spurs fans by withdrawing top-scorer Jermain Defoe whilst chasing a 1-0 deficit at home to Wigan and desperately needs an improved performance to quell growing discontent amongst Tottenham’s supporters. Mancini’s inability to get the better of Ajax over two Champions League fixtures means nothing but three points will suffice at home to the North Londoners as City look to keep pace with Chelsea and Manchester United.
6. Andy Carroll back in Toon
The England international striker will no doubt be anxious to make an impact on his return to St James’ Park in West Ham United’s colours. Carroll has yet to score in six appearances for the Hammers since his surprise loan move from Liverpool and manager Sam Allardyce needs the pony-tailed striker to open his account with West Ham having picked up just a single point from their previous two outings.
7. Who will Alex Ferguson start up front against Aston Villa?
The fact Javier Hernandez, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney all scored in the midweek Champions League victory at Braga presents Alex Ferguson with a welcome but difficult decision ahead of the trip to Villa Park. The trio have combined for 20 goals in all competitions so far and although Hernandez has only begun scoring in recent games, his upturn in form cannot be ignored. Ferguson may even opt for a three-pronged attack considering Villa has conceded nine goals on home soil already this term.
8. Will Chelsea continue with the beautiful game?
One of the most striking aspects of Chelsea’s thrilling 3-2 midweek defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk was the manner in which the London club eked out their late win. Oscar, Hazard and Mata moved the ball with lightening speed and anchored a dazzling 90-minute display full of attractive football. Chelsea’s performance was light years away from the Mourinho-styled pressing game that used to stifle the life out of opponents. Two games without a Premier League victory might necessitate a more robust approach for Liverpool’s visit yet Chelsea have demonstrated they possess the weaponry to carve open defences playing their own version of ‘tiki-taka’.
9. Fresh Liverpool could cause a shock
The decision to leave Gerrard, Suarez, Allen, Sahin, Agger, Reina, Johnson and Sterling at home for Thursday’s Europa League tie at Anzhi Makhachkala means Brendan Rodgers has a fully rested XI for Sunday’s trip to London. Liverpool have won only twice in the Premier League this season but enjoyed success at Stamford Bridge in recent years suggesting Rodgers’ side may well have the edge on a Chelsea team pushed to the limit by Shakhtar.
10. Six-pointer at the Britannia
QPR’s visit to the Britannia Stadium is a pivotal fixture for two clubs drastically out of form and situated at the wrong end of the table. Mark Hughes’ side were unfortunate not to rack up a first win at home to Reading last time out while Stoke lost 1-0 at Carrow Road on the same weekend. A seventh league loss would increase the pressure on an already beleaguered Mark Hughes while Tony Pulis’ authority would come under serious scrutiny were Stoke to slip closer towards the relegation zone.
Follow Ger on Twitter: @germccarthy74