The Van Persie versus Suarez show
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Old Trafford: RVP v Suarez
Liverpool felt aggrieved the last time they met Manchester United, for they outplayed their rivals with ten men yet were beaten by a ruthless opponent as Robin van Persie's late penalty secured all three points. Their chance for retribution, and also a third consecutive league victory (something they have not achieved this season), comes on Sunday at Old Trafford, when, amid the many bitter strands of subplot, there just might be an excellent game of football played.
These sides boast arguably the division's two most titillating forwards in Robin van Persie - pause for a moment and reminisce just how gorgeous his goal at Upton Park was - and Luis Suarez, who is guaranteed a, let's say, 'unfriendly' reception. While last weekend's (probably not deliberate, even if we consider his history) handball saw his pantomime villain tag grow stronger still, it is worth noting how good he has been this campaign: the Uruguayan trails his Dutch counterpart's tally of 16 league goals this season by just one.
The Reds will be smarting that the Red Devils are 21 points higher than them in the table but, regardless of this chasm, should be optimistic of their chances of securing three points, given the form of Suarez and their recent run of form. The body-popping Daniel Sturridge has been signed to offer depth up front and is set to make his league debut having scored in the FA Cup last weekend, albeit versus Mansfield.
Rodgers must ponder what to do with Sturridge, as Suarez rightly owns the central berth at present. The Ulsterman might bear in mind that attack could be the best form of defence for the visitors, such has been United's habit for conceding goals this term. Indeed, 28 of them have been leaked in 21 games thus far and, although back-to-back clean sheets were recently achieved, the two let in at West Ham means Sir Alex Ferguson has key selection decisions to make: both at centre-back and also in midfield.
Arsenal: Entertainment value
Never* a dull game when Arsenal are involved. This is because they are often hilariously bad in defence (so much for the Steve Bould effect, eh?) with their mental fragility exacerbating the likelihood of a capitulation at any moment. Take their recent trip to Swansea, when Arsene Wenger's side at least showed an adequate pair of chestnuts to restore parity and even take the lead late on. It came as no surprise, though, when they conceded Danny Graham's 87th-minute goal - the marking for which was fictional.
Still, Manchester City visit on Sunday, a team that have failed to score in each of their last five top-flight visits to Emirates Stadium - so there is a glimmer of hope a clean sheet could be achieved. But even if City do cut short the aforementioned statistic - and, let's be honest, it looks almost certain they will score - there will be few of their supporters to see the North London net finally ripple, after 912 unsold tickets, priced at £62, were returned this week.
What has predictably ensued is partisan bickering and point-scoring among sets of fans - missing the point entirely. The crux is that football, overall, is increasingly too expensive and supporters are in danger of being priced out of attending the game they adore. Furthermore, as footballers' wages continue to spiral from eye-watering to downright insulting, it seems ticket prices will correlate, too. While City fans' actions are correct and could - and hopefully will - prove a watershed moment, we have a problem, with no clear solution at present.
*Editorial accepts no blame if Sunday's match is comatose.
Chelsea: Ba to the rescue
Poor, Rafa. Successive defeats at home, with no goals scored, will not endear you to a Stamford Bridge faithful that already think you can do no right. These two, while clearly very poor, results aside, there have been significant performances. The 8-0 humping of Aston Villa demonstrated that a Benitez side will continue to attack even when in front, while their triumph at Everton was particularly impressive.
And they now have Demba Ba - although quite how much, if any, credit their Spanish manager can take for that is debatable. The addition of the former Newcastle striker means a sorry-looking Fernando Torres can be phased out due to 'fatigue' and a proper footballer, with co-ordination and all, can be utilised. Expect Ba to start and score at Stoke City this weekend.
Newcastle: In the doldrums
Excuse this self-indulgence for a moment but I was at the Brighton game when a Newcastle second string were comfortably beaten by a team from the Championship. Granted, it was a starting XI far removed from manager Alan Pardew's first choice, but the manner of the display was worryingly reminiscent of tactics that have been carried during the majority of the season. They were direct, and hopelessly so.
It is unclear if Pardew, he of the infamous eight-year contract, is under any real threat job-wise, but for sure his team are in a relegation battle now, far removed from the heady days of 2011-12. Two points separate them from the drop zone, while they have lost ten of their last 12 fixtures in all competitions. A chance to put smiles back on the barcode-clad fans comes at Norwich, who have lost four on the spin following a run of ten league games unbeaten.
Swansea: Welcome congestion
It was anticipated by some that the departure of Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool would put the skids on Swansea's rise. However, after what appears so far to be an inspired appointment in Michael Laudrup, the club are three points better off at this stage of the season than they were last. They are also in the semi-finals of the League Cup, and well placed to reach the Wembley final at that, following their 2-0 win at Chelsea during midweek.
The test for Laudrup and his players now is to cope with what is becoming a very busy schedule. Their home draw with Arsenal in the FA Cup third round means an extra fixture to contend with, on top of a second leg in the League Cup. A trip to Everton on Saturday is hardly a walk in the park, too, meaning the Danish coach must rotate wisely, and avoid running the brilliant Michu into the ground. Now, if only they could conjure another of the Spaniard during the winter transfer window...