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Ten tasty fixtures

With the eagerly awaited Premier League on the brink of the big kick-off ESPN Soccernet picks out ten tasty fixtures to look out for during the course of the campaign.

Everton v Arsenal - Saturday, August 15

Last season's fourth and fifth placed sides go head to head on the opening day of the season and this clash at Goodison Park could provide an early indicator as to how the race to crack the 'Big Four' will go this term.

Of the established top four, Arsenal are generally accepted to be the ones most likely to drop out of the Champions League qualifying places and Everton are one of the favourites to replace them.

The Toffees, who finished nine points behind Arsenal after being distracted from the league by the FA Cup final last season, are always tough at home and Arsene Wenger's depleted Gunners can expect a tough test. The fixture was a 1-1 draw last time out and Everton will be hoping to go one better.

Did we mention you can catch this match live on ESPN in the UK?

Manchester United v Manchester City - Sunday, September 20

In recent years the Manchester derby has diminished in importance as United won everything and City won nothing, irrespective of the result. But now the cash-rich Citizens have their eyes on the Premier League title that currently belongs to their rivals and have spent £100m on building a team they think is capable of winning it.

City's summer recruits include one Carlos Tevez, who used to ply his trade at United, and the Argentinean's transfer has caused something of a stir. Not only has the striker moved directly from Old Trafford to Eastlands, but he has also fired a parting shot or two at former manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Add to that the fact that a City billboard depicting Tevez and proclaiming "Welcome to Manchester" prompted Fergie to label his rivals as "a small club with a small mentality" and this derby match should have it all.

Aston Villa v Manchester City - Monday, October 05

Given City's aforementioned big-money recruitment drive it will come as no surprise that they plundered more than one Premier League club. Former Villa skipper Gareth Barry swapped Villa Park for Eastlands during the transfer window and can expect a hot reception when he returns to the Midlands.

The England midfielder said he would only leave the Villans to play Champions League football, but when City came calling with reported wages of £100,000-a-week, he was quick to sign for a club that didn't even qualify for the Europa League. You can imagine what the Villa fans think of that.

Add to this the fact that Villa and City will probably be fighting it out for similar positions in the Premier League this season and you have all the ingredients for a great match. You can watch all the action on ESPN in the UK.

Arsenal v Chelsea - Sunday, November 29

Even if Chelsea win this match, owner Roman Abramovich will probably leave the stadium with a scowl on his face as Arsenal's economically recruited youngsters play the beautiful style of football the Russian billionaire wants his expensively assembled side to play.

By November new boss Carlo Ancelotti will have realised that the Italian mentality of 'win at all costs' is not enough to please the oligarch, who sacked successful coach Jose Mourinho because of his direct style and has been through four managers in the interim two-years, if you include Ray Wilkins' temporary stint at the helm.

Arsenal will provide the benchmark for a progression of style under Ancelotti and bragging rights as London's top club will also be at stake.

Everton v Liverpool - Sunday, November 29

The Merseyside derby is always a hard fought affair and Everton will be keen to avenge their 2-0 defeat in the corresponding fixture last season. The duo clashed during the Toffees' sticky start to the 2008-09 campaign and David Moyes' side recovered to earn a 1-1 draw at Anfield later in the season.

The Toffees will want to give a much better account of themselves in front of their own fans this time around.

Although Everton know they can't win the Premier League they will be more than happy to dent the title hopes of their arch-rivals, particularly as David Moyes has been tipped to replace fellow Scot Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United; some say as soon as next season.

Manchester City v Chelsea - Saturday, December 5

In June 2003, a Russian billionaire bought a Premier League club, invested millions of pounds and turned an underachieving side into title winners and genuine Champions League contenders. His name was Roman Abramovich, the team was Chelsea, and together they changed the face of English football.

In August 2009, a billionaire Sheikh from the United Arab Emirates bought a Premier League club, invested millions of pounds and hopes to turn an underachieving side into title winners and genuine Champions League contenders. His name is Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the team is Manchester City, and together they are changing the face of English football.

This match will not just be about points, or money, but it will also determine if there has been a shift in power in the Premier League.

Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa - Saturday, February 6

These are another of two clubs who will be hoping to crack the top four; but as it is they will probably be battling it out for the same Europa League place and they are used to fighting for the same scraps.

In the summer, Spurs tried to sign England winger Stewart Downing from relegated Middlesbrough only to beaten by Villa, who agreed a £12m deal. And as luck would have it, the long-term injury victim should be just about fit enough to face his former suitors at White Hart Lane.

Meanwhile, Villa manager Martin O'Neill and Spurs boss Harry Redknapp were both linked to the England job before Fabio Capello got it and the February 6 clash will showcase their contrasting styles.

O'Neill works with a small squad and adds one or two carefully scouted players to it, whilst Redknapp prefers the scattergun approach and by the time this game comes around will probably have added another six strikers in the January transfer window that will prevent Peter Crouch from facing his former club.

Birmingham v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Saturday, February 6

Okay, so this might not be a glamour tie but this Midlands derby is sure to have much at stake, as both newly-promoted teams are expected to battle bravely against relegation this term.

Blues boss Alex McLeish and Wolves manager Mick McCarthy have both experienced the drop and will be doing everything in their power to avoid heading back the League Championship - including the archetypal last ditch signing in the January transfer window, of the Christophe Dugarry variety, that can stave off the drop.

This post-January clash will undoubtedly be pencilled in as 'must win' by both sets of fans and will be a match for instant heroes to emerge.

Manchester United v Liverpool - Saturday, March 20

It is fair to say that Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez and Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson dislike each other nearly as much as the fans of these north-west rivals have an aversion to each other.

Emboldened by a 2-1 win over United at Anfield and a seven point lead over his arch-rival at the top of the Premier League last season, Benitez famously turned up the heat on his fiery relationship with Ferguson by producing a list of 'facts' that he used to lambast the Scot in what became known as 'Rafa's Rant'.

Ferguson responded by calling his opposite number "disturbed" and United overhauled a stuttering Liverpool side to win the Premier League and equal the Reds' record of 18 top-flight titles.

Already this season Ferguson has baited Benitez by saying the Spaniard's side has no chance of winning the league this year, adding: "Liverpool had probably their best season for 20 years and still finished four points adrift."

By March the title will be up for grabs and the duo will undoubtedly be involved in a personal duel. This is a must see match.

Arsenal v Manchester City - Saturday, April 10

With only three matches remaining at this point in the season, both sets of fans might be hoping that this clash will go some way to deciding the title. It's more likely the match will be decisive in the race for fourth place; but that is not the full story.

Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor both left the Gunners to join City's "exciting project" on lucrative new contracts this summer and will be desperate to get one over their old club to secure a Champions League place and prove that the move north wasn't just for the money.

However, the fans who welcomed back former Gunner "Cashley" Cole by waving wads of fake money at the Chelsea full-back can surely be relied upon to do the same for this duo. It will certainly add atmosphere to game that will have much at stake.


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