Football action


The top five teams will all be in action tomorrow afternoon as the English Premier League returns to action after the international break, while Gus Poyet takes in his first game as the new boss at rock-bottom Sunderland.

The weekend action gets underway at St James’ Park, with Newcastle United welcoming high-flying Liverpool to the North East. The Reds are the Premier League’s joint-leaders at present, having amassed 16 points from their seven games so far. Skipper Steven Gerrard should be on a high after playing an instrumental role in England’s successful bid to reach the 2014 World Cup, and his Three Lions colleague Daniel Sturridge will also be in buoyant mood. The division’s top scorer, with six in seven games, netted twice on his last visit to Tyneside – in a 6-0 romp – and Liverpool have emerged victorious in 10 of their last 14 meetings with a Magpies side still searching for consistency in 2013/14.

Arsenal occupy the loftiest of top flight perches courtesy of their superior goal difference, and they will be determined to consolidate that standing when they welcome Norwich City to Emirates Stadium. The Gunners saw their winning run ended last time out, but remain unbeaten since the opening day of the season – a sequence of 11 games in all competitions. Inflicting a rare setback on Arsene Wenger’s troops is the challenge facing a Norwich outfit that finds itself inside the bottom three and struggling to provide a cutting edge. The Canaries have found the target on just five occasions in their opening seven fixtures, so Chris Hughton needs a clutch of forward-thinking summer signings to start delivering a return on his investment and faith.

Chelsea would be the first to admit that they have been hit and miss at times this season, but coach Jose Mourinho has a knack of grinding out results – especially at home – and will be happy enough with the progress made so far. With Chelsea having won 10 of their last 11 Premier League games at Stamford Bridge, top flight new boys Cardiff City are unlikely to be relishing a trip to west London. This is, however, the kind of occasion the club have been striving for and the Bluebirds – for all the recent shenanigans and rumours off the field – have already shown this term that they are capable of holding their own against the big boys.

It is testament to the fine work being overseen by Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton that the Saints head to Old Trafford this weekend sat above Manchester United in the top flight standings and with every reason to believe that they are capable of springing a surprise. United are in danger of losing their air of invincibility at the Theatre of Dreams, with visiting sides prepared to have a real go at David Moyes’ men. That said, on the back of a defeat against West Brom in their last home game in the league, the Red Devils have not lost successive Premier League fixtures in front of their own supporters since May 2002. They will want to preserve that record tomorrow, but standing between them another morale-boosting success will be the meanest defence around – with Southampton having been breached just twice.

It has not been entirely smooth sailing for Manchester’s other top flight heavyweight this season, withCityyet to secure back-to-back victories in the league. They will get another chance to right that particular wrong withWest Ham Unitedtheir opponents at Upton Park. City have lost just one of their last 12 league meetings with the Hammers, so history would appear to be very much on their side. Manuel Pellegrini will need to be wary of Sam Allardyce’s Hammers, though, as they are capable of brilliance on their day – as they showed during a 3-0 victory at Tottenham – and will be able to call upon the services of Ravel Morrison this weekend – a man brimming with confidence and a former United academy graduate.

Before that Everton will be looking to dust themselves down as they welcome Hull City to Merseyside. The Toffees saw the last of the Premier League’s unbeaten starts brought to an end prior to the international break, with Manchester City throwing a spanner into the works. Roberto Martinez’s men have, however, gone 12 games at Goodison Park since they last came unstuck and fancy their chances against anybody in their own backyard. They are unlikely to have things all their own way against Hull, though, with Steve Bruce having made the Tigers difficult to break down. Almost four hours have passed since they last picked the ball out of the back of their net, and maintaining that run on Saturday would help to keep them in the top-half of the table – possibly edging above Everton if they can produce something at the other end of the field.

Poyet’s bow as a Premier League manager comes at Swansea City, with Sunderland making the long trip to South Wales hoping a fresh start brings about an upturn in fortune. The Black Cats remain rooted to the foot of the table, with just one point taken from a possible 21 on offer. Poyet has been around the game long enough to know that he has a lot of work to do if the tide is to be turned, but he also proved himself to a shrewd operator during a successful stint in charge of Brighton. Hoping to rain on his parade this weekend is Michael Laudrup – a man who could well do with a win himself. The Swans have rather stumbled out of the blocks this term, as they look to juggle the demands of domestic and European competition, and have now gone eight games without a Premier League win at the Liberty Stadium.

The last of tomorrows’ fixtures takes place at the Britannia Stadium, with Stoke City set to lock horns with West Bromwich Albion. An alarming slump has piled pressure back on Potters boss Mark Hughes, with the Welshman in need of an answer to a dilemma which has brought three straight defeats. With only goal difference keeping Stoke out of the relegation zone, another reversal this weekend could see them take another untimely tumble. West Brom have every reason to believe that they can inflict more misery on Hughes, with a four-match unbeaten run bringing eight points and a mid-table standing. Steve Clarke is not the kind of man to live in the past – however recent it may be – but will be calling on his troops to replicate the level of performance they showed on their last trip out on the road – in a 2-1 victory over Manchester United. (Sky) 

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