Back to the bread and butter

Mark Burton on the big issues of the weekend's Premiership programme
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The Independent Online
After an international interlude that some might have found irritating, it is back to the bread-and-butter business of competing for points. For any side on a good run, there will be the worry that the 12-day pause in Premiership play could have broken the spell. For the out of sorts, there will have been frustration at being unable to go straight back on to the pitch to sort things out.

But if defeat or disappointment at national form irritated the fans, that is nothing in comparison to Howard Wilkinson's annoyance as the Leeds United manager ponders whether to risk Gary McAllister against Arsenal at Elland Road this afternoon. The Scot returned from international duty in Sweden with an ankle injury, but has now decided he is fit enough to play. Wilkinson's problem is that he will want McAllister for Tuesday's Uefa Cup match against PSV Eindhoven, and the slightest knock today might rule him out of that.

This afternoon, when Arsenal visit Elland Road, Leeds will have a foretaste of dealing with a Dutch threat in a match that could be decided by strikers who were not whisked away to join the whirl of European Championship action. Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp was not needed by the Netherlands for their trip to Malta and Tony Yeboah, the Leeds goal machine, was excused on geographical grounds, although if Israel can be in Europe for football purposes, then why not Ghana?

Neither was Eric Cantona called to the French flag, nor Uwe Rosler required by Germany in Wales. However, they should both be involved in settling a little local difficulty in the Manchester derby. The element of doubt concerns Cantona. Apparently, he is improving. Not his talents, if that were possible, nor perhaps his temper, but his fitness after injuring his leg in a reserve game last weekend.

Irreplaceable the irascible one may be, but Alex Ferguson is awash with alternatives in choosing the United team to trot out at Old Trafford. If only his managerial counterpart at Maine Road had problems of that magnitude. Alan Ball refuses to panic even though, despite Rosler's goals, his City side have managed only one draw and seven defeats in the league this season. Today is as good a time as any to launch a recovery, as the theory goes that anything can happen in a derby. In practice, though, predictability tends to prevail. To save Ball the trouble of saying so, though, it is too early to start dreading the drop.

Predictability - sorry, continuity - rules at international level, too, which is presumably why Les Ferdinand did not even make the England bench in Oslo despite his glut of goals helping to make Newcastle United the benchmark for success this season. Yet another theory suggests he cannot fail to score against his former club, Queen's Park Rangers, at Loftus Road this afternoon.

The man who retained his non-scoring striking role for England, Alan Shearer, comes face to face with one who cannot find a way into Terry Venables' squad at all when Matt Le Tissier plays for Southampton at Blackburn this afternoon. Teddy Sheringham tries to add to his 11 domestic goals so far this season when Tottenham take on a Nottingham Forest side shorn of Lars Bohinen, one of England's Norwegian opponents.

Blackburn may field Bohinen and Billy McKinlay, who both completed their moves to Ewood Park yesterday, while Everton have two of their foreign imports, Daniel Amokachi and Andrei Kanchelskis, back from injury for their trip to Bolton. Now there is a non-international interlude that Everton will be glad is over...

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