Football: Weekend guide to the Premiership

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MATCH OF THE DAY

Derby County v Man United

Last season: 2-2

JIM SMITH said yesterday he was not jealous of the wealth of talent available to Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, his counterpart today. "We're not jealous of them," he said, but added what must be one of the understatements of the season. "There's a bit of envy, in all fairness, at what they've got. But it's no good looking at what I haven't got and wanting it. You have to make do with what you have."

Whereas Derby have seen a good start to the season falter in recent weeks - they have lost their last three games - United have seen an opposite change in fortunes. Ferguson's men have not only won in their last three outings, but have scored 14 goals in the process against Southampton, Wimbledon and Brondby (in the Champions' League on Wednesday) and could move to within one point of Aston Villa if John Gregory's men slip up at home to Leicester this afternoon.

Smith admitted: "They're in tremendous form and they have tremendous players and a tremendous squad. But we've got quite a good record against them and we've got to try and maintain that. There's no fear of facing them."

The encouraging news for Derby is that Igor Stimac, their influential Croatian defender, will return today having missed the last four games. He will take over in central defence from Argentinian Horacio Carbonari. The Jamaica striker Deon Burton could also make his first start of the season. Tony Dorigo could make his Derby debut today after the Rams signed him on an official loan deal and registered him with the Football Association.

Meanwhile, Derby are set to complete the signature of Malcolm Christie. The striker has scored 11 goals in 14 games for Nuneaton Borough this season and will cost the Premiership club an initial fee of just under pounds 60,000, with his price rising to over pounds 100,000 depending on appearances.Wes Brown - the 19-year-old local who gave man-of-the-match performances against Wimbledon and Brondby - will start his third successive game for the visitors today. David Beckham and Nicky Butt will both return after missing Wednesday's win because of suspension. Ferguson is likely to bring in Beckham at the expense of Jesper Blomqvist with Ryan Giggs returning to his normal role on the left. Butt could find himself on the bench unless the United manager decides to rest Paul Scholes after the heavy conditions in Copenhagen. Brown will play at right full-back again as Gary Neville continues to partner Jaap Stam at the centre of the defence. Ronny Johnsen and David May are both fit again after recent injuries.

DERBY (from): Hoult; Prior, Stimac, Laursen, Delap, Carsley, Powell, Eranio, Schnoor, Baiano, Burton, Wanchope, Sturridge, Poom, Carbonari, Elliott, Kozluk.

MANCHESTER UNITED (from): Schmeichel; Brown, Stam, G Neville, P Neville, Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Butt, Giggs, Cole, Yorke, Solskjaer, Blomqvist, Berg, Cruyff, Johnsen, May, Wilson, van der Gouw.

Injuries: Derby: Bohinen. Man Utd: Irwin, Sheringham.

Suspensions: Derby: None. Man Utd: None.

Aston Villa v Leicester City

Last season: 1-1

ASTON VILLA'S manager John Gregory has to decide whether to change the team that beat Celta Vigo in the Uefa Cup on Tuesday, with midfielders Ian Taylor and Alan Thompson free to return after suspension. The England striker Paul Merson is also back and Steve Watson will be bidding to make his Villa debut. Gregory's only major doubt is the Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who missed the last two games with calf and shoulder problems. Michael Oakes is on stand-by to continue to deputise.

Martin O'Neill takes his side to Villa looking for more of the commitment and loyalty from his players, which he insists was a prime factor in his remaining at Filbert Street as Leicester's manager. His summer signing, Gerry Taggart, is set to keep his place in the starting line-up despite coming off injured during the 2-1 win over Spurs in midweek. Steve Walsh returns to the bench after recovering from a knock, but veteran striker Ian Marshall is still out with hamstring trouble.

ASTON VILLA (from): Oakes; Charles, Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry, Wright, Taylor, Thompson, Hendrie, Collymore, Merson, Joachim, Scimeca, Draper, Watson, Ferraresi, Grayson, Vassell, Rachel.

LEICESTER (from): Keller; Savage, Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart, Ullathorne, Guppy, Izzet, Lennon, Heskey, Cottee, Zagorakis, Campbell, Fenton, Parker, Arphexad.

Injuries: Villa: Bosnich. Leicester: Marshall.

Suspensions: Villa: None. Leicester: None.

Charlton v West Ham

Last season: No fixture

ANDY PETTERSON will stake his claim for a new contract on his Premiership debut tomorrow at The Valley, with Charlton manager Alan Curbishley urging: "Let's see what you can do." The 29-year-old Australian is set for his first start of the season in place of Sasa Ilic who has been ordered to rest after suffering concussion at Chelsea last week. After 46 minutes of Premiership play at Stamford Bridge Petterson is determined to have a more permanent role in Charlton's battle to survive: "It seems like it's been a long time coming and it's good to finally get a taste of it again." Curbishley will have to decide whether to recall fit again John Robinson, who sat out the 2-1 defeat last Saturday, or stay with the 5-3-2 formation he has used in the last two games.

West Ham's Harry Redknapp is also buoyed by a fit-again defender - Neil Ruddock being cleared for action at a ground where West Ham have won just once. Ruddock had been suffering an Achilles injury picked up against Aston Villa last weekend.

CHARLTON (from): Petterson, Mills, Powell, Tiler, Redfearn, Youds, Rufus, Kinsella, Hunt, Mendonca, Robinson, Mortimer, Brown, S Jones, K Jones, Lisbie, Bright, Parker, Barness, Royce.

WEST HAM (from): Hislop, Dicks, Ruddock, Ferdinand, Pearce, Impey, Lampard, Lomas, Sinclair, Berkovic, Wright, Hartson, Kitson, Forrest, Potts, Moncur, Keller, Abou, Hodges.

Injuries: Charlton: Ilic, Newton. West Ham: Lazaridis, Mean, Margas, Hall.

Suspensions: Charlton: None. West Ham: None.

Liverpool v Nottm Forest

Last season: No fixture

MICHAEL OWEN could be in line for a return to the Liverpool line- up, having been rested for the disappointing goalless Uefa Cup draw against Valencia on Tuesday. His managers, Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, will be hoping the rest has done the precocious teenager good, as he has not scored since his hat-trick against Newcastle in August. In the corresponding time, Liverpool have dropped from first place to seventh, and they are already eight points adrift of leaders Aston Villa. The midfielder Jamie Redknapp, who suffered a groin strain last week, is unlikely to be fit.

The Nottingham Forest manager, Dave Bassett, must decide whether or not to recall Welsh international Andy Johnson, who was relegated to the substitutes' bench for last weekend's 1-1 draw with Leeds after playing in back-to- back Euro 2000 qualifiers. Otherwise, Bassett looks likely to name an unchanged starting line-up, with Craig Armstrong once again operating in Johnson's midfield position.

LIVERPOOL (from): James, Heggem, Carragher, Staunton, Bjornebye, Berger, McAteer, Ince, McManaman, Fowler, Owen, Riedle, Friedel, Matteo, Thompson, Kvarme, Leonhardsen, Dundee.

NOTTINGHAM FOREST (from): Beasant, Bonalair, Rogers, Chettle, Hjelde, Stone, Armstrong, Gemmill, Bart-Williams, Darcheville, Shipperley, Louis- Jean, Lyttle, Harewood, Freedman, Johnson, Quashie, Crossley.

Injuries: Liverpool: Redknapp. Forest: None.

Suspensions: Liverpool: None. Forest: None.

Sheff Wed v Everton

Last season: 3-1

HAVING FINALLY been able to put the Paolo Di Canio incident behind them, Sheffield Wednesday can now return their attention to the Premiership with a squad which is close to full strength after recent decimation through injuries. Benito Carbone and Petter Rudi are the manager Danny Wilson's only doubts ahead of today's game, the Italian striker having played with a painkilling injection in last week's defeat at Coventry, while the Norwegian Rudi still has hamstring problems. Andy Hinchcliffe and Graham Hyde both return from suspension.

The only bad news for Wednesday is that Everton, protecting an eight- game unbeaten run, also appear to be returning to full strength. The Blues' manager, Walter Smith, is still without the forward Nicky Barmby and defender Slaven Bilic, who are both ruled out through injury, but Olivier Dacourt and Marco Materazzi are both back from suspension, and Smith will arguably have his strongest squad of the season from which to select.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY (from): Pressman, Atherton, Jonk, Newsome, Walker, Whittingham, Carbone, Booth, Hyde, Sanetti, Cobian, Humphreys, Briscoe, Oakes, Hinchcliffe, Sedloski, Thome, Magilton, Rudi, Alexandersson, Barrett, Quinn, Clarke.

EVERTON (from): Myhre; Cleland, Short, Watson, Materazzi, Unsworth, Ball, Collins, Hutchison, Dacourt, Ferguson, Bakayoko, Cadamarteri, Farrelly, Madar, Ward, Simonsen, Gerrard, Milligan, Grant.

Injuries: Wednesday: Rudi. Everton: None.

Suspensions: Wednesday: None. Everton: None.

Southampton v Coventry

Last season: 1-2

COVENTRY CITY travel to The Dell today anxious to put more daylight between themselves and Southampton at the bottom of the table. Noel Whelan is Coventry's only doubt. He has been under treatment for a muscle strain behind the knee but is rated 70-30 to play by the Coventry manger, Gordon Strachan. David Burrows will reclaim his place at left-back after missing three matches with a hamstring injury. He played in the reserves in midweek with no ill-effects. Darren Huckerby will line up alongside Dion Dublin in attack after missing six games with a knee injury.

Carlton Palmer is available to return to give a much-needed boost to struggling Southampton. Their captain Jason Dodd is still unavailable as he has failed to recover from an ankle injury but Matt Le Tissier is in contention to return. David Hirst, David Hughes and John Beresford are all ruled out with long-term knee injuries.

COVENTRY (from): Hedman; Nilson, Breen, Shaw, Burrows, Edworthy, Telfer, Boateng, McAllister, Froggatt, Dublin, Whelan, Huckerby, Soltvedt, Wallemme, Clement, P Hall, M Hall, Brightwell, Ogrizovic..

SOUTHAMPTON (from): Jones, Hiley, Benali, Monkou, Lundekvam, Palmer, Oakley, Howells, Bridge, Ostenstad, Le Tissier, Beattie, Warner, Gibbens, Marshall, Ripley, Basham, Moss.

Injuries: Coventry: None. Southampton: Dodd, Hirst, Hughes, Beresford.

Suspensions: Coventry: None. Southampton: None.

Tottenham v Newcastle

Last season: 2-0

TOTTENHAM MANAGER George Graham is set to stick by the line-up which started Monday's defeat at Leicester when they entertain Newcastle at White Hart Lane today. Graham saw his charges suffer a 2-1 reverse at Filbert Street despite taking a first-half lead through Les Ferdinand.

Newcastle United manager Ruud Gullit must make a choice between Belgian, Philippe Albert and teenage Northern Ireland defender Aaron Hughes as his side heads to Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow. Either Albert or Hughes seem likely to start in place of the suspended Nikos Dabizas, with the England international Steve Howey still undergoing treatment for a troublesome calf injury. German midfielder Dietmar Hamann (knee) and Andreas Andersson (glandular fever) have returned to training but will play no part at White Hart Lane.

TOTTENHAM (from): Baardsen, Carr, Scales, Vega, Campbell, Edinburgh, Fox, Calderwood, Anderton, Nielsen, Clemence, Ginola, Ferdinand, Armstrong, Walker, Iversen, Dominguez, Wilson, Sinton.

NEWCASTLE (from): Given, Griffin, Pearce, Charvet, Albert, Hughes, Lee, Batty, Glass, Solano, Shearer, Dalglish, Ketsbaia, Speed, Barton, Perez, Gillespie, Georgiadis.

Injuries: Tottenham: None. Newcastle: Hamman, Andersson, Howey.

Suspensions: Tottenham: None. Newcastle: Dabizas.

Wimbledon v Middlesbrough

Last season: No fixture

BRYAN ROBSON has said he can hardly believe his side are third in the Premiership. Him and the rest of the country. "If somebody had said to me that we would be third nine games into the season, I would have been surprised," he said. "But all that means is that teams will be more fired up to play us. And we had better be on our guard. I have warned my players that they cannot rest on their laurels."

Boro have never won away to the Dons. That amounts to just six games in the last 21 years, but is still likely to play on the Boro players' minds. "Wimbledon may not be as physical as they once were, but they're a side who will be looking to bounce back from their thrashing at Manchester United last week," said Robson. "We will know that we have been in a game."

Joe Kinnear has nearly a full Wimbledon squad to choose from today. Efan Ekoku remains unavailable (hamstring). Brian Deane is expected to make his full debut for the visitors - in place of Mikkel Beck - following his pounds 3m move from Benfica. Mark Schwarzer is back in the squad as he recovers from an ankle operation but Marlon Beresford will retain his place in goal.

WIMBLEDON (from): Sullivan, Cunningham, Kimble, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher, Earle, Roberts, Gayle, Ardley, Heald, Goodman, Leaburn, Hughes, McAllister, Kennedy, Castledine, Euell, Jupp, Clarke, Cort, Fear.

MIDDLESBROUGH (from): Beresford, Schwarzer, Fleming, Gordon, Vickers, Festa, Cooper, Summerbell, Mustoe, Townsend, Deane, Beck, Ricard, Stamp, Stockdale, Blackmore, Campbell, Ormerod.

Injuries: Wimbledon: Ekoku. Middlesbrough: Gascoigne.

Suspensions: Wimbledon: None. Middlesbrough: None.

TOMORROW 3PM

Leeds United v Chelsea

Last season: 3-1

DAVID O'LEARY has announced he will not be joining George Graham at Tottenham although he has yet to confirm whether he will take over the managerial role at Leeds. "I am told George has said he wouldn't advise me to take the job at this stage," he said. "I cannot help what George and other people are saying. I will make my own decision on what I want to do." In the meantime, he will continue to take charge of a side who performed admirably in defeat to Roma in midweek and should prove to be at least a match for the lack-lustre Chelsea that struggled against Copenhagen. Teenage goalkeeper Paul Robinson could debut for Leeds after Nigel Martyn damaged his ribs in the Uefa Cup match. Lucas Radebe should be fit despite a recent groin problem. Graeme Le Saux is suspended for the visitors and Celestine Babayaro will deputise. Chelsea lost 7-0 in this fixture, 31 years ago this month, the day after Tommy Docherty was sacked as their manager.

LEEDS (from): Martyn, Haaland, Radebe, Wetherall, Sharpe, Wijnhard, Hasselbaink, Ribeiro, Bowyer, Hopkin, Granville, Lilley, Halle, Kewell, Harte, Hiden, Molenaar, Maybury, McPhail, Woodgate, Robinson, Santos.

CHELSEA (from): De Goey, Hitchcock, Kharine, Ferrer, Babayaro, Desailly, Leboeuf, Duberry, Petrescu, Lambourde, Laudrup, Poyet, Wise, Di Matteo, Nicholls, Morris, Vialli, Casiraghi, Flo, Zola.

Injuries: Leeds: Martyn. Chelsea: Newton.

Suspensions: Leeds: None. Chelsea: Le Saux.

TOMORROW'S TV GAME

Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal

Last season: 1-4

CHRIS SUTTON is set for a return to the Premiership tomorrow. The Blackburn striker, who has been out for a month with a long-term ankle problem, has unexpectedly returned to the squad and could play through the pain barrier. His manager, Roy Hodgson, said: "Chris has done well this week and we are hopeful that he will make it for Sunday providing he suffers no reaction." It's a timely boost for Hodgson, who is without the Scottish international striker Kevin Gallacher (broken arm).

For Arsenal, Tony Adams is suffering with a back injury and manager Arsene Wenger may rest him for the second time this season. Wenger revealed that although his captain produced a colossal performance against Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday night he was "in a lot of discomfort" throughout the Champions' League game at Wembley. Steve Bould is standing by to replace him and is also likely to take over the captaincy. Midfielder Emmanuel Petit could still be missing despite making an almost complete recovery from his hamstring injury. Patrick Vieira returns after missing the European game through suspension.

BLACKBURN (from): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Peacock, Davidson, Johnson, Sherwood, Duff, Davies, Wilcox, Dunn, Pedersen, Croft, Taylor, Fettis, McKinlay, Sutton.

ARSENAL (from): Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Bould, Keown, Winterburn, Parlour, Ljungberg, Vieira, Petit, Hughes, Overmars, Bergkamp, Anelka, Wreh, Boa Morte, Grimandi, Manninger, Vivas, Garde.

Injuries: Blackburn: Gallacher, Flitcroft, Perez. Arsenal: Adams, Petit.

Suspensions: Blackburn: None. Arsenal: None.

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