Ahead of an exciting looking weekend of Premier League action, we guide you through all the top-flight fixtures...
BLACKBURN v WEST BROM, Saturday 3pm
Blackburn were the victims of a late fightback from Sunderland last weekend as their woeful league form continued. West Brom were also beaten after going a goal up as Wigan claimed only their third win of the season. Despite the public backing from the club’s owners, pressure is undeniably mounting on Blackburn manager Steve Kean and he needs every win he can get. West Brom are also in need of a win as they have only one in their last six games and will not want to slide any further down the table.
Recent results: Blackburn 2-0 West Brom (23/01/2011, PL), West Brom 1-3 Blackburn (28/12/2010, PL)
One to watch: Blackburn’s Paul Robinson has the lowest saves-to-shots ratio of any regular Premier League goalkeeper this season and only bottom place Bolton have conceded more goals than his side. While it is unfair to place the blame squarely on the former England keeper, he has been inconsistent this season and his team need him to start putting in some good performances if they are going to avoid relegation.
Did you know?: West Brom have never won a Premier League away match in the month of December (D2, L12).
Fantasy Pick: Yakubu, 63 (Blackburn), Shane Long, 52 (West Brom) *
Tweet of the week: ‘Flattered by all the concern,I'm fine,just a cut, absolutely deflated by the result most of all..we'll bounce back, thanks for the support!!’, @_J_Lowe, Jason Lowe
EVERTON v NORWICH, Saturday 3pm
Few would have predicted that at almost half way through the season, Norwich would be above Everton in the table. The Toffees have been inconsistent this season and have been hampered by an inability to score goals. They have struggled against the big clubs in the league this campaign but anything other than a win against Norwich must be regarded as a failure. The Canaries have certainly not been overawed by their return to the Premier League and for all their defensive fallibilities only the top five teams have scored more goals than them this season and they will undoubtedly be a threat to Everton’s defence.
Recent results: Everton 1-0 Norwich (02/02/2005, PL), Norwich 2-3 Everton (23/10/2004, PL)
One to watch: Steve Morison has been in fantastic form for Norwich and his five goals in his last six games have helped Norwich to their respectable league position. If he can combine with Grant Holt as effectively as against Newcastle last week then the Everton defence could be in for a tricky game.
Did you know?: If Tim Cahill fails to score this weekend he will have gone an entire year without a goal for the club. His last was on the 20th December 2010 against Man City.
Fantasy Pick: Leighton Baines, 51 (Everton), Steve Morison, 58 (Norwich)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Great news about Donovan back with us’, @louissaha08, Louis Saha
FULHAM v BOLTON, Saturday 3pm
This match comes at potentially a crucial point in both clubs’ seasons. Bolton are bottom of the table and have lost all but three of their games this season. Pressure is mounting on Owen Coyle to turn things around and time is starting to run out. While things are not going so badly for Fulham, they have won the same amount of games as Bolton this season and currently sit only three points above the relegation zone. Morale will be low after their agonising last second exit from the Europa League this week and so a win is vital if they want to prevent their season from starting to disintegrate.
Recent results: Fulham 3-0 Bolton (27/04/2011, PL), Fulham 0-1 Bolton (20/02/2011, FA), Bolton 0-0 Fulham (14/08/2010, PL)
One to watch: Clint Dempsey had a game to forget last week, missing a penalty and diverting the ball into his own net to give Swansea their opening goal. However the American remains crucial to the club’s fortunes, he has scored in all of Fulham’s three league wins this season. He will want to add to his tally and make last week’s game a distant memory.
Did you know?: Fulham have scored just 16 goals in 15 league matches this season - and six of those came in one match.
Fantasy Pick: Clint Dempsey, 65 (Fulham), Ivan Klasnic, 64 (Bolton)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Thanks for your well wishes, I'm devastated to be out for 4-6 weeks. After speaking to the specialist, it was very clear I needed a rest:(’, @1MarkSchwarzer, Mark Schwarzer
NEWCASTLE v SWANSEA, Saturday 3pm
Newcastle have conceded more than half of their goals this season in their last four games as their fantastic start to the campaign has stuttered a little. Their defensive injury troubles could be eased by the return of Fabricio Coloccini and they will want to get things back on track by beating Swansea who have been poor away from home this season. The visitors arrested their own slump in form with a win over Fulham last week and could bring top scorer Danny Graham back into the starting line-up. Rival Dutch keepers Tim Krul and Michel Vorm have both been in excellent from this season and it will be intriguing to see which of them comes out on top from this game.
Recent results: Swansea 1-1 Newcastle (13/02/2010, CHP), Newcastle 3-0 Swansea (28/11/2009, CHP)
One to watch: Demba Ba has scored 11 goals in his last 11 games and has two hat-tricks already this season. The Senegalese striker has been an excellent signing for the Magpies and they will be hoping he can add to his impressive goal tally and help return them to winning ways. Ba has scored 18 Premier League goals in 2011, only Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have scored more.
Did you know?: Swansea have kept seven clean sheets in the league - the joint highest with Manchester United.
Fantasy Pick: Demba Ba, 92 (Newcastle), Michel Vorm, 76 (Swansea)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Christmas dinner at training today was deeeeelicious!’, @Sammy_Ameobi, Samuel Ameobi
WOLVES v STOKE, Saturday 3pm
Stoke ended Tottenham’s unbeaten league run last weekend with an impressive victory and currently occupy eighth place in the table. The Potters have also progressed to the knockout stages of the Europa League and Tony Pulis will quite rightly be pleased with how things are going this season. Wolves find themselves in a familiar position near the relegation zone and need every point they can get if they want to avoid going down at the end of the season.
Recent results: Stoke 3-0 Wolves (26/04/2011, PL), Wolves 0-1 Stoke (30/01/2011, FA), Wolves 2-1 Stoke (14/08/2010, PL)
One to watch: Peter Crouch was man of the match against Tottenham last weekend and Stoke supporters will hope he can produce more of the same. The striker is currently two short of 100 English league goals and although he has scored against 17 of the current 20 Premier League clubs he has yet to do so against Wolves.
Did you know?: Stoke have not won on their last 14 top-flight trips to Molineux. Their last triumph in the top division was a 4-3 triumph in November 1967.
Fantasy Pick: Wayne Hennessey, 57 (Wolves), Jon Walters, 71 (Stoke)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Hate how England don't prepare properly for snow. Once accidents happen they wonder why???? #donuts’, @asmir1, Asmir Begovic
WIGAN v CHELSEA, Saturday 5:30pm
Wigan and Chelsea both came from behind to record vital wins last week, although for very different reasons. The Latics have struggled this season and will do well to get anything out of this game against a Chelsea side who inflicted the first league defeat of the season on Man City on Monday and who appear to have turned a corner after going through a bad patch. Chelsea have scored 15 goals in the last three meetings between these teams and must be confident of scoring a few more against statistically the second worst defence in the league.
Recent results: Chelsea 1-0 Wigan (09/04/2011, PL), Wigan 0-6 Chelsea (21/08/2010, PL)
One to watch: Much debate about this match will surely centre on Frank Lampard. The England star has found himself a substitute in Chelsea’s last two games and his place in the side no longer guaranteed. He came off the bench to score the crucial winning penalty on Monday and is currently the most successful penalty-taker in the Premier League this calendar year. Whether he starts or not, how the Lampard saga plays out will be interesting to watch.
Did you know?: Chelsea are the only team to have used all three substitutes in every Premier League game this season - in total they have made 45 substitutions.
Fantasy Pick: Ali Al-Habsi, 53 (Wigan), Frank Lampard, 78 (Chelsea)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Finished trainning sessions today under snowy conditions and a very low temprature. Its never easy to practice and train under this weather’, @AliAlhabsi, Ali Al-Habsi
QPR v MAN UTD, Sunday 12pm
Man Utd have not had the best couple of weeks, crashing out of the Champions League as well as losing Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher for the foreseeable future. However they must surely start as strong favourites particularly considering QPR have four defeats in their last six games and apart from Heidar Helguson have struggled for goals. The home side will have DJ Campbell available after his injury lay-off but will have to play extremely well to overcome a side undoubtedly instilled with the relentless determination of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Recent results: Man Utd 1-0 QPR (11/11/2008, CC), QPR 1-1 Man Utd (16/03/1996, PL), Man Utd 2 - 1 QPR (30/12/1995, PL)
One to watch: Nani rediscovered some of the form that he showed earlier in the season by scoring twice against Wolves last weekend and QPR will have to be extremely wary of the Portuguese winger. Nani is a much improved player and seems to have finally emerged from the shadow of expectation undoubtedly cast by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Did you know?: QPR last beat United on New Year's Day in 1992, in the old Division One, when Dennis Bailey scored a hat-trick in a 4-1 victory at Old Trafford a day after Sir Alex Ferguson's 50th birthday.
Fantasy Pick: Luke Young, 53 (QPR), Wayne Rooney, 94 (Man Utd)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Think I've found a man to respect and admire this morning, step forward Prof Noam Chomsky.......’, @Joey7Barton, Joey Barton
ASTON VILLA v LIVERPOOL, Sunday 2:05pm
While both teams occupy respectable top-half positions, they will surely not be completely satisfied with the way things have gone so far this season. Aston Villa have drawn more games than they would have liked and there is a sense that manager Alex McLeish has not yet entirely won over the fans following his move from rivals Birmingham City. Liverpool have struggled to make the most of their scoring chances, although they may feel luck has not been on their side as they have hit the woodwork 15 times. Nonetheless with the attacking options at their disposal they will be hoping to start scoring more frequently.
Recent results: Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool (22/05/2011, PL), Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa (06/12/2010, PL)
One to watch: Stewart Downing scored the winning goal in what was his last appearance as an Aston Villa player the last time these two sides met. However he has yet to score or even contribute an assist for his new club so Liverpool fans will hope he can do so in the familiar surroundings of Villa Park.
Did you know?: Aston Villa have conceded a league-high 32% of goals from corners.
Fantasy Pick: Gabriel Agbonlahor, 77 (Aston Villa), Charlie Adam, 66 (Liverpool)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Call of duty all day #boom’, @BBannan25, Barry Bannan
TOTTENHAM v SUNDERLAND, Sunday 3pm
Tottenham’s 11-game unbeaten league run came to an end against Stoke last weekend and they were knocked out of the Europa League midweek. However this is unlikely to trouble Harry Redknapp who will want to get back to winning ways and keep Spurs in the running for Champions League qualification. Martin O’Neill got off to a good start as Sunderland manager last weekend and he seems an excellent appointment for the club although he will face a much sterner test against Tottenham this Sunday. It will be interesting to see how he does.
Recent results: Sunderland 1-2 Tottenham (12/02/2011, PL), Tottenham 1-1 Sunderland (09/11/2010, PL)
One to watch: Tottenham’s top scorer this season is Emmanuel Adebayor and he has been an integral part of their success so far, giving them the finishing prowess they needed to compliment the creativity of their midfield. The Togolese striker has however never scored against Sunderland in five attempts and Spurs fans would love him to do so.
Did you know?: Sebastian Larsson has scored three goals from six direct free-kicks this season - no other player has more than one in the Premier League.
Fantasy Pick: Gareth Bale, 84 (Tottenham), Seb Larsson, 72 (Sunderland)*
Tweet of the week: ‘amazing seeing the snow falling. Not like Togo! Let's hope for a white Christmas!’, @Sheyiadebayor, Emmanuel Adebayor
MAN CITY v ARSENAL, Sunday 4:10pm
The game of the weekend is saved till last as two clubs from the top five meet in Manchester. Man City lost their first league game of the season on Monday as the title race became a little bit more interesting and they will be desperate to avoid losing again. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last eight league games and could provide a stern test to the home side although their much criticised defence could face a difficult game against by far the most potent strikeforce in the league, particularly as City will be out for revenge after their loss to Chelsea. It will also be intriguing to see who out of Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero, the league’s top two scorers, can have the most influence on the game.
Recent results: Arsenal 0-1 Man City (29/11/2011, CC), Arsenal 0-0 Man City (05/01/2011, PL), Man City 0-3 Arsenal (24/10/2010, PL)
One to watch: Mario Balotelli has made headlines off the pitch once again this week after a training ground scuffle with Micah Richards. However this should not distract from the fact that the Italian striker is in great form with five goals in his last seven league games. The fact that Sergio Aguero was substituted rather than Balotelli in Monday’s game against Chelsea demonstrates his growing importance to Roberto Mancini’s regime.
Did you know?: Man City have not suffered back-to-back defeats in 67 matches (across all competitions).
Fantasy Pick: Sergio Aguero, 97 (Man City), Robin Van Persie, 121 (Arsenal)*
Tweet of the week: ‘Hard draw but you have to beat the best to win it! Looking forward to it! #Gooners’, @JackWilshere, Jack Wilshere
* Based on Fantasy Premier League, the official Premier League fantasy game