The sporting week ahead (08/01/12)

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The Independent Online


The last thing that Sir Alex Ferguson needs right now is a visit to his noisy neighbours. For a start there's the memories of United's 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford last year; more pressing is the fall-out from two defeats in the Premier League, which left the boss spitting tacks. Another loss in today's FA Cup tie would be translated into crisis headlines, but Fergie knows his empire was not built on the back of losing three on the bounce. Sheffield Wednesday versus West Ham and Chelsea against Portsmouth have the ring of good old-fashioned Cup ties. Charlie Hodgson will try to put in a performance for Saracens against Bath that convinces Stuart Lancaster he should be England's fly-half for the first Six Nations game against Scotland.


Thierry Henry is poised to enjoy his second coming for Arsenal, no doubt intent on avoiding comparisons with his statue which now stands in front of the Emirates. Not all of Arsène Wenger's attempts at bringing back his old boys have been successful so Arsenal fans will not be expecting too much, but there will be no denying the roar when he runs on in red and white.


Gymnastics is always an Olympic favourite and punters can compare pikes and twists at London's test event. Britain's men must finish in the top four to secure a full quota of places. In football Crystal Palace versus Cardiff is an unlikely Carling Cup semi-final.


If Tottenham beat Everton, there will be no doubting their title credentials. They would be just three points off leaders Manchester City, who contest the other Carling Cup semi against Liverpool.


England's low-key warm-up to next week's First Test against Pakistan continues with a game against a PCB XI.


English rugby teams have such a woeful record against the Irish of late that Leicester will start as underdogs in their crucial Heineken Cup showdown with Ulster at Ravenhill. But they are not called the Tigers for nothing.


Martin O'Neill returns to London for the first time as the Sunderland manager – presumably living proof that, no matter what the Match of the Day pundits say, it pays clubs to sack their managers in times of crisis. Sunderland visit Chelsea in what could be the game of the day.