Last weekend in the Premiership, the headline game saw Manchester United claw their way back from three goals down away at Chelsea to force
a 3-3 draw and a share of the points. Having fallen behind after a Jonny Evans own goal in the first half, United could not have started the second period in a worse fashion. 24 seconds after the restart, Juan Mata scored with a sumptuous volley from a Torres cross, and five minutes later David Luiz made it 3-0 to Chelsea, with a deflected header from a corner. However, two penalties in the space of 11 minutes – both converted by Wayne Rooney – gave Sir Alex Ferguson’s men a lifeline. Javier Hernandez completed the comeback with a headed equaliser in the 84th minute, although the visitors had to rely on three great saves in the final few minutes from their keeper, David de Gea, to secure the draw. The result was a blow to Chelsea, who now have just a single point advantage over Newcastle in the race for fourth, while it gave United a boost to their title chances – not so much due to the point earned, but because of their unwillingness to accept defeat.
Manchester United did find themselves two points behind their rivals, City, after the weekend’s fixtures, as Mancini’s men secured a routine 3-0 home win over Martin Jol’s Fulham. Arsenal, who had been held goalless by Bolton in their previous outing, took their frustration out on Blackburn at the Emirates as they hammered Rovers 7-1, leaving Steve Kean’s side three points from safety in the relegation zone. Harry Redknapp was absent for Tottenham’s trip to Liverpool on Monday night because of his trial – he was found not guilty two days later – but he will not have missed being there too much, as a lifeless encounter ended 0-0. QPR paraded two new strikers in their line-up for the game with Wolves – Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora both joined in the final days of the January transfer window, but the pair had contrasting fortunes: Zamora gave Rangers the lead, but Cisse was sent off and it ended up costing them the game as Wolves won for the first time in 12 league matches.
Sunderland’s excellent form since Martin O’Neill became manager continued, as they picked up a 1-0 win in the snow away to Stoke. Five wins in six league games has seen the Black Cats move up to 8th in the table, well away from the relegation battle they seemed destined for when Steve Bruce was still in charge. Bolton, who had picked up four points from their previous two matches against Liverpool and Arsenal, slumped to a 2-0 loss away to Norwich, a result that saw Wanderers move back into the bottom three in the Premiership. Newcastle welcomed back their Senegalese striker, Demba Ba, from the Africa Cup of Nations – along with his countrymen and new club colleague Papiss Demba Cisse – for their match with Aston Villa. The partnership was more successful on Tyneside than it had been in Equatorial Guinea – Senegal were eliminated from the ACN in the group stages, with neither Ba nor Cisse finding the net – as both men got on the score sheet to give Newcastle a 2-1 win and move them to within a point of the Champions League places. West Brom suffered their eighth home defeat in twelve league games at the Hawthornes, as they lost 2-1 to Swansea; while Wigan and Everton drew 1-1 at the DW Stadium – a result that kept the home side rooted to the bottom of the table.
The highlight of this weekend’s fixtures if also the first one to be played – as Manchester United host Liverpool in the Saturday lunchtime fixture. The FA Cup fixture two weeks ago was the first time the sides had met since the Suarez/Evra incident during the first league meeting of the season in October, but the Uruguayan was still serving his eight game suspension and missed that match. Suarez returned for Liverpool against Spurs on Monday – and was immediately in the thick of the action: he was booked four minutes after coming on as a substitute, for kicking Scott Parker in the stomach; and then ardently claimed he should have won his team a penalty, after he had been the one to handle the ball. There will be a focus on whether or not Evra and Suarez shake hands before the game, but the two are likely to face off many times during the course of the game and all eyes will be on the encounter to see if there is any further bad blood between them.
New QPR boss, Mark Hughes, will take his team to face one of his old employers, as they travel to Blackburn for a “relegation six-pointer”. Rangers sit three points and three places above Rovers, and Steve Kean will be hoping his side can pick up a win and avoid falling further behind in the race for survival. The other two teams who currently sit in the relegation zone meet at the Reebok Stadium, as Owen Coyle’s Bolton will be hoping to shake off their loss to Norwich last week against a Wigan side who have not won in the league since December 10th. Two of last season’s promoted sides, Swansea and Norwich, face each other in Wales, with both teams currently sitting in the top half of the table.
Sunderland’s excellent run of form will face its biggest test, as they host Arsenal – the Gunners will be on a high from last weekend’s thrashing of Blackburn and will be hoping to keep up the pressure on Chelsea in the race for fourth. Andre Villas-Boas’s team face a tough away game at Everton, who beat Manchester City in their last league game at Goodison Park; while two Midlands teams at the wrong end of the table meet at Molineux on Sunday, as Wolves entertain West Brom. Tottenham will be hoping that their manager, Harry Redknapp, is not too distracted by all the England talk as he prepares his charges for their home fixture against fifth place Newcastle; while Manchester City travel to Aston Villa, looking to improve their away form, as Mancini’s men have won just once in their last six league games away from the Etihad Stadium. Fulham and Stoke meet at Craven Cottage, with neither side having picked up a victory in their four most recent Premiership outings.
Last week, 4-6; Season 91-119
Manchester United vs Liverpool – Home win
Blackburn vs QPR – Draw
Bolton vs Wigan – Home win
Everton vs Chelsea – Draw
Fulham vs Stoke – Away win
Sunderland vs Arsenal – Away win
Swansea vs Norwich – Home win
Tottenham vs Newcastle – Home win
Wolves vs West Brom – Draw
Aston Villa vs Manchester City – Away win