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Handshakes or handbags this weekend?

ESPN staff
September 14, 2012
Luis Suarez got little change out of the Arsenal defence © PA Photos

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As Roy Hodgson whacks the kettle on and kicks back for a few weeks, the Premier League roars back into life this weekend. Champions Manchester City travel to the scene of last year's Goal of the Season at Stoke, while Arsenal and Manchester United await highly winnable fixtures.

A handshake might prove more important than the result as Chelsea head to QPR, while Liverpool attempt to end a particularly emotional week with a first win of the season at Sunderland.

For talking points and predictions for every fixture this weekend, check out ESPN's take on the forthcoming action.


Sunderland v Liverpool - LIVE ON ESPN

Key battle: Arsenal showed the way to shackle Liverpool, and right now the key is suffocating Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan had one of his poorest games for the club at Anfield, thanks to the close attentions of Thomas Vermaelen. Can Carlos Cuellar do a similar job for Sunderland? If he does, responsibility will fall to teenager Raheem Sterling and under-pressure Fabio Borini to step up.
Player to watch: James McClean clearly rates himself so highly that he feels he can tell Giovanni Trapattoni that his squad selections are a "f***ing joke". So expect to see him raiding past Glen Johnson at will at the Stadium of Light.
Talking point: Brendan Rodgers has vowed to produce a team to make Liverpool proud, but can he do it with the current squad? Liverpool's bench against Arsenal was one of the weakest seen at Anfield for years.
Bet of the day: Liverpool have a habit of recording dire 1-0 defeats at Sunderland, so back the same again at 10/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-0

Norwich v West Ham

Key battle: The Norwich midfield was excellent at Tottenham in their 1-1 draw, balancing perfectly the determination to defend with the ambition to burst forward. Robert Snodgrass was the stand-out man, but Mark Noble - on his day - has equally capable box-to-box powers. Sam Allardyce has told Noble not to leave West Ham amid suggestions he might, so spotlight will be on the former England Under-21.
Player to watch: Grant Holt. England were crying out for a forward to go and attack the ball against Ukraine, with cross after cross whizzing across the area. But while Ryan Bertrand was introduced as the game-changer, Holt continues to go overlooked, unless a goalscoring run catches Hodgson's eye.
Talking point: If you were a potential transfer target of these two clubs, which is more tempting? Norwich arguably play the better football, but West Ham have the lure of the capital.
Bet of the day: Neither side particularly enjoys defending, conceding 10 goals between them this season, so take Norwich to come from behind to win at 7/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-1

Arsenal v Southampton

Key battle: If one lesson can have been learned by Southampton from Arsenal's 2-0 win at Liverpool, it must surely have been that you cannot - under any circumstances - give Santi Cazorla the freedom of the park. The Spaniard is seriously classy and has been for a number of years, so Steven Davis will want to be more edge-of-the-box rather than box-to-box at the Emirates.
Player to watch: Adam Lallana. It is likely Arsenal will have plenty of possession, so if Southampton are to feature in the contest they'll need Lallana to provide a link between defence and attack. England recognition should have the midfielder buzzing.
Talking point: Why does Arsene Wenger continue to defend his players, and state his desire to keep them, when seemingly the feeling is not mutual? Bacary Sagna is hardly indispensable and could be made an example of if Wenger gets tough.
Bet of the day: Lukas Podolski is up-and-running for his new club, and Southampton are not shy of allowing space to men on the flank, so take the German to net anytime in a 3-0 win at 12/1 with bet365
Prediction: 3-0

Lukas Podolski should get plenty of space against Southampton © PA Photos

Aston Villa v Swansea

Key battle: Michu has made an outstanding start to the campaign for Swansea, netting four goals already. He comes up against a solid-sounding name in Ron Vlaar at Villa Park, although Vlaar has only truly impressed at Newcastle so far this season.
Player to watch: Michel Vorm has been strongly linked to Liverpool after a series of howlers from Pepe Reina. Undoubtedly one of the best keepers in the league during the last campaign, a repeat season would surely see the big guns circling.
Talking point: Player for player, is this the worst Aston Villa squad since the inauguration of the Premier League? Household names they are not.
Bet of the day: Paul Lambert is a manager who will build from the defence forward, and currently Villa's is not good enough. Expect him to focus on clean sheets before attractive football, meaning only one goal in the match is tempting at 4/1 with bet365
Prediction: 0-1

Fulham v West Brom

Key battle: Fulham's defeat to West Ham, and more specifically the performance, was embarrassing. Now they must rectify the situation against an in-form West Brom team, who will look to get Peter Odemwingie around the towering Brede Hangeland. A good contrast of styles here.
Player to watch: Dimitar Berbatov. The game was already over by the time he came on at West Ham, so this is the first real chance to see if he's up for the challenge at Fulham. Expect a fancy flick or two at the very least.
Talking point: Could Steve Clarke be a potential future manager for either Chelsea or Liverpool? Both are former clubs of his, and he has started his career in impressive fashion.
Bet of the day: This could be a sticky season for Fulham after losing two of their best players. Take West Brom to intensify pressure at the Cottage with a 2-0 win. 16/1 with bet365
Prediction: 0-2

Manchester United v Wigan

Key battle: Some interesting team selections await Sir Alex Ferguson who, despite confirming Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa to be available for action, may still opt to proceed with caution with the two players. If Van Persie is benched, Javier Hernandez could start, meaning Gary Caldwell will need to be first to the near post when crosses are arriving.
Player to watch: Paul Scholes. Hailed as the man-of-the-match after he played 29 minutes at Southampton, Scholes remains United's best midfielder. Worth watching for his invention alone, but could also be the key to unlocking the Wigan defence.
Talking point: How interested might United be if Cristiano Ronaldo's unease at Real Madrid grew into a proper strop? A forward line of Van Persie, Bebe and Ronaldo would be frightening.
Bet of the day: In a game of dominance from the hosts, take United to earn and miss a penalty without their regular takers at 12/1 with bet365
Prediction: 3-1

Petr Cech reportedly has a problem with his elbow © Getty Images

QPR v Chelsea

Key battle: Unfortunately the battle that will make headlines on Saturday evening will be the potential handshake involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. The pair were involved in a race row, with Terry found not guilty of the charge, but it is reported that Ferdinand will not shake his hand this weekend.
Player to watch: Petr Cech. The international setup for Czech Republic recently claimed Cech requires elbow surgery, which is expected to take place in the summer. Will he be affected at all over the coming months?
Talking point: Is there a need for the Premier League pre-match handshake? It seems to have caused nothing but unwanted headlines since being introduced.
Bet of the day: With two centre-backs under the spotlight at Loftus Road, what are the odds of an own goal? 7/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2

Stoke v Manchester City

Key battle: Last season Peter Crouch casually controlled a ball on his thigh, spun, and then volleyed a ridiculous goal beyond Joe Hart. The City defence - to be fair - didn't do a lot wrong, but Vincent Kompany has called for clean sheets (they haven't had one yet) so expect him to get tight to the big man.
Player to watch: Michael Owen. Is he fit enough to still cut it at the top level? The highlight of his United career was surely his last-ditch winner against City, so he has previous...
Talking point: How many goals would Owen need to score to force his way back into the England setup? He's a Hodgson type of player.
Bet of the day: Man City, by their own admission, have not hit anything close to top form. Tip Stoke to take advantage at 4/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-0


Reading v Tottenham

Key battle: Tottenham have no link between defence and attack without Luka Modric, with passes consistently played square and without penetration. So the onus falls heavily on the wingers to beat their fullbacks, which highlights an all-Wales battle between Gareth Bale and former Spurs man Chris Gunter.
Player to watch: Moussa Dembele. The new boy grabbed a goal on debut, but his more important job is to fill the void of Modric. Is he good enough?
Talking point: Is Andre Villas-Boas cut out for English football? Burnley said they turned him down due to his complicated words, while Jermain Defoe revealed he's asking Tottenham to play a new style. The Portuguese has seemingly upset his new goalkeeper... and he is yet to win of course.
Bet of the day: Reading are a tough proposition on home soil, take them to win 2-0 at 18/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-0
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