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Rebuilding and regeneration in west London

ESPN staff
November 23, 2012
Chelsea are looking to the future after Rafa Benitez's appointment © Getty Images

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After the first managerial sackings of the season, change is afoot in the Premier League following another full schedule of European fixtures.

Chelsea, strikingly, have made a quick change at the top - with Roberto Di Matteo replaced by Rafael Benitez, who faces a tricky opening game against Manchester City. City have extra incentive to give the Spaniard a tough welcome, with the possibility of building a seven-point lead over the European champions at this stage of the season a cushion Roberto Mancini would love to have.

At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, woeful QPR have responded to their particular plight by sacking Mark Hughes - with Harry Redknapp expected to take the reins as soon as a futile-looking trip to Manchester United is negotiated.

Will either or both moves spark revivals in west London? For even more talking points and predictions, allow ESPN to preview all the action below...


Aston Villa v Arsenal - LIVE on ESPN

Form: Only QPR are on a worse current run than Villa, who have lost their last two on the spin (admittedly to the two Manchester clubs). Prior to that, however, four points from four games was hardly a stellar haul. The Gunners, meanwhile, have won three of their last six (losing twice) - with the most recent being that confidence-boosting 5-2 win in the north London derby against Spurs.
Key battle: Per Mertesacker has been a bit all over the place in recent weeks, with the good and the bad combining in last week's win against Spurs. Christian Benteke is something of a raw talent, but his brute physicality could cause the German - tall but hardly imposing - a lot of problems.
Player to watch: Olivier Giroud has quickly become a key part of Arsenal's attacking threat after a slow start to life in England - on a good goalscoring run, the Frenchman will fancy his chances of scoring again against a defence that may struggle against his mobility.
Talking point: After important, even imperative, wins against Tottenham and Montpellier at the Emirates - have Arsenal turned the corner? Or is it just home comforts that have Wenger's side on a winning run?
Bet of the day: How about the man of the moment to step it up a notch? Olivier Giroud to score a brace is 2/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2

Manchester United v QPR

Form: Two sides coming into this match looking to put to bed memories of a disappointing defeat last week. United had won five games in a row before the deserved 1-0 reverse away to Norwich. QPR, meanwhile, have picked up just two points from their last six games - with draws against Everton and Reading the 'highlights'.
Key battle: This one looks fairly simple on paper - Julio Cesar needs to make saves to prevent Robin van Persie from scoring goals.
Player to watch: This weekend is all about Sir Alex Ferguson, with a statue to commemorate his long (and successful) service at the club being unveiled outside the stand that already carries his name. Surely his side can deliver him a win on this memorable weekend?
Talking point: Rooted to the bottom of the table, did QPR simply delay the sacking of Mark Hughes to ensure the new manager does not have to start with an almost unwinnable away game against one of the strongest sides in the division? Harry Redknapp can sit in the stands at the weekend, then get down to business on Monday without an early loss on his record. Clever.
Bet of the day: After getting his first taste of Champions League football in midweek, we quite fancy Nick Powell to return with the last goal in this one at 6/1 with bet365
Prediction: 4-0

Sunderland v West Brom

Form: Sunderland beat Fulham on their own patch last weekend, a timely win after picking up just two points from a possible 15 prior to that. West Brom, meanwhile, are riding high after defeating Chelsea in front of their home fans - one of four wins in their last six, with the two defeats coming against Newcastle and Manchester City.
Key battle: Shane Long and Steven Fletcher have both found themselves heavily relied upon by their respective teams already this season - their profligacy (or otherwise) in front of goal could be decisive in this contest.
Player to watch: Adam Johnson is still to deliver a truly outstanding performance since leaving Manchester City for greater first team opportunities. After re-adjusting to life as a regular starter, he may just be ready to spring a dominant display on unwitting opponents.
Talking point: Only four of Sunderland's 11 league games to date have been at home - is that the reason behind their lowly league position? Are they set to rise up now, with a run of games at the Stadium of Light to come?
Bet of the day: This one to be a draw at half-time and full-time is 4/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1

Marouane Fellaini's absence could hurt Everton © PA Photos

Everton v Norwich City

Form: Everton have been somewhat inconsistent in recent weeks - snapping a run of four straight draws with a win against Sunderland, before letting slip a lead to lose against Reading. Norwich, of course, should be full of confidence after defeating Man United at Carrow Road - a win that elevated them into the top four in the form table, with 11 points from a possible 18 (the only defeat coming against Chelsea).
Key battle: Sylvain Distin will be confident of coping with the similarly robust stylings of Grant Holt - then again, Holt will see nothing to fear in the past-his-prime Frenchman.
Player to watch: Kevin Mirallas is on course to return for this game, and his presence could really be needed with compatriot Marouane Fellaini unavailable.
Talking point: Fellaini really appears to have upped his game so far this season, and mentioned this week that Champions League football would keep him at Goodison Park. Well, these are the sort of tough-but-winnable home games sides need to successfully negotiate if they are to achieve that sort of prize.
Bet of the day: These things are always a punt, but if you think there might be an own goal in this one - you can get odds of 7/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-0

Stoke City v Fulham

Form: Stoke have picked up just six points from their last six games - with the only win coming against bottom-of-the-table QPR. Fulham had won just once in five (against Aston Villa) prior to the weekend, where they followed up widespread praise for their attractive style with a dour home defeat to Sunderland.
Key battle: With Brede Hangeland suspended, it seems Philippe Senderos will be called upon to step in. Can the Swiss prove himself more able to deal with Peter Crouch than in the past?
Player to watch: Dimitar Berbatov's particularly style of play is likely to jar with that preferred by Stoke, but you wonder if the smooth Bulgarian will be more influential this week if, as expected, Martin Jol ditches last week's experiment in pairing him with the similarly mercurial Bryan Ruiz.
Talking point: Is style overrated? Fulham were the darlings of the press last weekend while Stoke got a more critical appraisal ahead of their game on Monday - yet the Potters will move ahead of their opponents in the league table with a home win on Saturday.
Bet of the day: Must admit we like Peter Crouch to score first in this one, even at hardly eye-catching odds of 10/3 with bet365
Prediction: 2-2

Wigan Athletic v Reading

Form: This game comes at a key time for Wigan, as they look to arrest a run of two successive defeats, having picked up two wins, a draw and another loss prior to that. Reading got their first win of the season last weekend against Everton which, coupled with four other draws, means they have only lost once in their last six.
Key battle: Roberto Martinez has a litany of injury concerns to fret about, meaning Ivan Ramis will have to step up and be a bit more reliable than he has been so far this season in the face of Pavel Pogrebnyak's bustling frame.
Player to watch: Can Adam Le Fondre follow up his match-winning brace against Everton with another influential performance?
Talking point: Few teams know better than Wigan the boost that comes with a vital league victory. Can they fend off the charge of another relegation-battling team in similarly buoyant mood?
Bet of the day: Considering the Latics' injury issues, a 2-1 away win stands out as a worthwhile punt at 14/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2


Swansea v Liverpool

Form: 'The return of Brendan Rodgers' sees both teams arrive in decent form, with the Swans having acquired nine points from a possible 18 after the recent win over Newcastle. Liverpool, meanwhile, may be tired from their Europa League exploits - but will be looking to extend an unbeaten streak in the league that has seen then pick up 10 points over the same period.
Key battle: Jose Enrique gained a few - perhaps rash - comparisons to Gareth Bale for his performance from a more advanced position against Aston Villa. How will he fare against Angel Rangel - his compatriot who has been linked with Arsenal in the not-too-distant past?
Player to watch: Luis Suarez has been absolutely imperative to his side's recent good run of results, and you can hardly expect that to change this weekend - indeed, until a new striker is bought in January.
Talking point: Much of the focus will be on Brendan Rodgers in this one, but Swansea don't appear to have done too badly out of his departure so far. Indeed, is it still Rodgers who has more work to do to turn around his new club than the man who succeeded him at his old one?
Bet of the day: Something tells us Joe Allen, returning to his old stomping ground, might be extra keen to have a good game - and that over-zealous attitude could see him pick up an early booking. A first yellow card before the 34-minute mark is 5/6 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1

Southampton v Newcastle

Form: After emerging victorious in 'El Sackico' (groan), Southampton moved to five points from their last six with their second win of the season. Newcastle, in fact, have picked up the same number of points over the same period - but they have lost their last two on the spin.
Key battle: Papiss Cisse may have extra fire in his belly after being forced to sit out last weekend's defeat to Swansea, so the erratic Jose Fonte will have to ensure he is at his best.
Player to watch: Young goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga was between the sticks for the vital win over QPR but, with the best will in the world, he still looks some way from the finished article. Newcastle could take advantage of a Saints goalkeeping situation that may not be fully resolved until January.
Talking point: Will Alan Pardew's return to the club he left in somewhat acrimonious circumstances be overlooked in favour of Rodgers' own trip to a familiar stomping ground?
Bet of the day: We like goals, goals, goals, goals (goals, we do adore) in this one. More than 2.5 is 7/10 with bet365
Prediction: 2-2

Tottenham v West Ham

Form: Perhaps (well, almost certainly) of concern to Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs have picked up just six points from their last six league games - losing the last three on the spin. West Ham thus enter this one as the form side, with their eight points from the same period being underscored by a three-match unbeaten streak.
Key battle: Tottenham looked suspect defensively against Lazio in midweek, with Hugo Lloris bailing his side out on more than one occasion. With Kevin Nolan likely to arrive late to meet more than a couple of crosses, the Frenchman might have to be on the ball once again if his side are to keep a clean sheet.
Player to watch: Against the club that gave him his start (sorry, Charlton fans), Jermain Defoe will want to get his shooting boots back on and end this mini-slump Spurs are suffering.
Talking point: Six points behind the final Champions League place already, is this a game - even coming off a Europa League week - that Villas-Boas really needs to win if he and his side are going to realistically remain contenders for that fourth spot?
Bet of the day: Spurs to be drawing at half-time but winning at full-time seems to have potential yield at 10/3 with bet365
Prediction: 3-1

Chelsea v Manchester City

Form: First against, er, ninth in the current Premier League form table. Chelsea's Champions League woes may have been the catalyst for Roberto Di Matteo's sacking, but a run of eight points from six games in the league (having failed to win in the last four) hardly helped matters. City, meanwhile, have looked like Premier League champions while simultaneously flopping in Europe - winning five and drawing the other in the last six.
Key battle: Big matches at the top of the table are seldom won with one individual battle, unless it is played out on the sidelines. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, Rafa Benitez - a man who has been away from the game for nearly two years - choses to implement, and if Roberto Mancini - a man whose tactical changes seem to backfire as often as they succeed - can exploit any tactical rustiness on the Spaniard's part.
Player to watch: With Fernando Torres likely to be back in the starting lineup and with a manager behind him who he trusts, can he get among the goals as owner Roman Abramovich would so dearly love him to do?
Talking point: How calculated a gamble has Benitez taken in agreeing to be interim Blues boss - with Pep Guardiola hardly guaranteed to want the job in the summer, could he force his way to a permanent contract with a couple of big trophies under his belt?
Bet of the day: We fancy to Carlos Tevez to score against a team that he has enjoyed joy against in the past, at 11/8 with bet365
Prediction: 2-2
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