• Premier League preview

Royal variety show as Reading try to stop Man United

ESPN staff
November 30, 2012
Surely Robin van Persie will be excited about the prospect of facing Reading's leaky defence © PA Photos

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The games are coming thick and fast in the Premier League, although the same cannot be said of goals when it comes to Rafael Benitez's Chelsea. Can they dig themselves out of a growing ditch of discontent at West Ham? Or will Manchester United extend their dominance at the top against an unpredictable Reading side?

United's trip to Reading is live on ESPN, and the Royals will hope Liverpool do them a favour by beating relegation strugglers Southampton. Elsewhere, Manchester City host Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham have Champions League aspirations on their mind, while QPR and Aston Villa enter into a relegation battle on Harry Redknapp's home debut at Loftus Road.

For all the talking points and predictions, allow ESPN to preview the action below...


Reading v Manchester United - Live on ESPN

Form: Reading have won one of six home games in the league but, significantly, have also only lost one. They enter the match off back-to-back defeats, while United have won their last two, although they did lose their last away match at Norwich.
Key battle: United have too many forward options to pick out just one key battle at that end of the pitch, so it is Reading's ability to pose a threat that is more pertinent. Jason Roberts has the capacity to bully his markers, as Laurent Koscielny found out in the League Cup, and the big forward will need to give Reading a platform.
Player to watch: Ashley Young has endured an extremely disappointing campaign to date, which is not good news for United or England. Injuries to wingers have granted him a run in the team, but he needs to take his chance if Sir Alex Ferguson is to persist.
Talking point: What should Manchester United's expectations be this season? Victorious against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal but beaten by Norwich, Tottenham and Everton, will they go deep into the Champions League in the coming months?
Bet of the day: Robin van Persie might just prove about three levels above the Reading defenders at the Madejski, so back him to score at least three at 14/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 0-4

Chelsea were lucky not to lose to Fulham © PA Photos

West Ham United v Chelsea

Form: Chelsea are yet to win and yet to score under Rafael Benitez, and they are a mixed bag away from home, winning three of six so far. West Ham have lost only once in seven outings at home, but they are without a win in their last three league games.
Key battle: Kevin Nolan's ability to time his runs into the area has proved rather more dangerous than Andy Carroll's presence in the air this season, so Benitez will need to consider his defensive options carefully. Gary Cahill, if he plays, often struggles with movement inside the box, while Oriol Romeu might not be trusted to track runs from deep.
Player to watch: Fernando Torres. A sense of deja vu is developing for the Spain international, who appears to be under scrutiny in every game. Is the Chelsea man simply going through 'Michael Owen syndrome'? Owen was never the same after a serious hamstring issue, and the same could be said for Torres.
Talking point: How long will Benitez get if another result fails to go his way this weekend? An interim boss is generally expected to steady the ship, but the Spaniard's presence appears to be making Chelsea fans jump overboard.
Bet of the day: West Ham have a manager who has a reputation for psyching his players up against Premier League big guns. Sam Allardyce has got the better of Benitez in the past, and will do so again at 3/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-1

Arsenal v Swansea City

Form: Arsenal need a win after taking two points from the last possible six, which has left them five points off the top four. Swansea are only a point behind the Gunners in the table and tore into fourth-placed West Brom in their last outing. If Arsenal are considered Champions League challengers, a win for Swansea this weekend would surely mean they are too.
Key battle: Arsenal's trouble position is left-back, where Andre Santos has barely done a reasonable impression of a footballer this season, while Thomas Vermaelen has occasionally filled in when needed. The excellent Kieran Gibbs should start after coming on as a sub at Everton, and that could prove key as Arsenal attempt to silence the in-form Wayne Routledge.
Player to watch: Pablo Hernandez. If ever a Premier League player was built in the Arsene Wenger mould, it is Swansea's little magician Pablo Hernandez. Drifts around without a set position, and makes those around him play better.
Talking point: If Wenger spends money in January, which position is most pressing? Is Olivier Giroud mobile enough to lead the line by himself? Does he have enough creativity behind him?
Bet of the day: Arsenal truly need a victory to prevent the top four moving out of sight, and they usually respond in such situations. Tip them to win from behind at 6/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 3-1

Fulham v Tottenham

Form: After a strong start to the season Fulham have not won in their last six games, losing 3-1 to lowly Sunderland in their last home fixture. Tottenham have followed three straight league defeats with two victories, but there is concern about the way they were forced to hang on for large spells against Liverpool.
Key battle: Gareth Bale is in red hot form, creating one and scoring the other against Liverpool in midweek, and he comes up against an unheralded name in Sascha Riether. Craven Cottage is a tight pitch, will Bale get the room to explode?
Player to watch: Dimitar Berbatov comes up against one of his former sides, and it is on such occasions that he typically thrives. Spurs are without a number of first-choice defenders, so Berbatov will likely test his silky style against Michael Dawson's typically British approach.
Talking point: Who will end up being more fondly remembered at Tottenham, Martin Jol or Andre Villas-Boas? The current Fulham boss was removed before many fans were ready to say goodbye at White Hart Lane, and there remains a feeling of unease over Villas-Boas.
Bet of the day: If Fulham win a penalty, the likelihood is Berbatov would take it, so make things interesting by tipping Fulham to score from the spot at 7/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 1-1

Liverpool v Southampton

Form: Statistics are a wonderful thing. Depending whether you are a glass-half-full or half-empty type of person, Liverpool have either lost only one of their last nine, or won one of their last six. Southampton arrive at Anfield unbeaten in their last four, having taken eight points from a possible 12.
Key battle: Anybody who looks past Luis Suarez is playing down the fact that he is almost exclusively the provider of Liverpool's goals. Jose Fonte acts as the leader of the Southampton rearguard, but Maya Yoshida might be the one to watch in this battle.
Player to watch: Steven Gerrard has received criticism of late, largely based on the fact he is not scoring goals anymore. Brendan Rodgers launched a fierce defence of his skipper, so will Gerrard respond in front of the Kop?
Talking point: Liverpool will be one point above Southampton if they lose this weekend. At what point will the fans start turning on their amiable manager?
Bet of the day: The Reds love to create and waste chances in equal measure, so tip them to be scoreless at half-time before snatching a 1-0 win by full-time at 10/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 1-0

Manchester City v Everton

Form: Still undefeated in the Premier League, Manchester City have won six of seven games at home and are coming into the match off the back of a decent win at Wigan. Everton have won two of seven on their travels and are without a victory in their last three home and away.
Key battle: David Silva is silently pulling strings for City on the domestic scene, and he will surely drift out to the right flank with frequency this weekend, as Everton make do without Leighton Baines and Phil Neville at left-back. Whether Tony Hibbert or Bryan Oviedo fills the void, Silva will fancy his chances of exploiting Everton's weakness at the Etihad.
Player to watch: Easily forgotten in City's title-winning campaign are the goals of Mario Balotelli, who scored 13 in the league last season. His strike at Wigan on Wednesday was his first this term, and a goal rush would seriously help City's stuttering attack.
Talking point: If you made a combined Manchester XI, how many of City's players would get in? We would offer five: Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
Bet of the day: Everton are likely to struggle without Baines, who is their greatest link between defence and attack. There is the potential for them to be pinned back at the Etihad, losing both halves at 5/2 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-0

Steven Gerrard may have a point to prove at Anfield © PA Photos

QPR v Aston Villa

Form: Queens Park Rangers have drawn five and lost nine of their 14 matches, although under Harry Redknapp they have a solitary draw at Sunderland. Aston Villa are one point above the drop zone and have lost five of seven away from home ahead of their trip to Loftus Road.
Key battle: Christian Benteke looks to be several levels above the majority of his team-mates at Villa, leading the line impressively with little to work with. Clint Hill has been restored to the QPR back four of late and will relish the physical battle.
Player to watch: Djibril Cisse. Under the right manager, the Frenchman has passion to burn and has been known to come out too pumped up. Has never grasped the idea of beating an offside trap but remains an eye-catcher whether for the right or wrong reasons.
Talking point: Will Redknapp plot a January move for Liverpool's troubled winger/fullback Stewart Downing? Redknapp has always admired the England man, and Liverpool would surely listen to any offer.
Bet of the day: With so much at stake already early in the season, and a desperate lack of reliable defenders on show, back the own goal at 8/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-0

West Bromwich Albion v Stoke City

Form: The examination period for West Brom is in session. The Baggies produced arguably their worst display of the season at Swansea, so must now respond if they are maintain hopes of European football in the near future. Steve Clarke's men have won six of seven at home, while Stoke are yet to taste victory on their travels.
Key battle: A real battle of two form players this season as Shane Long comes up against Ryan Shawcross. Long has five goals to his name so far and is the type of tricky, non-stop movement striker that can sometimes unsettle Shawcross.
Player to watch: Charlie Adam has enjoyed a promising start to life at Stoke but he was poor in the midweek win against Newcastle. Still yet to find the type of form he showed at Blackpool to win a move to Liverpool.
Talking point: Tony Pulis' men went big for Movember - with some appalling efforts on show, so we now get to see who's is for fund-raising purposes and who's is... well... real.
Bet of the day: Sometimes you just get the feeling a stinker is coming. Back the 0-0 draw at 8/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 0-0


Norwich City v Sunderland

Form: Norwich's form under Chris Hughton is impressive, having gone seven games unbeaten in the Premier League, winning three. Sunderland have lost three of their last six and have won once away from home this term.
Key battle: Wes Hoolahan and Stephane Sessegnon will arguably be the two most technical players on the pitch at Carrow Road, but can either get on the ball consistently enough to dictate the game?
Player to watch: Robert Snodgrass takes the majority of Norwich's set-pieces and always drives forward from midfield. At times he should score more often than he does, but he did bag one (albeit a fluky one) at Southampton last time out.
Talking point: How much damage is Martin O'Neill's spell at Sunderland doing to his reputation? John Hartson recently said O'Neill should be the next manager of Manchester United, but that seems unthinkable right now.
Bet of the day: This is your money-maker. Take Grant Holt to score first in a 2-1 win at 35/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-1
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