• Premier League preview

A city divided as United visit the champions

ESPN staff
December 7, 2012
Manchester City have to lift themselves after the agony of crashing out of Europe © PA Photos

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One city, two very talented squads, and three extremely big points on offer this weekend as Manchester rivals City and United go toe-to-toe at the Etihad. The champions won home and away last season, can Sir Alex Ferguson buck the trend?

Elsewhere, Rafael Benitez goes searching for a first league win as Chelsea boss at Sunderland, Arsenal bid to alleviate pressure on Arsene Wenger at home to West Brom, Everton and Spurs enter a Champions League shootout at Goodison, and there is a relegation battle between Southampton and Reading at St Mary's.

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


Arsenal v West Brom

Form: Arsenal have not won any of their last four matches in all competitions and have triumphed only once in their last three home league games. West Brom are suffering their first slump of the campaign, losing their last two.
Key battle: Santi Cazorla is crucial to Arsenal's attacking threat, with the Gunners proving impotent when the Spaniard has a quiet game. Claudio Yacob plays an understated role at the base of the Baggies' midfield and could help set up counter attacks through the pace of Peter Odemwingie and Co.
Player to watch: Jack Wilshere was expected to boost his side upon return from injury but the England man has hardly set the world alight. It would be harsh to expect the youngster to hit top form immediately after such a long layoff, but Wilshere needs to start influencing matters higher up the pitch if he wants to emulate Cesc Fabregas.
Talking point: How much longer has Arsene Wenger got? A realistic view of the current Arsenal side would acknowledge that they are a distance away from being world beaters, and it seems to get worse by the year.
Bet of the day: Take Arsenal to suffer a frustrating first half, going in level at 0-0 before winning 2-0 at 18/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-0

Santi Cazorla's influence at Arsenal has faded over recent weeks © PA Photos

Aston Villa v Stoke

Form: Other than Manchester United, Stoke City are the form team in the Premier League having taken 13 of a possible 15 points in their last five games. Villa's form meanwhile is unspectacular and patchy: two wins, two draws and two defeats in their last six games, however three of those matches came against Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Key battle: Christian Benteke has shouldered his way to the front of Villa's striking queue in recent weeks, ahead of £24 million Darren Bent, and has scored all three of his league goals at Villa Park. As the most reliable goal threat for Villa, how Stoke centre-back Ryan Shawcross attempts to contain him will have an influential say in the outcome of the game.
Player to watch: Matthew Etherington has made a career of weaving runs down the left flank, slight in stature but with an enormous engine. Given the backing by his manager at the start of the season, Etherington is yet to score this season but if Villa give him the space he needs, he could well end his dry run.
Talking point: At £24 million Bent is in the Olympic Handball arena category of white elephants but he probably doesn't deserve to be. With a great scoring record at Tottenham and Sunderland, failure to get the best out of him in a Villa shirt will reflect badly on Lambert, even though he didn't spend the grand sum to bring him to the club in the first place.
Bet of the day: Villa have shown good spirit at home in recent weeks, so a high-scoring 2-2 draw appeals at 18/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-2

Southampton v Reading

Form: Southampton and Reading both find themselves in the drop zone, with three points separating 18th-placed Saints from their 19th-ranked rivals. Reading enter the game off the back off a 4-3 defeat to Manchester United, while Southampton were edged out by Liverpool.
Key battle: Jobi McAnuff is a class above most of his team-mates at Reading and led Rafael a merry dance in the clash with United. He will face a superb defender, both in defence and attack, when he meets Nathaniel Clyne.
Player to watch: Adam Federici used to be linked to a move to Liverpool, but Reading's No. 2 goalkeeper is only currently playing due to an injury to Alex McCarthy. Federici was almost embarrassed by Robin van Persie at the Madejski, and his form has been anything but solid this season.
Talking point: Are relegation-threatened sides better off trying to keep things tight or playing expansive football? Ian Holloway's Blackpool set a trend for attacking football a few years ago but Saints and Reading appear to be suffering with the same tactics.
Bet of the day: Southampton look the more solid outfit of the two teams, and an early goal could set them on the way to a memorable afternoon. Back Saints to win both halves at 4/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 3-1

Sunderland v Chelsea

Form: A win against Fulham and a draw with QPR is all Sunderland have to show from their last six games, which have also seen defeats to the likes of Aston Villa and, most recently, Norwich. Only two teams have fared worse over the same period - which is the same story for Chelsea, the Blues having picked up just four points in that period without winning a single game.
Key battle: Without Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner will be tasked with much of the defensive duties usually borne by the regular Black Cats captain - responsibilities that will also include dealing with Oscar in this game. The Brazilian will see this is an ideal fixture to improve his understanding with Fernando Torres.
Player to watch: With John Obi Mikel banned and Frank Lampard perhaps still a week away from being ready for first-team duties, Oriel Romeu will likely get a chance to show Rafael Benitez he deserves a prolonged run in the first team.
Talking point: Chelsea have not lost in their last five visits to the Stadium of Light. Is this the perfect away trip for the club considering their current struggles for both confidence and form?
Bet of the day: As bad as Chelsea have been recently, this is not an unkind away game for them to have to play at this point in time. Considering they won both last season's meetings by a single goal, a scrappy 1-0 win for Benitez's side is a fairly attractive 11/2 with bet365.
Prediction: 0-1

Swansea v Norwich

Form: These two sides currently sit third and fourth in the league form table, an accurate illustration of the impressive runs they have been on. Three wins and three draws for both teams add up to two formidable unbeaten streaks, with recent wins against Arsenal (for the Swans) and Sunderland meaning both squads enter this meeting high on confidence.
Key battle: Grant Holt against Ashley Williams is a classic battle of journeyman Football League players who have recently gone on to prove they can more than hold their own at Premier League level. But who can win their individual battle?
Player to watch: Another summer signing is getting all the attention, but Jonathan de Guzman has been an astute capture for Swansea already this season. The well-travelled Canadian could be key against Norwich's combative midfielders.
Talking point: Swansea manager Michael Laudrup claimed this week that Michu - currently joint-top of the league goalscoring charts - is worth double what Liverpool paid for Joe Allen. Even after such a fine start to life in England, surely £30 million is a bit optimistic for the Spaniard?
Bet of the day: Swansea are buoyant right now, but expect Norwich's diligence and defensive discipline to win out against the Welsh side's technically adept but occasionally inconsistent style of play. A draw at half-time but Norwich to win at full-time is 9/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 0-1

Wigan v QPR

Form: Wigan were well beaten at Newcastle last time out but played the majority of the game with ten men. QPR are yet to win under Harry Redknapp but have picked up two draws. They remain bottom of the table and are seven points adrift of safety.
Key battle: Wigan have issues with Ali Al-Habsi, who has made a series of blunders in recent weeks, while QPR must persist with No. 2 choice Rob Green. An error could decide this one.
Player to watch: Jordi Gomez was jeered before answering Wigan fans with a hat-trick in the recent home win over Reading. He then got replaced early at Newcastle as Roberto Martinez reshuffled following the red card, so let's see what this weekend brings for the midfielder.
Talking point: Harry Redknapp has cancelled QPR's Christmas party as they get serious about their relegation scrap. Surely that goes against Redknapp's usual belief in building squad morale?
Bet of the day: Wigan looked good before falling to ten men at St James' Park, so back them for a 2-1 win at the DW Stadium at 8/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 2-1

Manchester United's defence was dire at Reading © PA Photos


Manchester City v Manchester United

Form: Manchester City are unbeaten in the league this season but did draw their last home fixture against Everton. United's defence is all over the place, conceding an extra ten goals compared to the champions so far, but they have also proved the more potent attacking threat, averaging over two goals a game.
Key battle: City need to learn from Chelsea's defeat to United, and that means keeping a tight leash on Van Persie. If this turns out to be a tense 1-0 win you would expect it to go the way of City, but if we get a 3-2 thriller you might fancy United. Vincent Kompany must shackle Van Persie to give his team a foundation on which to win the game.
Player to watch: Carlos Tevez. Not only does the Argentine have history with the Red Devils, he also revels in such games and could carry the City attack forward. Looked sharp in the defeat at Borussia Dortmund and should start.
Talking point: If you could only pick 11 players from either side, who would you choose? We offer our team here.
Bet of the day: Manchester United were on the right end of some poor decisions at Chelsea, so back them to score a dubious penalty at the Etihad at 7/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 1-1

Everton v Tottenham

Form: Everton have not lost at Goodison Park this term and should be confident after drawing at the home of the champions. Tottenham either win or lose on their travels, winning four and losing three to date, but have triumphed in their last four in all competitions.
Key battle: In the big games Marouane Fellaini has made the difference for Everton, making telling contributions against United, Arsenal and City. Andre Villas-Boas might want to use the equally towering Steven Caulker to man-mark the Belgian.
Player to watch: Jermain Defoe is in red-hot form, adding another to his tally in the midweek game against Panathinaikos. In tight matches such as these his predatory instincts could make the difference between no points or three.
Talking point: How much would represent good value for Everton if they have to sell Fellaini? Would £20 million be too cheap?
Bet of the day: Both sides are hunting Champions League football so an entertaining 2-2 draw would be no surprise at 12/1with bet365.
Prediction: 2-2

West Ham v Liverpool

Form: Liverpool are coming off two confidence-boosting 1-0 wins against Southampton and Udinese, but have only won once away in the league this season. West Ham tore into Chelsea last week and will be flying ahead of Sunday's encounter.
Key battle: Mohamed Diame changed the game with his powerhouse display against Chelsea, but he will come up against the recently-returned figure of Lucas Leiva, who offers Liverpool defensive intelligence.
Player to watch: With Luis Suarez suspended Jonjo Shelvey might be asked to play the 'false nine' role at Upton Park. Shelvey's form for Liverpool has largely gone unnoticed this season, but can he succeed as the Reds' greatest source of goals?
Talking point: Sam Allardyce's West Ham are currently three points and three places above Liverpool in the league. Will the unfashionable manager ever manage a 'big club' (bigger than Newcastle)?
Bet of the day: Liverpool don't have a striker, so take West Ham to win to nil at 15/4 with bet365.
Prediction: 1-0
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