Looking ahead to this weekend’s Premier League matches
By Bhaskar Maji
Liverpool v Manchester City
Liverpool fans welcome new boss, Rafael Benitez, to Anfield on Saturday for the visit of Manchester City.
The Reds are aiming to extend their unbeaten Premiership sequence to seven matches.
The Merseysiders will be without new signing Antonio Nunez who is sidelined for a month after injuring his knee in training on Thursday.
The Anfield club will sign Xabi Alonso from Real Sociedad today but the player will not be available to start tomorrow, as his registration will not be processed until after the FA’s noon deadline. Djibril Cisse starts up-front alongside Milan Baros with Steven Gerrard captaining the team.
City boss, Kevin Keegan, is ready to name the same team that drew with Fulham last weekend.
His only worry is Claudio Reyna who picked up a knock whilst playing for USA against Jamaica on Wednesday. Should Reyna fail a fitness test, Joey Barton will replace him in midfield. Robbie Fowler hopes to score his 200th goal against his former employers.
Manchester United v Norwich
Manchester United welcome back Christiano Ronaldo to club duty when they host Premiership new-boys, Norwich City. Portugal were eliminated from the Olympics by Costa Rica.
His return is a massive boost for Sir Alex Ferguson whose injury-torn side suffered an opening day defeat at Chelsea last Sunday.
Striker Louis Saha will have a fitness test tomorrow to see whether he makes the squad. The French international was expected to be sidelined for several months with an ankle injury but has surprised United’s coaching staff with a speedy recovery.
But Ferguson will not want to risk damaging the forward’s ankle further and will probably start with Paul Scholes playing up-front with Alan Smith. Captain Roy Keane is set to continue in defence with Darren Fletcher and Eric Djemba-Djemba starting in midfield.
Canaries’ boss, Nigel Worthington, insists his team will go to Old Trafford seeking to win and claims his side are not in the Premiership merely to make up numbers.
He said: ” We will go out to play our own game and go out to get three points. Thereafter, what happens, happens.”
City start with new signing Simon Charlton in defence and Darren Huckerby up-front. Their only worry is 19-year-old David Bentley. The midfielder, on-loan from Arsenal, is carrying a slight calf injury but is expected to be fit.
New player, Gary Doherty, signed today from Spurs, has joined the squad for the game.
Birmingham City v Chelsea
Birmingham City are without Mikael Forssell for the visit of Chelsea as his loan deal does not allow him to play against his contract holders.
Blues boss, Steve Bruce, is also without David Dunn who has a hamstring injury as well as skipper Kenny Cunningham who starts a ban.
Emile Heskey will start for the St Andrew’s outfit after he missed England’s 3-0 mid-week victory over Ukraine with a hamstring strain.
Chelsea boss, Jose Morinho may bring in Mateja Kezman for either Didier Drogba or Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The Portuguese man is still looking to determine his most potent strike force after several big summer signings.
Damien Duff may be called to the bench after proving his fitness for Republic of Ireland mid-week while Glen Johnson may also be in the reckoning. But out-of-sorts striker, Adrian Mutu, is out of Mourinho’s plans for the time being.
Newcastle v Tottenham
Kieron Dyer has publicly apologised to manager, Sir Bobby Robson, for last weekend’s show of petulance but may still be in for a hard reception by the Toon Army.
The conjunctivitis that swept through the squad seems to have eased allows Robson to choose the starting XI from a near full squad.
Robbie Elliot is expected to retain his place in central defence with Nicky Butt and Jermaine Jenas playing in central midfield.
Patrick Kliuvert looks to start the game on the bench as both Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy scored last weekend.
Spurs England trio Jermaine Defoe, Ledley King and Paul Robinson all reported back to manager Jacques Santini injury-free. All three are expected to start for the visit to Newcastle United at St James’ Park.
Antonio Gardner and Mauricio Taricco face late fitness tests to see if they make the squad. But Simon Davies and Robbie Keane are out injured.
Crystal Palace v Everton
Newly promoted Crystal Palace play their first match in front of an expectant home crowd at Selhurst Park against Everton on Saturday.
Place striker Sandor Torghelle will have a late fitness test after mid-week international duty for Hungary. Iain Dowie hopes to have £2m signing Ivan Kaviedes available. But Michael Hughes is out with a groin strain as is Neil Shipperley with a recurring knee injury. Danny Butterfield is also missing with a hamstring problem.
Everton’s Joseph Yobo is unlikely to feature for the Toffees with a knee problem. Alan Stubbs is also fighting to be fit with a groin strain, so David Weir is ready to step in at centre-back. Some good news for Everton boss, David Moyes, is that Kevin Kilbane and James McFadden have recovered from minor injuries.
Southampton manager, Paul Sturrock, is likely to be without striker James Beattie who has a thigh injury for the visit of Blackburn Rovers. This means that Peter Crouch or Brett Ormerod will partner Kevin Phillips in attack. Darren Kenton also faces a late fitness test on a thigh problem.
Sturrock, who is under pressure after a disappointing start to life at St Mary’s, will be desperate for a good result.
Rovers’ boss, Graeme Souness, has no fresh injury worries with Steven Reid and David Thompson still sidelined. Thompson is close to returning after a run-out for the reserves on Tuesday, but is still not fully match fit.
Souness knows this match is vital as they face tough trips to Arsenal and Newcastle United after the Saints encounter.
He said: “If we end up with only two or three points from our first five matches, then the pressure will be on.”
Fulham v Bolton
Fulham have a full squad to choose from for the visit of early Premiership pacesetters Bolton to Craven Cottage.
Luis Boa Morte goes straight back into the squad after his return from the Olympic games with Portugal. Edwin Van der Sar, Mark Crossley, Mark Pembridge, Claus Jensen and Collins John all reported back fit from midweek international duty to the relief of Fulham manager Chris Coleman.
Sam Allerdyce hopes that cutting down on travelling between matches will boost his side’s energy as they prepare for two matches in six days away to Fulham and Southampton.
He said: “We’ve decided to stay down south until the Southampton game. Constant travelling is a huge problem for the recovery of players.”
Bolton’s latest acquisition, El Hadji Diouf misses the game because he must complete passport regulations before he can be selected. Ricardo Gardener will join his teammates in London after returning from international duty for Jamaica.
Charlton v Portsmouth
Alan Curbishley hopes Charlton will improve on their dismal performance last weekend when they host Portsmouth at the Valley.
Addicks captain Matt Holland will miss the game as he recovers from long term ankle problem. Summer signings Dennis Rommedhal, Francis Jeffers and Bryan Hughes are all in contention for a starting place after they were left on the bench at The Reebok last Saturday.
Richard Hughes is out for Pompey with a calf strain. Gary O’ Neil is set to replace him with his first start in eight months.
Goalkeeper Shaka Hislop has a knee problem but should be alright, but Aliou Cisse misses the game with a calf strain.
Pompey manager, Harry Redknapp, expects new signing Ricardo Fuller to start on the bench.
West Brom v Asto Villa
West Bromwich Albion entertain Midlands rivals Aston Villa at the Hawthorns.
Albion boss, Gary Megson, will again be without Wales midfielder Jason Koumas, as he serves the second game of a four-match ban.
The Baggies are also without striker Robert Hulse with a stomach strain and central defender Larus Sigurdsson, who has a knee injury.
Aston Villa’s Peruvian midfielder Nolberto Solano returns to action after serving a suspension. He will replace Lee Hendrie, who has a shoulder injury.
Villa boss David O’Leary will also welcome back Juan Pablo Angel on the bench. The Colombian returns for the Midlands’ team after recovering from knee surgery.
England under-21 international, Carlton Cole, will start with Darius Vassell in attack.
Arsenal v Middlesbrough
Arsenal will equal Nottingham Forest’s all time League record sequence of 42 unbeaten matches if they avoid defeat when they meet Middlesborough at Highbury tomorrow.
Arsenal’s 41-match unbeaten streak consists of 29 wins and 12 draws.
Arsene Wenger has revealed that there won’t be many changes to the team that cruised past Everton last weekend.
Lauren makes his 100th Premiership start for the “New Invincibles” of
England’s top-flight while impressive 17-year-old, Francesco Fabregas, deputises for injured captain Patrick Vieira.
Dennis Bergkamp is expected to line-up alongside Thierry Henry with Jose Antonio Reyes starting on the left wing.
Arsenal are without Edu who played 70 minutes for Brazil mid-week against Haiti much to the annoyance of the Arsenal boss.
For Boro, Ray Parlour will make an emotional return to the Gunners where he spent 13 years. But Boro’s new star has reassured fans that if he gets the chance to halt Arsenal’s winning spree, then he will.
He said: “I’m a Boro player now – the fans can rest assured that if I get a chance to score, I will.”
Summer signings Michael Reiziger and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink are all expected to start, although former Leeds striker Mark Viduka is still suspended. Stuart Downing looks set to deputise up front.