With the January transfer window now in its final two weeks, a weekend of football provides a welcome distraction from the transfer rumours that have engulfed newspaper columns and TVs from the beginning of the month.
With neither of the top four dropping points last weekend, this season’s title race is shaping up to be on the closest in Premier League history and there’s very little reason to expect any major changes before Monday.
Here’s five things we can expect from the weekend.
1) Tough test for Southampton
Last weekend, the Saints ended a two-game losing streak by beating West Brom 1-0 and restored themselves as the Premier League’s surprise package of the season.
All was happy on the South Coast, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men sitting comfortably in ninth place, their recent wobble doing nothing to detract from their wonderful run earlier in the season.
The Saints, however, are now a club in turmoil following Nicola Cortese resignation and will travel to Sunderland knowing that their manager might be on borrowed time too, as might many of their players.
A trip to the Stadium of Light would have hardly been an easy task even without Cortese’s acrimonious departure, given that the Wearsiders look like a side on the move following last weekend’s 4-1 drubbing of Fulham.
Will this be Pochettino’s last act as Southampton manager?
2) Hazard ahead for United
Saturday’s 2-0 win over Swansea gave David Moyes some much-needed breathing space and the Reds’ second half performance was very encouraging, but a trip to Stamford Bridge might be coming too soon as far United are concerned.
It has most definitely come too soon for Wayne Rooney who’s likely to miss the trip down south with a groin injury, adding to his club’s woes.
Over the last few seasons United adopted a “smash and grab” approach with excellent results in South West London, but a win appears beyond Moyes’ men capabilities at the moment and the feeling is the United manager would be happy with a draw.
Chelsea, on the other hand, must win to keep up with fellow title challengers and will hope Eden Hazard continues his wonderful form – the Belgian has three goals and an assist in the last four games and will relish the opportunity of slicing through United’s midfield.
3) Welcome the new lads
The first two weeks of the January transfer window have been largely subdued as far big deals are concerned, with Chelsea splashing £20m on Nemanja Matic arguably the most high profile transfer so far.
There is, however, been a lot of movement at the other end of the table, with clubs hoping to strengthen to ensure their Premier League future.
Hull have spent a combined £12m on Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long and while the latter might not complete his deal in time to make his debut this weekend, the former can be expected to make his debut away at Norwich.
Aiden McGeady could play his first official game in an Everton shirt, while Cardiff’s new duo Magnus Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli could be involved as they return to Manchester to face City.
4) Home comfort for the top four
Last week, the top four clubs played away and they all returned from their respective trips with three points in the bag, an outcome they will expect to replicate when they all enjoy the comfort of games on home turf this weekend.
League leaders Arsenal host struggling Fulham at the Emirates in a game Arsene Wenger’s men are largely expected to win, much as Manchester City could make Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s return to Manchester one to forget.
Aston Villa showed there’s some fight left in them as they rallied in the second half against Arsenal, but it’s hard to fathom them halting Liverpool’s run at Anfield, where the Reds have won the last six league games.
Chelsea have the toughest assignment of the top four clubs, but with United’s injury crisis showing no sign of ending anytime soon, Jose Mourinho’s men should have enough to get over the line on Sunday.
5) Tight at the bottom
If the title race is close, the fight to avoid relegation is even closer, with 11 teams in six points.
Having got themselves off the bottom of the table last weekend, Sunderland will look to make the most of Southampton’s off-field troubles when they host them on Saturday, while Norwich-Hull and Crystal Palace-Stoke could be relegation six pointers.
Chris Hughton is under pressure after losing three and drawing three in the last six, while Hull have lost three of the last four and even though they sit in 10th place, Steve Bruce will be eager to extend the five-point gap which currently separates his team from the relegation zone.
Tony Pulis has revitalised Palace but the Eagles are without a win in three and host a Stoke that has lost three in the last four and have the worst record away from home in the league.