Premier League: five things to expect from the weekend

The Capital One Cup takes centre stage this weekend, but while City and Sunderland slug it out at Wembley, the Premier League rolls on, with tricky ties in store for two of the top four clubs.

Here’s five things to expect from the weekend…

1) Stoke could ruffle Arsenal’s feathers

The Britannia is a ground Arsenal have never particularly enjoyed playing at, for Stoke’s emphasis on the physical sides of the game has never gone down with Arsene Wenger and while Tony Pulis is gone, Stoke haven’t mellowed down under Mark Hughes.

A trip to the Potteries is arguably Arsenal’s easiest fixture in a run that has already seen them playing Liverpool twice, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, but Arsene Wenger will be wary of the threat posed by Stoke.

Hughes’ men have already claimed the scalps of Chelsea and Manchester United at the Britannia and have lost just once in their last six home games, so expect them to be a difficult test for the Gunners.

2) Cardiff need goals (and luck)

Four goals in the last six games are a damning verdict of Cardiff’s form, with the Bluebirds’ January arrivals failing to propel them clear of the relegation zone, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks increasingly like a man whose job is on the line.

With four defeats in the last six games, Cardiff’s only reason to be cheerful is that the other relegation candidates are just as bad and haven’t made the most of the Bluebirds’ set-backs over the last few months.

Vincent Tan said Malky Mackay’s success was down to luck and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could do with some of that.

3) Little horses trot around the corner

Four wins in the last six league games and a precious draw away in Istanbul, the last month hasn’t been bad going for Jose Mourinho’s “little horses”, who must now be considered favourites for the title, despite the Portuguese’s claims that they’re anything but. 

Last weekend’s 1-0 win over Everton was quintessential Mourinho in the way it was achieved – a late goal after having been largely outplayed throughout the game – and it strengthened the impression that the Blues, despite their striking conundrum, are increasingly looking like a championship-winning side.

With City not playing this weekend, Chelsea have the chance of extend their lead to six points over Pellegrini’s men – even though City will have two games in hand after the weekend – who still look Chelsea’s main rivals for the title, ahead of next week’s derby against Spurs.

Mourinho knows all about the importance of keeping rivals under pressure and a win at Fulham will do exactly that, unless Felix Magath can muster a minor miracle in his first home game.

4) Liverpool not a one man team, but Rodgers must shore up his defence

Often labelled as a one-man team, Liverpool have done incredibly well to dismiss the notion, winning four and losing two of their last six games, even though Luis Suarez has found the net just once in the last eight.

Even if Suarez was to continue his goal drought, a trip to Southampton offers the Reds the chance to overtake City in third place and possibly even cutting the gap from Chelsea and Arsenal, particularly considering Daniel Sturridge’s form, as the England striker has netted nine goals since the turn of the year.

If Liverpool are serious about winning the league, however, Brendan Rodgers must shore up his back four, who has conceded nine goals in the last six games, five of them in the last two and even though Southampton are without a win on home turf in the last two games, they have enough quality up-front to create the Reds problems.

5) Lambert’s past could decide his future

Paul Lambert faces former club Norwich on Sunday, as Aston Villa host the Canaries at Villa Park and one can only hope that Norwich’s second consecutive appearance on Sky’s Super Sunday won’t be as mind-numbingly boring as the last.

Lack of entertainment aside, Norwich’s win against Spurs was a huge results for Chris Hughton’s men, who moved four points clear of the relegation zone and level with Villa, who capitulated to a late goal against Newcastle.

Villa have the league’s second-worst record at home and have lost four of their last six at Villa Park, hardly a good omen ahead of Sunday, but Lambert must get his men to perform or he could be in danger to see them dragged back into the relegation fight.

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