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The Arizonan

Premier League Preview - 22nd - 23rd October 2011

last updated Saturday 22nd October 2011, 11:15 PM

Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes
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When Mark Hughes walked away from Fulham on 1 June the assumption was that he had a new job lined up. But Hughes says that it was Fulham's reluctance to build on his eighth-place finish last season that convinced him he had to leave.

The 47-year-old looked a shoo-in to replace Gérard Houllier at Aston Villa but he says that was never on the cards. Instead he decided to take his chance on the job market with a record that includes a sixth-place finish with Blackburn in 2005-2006. At three clubs, Hughes has only once finished outside the top 10 and that was his first season at Blackburn, when he took over five games into the campaign.

In the run-up to 1 June, Hughes became aware that attempts to sign new players at Fulham were not progressing well. "I had given them a couple of names and I saw a slowing down of the process," he says. "They were saying 'We will do it' and 'We're speaking' and I read that as the fact that maybe they didn't want to do these deals. I read that that maybe they didn't want to keep the club in the top half of the Premier League which was my ambition. There was the date of 1 June and the closer it got, the less inclined I was to sign it [the contract] because it would have meant me committing further than the one year I had left. I was feeling real concerns in terms of age and the guys that would have to be replaced to keep the level the same. In the end I came to the conclusion it would be better just to shake hands and walk away."

The 1 June clause in Hughes' agreement with Fulham allowed both parties a 24-hour window in which to part company without any terms. Hughes admits he was fortunate to be sufficiently financially secure to take it. Having "compromised" at Manchester City, he was not prepared to do so again. "Fulham have been a team that is middle to lower. My view was that with a little bit of investment ... they could be middle to top half. Then you are playing games of significance for all the right reasons, not because you are in the shit and you need to get out, which is not an enjoyable experience. Yeah, it gets the emotions going but you don't want to be involved in all that. You want to be battling against the big boys.

"When I left Blackburn, my reputation was high. When I left City, I took a few knocks but in the end I think people realise I did a decent job there. I took a chance going to Fulham and I had to replicate what Roy [Hodgson] had done and he had done remarkably well. We turned it round after Christmas because of how I work and how my team works. So I restored my reputation by getting back up to eighth. But I just felt there was a danger that you go to the other end and you are perceived as another British manager. "British manager" seems to have a certain label to it that you are OK to keep teams in the Premier League and you are middle to average but nothing better than that."

Hughes has been taking intensive lessons to improve his Spanish. "Are you going to get the right job in Portugal or Spain?" he says. "No, you're not. But if you do have a go, there is not so much of a glass ceiling and you might get an opportunity to pick up a top club, which is more difficult here."

It is the same fixture that provided the goal of the season last year, and with both teams flying at the top of the Premier League, the first Manchester derby of 2011/12 is arguably the most-anticipated fixture of the campaign so far.

United host their neighbours City at Old Trafford, with Wayne Rooney scoring a spectacular overhead kick the last time the sides met in the league.

In a week when the Stone Roses announced their return to the music scene, and with both clubs flourishing at this early stage, it is a good time to be a Mancunian - be it a Red or a Blue.

But who will be celebrating to the beats of Ian Brown and co on Sunday afternoon? Elsewhere in the top flight there are more notable matches to whet the appetite as the table begins to take shape after eight games.

Fulham search for a second win of the season at home to Everton, Arsenal hope that recent improved results continue with a home win against Stoke, Chelsea take on Queens Park Rangers in West London, Tottenham could apply even more pressure on beleaguered Steve Keen, Newcastle will be looking to firm up their grasp on 4th place with a home win against Wigan and Aston Villa host West Brom in a Midlands encounter.

Saturday 22nd October

12:45 - Wolves (16) v Swansea (13) - Sky2  

Wolves are on a dreadful run having lost their last five league games, while the Swans are beginning to get to grips with the standard required.

Having said that, they are the only team in the top flight who have not earned a point away from home and Mick McCarthy will see this as a major opportunity to get back on the winning path.

Wolves will still be without striker Steven Fletcher, who is recovering from the calf injury that kept him out of last week's 2-0 defeat to West Brom.

Meanwhile, Ronald Zubar (groin) has not reached match fitness and Kevin Foley (ankle) is also missing.

Swansea defender Steven Caulker is ahead of schedule in his return from a knee injury, but is still unavailable.

Vangelis Moras could make his debut in defence after receiving international clearance to sign a short-term contract with the club, but Stephen Dobbie (ankle), Alan Tate (broken leg) and Kemy Agustien (hamstring) are out.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Wolves L L L L L; Swansea L W L W L

Top scorers: Steven Fletcher (Wolves) 3; Danny Graham & Scott Sinclair (Swansea) 2

Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).

15:00 - Aston Villa (8) v West Brom (12)

More animosity will be shared in Birmingham on Saturday when West Brom make the short journey from the Black Country to Aston Villa.

Alex McLeish's start since switching allegiance from the blue half of the city has been a relatively solid one - the Scot building foundations at the back, especially at home.

West Brom, meanwhile, started dreadfully but have picked things up.

The Baggies are unbeaten in three games and Roy Hodgson will hope last week's success over Wolves will spark their season into life.

Villa central defender James Collins is back in contention after missing the 4-1 setback at Manchester City with foot and groin problems.

Villa boss Alex McLeish may recall midfielder Barry Bannan after leaving him out of the starting line-up at City following his exertions with Scotland, but striker Nathan Delfouneso (hamstring) and on-loan Jermaine Jenas (Achilles) are still ruled out.

West Brom midfielder Zoltan Gera is in contention to play some part after making his comeback from a long-term ankle problem by playing 45 minutes of the midweek reserve clash with Arsenal.

Defender Steven Reid will be available after undergoing minor hand surgery, while manager Roy Hodgson has to decide whether to recall Peter Odemwingie after he impressed as a scoring substitute against Wolves.

Last season: West Brom 2 Aston Villa 1, Aston Villa 2 West Brom 1

Last five league matches: Aston Villa D D D W L; West Brom W L D D W

Top scorers: Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa) 4; Shane Long (West Brom) 3

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

15:00  - Bolton (18) v Sunderland (17)

Bolton and Sunderland have also endured torrid starts and while Wanderers emerged victorious at the DW Stadium last weekend, Owen Coyle will not be happy with the fact that they sit 18th in the table.

Steve Bruce's Sunderland are on the same points, six, and were perhaps unlucky not to pick up a draw at Arsenal last time out.

The Black Cats have had a terrible 2011 in terms of results and with two months to go until the New Year, Bruce will be desperate for a turnaround before that comes to pass.

Bolton boss Owen Coyle is hoping to be able to pick from the same squad as the Trotters look to build on last week's win at Wigan.

A couple of players are battling knocks but Coyle is hopeful they will be fit while defender Marcos Alonso returned to training today after eight weeks out with a broken foot.

Sunderland boss Steve Bruce is boosted by the return of key men Phil Bardsley, after suspension, and Nicklas Bendtner, who was ineligible to play against parent club Arsenal last weekend.

Titus Bramble is suspended pending police and club investigations, while Craig Gordon and Fraizer Campbell (both knee) continue to work their way back to fitness.

Last season: Bolton 1 Sunderland 2, Sunderland 1 Bolton 0

Last five league matches: Bolton L L L L W; Sunderland L W L D L

Top scorers: Ivan Klasnic (Bolton) 3; Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland) 3

Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire).

15:00 - Newcastle (4) v Wigan (19)

There is no doubt that the surprise package of the season has been Newcastle, and Alan Pardew deserves great credit as his side currently sit fourth in the table.

This weekend the Magpies take on struggling Wigan Athletic, who are in a real rut.

Roberto Martinez may now be wondering if he should have taken the Aston Villa job when it was offered to him in the summer, as his Latics side have lost five on the bounce.

A sixth at St James' Park would increase the pressure on the Spaniard.

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has virtually a full squad to choose from.

Skipper Fabricio Coloccini has had a minor toe problem, but is expected to be fit, while Haris Vuckic (broken hand) and Alan Smith (hamstring) are available again, with only central defender Mike Williamson (ankle) on the sidelines.

Striker Hugo Rodallega is set for a return to the Wigan starting line-up after making his comeback from a knee injury as a substitute a week ago.

Steve Gohouri had 45 minutes to forget out of position at left-back in the home loss to Bolton and that could signal a return for Maynor Figueroa, who was dropped to the bench at the weekend.

Last season: Wigan 0 Newcastle 1, Newcastle 2 Wigan 2

Last five league matches: Newcastle D D W W D; Wigan L L L L L

Top scorers: Demba Ba (Newcastle) 5; Franco Di Santo (Wigan) 3

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).

17:30 - Liverpool (5) v Norwich (9) - ESPN

The row involving Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra shows little sign of abating and it will be interesting to see if the Uruguayan is at all affected by off-the-pitch matters when Liverpool welcome Norwich to Anfield.

Kenny Dalglish's side have been in good form since their battering at Tottenham in September, with three wins in four matches.

Steven Gerrard marked his return to the fold with a goal against Manchester United and they will expect to come out of the Canaries clash with three points.

However, Paul Lambert's team will be up for the challenge.

Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva serves a one-match suspension, which may give a chance for Jordan Henderson, dropped to the bench for the last two matches, to regain his starting place.

Defenders Daniel Agger (rib) and Glen Johnson (hamstring) are fully fit again after playing in the midweek friendly defeat by Rangers.

Steve Morison is available for Norwich after suffering cramp and being replaced in last week's 3-1 win over Swansea.

Out again with knee injuries, though, are defenders Elliot Ward and Daniel Ayala, while Zak Whitbread's hamstring problem keeps him out and long-term absentee James Vaughan is not expected to challenge for a place again until the New Year.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: Liverpool L L W W D; Norwich L W W L W

Top scorers: Luis Suarez (Liverpool) 5; Anthony Pilkington (Norwich) 3

Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).

Sunday 23rd October

13:30 - Arsenal (10) v Stoke (7)

Arsenal are slowly turning the corner after their woeful start, having won five of their last six matches in all competitions.

Yet there is still a sense of unease at the Emirates Stadium and when Stoke come to town on Sunday, you can put your house on the Potters not making it easy for the North Londoners.

Two more contrasting styles you could not wish to see, with Arsenal's free-flowing approach at odds with Stoke's physical tactics.

Both teams won in Europe in midweek, but this is a game Tony Pulis will relish.

Carl Jenkinson, who picked up a knee problem against Marseille in the Champions League in midweek, will be out for a fortnight, as will Kieran Gibbs (stomach muscles). Meanwhile, defender Thomas Vermaelen is back in full training and could be available in 10 days to two weeks, while Abou Diaby is also two weeks away from a return.

Stoke boss Tony Pulis will check on winger Jermaine Pennant, who has been experiencing some trouble with his hamstring and did not feature in the Potters' Europa League win over Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Jonathan Woodgate also missed that game as he is not part of Pulis' European squad and will come back into contention if he is fit, while Danny Higginbotham - out since April with a knee injury - may be involved.

Last season: Stoke 3 Arsenal 1, Arsenal 1 Stoke 0

Last five league matches: Arsenal W L W L W; Stoke W L D L W

Top scorers: Robin van Persie (Arsenal) 7; Jonathan Walters (Stoke) 4

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).

13:30 - Fulham (14) v Everton (15)

Everton have lost three games in succession but in fairness to the Toffees those defeats have come against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

They will be looking to take advantage of Fulham's fatigued Europa League legs on Sunday.

The Cottagers lost in Krakow on Thursday and also fell to Stoke on their last Premier League outing.

With both sides on seven points, they will want to move away from the bottom three.

Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey, rested for the midweek Europa League defeat at Wisla Krakow, and Danny Murphy (knee) are among the Fulham players returning.

They will be joined by Philippe Senderos and Zdenek Grygera after recovering from respective knocks.

Bryan Ruiz faces a fitness test on Saturday, but Orlando Sa (hamstring) and Simon Davies (knee) are out.

James McFadden, who rejoined Everton on a free transfer this week, looks unlikely to make his second debut for the club as he has not played a competitive game in more than a year due to a serious knee injury and his condition is being closely monitored by manager David Moyes.

Victor Anichebe remains sidelined with a groin complaint, but other than that, Moyes has a full squad to choose from.

Last season: Everton 2 Fulham 1, Fulham 0 Everton 0

Last five league matches: Fulham D D D W L; Everton D W L L L

Top scorers: Andrew Johnson (Fulham) 9; Apostolos Vellios (Everton) 2

Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).

13:30 - Man Utd (2) v Man City (1)

It is a mark of the transformation at the Etihad Stadium in recent years that only two Manchester City players remain from the side that last beat United on their own patch only three years ago.

Joe Hart and Micah Richards are the survivors from that day, and there is no doubt that Roberto Mancini's XI this weekend is a far cry from the one Sven Goran Eriksson fielded in 2008.

The same result would see City go five points clear of their rivals although the stats are against them - Sir Alex Ferguson's men have been victorious the last four times the two teams have met at Old Trafford, and City failed to win away at any top-seven opponent last season.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has recalled Rio Ferdinand to his squad after the centre-back was excused the Champions League trip to Romania in midweek.

Rafael (shoulder) is still sidelined, but Tom Cleverley (foot) is due to return to training on Monday.

City have no fresh injury concerns, with striker Mario Balotelli returning after suspension in midweek and Owen Hargreaves, who made his league debut for City last week, set to be assessed in a practice match before the game.

Carlos Tevez, the subject of disciplinary proceedings, is highly unlikely to be recalled.

Last season: Man Utd 2 Man City 1, Man City 0 Man Utd 0

Last five league matches: Man Utd W W D W D; Man City W D W W W

Top scorers: Wayne Rooney (Man Utd) 11; Sergio Aguero (Man City) 9

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).

15:00 - Blackburn (20) v Tottenham (6)

The owners of Blackburn Rovers, Venky's, issued a statement earlier in the week, like many other clubs, that they were steadfastly against the suggestion from the League Manager's Association chief executive, Richard Bevan, that relegation from the Premier League could be scrapped.

But having accrued just five points from eight games this season, dropping out of the top flight could become a reality for Rovers.

Steve Kean remains at the helm as Blackburn play Tottenham, who come into the game on the back of a Europa League victory over Rubin Kazan.

Defender Michel Salgado aggravated a hamstring problem in last weekend's 1-1 draw at QPR, so Jason Lowe is expected to fill in at right-back for Rovers.

Midfielders David Dunn (calf), Vince Grella (hip) and Ryan Nelsen (knee) are all still out.

The likes of Scott Parker, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart will be recalled for Tottenham after they were rested for Thursday night's Europa League win over Rubin Kazan.

Manager Harry Redknapp has major problems in defence, with William Gallas (calf), Michael Dawson (Achilles), Ledley King (groin) and Vedran Corluka (foot) all unavailable, while Aaron Lennon (groin) and Sandro (calf) should be fit.

Last season: Blackburn 0 Tottenham 1, Tottenham 4 Blackburn 2

Last five league matches: Blackburn D W L L D; Tottenham W W W W D

Top scorers: Ruben Rochina (Blackburn) 4; Jermain Defoe (Tottenham) 5

Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).

16:00 - QPR (11) v Chelsea (3)

While the spotlight will be elsewhere this weekend, Chelsea may not be too concerned about that as they begin to click into gear under Andre Villas-Boas.

A 5-0 demolition of Genk in the Champions League on Wednesday saw Fernando Torres score two and took the Blues to a total of 13 goals in their last three matches.

A local derby in the league against QPR has not been seen since 1996, although twice the two sides have met in the Carling Cup and the FA Cup in recent times - with Chelsea winning 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on both occasions.

This clash, though, will be played out at Loftus Road, and Neil Warnock will have his players stoked for an upset.

Watch the action live on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 from 4pm on Sunday.

QPR defender Danny Gabbidon has still not recovered from a knee injury and will therefore miss out, but Adel Taarabt, who has been suffering from a mild virus, is likely to be fit.

DJ Campbell, who had an operation on his foot this week, was expected to be out for two months but may come back sooner.

Ramires has failed to recover from the knee injury picked up in Chelsea's win over Everton last weekend but could be back for the Carling Cup tie against the same opponents next week.

John Terry, Didier Drogba and Juan Mata look set to return after being rested for Wednesday night's Champions League thrashing of Genk, while Fernando Torres serves the final instalment of his three-match domestic suspension.

Last season: No corresponding fixture

Last five league matches: QPR D W D L D; Chelsea W L W W W

Top scorers: Joey Barton, DJ Campbell, Alejandro Faurlin, Heidar Helguson & Tommy Smith (QPR) 1; Frank Lampard (Chelsea) 5

Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

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