Chelsea and Liverpool will attempt to draw a line under what has been a difficult week for both clubs as they resume their tussle for pole position in the Premier League title race today.
Chelsea, who travel to bottom club West Brom, top the table courtesy of the impressive goal difference that reflects Luiz Felipe Scolari’s commitment to an expansive style.
Liverpool, who travel to Bolton, have not set many pulses racing but have matched Chelsea’s haul of points and Rafael Benitez’s side appears set for a serious tilt at what would be the club’s first English title since 1990.
Both the pacesetters were left smarting by ignominious exits from the League Cup in midweek, Liverpool slumping to a 4-2 defeat at Tottenham while Chelsea’s exit on penalties to Championship side Burnley was aggravated by Didier Drogba’s ill-judged reaction to being struck by a coin thrown from the stands.
The striker tossed the missile back into the crowd and treated the visiting supporters to a one-fingered salute, conduct that is likely to earn him a ban at a time when he has only just come back from a knee injury.
Scolari will not have been impressed and Drogba could find himself confined to the bench today given Nicolas Anelka’s rich vein of goalscoring form of late.
Benitez has shrugged off Liverpool’s defeat in midweek but acknowledges a response on the pitch is required to prevent a blip in the club’s season escalating into something more signficant.
“If the team goes to Bolton and wins, we’ll still be top of the table and everyone will be talking about our priorities,” the Spaniard said.
The one bright spot from the Tottenham defeat for Liverpool was that Fernando Torres managed almost an hour on his comeback from a hamstring problem and will be ready to face Gary Megson’s side.
Champions Manchester United, out-boxed by Arsenal last weekend in a contest that delighted purists, face an altogether different kind of bout when Stoke visit Old Trafford.
In Rory Delap’s laser-guided long throw-ins, the Potters have a weapon capable of perturbing the best of opponents, as Arsenal found to their cost two weeks ago.
Manager Tony Pulis recognizes that the trip to Old Trafford will represent the biggest test yet for his top-flight newcomers, but insists it is United who should be concerned about tailoring their approach to the opposition.
“This is one of the games you pick when you get promoted,” Pulis said. “We know it will be a tough game but we have got to enjoy it. We are on a good run and confidence is high.”
“We will play the way we usually play. We are what we are and the players know the system,” he said.
Of the top four, Arsenal look to have the toughest day with fifth-placed Aston Villa the visitors to the Emirates Stadium.
Confidence is, however, running high in north London following last weekend’s win over the champions and an equally exhilarating display by the next generation of Gunners stars in the League Cup in midweek, while Villa’s early season momentum has been checked by back-to-back defeats.
Elsewhere, Tottenham will seek to extend their unbeaten start to life under Harry Redknapp when they travel to London neighbors Fulham.
Newcastle entertain Wigan in the hope that they will be able to claim a win that will lift them out of the relegation zone, which is where the league’s richest club, Manchester City, could find themselves if they go down to defeat at Hull tomorrow and other results go against them.
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