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Manchester City's Sergio Aguero could still return this weekend against Stoke.
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero could still return this weekend against Stoke.
Image: John Walton/EMPICS Sport

Gameweek four: Premier League previews

The international break is out of the way and the Premier League returns. We’ve got all the team news you need to know.
Sep 15th 2012, 9:00 AM 755 0

Norwich v West Ham – Carrow Road, 12.45pm

West Ham will look to make it three English Premier League wins from four matches when they travel to Norwich City on Saturday.

The London club have made a positive start to life in England’s top flight since securing their return from the Championship via a playoff win over Blackpool.

Sam Allardyce’s men opened the 2012/13 season with a narrow 1-0 victory over Aston Villa at Upton Park before being totally outclassed against Swansea a week later.

However, following the arrival of Andy Carroll, the 2006 FA Cup finalists returned to winning ways in emphatic style, accounting for previously unbeaten Fulham 3-0 prior to the international break.

Carroll was inspiring in the win and drew a standing ovation from all in attendance at Upton Park but a torn hamstring is set to sideline the former Newcastle striker for up to six weeks.

Jack Collison, James Collins and Guy Demel are also doubts for the trip to Carrow Road but Allardyce is expected to be given a boost with news Matt Jarvis and George McCartney are both due to return.

Meanwhile, Norwich are still searching for their first win of the season.

Since replacing manager Paul Lambert with Chris Hughton in the off-season, Norwich have drawn two and lost one in their opening three games, which included a humiliating 5-0 loss at Fulham.

But the two-time League Cup winners faced a similar situation at the start of the 2011/12 season.

Under the guidance of Lambert, Norwich began their Premier League journey with draws against Wigan and Stoke and a defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Norwich went on to lose the next match at home to West Bromwich Albion, and history and current form suggests a similar result could be on the cards.

In good news for Hughton, Scottish international Steven Whittaker is in line to debut following his move from Rangers, while Elliot Bennett and Elliot Ward are both in contention for a return from injury.

Saturday’s encounter will be the first time the two sides have met in the Premier League since 1994, a match which West Ham lost 1-0.

Stoke v Manchester City – Britannia Stadium, 3pm

Michael Owen is in line to make his Stoke debut against champions Manchester City on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium.

The former Manchester United, Liverpool and Real Madrid attacker signed a one-year pay-as-you-play deal in a free transfer on deadline day and could link up with England striker Peter Crouch, if selected by Stoke boss Tony Pulis.

Owen’s move was awaiting ratification from the Premier League but he was successfully registered in the 25-man playing squad in time.

Owen along with Charlie Adam (Liverpool) and Steven Nzonzi (Blackburn) were among seven off-season signings for Stoke, who again proved you do not need to break the bank to sign quality players.

Adam played more than 45 minutes in Stoke’s 2-2 draw at Wigan on September 1, while Nzonzi may join Owen in the squad for his first action at the club.

Reigning champions City know they will be in for a torrid time at the Britannia, having battled to two draws and three losses in five matches since Stoke’s return to the Premier League in the 2008-09 season.

The two most recent clashes yielded 1-1 draws and on each occasion City required late equalisers.

Last season Yaya Toure cancelled out Peter Crouch’s staggering volley with 14 minutes to play while it took a Gareth Barry strike five minutes from time to rescue a point two seasons ago.

City are not the only side to succumb to Stoke’s physical style of play but know they can ill-afford to be chasing the game a man down after three red cards in their past five trips to Stoke.

City could welcome Barry (hernia) back for his first action of the season while Mario Balotelli is recovering from eye surgery, Sergio Aguero (knee) may just miss out and new signing Jack Rodwell (knee) likewise.

Stoke have few injury concerns with Matthew Etherington (hamstring) nearing a return date and new signing Jamie Ness likely to miss again with a minor groin strain.

Both sides are undefeated from three matches, with City fourth with seven points and Stoke 10th with three draws.

QPR v Chelsea – Loftus Road, 3pm

Leaders Chelsea will hope to put their horror show away at Queens Park Rangers last season to bed in the corresponding fixture on Saturday.

The Blues have strung together three wins from three, conceding just twice in 270 minutes, to top the Premier League table, but they have unfinished business with London rivals QPR, after they had two men sent off at Loftus Road last year.

QPR won the match 1-0 for their first win over their Stamford Bridge opponents in 16 years, however the goal came from a soft penalty converted by Heidar Helguson.

It would be a brave tipster to predict the same will occur this time around, however, as Chelsea are at the top of their game while QPR have just one point to show for their opening three matches.

While the Blues were humbled by Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup in their last outing, their league form has been excellent in dealing with the challenges of Wigan away, Reading and Newcastle United.

It is worth noting, too, that Chelsea have beaten QPR since their last league outing at Loftus Road, winning an FA Cup tie there 1-0 and also thrashing their local rivals 6-1 at Stamford Bridge in the league in April.

The resounding victory, of course, came under the tutelage of current boss Roberto Di Matteo, who has transformed the club from underperformers under former boss Andre Villas-Boas to European champions.

Chelsea have a fairly full squad to choose from too, with Ashley Cole likely to return to the line-up from an ankle injury.

Captain John Terry will miss with an ankle problem, and Marko Marin will be unavailable due to a hamstring complaint.

QPR also have a fighting fit squad, with Anton Ferdinand the only absentee with a shoulder injury.

Manchester United v Wigan – Old Trafford, 3pm

Manchester United host Wigan on Saturday but they could still be without key duo Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa.

Van Persie limped off at half-time after suffering a suspected thigh injury during the Netherlands’ 4-1 World Cup qualifying win against Hungary on Tuesday.

Dutch coach Luis Van Gaal played down the injury after the match.

“We took off Robin for precautionary measures,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem to be too serious, but you never know. We didn’t want to take any risks.”

Van Persie has been in lethal form for United, netting four goals in three matches, and any potential injury would be a blow to Sir Alex Ferguson given Wayne Rooney is facing another week or two on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, Kagawa was forced to withdraw from Japan’s World Cup qualifier against Iraq.

The attacking midfielder felt pain in his lower back and suffered spasms during a training session ahead of the match and now faces a race against time to face Wigan at Old Trafford.

United have been far from their best during the early parts of the season but two wins on the bounce against Southampton and Fulham means they are only two points behind leaders Chelsea.

However, Ferguson’s troops face a difficult encounter against a much-improved Wigan side, who are unbeaten in their last two league matches.

Wigan had conceded 21 goals in five games without scoring before breaking that drought with a 1-0 win at The DW Stadium in April.

That victory helped maintain Wigan’s status in the Premier League and they make the trip to Manchester with a number of players in good form.

Former Chelsea striker Franco Di Santo is enjoying a productive spell and he has two goals to his name already this season.

The Argentine’s form has been lauded by manager Roberto Martinez, who believes the marksman is ready to make the step up to international football.

“I think Franco can be a massive striker for Argentina,” he said.

“He has always had that potential but it’s the way he put all the parts of his game together in the last four months of last season that has really been so impressive.”

Captain Ali Al Habsi continues to stake his claim as one of the Premier League’s elite goalkeepers after producing another inspiring performance against Stoke, which ended 2-2.

Speedster Arouna Kone has helped fill the gap left by Victor Moses, who joined Chelsea for an undisclosed fee.

Prior to April’s shock defeat, United had won six succussive Premier League games on their travels to Wigan.

Manchester united could be without the in-form Robin Van Persie this Saturday
(c) Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Fulham v West Brom – Craven Cottage, 3pm

After making a blistering start to the season, Fulham have lost two in a row and face the undefeated West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Fulham trounced Norwich 5-0 at Craven Cottage in the opening round but it has been slim pickings ever since.

The Cottagers have tasted defeat against Manchester United and West Ham in the League, while they were also bundled out of the League Cup by Sheffield Wednesday.

Having started the season so positively, the West London club is in need of maximum points and the recent signing of Greek international captain Giorgos Karagounis should help their cause.

The 35-year-old, who has earned 120 caps for the national team, joins Martin Jol’s side on a free transfer.

“I’m delighted to have signed for Fulham Football Club and I am excited by a new challenge in England and the Barclays Premier League,” the former Inter Milan and Panathinaikos midfielder said.

“I’m looking forward to working under Martin Jol and playing alongside some fantastic players at this club.”

Fellow new boy Dimitar Berbatov is in line for a starting role after playing the final 45 minutes against West Ham at Upton Park, while Simon Davies, Bryan Ruiz and Kerim Frei could all be included in the squad.

Their opponents West Brom, led by Steve Clarke in his first managerial role, have claimed the scalps of Liverpool and Everton in convincing fashion so far this season.

West Brom stunned Liverpool 3-0 before accounting for Everton 2-0 at The Hawthorns.

Clarke’s men are one of four undefeated teams and they have made their best start to a season since returning to the top flight in 2010.

West Brom are hopeful of welcoming back Romelu Lukaku to the side after the Belgian sat out the Everton match.

“Romelu’s injury was the result of a tackle and, to be honest, it was probably a 10-day injury. He just ran out of time to play against Everton,” Clarke said.

“It was natural that he would be fit and ready to play for Belgium.”

Aston Villa v Swansea – Villa Park, 3pm

Aston Villa won their first point under Paul Lambert at Newcastle and it may provide a much-needed spark ahead of Saturday’s match with Swansea.

Villa made the trip to St James’ Park on the back of defeats against West Ham and Everton but held the Geordies to a 1-1 draw before the international break.

The result offered further optimism for the Villa Park faithful given their run of three consecutive defeats on Tyneside, which included a 6-0 drubbing in August 2010.

Lambert’s decision to drop veteran goalkeeper Shay Given appeared to be stroke of genius after American Brad Guzan produced an inspiring performance between the posts.

On the injury front for Villa, Marc Albrighton and defender Richard Dunne are still a couple of weeks away from making their first appearances of the season.

Seen by some as candidates for relegation, Villa will be desperate to build on their draw against Newcastle with a positive display on at home against an in-form Swansea.

Many had predicted a bleak future for the Welsh outfit following the departure of promotion-winning manager Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool.

The club also lost Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair during the transfer window, while loan signings Steve Caulker and Gylfi Sigurdsson did not return.

However, new manager Michael Laudrup has continued Rodgers’ legacy and instilled his own philosophy at the club.

Laudrup’s arrival at Liberty Stadium has seen the club move into second position in the table, thanks in no small part to lethal finishing in front of goal.

Swansea, dubbed the Barcelona of English football, smashed five goals past Queens Park Rangers in round one before netting three against West Ham without conceding.

They did concede their first goals of the season in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Sunderland but more worryingly for Swansea were the injuries and suspensions picked up by key personnel in that fixture.

Welsh left-back Neil Taylor was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a broken ankle, while Spanish defender Chico Flores received a three-game ban for his dismissal.

Laudrup managed to add former Twente defender Dwight Tiendalli as cover for the injured Taylor and he is expected to make the trip to Villa Park on Saturday.

Swansea secured a 2-0 win on their trip to their last trip to the West Midlands and will expect a similar result this weekend.

Arsenal v Southampton – The Emirates, 3pm

Arsenal were back to their best against Liverpool during the third round of the Premier League but face a tough task at home to Southampton.

Arsene Wenger’s troops drew blanks in their opening two fixtures, settling for draws against Sunderland and Stoke respectively.

But the Gunners finally found their range and fluidity at Anfield, with new signings Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla hitting the back of the net in a 2-0 victory.

Cazorla, a 16-million-pound recruit from La Liga outfit Malaga, is thriving in his new surroundings at Emirates Stadium.

“They paid a lot of money for me and the role they have given me is the one that I like,” the Spanish international said.

“I am not finding it hard to adapt. I like the way the team plays.

“Wenger’s philosophy is to have control of the game and I like being in contact with the ball. The boss is putting me in a position behind the striker with all the freedom that I like to have.”

The title hopefuls, who are looking to win their first piece of silverware since lifting the 2005 FA Cup, are set to welcome back number one goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny from injury.

Southampton, however, are not to be underestimated.

Despite sitting at the foot of the Premier League table without a win, the Saints have attracted plenty of plaudits for their style of play.

The league’s newcomers hit the front against defending champions Manchester City before losing 3-2 at Etihad Stadium.

Nigel Adkins’ men were not at their best against Wigan but produced another stellar display at home to Manchester United, which was ultimately decided by a Robin Van Persie hat-trick late in the game.

The club’s form also earned captain Adam Lallana a call-up to the England squad for Tuesday’s fixture against Ukraine.

Southampton’s last trip to London for a Premier League match against Arsenal in 2004 resulted in a 2-2 draw.

Sunderland v Liverpool, Stadium of Light, 5.30pm

There’s a fair chance attacking football will be played when Sunderland host Liverpool in the Premier League, with both sides still winless.

Sunderland have held Arsenal at the Emirates and Swansea in Wales in their first two matches of the season – both exceptional performances – however opponents Liverpool have been below par this season, losing to West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal while drawing with champions Manchester City.

Both sides, however, will be desperate to register points to avoid any more early season pressure.

Liverpool, embarrassingly, occupy a spot in the relegation zone as it stands in 18th, and while nobody seriously believes they’ll finish the season in a similar position, it’s nonetheless been a horrific start to Brendan Rodgers’ reign at Anfield.

Sunderland, meanwhile, should get back Lee Cattermole, Phil Bardsley, Wes Brown and David Vaughan into their matchday squad for the Reds’ visit, as they search for their first league win this season.

Winger Adam Johnson is likely to miss with a thigh injury, after he withdrew from the England squad for their World Cup qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine.

Darron Gibson ruled out for up to three weeks

Fantasyland: Back to business after the international break

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