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5 things to watch out for in this weekend's Premier League matches

Lampard’s return to the Bridge, Costa’s suspension and United hunting revenge over the Foxes.

AFTER A BRIEF interruption for the FA Cup, the Premier League returns this weekend with the showdown between Chelsea and Manchester City on Saturday the stand-out fixture.

However, there are several other fascinating sub-plots set to unfold and here are five things to keep your eye out for…

Can Chelsea manage without suspended Costa?

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Chelsea v Watford - Stamford Bridge Chelsea will have to do without Costa for the next three games Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Despite contesting his FA charge for violent conduct, Diego Costa was today handed a three-match ban for his stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can during Tuesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg.

The striker will now miss Saturday’s crunch game against Manchester City, a fixture many are labelling as a potential title decider given the Blues can open up an eight point advantage at the summit.

Costa’s 17 goals this term have been the cornerstone of Chelsea’s title assault and without him the Blues are devoid of that clinical potency, particularly in the six-yard area.

Neither Didier Drogba or Loic Remy will provide the same threat as Costa, although the former is more than capable, despite his advanced years, of giving City’s defence a headache or two.

With Costa sidelined and Jose Mourinho facing a dilemma over his defensive selection, the potential absence of Cesc Fabregas could prove to be most telling. Between them, the Spanish duo of Costa and Fabregas have contributed 36 goals and assists this season.

While they scraped through to the Capital One Cup final, the Blues have hit a stumbling block in recent weeks, most notably coming unstuck against Bradford in the FA Cup.

Even without Yaya Toure, this is Man City’s best opportunity to blow the title race wide open. All eyes will be on Frank Lampard on his return to Stamford Bridge having scored against his old side in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

United out for revenge against Foxes

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Leicester City v Manchester United - King Power Stadium United have showed signs of improvement since the King Power Stadium defeat but not a whole lot Source: Mike Egerton

There have been many forgettable outings for Man United over the last 18 months but perhaps the most ignominious was the 5-3 reversal to newly-promoted Leicester City in September. Fast forward four months and not a lot has changed for Louis van Gaal’s side.

They may be sitting inside the Champions League berths but United have been far from convincing, even during a ten-game unbeaten run. On Saturday, they get the opportunity to exact revenge for that defeat at the hands of Nigel Pearson’s Foxes but they have more important issues to address.

It’s been a case of one step forward, two steps back for the Red Devils this season and after last week’s stalemate with League Two Cambridge, there have been signs United are going backwards again.

Louis van Gaal has insisted there will be no new arrivals at Old Trafford before the transfer window shuts on Monday but he is yet to fully get the best of the players he recruited in August. The United boss is continuously altering the system and doesn’t seem to know where to best deploy Angel di Maria.

The initial spark shown between United’s front five has since disappeared but the visit of the Premier League’s bottom side is the perfect opportunity to try and re-ignite it. With Arsenal, in particular, amongst several sides snapping at United’s heals, van Gaal will be desperate to keep things ticking over, even if the means aren’t pretty.

Sturridge returns but could former Reds end Hammers’ Anfield hoodoo?

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Liverpool - Etihad Stadium Guess who's back... Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

After five months out through injury, Daniel Sturridge is set to return to the Liverpool squad for Saturday’s visit of high-flying West Ham. Brendan Rodgers has admitted the striker is unlikely to make an immediate impact, given the length of his lay-off, but Sturridge’s return is a timely boost for the Reds.

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Defeat to Chelsea, with Wembley within sight, was a harsh blow for Liverpool but they can take heart from two spirited and encouraging performances against the Blues. Now, with the focus returning to league matters, Liverpool need to start picking up points if they are to harbour hopes of re-qualifying for the Champions League.

While they have been far from watertight in defence, the Reds’ chance conversion rate, or lack there of, has been most damaging this term. Last week’s stalemate with Bolton underlined Liverpool’s problems on front of goal and while Sturridge is unlikely to be fit enough to start against the Hammers, his presence on the bench could be enough to lift Anfield.

West Ham have not won a league game at Anfield since 1963, losing 30 of the 41 games they’ve played there since. But, Sam Allardyce’s side are currently riding the crest of a wave and both Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll have been central to that. The pair return to face their former employers on Saturday and will be determined to prove a point.

Sunderland need Defoe to fire and he has the perfect chance to get up and running

Britain Soccer FA Cup There is great pressure on Defoe to deliver for Sunderland Source: AP/Press Association Images

Sunderland manager Gus Poyet has called for his side to ‘change their mentality’ as the Black Cats look to arrest a run of form which has seen them slip down the table. Just one point off the red zone, Sunderland’s meeting with Burnley, who are currently level on points with their opponents, is a crucial fixture for both teams.

Poyet’s side have won just one of their last 12 league outings and have not picked up a point since the start of the year. But, they produced an encouraging performance at White Hart Lane last time out and having struggled to score goals in recent months, the arrival of Jermain Defore could prove crucial in the relegation dogfight.

Sunderland have altered their formation in order to accommodate the former England striker but without service he’ll be ineffective. The return of Adam Johnson on Saturday could change that but, either way, Sunderland desperately need Defoe to get up and running in order to pull away from the relegation spots.

His first league appearance at the Stadium of Light is the perfect opportunity to get off the mark and endear himself to the fans. His side desperately need some inspiration from somewhere.

January recruits look to make instant impression

Soccer - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Aston Villa v AFC Bournemouth - Villa Park Carles Gil scored on his Villa debut last week Source: Nigel French

It’s been a relatively quiet January transfer window thus far, and with only a couple of days left for clubs to do any business, it seems Aston Villa have done the best wheeling and dealing.

Paul Lambert has already seen what Carles Gil, a £3.5 million signing from Valencia, can do after his spectacular goal on debut against Bournemouth in the FA Cup last week. After Fabian Delph committed his future to the club, Lambert has strengthened further with the arrival of Scott Sinclair from Man City.

Suddenly, Villa seem to have a bit about them going forward although after going over 8 hours without finding the net, it’s likely to take more than the arrival of Sinclair to radically change their fortunes in front of goal.

Lambert’s reshuffled side visit the Emirates on Sunday, a ground which they have a pretty good record at. They’ve collected 11 points at the North London venue with only Chelsea and Man United bettering that return.

The Gunners are on a decent run of their own and victory on Sunday would make it five in six for Arsene Wenger’s side. They’re in hot pursuit of United and with several players returning from injury, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott included, Arsenal look to be hitting peak form just at the right time, again.

Elsewhere, keep an eye out for Crystal Palace’s new signings Jordan Mutch and Shola Ameobi while Callum McMannam could make his debut for West Brom.

All of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures can be found here.

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About the author:

Ryan Bailey

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