By James Goyder
Chelsea will receive their first major test of the Premier League season when they travel to Eastlands on Saturday. They are already seven points ahead of Manchester City who will want to assert their own title winning credentials by taking all three points.
Chelsea have won five games out of five scoring 20 goals in the process and if Roberto Mancini is looking for a weakness which his side can exploit he is going to struggle to find it.
Yossi Benayoun and Salomon Kalou are both out injured but neither man was likely to start, although the latter has been in fine goalscoring form this season. Frank Lampard (photo) is set to return meaning that Chelsea will be at virtually full strength.
Manchester City are in the midst of a defensive injury crisis and will be without an entire back four. Wayne Bridge, Joleon Lescott and Alexander Kolarov are all out while Micah Richards is a doubt. Jerome Boateng might be set to make his debut and Mancini might be forced to use midfielder Gareth Barry as a left back.
Whether Emmanuel Adebayor will be in the squad remains to be seen as aspersions are currently being cast over the legitimacy of his injury. Mario Balotelli is still suffering from a knee injury but the only real question is whether David Silva will once again be given the nod ahead of Adam Johnson on the left flank.
Alex Ferguson will find himself in the unfamiliar position of hoping for a Manchester City win, as will Arsene Wenger with both teams already trailing Chelsea by four points. Arsenal have an eminently winnable home game against West Brom while Manchester United have an awkward looking trip to Bolton Wanderers on Sunday to contend with.
Arsenal will be looking to bounce back after conceding a 95th minute equalizer against Sunderland last weekend. They will be missing no fewer than nine players with Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Thomas Vermaelen amongst those absent through injury
Abou Diaby faces a late fitness test but Alex Song will return from suspension to partner the outstanding Jack Wilshere in midfield. Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Sami Nasri have all been in fine goalscoring form and will be looking to do damage to a defense which conceded six goals against Chelsea.
In fairness to Roberto Di Matteo’s men they have consolidated since that opening day defeat and are currently sitting in the top half of the table. West Brom will be anxious to avoid another demoralizing defeat but an early Arsenal goal could swiftly transform this tie into a damage limitation exercise for them.
A morale boosting win over Liverpool last weekend will have done wonders for Manchester United’s confidence. They have twice surrendered leads this season, most dramatically against Everton, but Rio Ferdinand’s return should help to shore up the defence. Alex Ferguson has no new injury concerns to contend with and will be hoping in form Dimitar Berbatov can continue with his recent revival.
Bolton Wanderers are much more multi dimensional than they used to be but demonstrated against Fulham last weekend that their long ball game still poses a potent threat. They will be without the suspended Gary Cahill and Jussi Jaaskelainen for the visit of Manchester United.
Liverpool’s start to the season has been distinctly poor and they will be desperate to pick up three points against Sunderland. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard were both rested in midweek but should return to the side. Dirk Kuyt could return from a shoulder injury but nothing short of a win will suffice for Roy Hodgson’s men who are a point above the relegation places and have only scored two goals from open play all season.
New signing Asamoah Gyan is a doubt for Sunderland and Kieran Richardson is definitely out but center backs Michael Turner and Anton Ferdinand could come back into contention.
Tottenham and West Ham Utd meet in a London derby which is always keenly contested. After claiming fourth spot last season Harry Redknapp’s side have made a slightly erratic start to the current campaign surprisingly dropping three points at home to Wigan.
West Ham are rooted to the foot of the table but did at least manage to pick up their first point of the season away to Stoke last weekend. A win against Tottenham could revitalize their season but Robert Green’s recent poor form remains a major concern. Heurelho Gomes has is reported to have recovered from a recent groin injury and might replace Carlo Cudicini in the Tottenham goal.
Aston Villa have Champions League aspirations of their own and new manager Gerard Houllier will be looking to pick up his first Premier League win of the season away to Wolves. Gabby Agbonlahor is a doubt for Houllier after coming off with a cramp in midweek. Wolves will be looking to move away from the relegation zone by picking up their second win of the season.
Elsewhere if Newcastle Utd can build on their impressive start to the season with a win at home to Stoke they could conceivably move up into fourth spot if other results go their way. Chris Hughton’s side surprisingly lost to Blackpool in their last home game but fans at St James’ Park will be hoping for something closer to the performance which saw them demolish Aston Villa.
Everton travel to Fulham in urgent need of their first win of the season while Birmingham host Wigan and Blackburn face local rivals Blackpool.