Weekend throws up EPL season pointers

Four games into a season may be too early to start talking about title-contenders but this weekend could see a few pointers to where the Premier League trophy could be headed next May.

Chelsea, a point clear at the top of the table, host Stoke City at Stamford Bridge, just three days after letting slip a two-goal lead against Juventus in the Champions League.

Any slip-up against Stoke and the chasing pack will be there but two of them, Manchester City (fourth) and Arsenal (third), clash at Eastlands, while second-placed Manchester United travel to Liverpool.

Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo will be wary of a let-down after the Juventus game and the Italian will be waiting to see how Brazilian Oscar recovers from an ankle knock before finalising his side.

New signing Oscar scored both goals against Juventus, including a stunning strike for the second, and Di Matteo will want him fit to see off a Stoke side that have drawn all four of their league matches so far this season.

“He is a big talent,” Di Matteo said of Oscar on Thursday.

“He has a bit of everything. We shouldn’t forget he is a young man but he has already broken into the Brazil team, which is very difficult to do. We are lucky to have him.”

Champions Manchester City, beaten by a last-gasp Ronaldo winner at Real Madrid on Tuesday night, take on a confident Arsenal side who won in the Champions League the same night and who are unbeaten so far this season.

The departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United this summer caused plenty of concern among the Arsenal faithful but Arsene Wenger’s own signings have already shown enough to suggest they could be title contenders this term.

“We will know that after 10 games,” manager Wenger said.

“I think we have a chance. But do we develop well, do we keep our attitude?

“I think we have a chance but at the moment I don’t know how strong our opponents are. We’ve not played against any of the title contenders yet.”

United make the short journey to Anfield to face a Liverpool side who have stuttered into the new season with two defeats and two draws from their opening four matches.

Liverpool rested many of their senior players for the midweek Europa League trip to Switzerland while for United, the return of Steven Fletcher midweek after a long-term absence has added to Ferguson’s options.

“He’s been out for a long time and I think the supporters recognise what a difficult time the lad’s had.” Ferguson said.

“I was pleased for him. He didn’t do great but he didn’t do badly. Taking into consideration it was his first game for ten months, I think he acquitted himself very well.”

Bottom side Southampton, who have conceded 14 goals in losing their first four matches, will be hoping for their first win when they host Aston Villa.

Defeat would give Southampton their worst ever start to a season and manager Nigel Adkins said it was vital to the team’s morale that they get off the mark.

“Everyone knew that the first four fixtures were going to be challenging, but we want to win games,” he said.

“There are no hiding places so we’ll stand up and be counted.

“We’ve got some good additions and we are a very positive football club. St Mary’s will be bouncing because it’s a game we’ve obviously got to go and win.”

Second-bottom Queens Park Rangers are away to London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, while Reading, sitting third-bottom, are away to West Bromwich Albion.

In the weekend’s other matches, Swansea host Everton, West Ham meet Sunderland, Wigan play Fulham and Newcastle United take on Norwich.

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