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Room for two more in Big Four?


Tottenham Hotspurs and Manchester City have made strong starts so far in the English Premier League, but can they infiltrate the notorious Big Four?

THE summer headlines were undoubtedly all written by Real Madrid's chequebook, and with Barcelona the reigning European champions, many have argued that there is going to be a shift in power from the Premiership to La Liga. I beg to differ because two star-studded teams doesn't make a compelling league.

In recent seasons we've almost had a big four set in stone, but a change seems to be on the horizon. Man City and Spurs have emerged after decades of underachievement with perfect starts to the season. This week their credentials will be firmly tested as they host Arsenal and Man United, respectively. Are we about to see the beginning of the big six?

Abramovich proved cash can be a fast track to success, but he still had to bring in the self-titled chosen one to complete his ambition. The jury is still out over Mark Hughes, and will almost US$200 million of new recruits do the trick? Considering how attack-minded City have been playing, it's surprising they've managed three clean sheets. Arsenal were unlucky at Old Trafford, and will be determined not to loose twice in Manchester. Adebayor and Toure followed the money train north from London, and will be desperate to get one over their old boss.

This game promises much, as both sides will undoubtedly play attacking football in the correct manner. With Fabregas yet again missing to orchestrate the Arsenal midfield, and Asharvin also sidelined, Arsene Wenger will look to Van Persie to break his scoring duck and create that extra cutting edge that they missed against the champions. Arsenal seem to be playing like a team, but despite wins in the bank, City have looked a little disjointed, and I don't think Mark Hughes has settled on his best 11 yet or favorite formation.

I expect goals in this match, and fancy City to sneak a point because of home advantage. If I was pushed to single out a player from either side for your fantasy team, then Adebayor for the Sky Blues and Van Persie for the Gunners look the most likely to influence the game's outcome.

Spurs have flattered to deceive for decades. The north London club have assembled a squad and apparent confidence which could finally see them realize their lofty ambitions. They've already sent Benitez packing, so is it Sir Alex's turn?

United unconvincingly beat Arsenal and have already lost to Burnley. With Ronaldo gone, Rooney appears to be the successor to fill the boots that greats such as Cantona wore. Fletcher has unexpectedly matured into the heartbeat of the Red's midfield, and those two have been the shining lights in a somewhat shaky start to the season. Rooney and Defoe will definitely be the main goal threats, but for me this game will be won at the back.

Ferdinand and Van der Sar are still crocked, as are most of Spurs' central defenders. If Redknapp can't find a partner for Bassong, then you fear the worst for Spurs. For Spurs to compete with the big guns, then King or Woodgate must get fit quickly. United v Spurs fixtures in the past have always seemed to produce thrilling encounters, and with two defences weakened due to injuries, both managers should go all-out attack. I can't see this one being goalless, and who'd bet against the much-criticised Berbatov's coming back to haunt the very fans who once adored him.

Chelsea and Liverpool both play unglamorous sides on Saturday, but Chelsea will certainly face a sterner test. Stoke might not be pretty on the eye, but their direct physical approach took many a scalp last season, and Chelsea will have to prove they have the brawn, so their superior talent can shine through.

Stoke are fantastic from set plays, but Chelsea must be one of the tallest teams in the Premiership, and should be capable of handling Stoke's aerial threat. Drogba and Anelka are both in fine scoring form, and with Ancelotti's diamond formation already clicking, this should be another three points to lift the gloom surrounding Stamford Bridge.

Liverpool have yet to be convincing, but Burnley will face another battering when they visit Anfield. The Reds stumbled in this type of fixture last season but Benitez, with lessons learnt, should send out a side hungry for a hatful against the bookies' favourites for the drop. Any Liverpool player is a sure winner for your fantasy team in the most obvious match of the weekend.

The best of the rest sees the Birmingham derby take place at St Andrews. Birmingham City have done OK so far, but Villa are slowly improving, and should have the upper hand in a clash normally played at 100mph.

Something must give when Portsmouth take on Bolton as both teams currently remain pointless. Portsmouth have spent their new found fortune rather late, and it's difficult to tell how they will fare. At least a point is essential for either side so early in the season.



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