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Villa, Chelsea muscle it out

chris_dring

Fixture of the weekend sees title-chasing Chelsea travel to Aston Villa for a battle of brawn, while Man United hope not to slip up again against Bolton

WITH the road to South Africa almost done and dusted, the Premiership once again takes centre stage. Sir Alex Ferguson has yet again let his big mouth dominate the back pages. He might be a great manager, but his lack of grace in disappointment took the shine off a thrilling round of ties last time out. United’s main title challengers Chelsea kick off the weekend with a trip to Villa Park, in what should be another stern test for Ancelotti and certainly the match of the weekend.

Villa, under the ever-vibrant Martin O’Neill, should push Chelsea right to their limit. Both teams are physical and like to use their muscular advantage to dominate their opponents. The game will be played at a ferocious pace, and it’s unlikely either side will get much time on the ball.

With Villa playing Young and Milner wide on the flanks, it will be interesting to see if they can stop Chelsea’s full backs bombing forward, which they have done to great effect this season. Agbonlahor, Drogba and Anelka come into this match in high spirits after hitting the back of the net regularly.

What should be the difference between the two teams is that Terry and Carvalho will stifle Agbonlahor, whereas Drogba and Anelka may feel the brawn of Dunne and Collins, but will certainly have the legs on a Villa back four lacking pace.

Lampard, despite some positive performances under his new coach, seems to be struggling to find the back of the net with the consistency we’ve become accustomed to. In tight matches, big-game players usually step up, and this could be the game when Lampard regains his shooting boots and leads Chelsea to a narrow victory.

I was as shocked as everyone that Sunderland halted a Man United that had finally found their feet and were picking up steam. Bolton visit Old Trafford this Saturday looking to repeat an unlikely feat in this Greater Manchester derby.

Two factors should explain why lightning shouldn’t strike twice. Ferguson threw all his rage at the referee after the Sunderland match, but you know inside that dressing room fierce words would have been spoken regarding the teams performance. You’d have to expect United to be pumped up from the first whistle, and Sunderland are a much better team than Bolton, with considerably more fire power up front.

Bolton have no chance of keeping a clean sheet, and apart from a set play, I find it difficult to see them scoring. The Red Devils will dominate possession, which will inevitably lead to a siege on Jaaskelainen’s goal. Rooney is a doubt for this game, but with Berbatov still trying to win over an expectant following, this should easily be another three points at home for United.

Liverpool face a tricky trip up north to the Stadium of Light. Sunderland’s attacking duo Bent and Jones are bang in form, and Liverpool look unlikely to keep a clean sheet. The Reds weren’t that bad against Chelsea, only missing a cutting edge, and with Gerrard’s fitness a concern after international duty, they will be heavily reliant upon Torres again.

More Liverpool players are going to have to step up a few gears or it will be another season of disappointment. The sooner Aquilani gets match fit and replaces the woeful Lucas in the heart of the midfield, the better. If Sunderland can get the crowd roaring early on, Benitez may just have to settle for a point and see his distant title challenge look even more blurred.

The remaining games on Saturday see Arsenal poised to keep their good home form going against a depleted Birmingham. Any Gunner is a fine choice for your fantasy team. Spurs face a tricky trip down to Portsmouth who finally kick started their season. You’d have to fancy the North London team because Pompey don’t pose a physical threat which seems to be Tottenham’s achilles heel. Meanwhile, the Britannia stadium is likely to be a cauldron of noise once again, as Stoke look to inflict more agony on Zola’s West Ham.

Sunday’s matches don’t seem very appetising at first glance. Burnley’s away form is the complete opposite to their miraculous home form, and making the short hop to Lancashire rivals Blackburn, Burnley boss Coyle should tinker with his tactics to prevent being bullied out of Ewood Park. You have to respect Coyle for wanting to keep playing attractive football, but at the end of the game, I expect they will still be without an away point.

Wigan goes from one extreme to another week by week. Man City are starting to look the real deal, and as Chelsea will testify to Wigan’s capabilities, I fancy Mark Hughes will not make the same mistakes Ancelotti did in underestimating the Latics.

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