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The season's first big duel

The season's first big duel


English Premier League big guns Manchester United and Arsenal face each other Saturday in the pick of this weekend’s matchups


ON Saturday, the first mammoth clash between two of the four superpowers in the Premiership will be played out. Man United v Arsenal makes the rest of the fixtures look somewhat tame in comparison, but one thing we've already learned so far this season is that nothing can be taken for granted. With the Post's Fantasy League starting to take shape, this could be the weekend when we begin to see whose football knowledge really is on the ball because, apart from a few obvious winners, most of the ties could go either way.

Many pundits predicted Arsenal to struggle to hold on to their annual Champions League spot, but they've done quite the opposite. They blew both Everton and Portsmouth out of the water with such conviction that there is now even talk of a shot at the title. With their captain, playmaker supreme Fabregas likely to miss the trip to the champions, do the Gunners have the credentials to continue their fine form? If you look at how Man United have started the season, Arsene Wenger must feel they have every chance.

United badly miss Ronaldo, and it took the halftime hair-dryer treatment from Sir Alex to prevent the possibility of a second defeat in four days from becoming a reality at Wigan last week. The final 5-0 victory nicely covered over United's cracks, but at times this season they have looked less than convincing.

Rooney again will be the key. When he's on song the Red Devils seem to slip into another gear. Vidic was a welcome return last time out, and with an ever-expectant Old Trafford, this could be the game when United lay down their marker for the season.

Wenger has changed his system and will look to make his extra midfielder count. Sir Alex has reverted to a 4-4-2, but for me there still remain big questions over Nani and Berbertov despite their goals last week. Diaby is certainly no replacement for Fabregas, but with Song starting to flourish, his battle against Fletcher could be telling. Van Persie has yet to find the back of the net this season, and it could be a bit of brilliance from either him or Rooney that decides a game so hard to call.

Both Chelsea and Tottenham have won their three opening games. With no disrespect to Burnley or Birmingham, you'd be a brave man to back against the London clubs continuing their perfect starts to the season. If you have any Chelsea or Spurs players in your fantasy team, then making one of them captain is a must. Drogba and Defoe are on fire, and both coaches will expect clean sheets against newly promoted teams.

Benitez must never want to hear the word Alonso again. On Monday night, Villa suffocated the supply line to Gerrard and Torres, which Alonso found with ease last season. Benitez blamed his senior players for the defeat, but in truth if you took Gerrard and Torres out of the Liverpool team, they'd look very ordinary, and certainly not title challengers.

Bolton was unlucky last time out against Hull and will be desperate to get some points on the board. With Bolton playing at home, they'll likely try to bully the Reds, whose confidence is fragile. Bolton will play direct, and the Liverpool defence will have to handle an aerial onslaught. Kevin Davis will relish this game, especially if Benitez isn't able to field an experienced centre half alongside Carragher. If they can cope will the barrage of long balls, you'd have to think they'll score against a team goalless and pointless this season. With the criticism well-noted, I fancy Liverpool to sneak this one through one of their two star players.

Come Sunday, all eyes will be watching Man City's progress. Portsmouth is a club in turmoil, and the last thing they would have wanted was a big-spending team flashing their overpriced assets in front of the home fans, when Pompey can't even seem to prevent the tea lady from leaving Fratton Park due their woeful financial situation. City are yet to be convincing, but Portsmouth look so out of sorts right now, I'd be surprised if they could even muster a point.

Even with Villa's outstanding performance against Liverpool, they must win on Sunday at home to Fulham, as must Everton, at home to Wigan. Both lost on the opening day at home, and repeat defeats will surely add more weight to the doubters who believe they won't be as successful as last term. I fancy Villa and Everton to take all three points, but both face tricky sides with the games certainly not gimmes.

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