Premier League Preview: United, Liverpool clash, Life After Aguero? More

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The match of the week comes this Sunday as Old Trafford stages a classic showdown between two of the Premier League’s most misguided clubs.

Manchester United host a reeling Liverpool in a match that can help define the top five.

While a hamstring strain keeps Angel Di Maria out of this encounter, United are buoyed by the returning Phil Jones and Rafael.  Likewise, Liverpool, who were unceremoniously ousted from UEFA competition this week, retain the services of Mario Balotelli.  The Italian has struggled to find his footing under Brendan Rodgers, who continues to look for answers since the departure of Luis Suarez.

United hold the third spot in the table, one point clear of West Ham and two points from Southampton.  Liverpool, meanwhile, dropped to ninth last week.  A victory and the right string of results can see them climb closer to the fifth spot.  United, the winners of their last five matches, will not make that an easy endeavor.

Life Without Aguero – Manchester City narrowed the gap between themselves and league-leading Chelsea last week, but at what cost?  Argentine firecracker Sergio Aguero has been a man possessed for the club, but injuries will once again tear him away from City’s starting XI.

Lucky for them, Leicester City is in town, and they have problems of their own.  Not only are the Foxes dead last in the Premier League table, but they will be without starting goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel; out the next month with a metatarsal injury.  Ben Hamer will take his stead and be put in the unenviable position of containing City at the King Power Stadium.

City are not without manpower.  Edin Dzeko will be the likely replacement up top for Aguero, assuring Manchester of a capable scorer to make up for the Argentine’s double-digit production.

Chelsea Seek Bounce Back Performance – The once indomitable Chelsea were humbled last week against Newcastle, suffering their first loss of the season.

They will look to get back on track against a lowly Hull City side.  Still three points from second place Manchester City, Chelsea continue to hold court over the Premier League.  However, a loss and a City victory will erase the early gains of the season for a resurgent Chelsea side.

Mourinho cut down on his roster in a midweek victory over Sporting Lisbon, leaving Eden Hazard, Willian and John Terry full fit for this match.  Petr Cech will return between the pipes but playmaker Cesc Fabregas is out serving a one-match suspension.

Hull have never taken a win away from Chelsea.

The Fight For Five – With Southampton facing Burnley away, the Saints seem sure favorites to maintain their fifth spot in the table.

Just don’t tell Arsenal and Newcastle that.

The Magpies are on fire after a less than stellar start to the campaign.  Boss Alan Pardew seems all but a lock on the touchline, guiding the club towards a resurrection that culminated with a victory over league-leading Chelsea just last week.  In fact, Newcastle have won six and lost one in their last eight regular season encounters.

Arsenal, however, have their own set of advantages, starting with the home grounds.  Callum Chambers will be out for the Gunners while Taylor and Sissoko will miss the encounter for Newcastle.  Collocini and Alwick will have their hands full containing Giroud and Welback on the Gunners side.  Come Monday, anyone of these three sides can find themselves in control of fifth place.

Relegation Nightmare – Here is one to ponder; each of the current relegation sides are facing top five competition.  Leicester vs. City will likely keep them at the league cellar — even if the match is at home.  Chelsea taking on the Tigers after the Blues’ first defeat of the season — that can be trap for Hull.  Finally, there is Burnley taking on Southampton — a team ripe for the picking.  The Saints have lost three matches in a row and they will look to end that streak on the road.