Premier League – Premier League weekend previews
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Having opened the defence of their Premier League title with a 6-0 thrashing of West Bromwich Albion last week, Chelsea now face the team they beat 8-0 to secure the crown three months ago.
Didier Drogba weighed in with a hat-trick to end the season as the league’s top scorer and he picked up where he left off with another treble against West Brom.
Wigan, humbled 4-0 at home by a Blackpool side odds-on for immediate relegation, could hardly have been handed a tougher assignment on Saturday.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, though, aware of some away day slips last season, is demanding total concentration.
“They didn’t start well (against Wigan) last year but we have to learn to play against teams with strong motivation,” said the Italian.
“Our aim is to show continuity away from home. Although we did very well last season, away we had some problems. We need to change the direction of this.
“Last season we won the first six games — that was key to winning the title. We want the same this season and we have started very well. Now we need to look to the next game.”
Manchester United also return to the scene of one of their defeats last season, and the season before, as they face Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
United were crippled by defensive injuries when they were well beaten 3-0 in London last December but they too made amends at home, winning by the same score in March.
While Chelsea and United’s title credentials are undoubted, there are still question marks over Manchester City, despite their continued spending.
They could send out a marker that they are after more than fourth place by beating Liverpool on Monday, something they have not managed for five years.
Having failed to trouble Tottenham Hotspur in their goalless away fixture, City’s troupe of millionaires need to be more convincing in front of their own fans against another potential title rival.
City added Italian forward Mario Balotelli and England midfielder James Milner to their bulging squad this week and manager Roberto Mancini faces a hard task to gel a team together in time to claim a first win over Liverpool since Kiki Musampa’s last-minute goal secured a 1-0 victory in April 2005.
City’s players looked like strangers in the first half against Spurs, which was hardly surprising when so many of them had met only weeks previously, and only the heroics of Joe Hart kept them in the game.
They did eventually settle and could argue they finished the stronger, yet any continuity is likely to be upset by the likely inclusion of Milner on Monday.
Throw in the diversion of Thursday’s Europa League playoff match against Romania’s FC Timisoara and Mancini has a tough juggling act, with Robinho, Roque Satan Cruz and Shay Given already showing signs of disgruntlement following the exit of Craig Bellamy.
Liverpool go into the match on a similar path after their tough 1-1 opener with Arsenal and also have Europa League interest against Turkey’s Trabzonspor.
Having had new signing Joe Cole sent off late in the first half against Arsenal — the England midfielder suspended from Monday’s game — Liverpool were hanging on to a 1-0 lead until a blunder by Pepe Reina handed the visitors a point.