Newcastle United‘s owner Mike Ashley’s bitter-sweet relationship with fans suffered another low last week with his stadium renaming plans, but his waning popularity could improve if the unbeaten team halt the Manchester City juggernaut on Saturday.
The Etihad Stadium clash pits the only two remaining unbeaten sides in the Premier League against each other with leaders City already five points clear of second-placed Manchester United after 11 games.
Newcastle have provided the surprise storyline of the season by sitting third on 25 points with seven wins and four draws.
Their resurgence under manager Alan Pardew has been a rare highlight since Ashley’s turbulent reign began in 2007.
He has overseen the return and then resignation of club hero Kevin Keegan among a succession of managers, the on-off sale of the club as well as relegation from and then promotion back to the Premier League.
Newcastle’s impressive start had diverted some of the attention away from Ashley, who found himself squarely back in the firing line when he announced his intention to rename their St James’ Park stadium, their home since 1892, with his sporting goods brand.
The ‘Toon Army’ fans packing the away end on Saturday are certain to voice their disapproval, although the shouts of discontent against Ashley will die down if Pardew can find a way to quell free-scoring City’s fire.
It is the first in a series of three big tests for Newcastle, who follow the City clash with a visit to face Manchester United at Old Trafford the following week before hosting Chelsea in early December.
Saturday’s game is a battle between the Premier League’s top scorers – City have hit 39 – and the division’s stingiest defence – Newcastle have conceded just eight times.
While Manchester United will hope Newcastle can take at least a point at City, Alex Ferguson’s side head for Wales to face a Swansea City team adapting well to the top flight.
Swansea, nicely placed in mid-table in their first season back with the elite since 1983, are proving tough customers at the Liberty stadium, unbeaten in five games and conceding just once.
Chelsea, who lost 1-0 at home to Liverpool last season, will need to nullify the threat of in-form striker Luis Suarez who has experienced a mixed week.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said Suarez had the potential to be one of the best in the world.
“To see Luis day in, day out has been a real eye-opener for me,” Gerrard told LFC magazine. “I knew he was a good player.”
Resurgent Arsenal visit Norwich City in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off.
After a patchy start Arsene Wenger’s side have won their last four league games since losing to Tottenham Hotspur in early October, and have surged up to seventh place on 19 points.