It is a big weekend in the Barclays Premier League. The first manager has been shown the exit door, and this might act as a catalyst for other chairmen to act upon their team’s poor starts to the season.
Steve Bruce brought in numerous players over the summer, including such experienced heads as John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Nicklas Bendtner. However, they were unable to propel Sunderland up the table, and when Bruce was relieved of his duties on Wednesday, his team sat 16th, just two points off the relegation zone.
Martin O’Neill is unlikely to be in charge of team matters this weekend, but the players will all have something to prove with their new manager watching on. The Mackems travel to Wolves for a crucial game at the bottom. Mick McCarthy’s men are level on points with their opponents and a win for either side would create some daylight between themselves and the bottom three.
McCarthy is coming under increasing pressure for his own job. Consecutive defeats at Everton and Chelsea have undone the win over Wigan at the start of November, and a home loss here could be devastating.
Staying in the lower reaches of the Premier League and another embattled manager, Steve Kean, is surely walking a tightrope. The visit of Swansea provides Blackburn with a great opportunity for three points, and if the bottom club can’t win this sort of fixture, their fate looks settled. No club has had just seven points at this stage of the season and maintained their Premier League status for 10 seasons. Things look bleak at Ewood Park.
Swansea played out a fairly dour 0-0 draw with Aston Villa last weekend, their second stalemate in three games either side of a defeat to Manchester United. Swansea have made a good start to life in the Premier League, but turning draws into wins will be essential if they are to secure a second season at the top table.
The fixture of the weekend looks to be at St. James’ Park. It seems that every week Newcastle’s Champions League credentials are tested again. They lost to Manchester City two weeks ago, but by no means disgraced themselves. This was followed by a superb rearguard action in repelling a rampant Manchester United at Old Trafford to earn a 1-1 draw.
The game is sure to charged with emotion as the Geordie faithful pay tribute to club legend Gary Speed, the man who played nearly 300 games for the club and passed away last weekend. Alan Pardew’s men will look to continue their unbeaten home form as a tribute to the Welshman.
In the opposite dugout, Andre Villas-Boas will be determined to get Chelsea’s season back on track. The Portuguese has come out in bullish mood this week, stressing he has owner Roman Abramovich’s full backing, but anything less than a win here will cast more shadows upon his reign as Blues boss. He has overseen the worst start to a campaign since the Russian era began at Stamford Bridge, and his boss is not known for his patience.
A side that have slipped under the interrogation radar so far have been Fulham. Martin Jol’s men have won only two league matches and welcome a Tottenham side full of confidence. The Europa League may have served as a distraction for the Cottagers, but if they don’t start winning they will find themselves firmly embroiled in a relegation dogfight.
Jol’s former club could go as high as second if results go their way this weekend, and it would be a position that doesn’t flatter them. By going with youth in their own Europa League game on Wednesday, Harry Redknapp ensured his squad are in the best condition to continue their assault on what would be a first Premier League crown.
Elsewhere, Man United face a tough trip to Aston Villa, Manchester City welcome Norwich to the Etihad, QPR take on West Brom, Arsenal travel to Wigan and Everton host Stoke. The big games are coming thick and fast in the Premier League as we build towards the Christmas period. Sunderland have made their move. Who is next?