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No time for compassion at White Hart Lane

ESPN staff
November 28, 2012
Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers know each other well © Getty Images
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A rare full midweek schedule of fixtures could prove important in the Premier League title race, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all faced with winnable games that, even at this early stage of the season, they can ill-afford to lose.

Chelsea's game, against Fulham at Stamford Bridge, doubles up as a derby match (one the already unpopular Rafa Benitez will be desperate to win), but the Spaniard will not be the only manager even more desperate than usual to pick up all three points on Wednesday evening.

At White Hart Lane, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas welcomes Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, with the two former members of Jose Mourinho's backroom staff at Chelsea battling for more than just bragging rights. With Champions League qualification still an ambition for both (less so for the Reds than the north Londoners), neither side will want an untimely defeat.

For even more talking points and predictions, allow ESPN to preview all the action below...

Wednesday

Chelsea v Fulham

Form: The Blues have picked up just three points from their previous four games - with defeat to West Brom sandwiched between a collection of draws. Indeed, it is a full five games since the side's last league win - against Spurs at White Hart Lane. Successive defeats to Stoke and Sunderland have stunted Fulham's progress somewhat, having previously picked up six points from their four prior games.
Key battle: Set to play and play and play some more until he rediscovers his goalscoring groove, Fernando Torres's chances of notching in this derby were increased exponentially when Brede Hangeland got himself banned. Philippe Senderos, far from convincing in the defeat to Stoke, looks a less daunting opponent to face.
Player to watch: Rafa Benitez's best Liverpool sides saw Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso operate together at the base of midfield. John Obi Mikel has the edge on Oriel Romeu for the Mascherano role at the Bridge, so can Ramires prove he is the one to fill Alonso's berth with Frank Lampard - a better passer, much like the Spaniard - quickly returning to availability?
Talking point: A local derby for his second game in charge of the club, surely the already deeply unpopular Rafa Benitez cannot afford to lose such a game if he is to win round the Stamford Bridge faithful as he claims he will.
Bet of the day: Would it not be suitably frustrating for Torres if it was his compatriot, Juan Mata, who grabbed a brace in this one? We quite like the odds at 10/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 3-1


Mikel Arteta will be hoping to avoid a nightmare at Goodison Park © PA Photos
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Everton v Arsenal

Form: Just one defeat in their last six for Everton still only translates to seven points acquired, with a win against Sunderland and then a defeat to Reading the only break from a series of draws. Arsenal have picked up a point more over the same period - with two of each type of result possible - and have not been beaten in their last three.
Key battle: Marouane Fellaini returns for Everton at the ideal time, with the physical Belgian looking well equipped to cause problems for an Arsenal midfield - led by Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla - that trades in technique but is susceptible to intimidation.
Player to watch: Returning to the ground where he established his reputation, some Toffees fans may be surprised by the deeper role Mikel Arteta occupies for his new side. Amid familiar surroundings, however, maybe the Spanish maestro will find inspiration to dominate proceedings from midfield.
Talking point: The big news of the week for Arsenal fans - Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott DO NOT appear in the club's 2013 calendar. Does this mean their sale is inevitable?
Bet of the day: Everton to be in the lead at half-time, but the score to be back to a draw at full-time, is a tempting 12/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 1-1


Southampton v Norwich

Form: Down in the dumps not so long ago, back-to-back wins against QPR and Newcastle have elevated Southampton, who have claimed eight points from the last six. Norwich, meanwhile, have been on an impressive run in recent weeks - alternating draws and wins to pick up 12 points from the same period, the fourth best record in the division.
Key battle: Jason Puncheon has been in scintillating form in the past few weeks, proving a key element of the two wins that have changed the face of Saints' season. Can Javier Garrido keep him in check?
Player to watch: Adam Lallana - who scored the last time these two sides met, in League One back in 2009 - has grown in influence for his side this season; after being involved with a recent England squad can his form earn him a proper call-up in the near future?
Talking point: This match is notable because it sees the return to officiating of Mark Clattenburg, who hopefully will not be unduly affected by all the upheaval caused to him in recent times.
Bet of the day: A 2-1 away win in this one is worth looking into at 12/1 with bet365.
Prediction:1-2


Stoke City v Newcastle

Form: Two wins and a draw in the last three games has improved the outlook for Stoke, having picked up just a point from the three games prior to that. Newcastle, meanwhile, have experienced almost opposite fortunes - with two wins and a draw being followed by a (currently unbroken) run of three successive defeats.
Key battle: The return of Fabrizio Coloccini cannot come soon enough for the Magpies, with the club losing all three games he missed after that ridiculous red card against Liverpool. Can the Argentine boss Peter Crouch around on his return, or will the opposite prove the case?
Player to watch: Charlie Adam has got his name on the scoresheet with pleasing regularity for Tony Pulis over the past few games - perhaps we are seeing a slow but steady return to his Blackpool levels of influence for the Scot.
Talking point: One win in eight since Alan Pardew signed his new contract extension at Newcastle - is that proof that eight-year deals are a bad idea?!
Bet of the day: Newcastle to get over 2.5 cards in this one is 11/8 with bet365. Considering Cheick Tiote is always good for one, that's just two more needed to win...
Prediction: 1-1


Swansea v West Brom

Form: The Swans have lost just once in the last six, with two wins over the same period putting them in the upper echelons of the league's current form table. That still does not compare to West Brom, however, who have emerged as surprise contenders to the biggest boys with a run of four successive wins (although they did lose the two prior to that).
Key battle: A tale of two managers in this one - Steve Clarke is beginning to gain rave reviews for the work he is doing at The Hawthorns, but can Michael Laudrup bring him back down to earth on home turf, in a game where a win would comfortably keep them in the top ten?
Player to watch: Jonas Olsson has proven the rock at the base of West Brom's defence, and will be keen to prove he can keep delivering consistent performances.
Talking point: Is Premier League managerial experience overrated? Both Clarke and Laudrup have taken the reins at clubs this season without prior experience at the level (although Clarke had a wealth as a No. 2) and have gone on to achieve better results than most expected.
Bet of the day: It's rare that you can get a 1-0 home win at 9/1 with bet365. Just saying...
Prediction: 1-0


Tottenham v Liverpool

Form:It's the away side that turn up for this one in form - they haven't lost in eight matches, although five of those games have been draws. Spurs, meanwhile, have been erratic at best - losing four and winning two of their last six.
Key battle: The original Gareth Bale against the 'new' Gareth Bale - Jose Enrique - could prove an interesting little duel. Enrique claims he still prefers playing left-back but has looked good pushed further forward, but Bale remains arguably the greatest player in the position in the division.
Player to watch: Wanted by the Reds in the summer, Clint Dempsey ended up at White Hart Lane instead. Settled into a role just behind the main striker, can he thrive in a game he will obviously want to do well in?
Talking point: Once upon a time on the same first FA coaching course, then fellow members of Jose Mourinho's backroom staff at Chelsea, and now both Premier League managers. But are either (or neither, or both) Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers the right men to lead the long-term charge for their respective clubs?
Bet of the day: Liverpool have hardly enjoyed great form at White Hart Lane in recent years, and we can see that unfortunate record continuing on Wednesday evening. The home side to be ahead, at half-time and full-time, is 3/1 with bet365
Prediction: 2-0


Has Javier Hernandez earned the right to start for Manchester United? © PA Photos
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Manchester United v West Ham

Form: That defeat to Norwich at Carrow Road remains the only blip for United, who have claimed every other point available to them over the last six games - not bad considering they have faced Chelsea and Arsenal in that period. West Ham have had the sort of mixed bag befitting of a newly-promoted side, claiming eight points from the same period after a most recent defeat against Spurs.
Key battle: With Paul Scholes suspended, Tom Cleverley will likely be tasked with orchestrating matters from the middle of the pitch for United. The former Wigan loanee appears set to commit his long-term future to United in the near future, but Kevin Nolan might believe he can show the youngster still has a thing or two to learn in this one.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie will hope to get a couple against a defence that hardly looks to be the most resilient, as he aims to enhance the Premier League top goalscorer ambitions he no doubt has.
Talking point: Has the time come to start Javier Hernandez? The Mexican scored again after coming off the bench at the weekend, but the inability of United's starting lineup to get the job done against inferior opposition must be beginning to rile Sir Alex Ferguson.
Bet of the day: Over three goals in this one looks a suitably tense way to double your money at 1/1 with bet365.
Prediction: 4-1


Wigan Athletic v Manchester City

Form: Three wins and three defeats from their last six is a typically unpredictable run of results for Wigan, who most recently defeated Reading 3-2 thanks to an unlikely hat-trick from Jordi Gomez. Manchester City are yet to lose this season, winning four of their last six - but their most recent result was a draw against Chelsea.
Key battle: Sergio Aguero will doubtless look at Ivan Ramis - a defender he should know from the time they both spent in Spain - and believe he can get the better of him in this one. The opposite might not be quite true, however.
Player to watch: Ali Al-Habsi might be the busiest player in this contest, but the Omani is capable of pulling a scintillating performance out of the bag - can he deny the champions a goal at the DW Stadium?
Talking point: Wouldn't it just be a typically Wigan thing for the Latics to consign the defending Premier League champions to their first defeat of the season (and then follow it up with a bad defeat against an out-of-sorts Newcastle at the weekend)?
Bet of the day: It probably would be, but we still can't see it happening. A draw at full-time but Man City to be in the lead at the final whistle is 3/1with bet365.
Prediction: 0-1
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