Does it get much better?
Manchester United visits Chelsea this weekend with first place on the line.
I could stop there, but then this wouldn’t be much of a preview, would it?
Before we get into the games, check out the TV schedule.
And don’t forget to tab the winners with the EPL Talk Predictor.
Now, back to the matches.
Table watch: Chelsea is in the pole position with 27 points, just two ahead of second-place United.
Another classic?:Chelsea and United have provided us with some thrilling games in recent years, including the Blues’ FA Cup win in 2007 and United’s Champions League triumph in Moscow a year later.
History lesson: This is the 35th Premier League meeting between the sides. Each has won 10 to go along with 14 draws. Four of those 10 wins for the Red Devils came at Stamford Bridge.
Injury report:United’s Rio Ferdinand won’t play in this one due to a – depending on the source – a calf or back injury, but Darren Fletcher is expected to feature. In addition, Sir Alex Ferguson told the team’s Web site that Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Dimitar Berbatov will be ready for the key encounter. Aside from Jose Bosingwa, Chelsea have no major injury issues.
They said it: “We have no choice, we have to win because we are two points in front and we want to stay in front. It’s going to be a big, big, big game and we have to play at our best level in front of our fans. ‘We have a (good) home record and we’re trying to keep it. Before the international break it would be a good result to win at home. To be five points clear would be a good thing for us, we have never been five in front for a long time.” – Chelsea’s Florent Malouda, to the team’s Web site.
Aston Villa vs. Bolton Wanderers
After a disappointing loss to West Ham in mid-week, Aston Villa welcomes Bolton to Villa Park to start the weekend.
Table watch: Villa is in seventh place on 18 points while Bolton resides in 15th place on 11 points.
Banned:Habib Beye picked up a red card and Stilyan Petrov racked up his fifth yellow card in the loss to the Hammers, making both ineligible for Villa on Saturday.
Road warriors: Six of Bolton’s 11 points have come away from home this season.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Portsmouth
Blackburn waits at Ewood Park for a suddenly potent Pompey side.
Table watch: Blackburn is in 18th place on 10 points while Portsmouth is still in the basement on seven points.
On a roll: All seven of those points for Pompey have come in the last four matches, including a 4-0 thrashing of Wigan last week.
Checking the rear-view mirror: Rovers need a result to stay ahead of Portsmouth in the standings and, with the right results in other matches, Portsmouth could jump three or four places in the table with a win.
They said it: “Portsmouth couldn’t get out of the hole they are in then all of a sudden they are walking tall. We will be looking forward though to going back to Ewood Park, having played Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United away. No disrespect to Portsmouth.” – Blackburn’s Ryan Nelsen, to the Lancashire Telegraph
Manchester City vs. Burnley
City will look to protect its place in the top four when the Clarets come calling on Saturday.
Table watch: Manchester City is in fourth place on 19 points while Burnley is in 10th place on 15 points.
An unhappy mixture: City is unbeaten in four matches at Eastlands this season while Burnley has dropped all five of its matches away from Turf Moor, getting out-paced 17-2 in the process.
They said it:
“I have no doubts that City can break into the top four. But with expectations being raised the fans will be looking for honours and all those things that go with it. We will pay them the utmost respect but we are capable of getting a positive result. My players have to believe in themselves, trust each other and stay focused. If we can do that we can end this run of away results.” – Burnley manager Owen Coyle, to Sky Sports
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Sunderland
Spurs have designs on the top four as well, and they’ll look to work towards that goal when the Black Cats travel to London this weekend.
Table watch: Spurs are in fifth place with 19 points while Sunderland are just two points behind in eighth.
Picking up the pieces: After coming out on the wrong end of a 3-0 derby result with Arsenal, Tottenham will try to bounce back. “It’s one game and I’m sure this will hurt for a few days yet but once that’s over we have to focus on the next match and try to get back to winning ways against Sunderland,” Ledley King told the team’s Web site.
Less than ideal: Sunderland will have to do without the suspended Lorik Cana and Kenwyne Jones and the injured Lee Cattermole on the trip to White Hart Lane, surely testing the depth of Steve Bruce’s squad.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Arsenal
The streaking Gunners pay a visit to the Molineux to face Wolves in the final Saturday fixture.
Table watch: Arsenal is in third place on 22 points while Wolves find themselves in 17th on 10 points.
Tough run coming: After facing Arsenal, Wolves face Chelsea next week and will face United, City, Spurs and Liverpool before the calendar flips to 2010.
Staying positive: The Gunners are in fine form, but Wolves’ Michael Kightly is still confident. “If everyone thinks we’re not going to get anything from the games, that will suit us. When we’re the underdogs, we’re a dangerous animal and we can cause teams problems,” he told the Express & Star.
Hull City vs. Stoke City
The slumping Tigers hope to change their stripes on Sunday when the Potters invade the KC Stadium.
Table watch: Hull is in 19th place on eight points while the Potters are in ninth place on 16 points.
History lesson: Stoke took a 2-1 win in this fixture back in May.
Warning signs for the gaffer: “Phil (Brown) will be manager on Sunday but there’s no point me saying he’s got a job for life, that’s not the case. We need results, quickly, and that puts pressure on everyone at the club,” new chairman Adam Pearson said this week.
West Ham vs. Everton
The Hammers needed that win over Villa, and they’ll look to continue picking up points when the Toffees visit London.
Table watch: West Ham has 10 points, good for 16th place, while Everton has 12 points and resides in 13th spot.
Trend watch:Everton has won five of the last seven meetings between these two clubs.
History lesson:Everton won this fixture, 3-1, last season against a 10-man Hammer squad.
Wigan Athletic vs. Fulham
Two teams with very different mindsets clash at the DW Stadium on Sunday.
Table watch: Wigan is in 12th place on 13 points while Fulham is in 11th on 14 points.
Turning the knife: If Rafa Benitez and Liverpool didn’t have enough problems, Fulham stung them 3-1 at Craven Cottage last week. Wigan, on the other hand, were drilled at Fratton Park against Portsmouth.
No kidding, gaffer: “We had too many probably (distractions) this week, with one of the players getting sentenced, and all the paper talk. But that is not an excuse. We had enough time to prepare for the game. We knew it was going to be a very tough game. To put it simply, we did not have any intensity, any clarity in our play on the ball,” Wigan boss Roberto Martinez told the team’s Web site.
Liverpool vs. Birmingham
After last week’s loss at Fulham and a come-from-ahead draw in Champions League play at Lyon on Wednesday, Liverpool hopes a visit from Birmingham will be just the right tonic on Monday.
Table watch: Liverpool is in sixth place on 18 points while Birmingham is in 14th spot on 11 points.
The aftermath:Philipp Degen and Jamie Carragher both saw red cards last week, and both will miss out on Monday due to suspension. Of course, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard continue to be injury worries, just adding to the Reds’ issues.
On the other hand: City earned a 0-0 draw against Manchester City last week, and were probably unlucky not to find a winner.