Liverpool play Norwich at the right time again, Tottenham eye a double over United and Newcastle hope their damaging injuries finally heal
Liverpool won 5-2 at Carrow Road on 29 September, Luis Suárez scoring a hat-trick. The defeat capped a fairly dismal start to the season for the Canaries, who had yet to win a game, but it precipitated a rapid improvement, and they lost only one of their next 11 league games. "It was a bit of a watershed," Michael Turner said this week. "It was a massive disappointment for everyone and after that game we dusted ourselves down, had a look at what we wanted to do and what we wanted to achieve. We've done well from there and for me personally and the team, we will be looking to put in a performance there to, hopefully, get one back on them a little bit." But Liverpool's timing is good once again: Norwich's resurgence has faltered in recent weeks and last Saturday's dull goalless draw with Newcastle brought them their first point in five games. Also acting against the Canaries is the fact that Liverpool's recent defeat by Aston Villa should ensure that neither they nor their fans take anything for granted, however apparently out-of-sorts their opponents.
Few visiting fans can approach Stamford Bridge with such a spring in their step as Arsenal's but this weekend their overriding emotion may be nostalgia. At home the Gunners have clear superiority – they have won 47.4%, and Chelsea 26.3% – while at Stamford Bridge the head-to-head record in the league is poised with absolute perfection – Arsenal have won 25, Chelsea have won 25, and 25 have been drawn. They have created plenty of happy memories along the way, and in recent years when the visitors have had a positive result, it's as often as not been the kind of game that sticks in the mind. There was Silvinho's gobsmacking late equaliser in 2000's 2-2 draw, Nigel Winterburn's ludicrous 89th-minute winner in 1997 and, of course, the unforgettable 2-3 in 1999 that ended with Nwankwo Kanu's ludicrous, last-minute, silly-angle, hat-trick-completing, comeback-from-two-goals-down-sealing stunner). Last season's match was another to rank in that company, but not enough water has passed under the bridge for Gunners to truly cherish its memory, reliant as they were on the genius of Robin van Persie, who (thanks at least in part to John Terry conveniently falling over) turned a 3-3 draw with five minutes to play into a 5-3 away success. Should Sunday's fixture not go their way, they could be excused the odd misty-eyed memory of the great striker that – as Wednesday's frustrating FA Cup victory over Swansea proved once again – they are so badly missing.
1962-63 was a season of totally ludicrous scorelines for Tottenham. From the 5-1 victory over Ipswich in the Charity Shield that got things under way in August, to the 5-1 victory over Atlético Madrid that won the Cup-Winners' Cup in May, the whole season was one long goal bonanza. They beat West Ham United 6-1, Nottingham Forest 9-2, and played Liverpool home and away in four days over the Easter weekend and won 5-2 and 7-2. They played 51 times in all competitions and anyone who saw all those games will have witnessed 215 goals at 4.2 goals a game, and seen their team finish second in the league. Along the way they also did the double over Manchester United, winning 6-2 at home and a disappointingly sane 2-0 away. Since then Spurs have achieved the double twice, in 1973-74 and 1989-90, when as an added bonus they also knocked United out of the League Cup. In the same period United have done it to them 14 times, 10 of those since 1990. This is the first time since that year that Spurs have won their first meeting away from home, setting themselves up for a double-completing game at White Hart Lane.
Steven Taylor last completed a league match on 17 November. Sure, Newcastle lost – 2-1, at home to Swansea – but back then things weren't so bad: they were 12th, five points clear of the bottom three and some chap called Ba was banging in the goals. Taylor limped out of the next league match, a 2-0 defeat at Southampton, and in his absence Alan Pardew's side have kept three clean sheets and lost eight out of 11 games in all competitions, to now sit two places and two points from the relegation places. And now he's back. Which is good news, especially when combined with the return of Yohan Cabaye, who was injured on 11 November and made his comeback from the bench in last week's Norwich snoozefest. Now they just need to keep hold of Fabricio Coloccini. And buy a striker.
Given that Stoke's Kenwyne Jones has emerged as Swansea's key transfer target for the winter window, this weekend's match may go down as an ultra-convenient scouting mission for Michael Laudrup.
Willie McKay once registered a racehorse in Harry Redknapp's name. An investigation into their relationship in 2007 concluded it was "a very unsuccessful horse that resulted in no material gain or reward" for the veteran manager. Both Redknapp and McKay were arrested in 2007 as police investigated corruption in football (McKay was cleared in 2009; Redknapp likewise in 2012). Also arrested as part of that investigation, and probed on their relationship with the agent, were the then Birmingham co-owner, David Sullivan, and the club's managing director, Karren Brady (no charges were brought against either of them). Sullivan is now co-chairman of West Ham United and Brady the vice-chairman, and the move to east London has done nothing to alter their relationship with McKay. Last summer there were grumblings about Sam Allardyce's close links with another agent, Mark Curtis, which Sullivan dismissed saying: "I do not believe there is any skulduggery at West Ham. Clubs tend to deal with the same agents but we've paid Willie McKay more in agency fees than Mark Curtis this summer." McKay also had dealings with QPR before Redknapp's arrival, representing them in their negotiations to bring in Joey Barton – one of McKay's clients, though with his agent already busy representing the club buying him he had to speak for himself in those negotiations – to the club from Newcastle. Barton now plays for Marseille, from whom QPR this week signed whippet-fast French forward Loïc Rémy, whose agent happens to be Willie McKay. Redknapp can only hope that the deal works out better than that other thoroughbred racer McKay once procured for him.
Two clubs that need cheering up, sharpish. Villa are currently enduring the most high-profile crisis in British sport, having been trounced by Chelsea, Tottenham, Wigan and League Two Bradford while securing a single league point in the month-and-a-bit since their last top-flight win, a 3-1 anomaly at Liverpool. West Brom are faring only slightly better – since the last of an epic four-match victory spree in November they have mustered seven points, two less than Villa in the same period, and sunk from third in the league to seventh. Last week they turned a 2-0 lead with eight minutes to play into 3-2 defeat at Reading, and followed that up with home defeat to under-strength QPR in the FA Cup. "Ten months is a long season – there will be periods where things don't go for you," said Steve Clarke this week. "We need to turn it around against Aston Villa." Given that Villa similarly need to end their run of glum form, expect more clumsily-attempted unconfident turnarounds than the time my five-year-old's ballet class were introduced to the concept of the pirouette.
When Sandro tweeted "The beast is hurt" following an injury to his right knee during Tottenham's 0-0 draw with QPR it spelt very bad news for Spurs fans. André Villas-Boas wasted no time in dispatching his key Brazil midfielder - White Hart Lane's more sophisticated, 21st century answer to Roy Keane – to a leading knee surgeon in Barcelona where an operation ensued followed by the news that "The Beast" is out for the season. Will AVB and Spurs cope without Sandro against Manchester United; might his absence derail their Champions League push? Can Spurs compensate by somehow accelerating Lewis Holtby's scheduled summer-time arrival from Schalke to this month?
Alan Pardew says he "loves Brian McDermott to bits" and the feeling is mutual. After all, a decade or so ago Newcastle's manager gave his Reading counterpart a big break in the form of an ideal entry into the world of coaching and management. At the time Pardew was in charge of Reading and appointed McDermott as chief scout. "I loved it," said the latter. "Alan paid me about £2.50 an hour so he got his money's worth." On Saturday afternoon the pair's friendship will be temporarily suspended as their teams engage in what Pardew terms a relegation "six-pointer." Meanwhile, out on the pitch, Reading's Danny Guthrie will be anxious to prove a point to his former public at St James' Park where the midfielder eventually tired of being behind Yohan Cabaye in the midfield pecking order. The word tense is unlikely to do justice to the occasion.
The bad news for Roberto Martínez and Wigan Athletic is that Lee Cattermole has recovered from knee trouble in time to travel across the Pennines to face his former club on Saturday. Cattermole may be much criticised – not to mention booked – but he is underrated. When he plays well so do Sunderland. Moreover Martin O'Neill's captain is facing a bit of competition in a suddenly slightly crowded central midfield department where Alfred N'Diaye, O'Neill's new strapping 6ft 2in £4m buy from Bursaspor of Turkey, has his eye on Cattermole's traditional Alpha-male role. Both managers will regard this as winnable – so do not bet against a draw.