When Ireland was a City player insiders regarded him as one of the club's biggest natural talents, capable of holding his own in the most exalted company.
1 Stephen Ireland's return to Manchester City
Less positively, they also ranked the midfield playmaker as among the squad's mentally weaker characters. Ireland's time at Aston Villa has been far from smooth but he appears reborn under Paul Lambert's management and, thriving at the heart of the attacking central three in a 4-2-3-1 formation, is starting to remind everyone what all the fuss was about. Can a man who counts martial arts as a hobby ruffle Roberto Mancini's composure while helping Villa steal at least a point? Meanwhile you wonder if City's James Milner sometimes regrets leaving Villa?
2 Oh to be a fly on the wall should Mark Hughes and Nigel Adkins meet for a post match drink
Games rarely come more tension suffused than QPR v Southampton. Expect camera lenses to be trained on the technical areas throughout as two of the Premier League's most under pressure managers battle for survival. After securing two successive promotions Adkins does not deserve to be dismissed but, even were the axe to fall, he would remain eminently employable. In contrast, Hughes's stock has dipped dramatically and, without a timely win, he could be in real danger of disappearing from the big time. Maybe walking out on Fulham was not such a good idea after all.
3 Might there be a tinge of regret in Roberto Martínez's eyes at Anfield or is that look simply relief?
For quite a while last summer the feeling was that Martínez would be the new Liverpool manager. Instead the Spaniard remains at Wigan and Brendan Rodgers is the man charged with inspiring an Anfield renaissance. Sparking one on Saturday could be tricky but this duel between a pair of former Swansea managers promises to prove fascinating. Afterwards the two 39-year-olds can discuss their shared football philosophy in Spanish – Rodgers is fluent in the language.
4 Has Steve Clarke got a nasty surprise in store for his former Chelsea employers at The Hawthorns?
When Steve Clarke succeeded Roy Hodgson as West Bromwich Albion manager many pundits immediately tipped Albion for relegation amid plenty of knowing mutters about Clarke being "one of life's No2s". How wrong can you be? Arguably this season's surprise package, West Brom are relishing confounding the doubters and, as they head for the Midlands, Chelsea will need to be mindful of the tactical threat posed by their one-time right-back and, later, first-team coach and assistant manager.
5 Is this one of the most important north London derbies in recent memory?
Arsenal v Tottenham is always a big game but, with Arsène Wenger and André Villas-Boas both desperate for Champions League qualification as the muttered criticisms of disaffected fans echo in their ears, this derby appears invested with even more significance than usual. For once, local bragging rights seem far from the most pressing issue at stake. Spurs fans cannot seem to make up their minds as to whether they want AVB to fly or fail. For his part the Portuguese remains confident he can be the man to end 18 years of hurt and ensure Tottenham finish above Arsenal for the first time since the 1994-95 season when Gerry Francis was manager at White Hart Lane. "We have to finish above Arsenal," said AVB. "It's possible to bridge the gap; we're getting closer." Oh well, Spurs generally perform better away.
6 Will Cheik Tioté escape a booking and will we see Papiss Cissé?
Tioté is back from suspension for Newcastle's home game against Swansea and has been instructed to avoid adding to his collection of 30 yellow cards in 60 games for the club. The Ivorian enforcer's return is welcome though, particularly as Yohan Cabaye is struggling with injury and extremely doubtful, Jonás Gutiérrez is sidelined and Fabricio Coloccini suspended. Meanwhile Senegal are trying to invoke Fifa's five-day rule in order to suspend Cissé following his no show, citing back trouble, for their midweek friendly against Niger. With Newcastle drifting into mid-table and having lost 1-0 at St James' Park to West Ham on Sunday, Alan Pardew has dubbed this "a big game" as his team attempt to at least emulate last season's fifth-place finish.
7 Can Sunderland turn a corner at Fulham on Sunday?
Almost exactly a year after Steve Bruce's sacking on Wearside, his successor, Martin O'Neill is finding the going unexpectedly heavy. Sunderland have won just once in their last 17 league games, were knocked out of the League Cup at home by Middlesbrough and have scored fewer goals than any other Premier League side. There were signs of improvement during last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Everton and O'Neill will hope they are evident again at Craven Cottage on Sunday ahead of two potentially vital home fixtures against West Brom and QPR. The manager was spotted on a British Airways flight from Stockholm to London on Thursday morning; unfortunately for Sunderland fans he did not have Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured safely amongst his luggage.
8 Norwich seeking to claim another significant Saturday teatime scalp
Norwich's only win against Manchester United in more than 21 years came at Carrow Road in 2005 when Nigel Worthington's struggling team prevailed 2-0, thereby creating one of the season's Premier League shocks. Even so, Sir Alex Ferguson will be mindful that last month Chris Hughton's side beat Arsenal 1-0 in Norfolk. The result apart, that game proved unusual as its preamble featured the fastest flight possible to the Canaries from Luton. Incredibly, Arsène Wenger's squad flew from the Bedfordshire airport to Norwich and back, rather than make the 115-mile road trip from the Emirates or catch a train from London's Liverpool Street station. Should United slip up Ferguson may be tempted to leave his players to find their own way back home.
9 Nigeria's newest international in action against Swansea on Tyneside
It is more than a decade since Howard Wilkinson, then the England Under-21 manager, feared that Nigerian FA officials "might be plotting to kidnap Shola Ameobi" as England's juniors rested in a Yorkshire hotel before the Newcastle striker's U-21 international debut at Barnsley. Maybe Wilkinson was on to something after all because, at the grand old age of 31 and after switching football nationalities, Ameobi made his debut for Nigeria's senior side in a 3-1 win against Venezuela in Miami on Wednesday. Having replaced his former Newcastle team-mate Obafemi Martins, he created the final goal and now has his heart set on featuring at the Africa Cup of Nations in the new year.
10 Olivier Giroud v Steven Caulker and/or William Gallas, and Emmanuel Adebayor v Arsenal
With six goals in eight games Giroud is finally repaying Arsène Wenger's faith. How will he cope against England's new centre-half Caulker and the former Arsenal captain William Gallas? And will AVB play another Arsenal old boy Adebayor from the start? If so what might happen if he scores?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © LaertesCTB