Seven big storylines to watch in this weekend's Premier League fixtures

Balotelli V Arsenal

QPR, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, Everton, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal feature.

Get ready, put your feet up, and prepare for a bumper weekend of footballing action. This weekend's fixtures are quite frankly superb, and we are at such a crunch stage of the season that the pressure is really starting to crank up.

Here are seven big storylines to watch out for as the games unfold...

Harry Redknapp faces his former club

This time last season Harry Redknapp's life was quite different. He had the 'hell' of his court case for alleged tax evasion to get through, a charge of which he was acquitted, and immediately after the whirlwind speculation linking him to the England job in the wake of Fabio Capello's dismissal would prove a heavy distraction. At the time of course he was boss of Tottenham, who were third last January and they find themselves in the same position now under Andre Villas-Boas. Redknapp was dismissed after a poor second half of the season and now finds himself trying to get struggling QPR out of a tough spot. They stunned the league by beating Chelsea in their last match before the Cup break, and if QPR can find a way to beat Spurs at Loftus Road in Saturday's early kick-off it will be quite something, but Tottenham have the ability to turn the affair into quite humbling experience for Redknapp.

How will Aston Villa respond to Bradford loss?

Aston Villa simply have not recovered from their 8-0 shellacking at the hands of Chelsea in December, and that tailspin was confirmed by their loss to Bradford City in the Capital One Cup semi-final in midweek. Villa still have the second leg to overturn it, but will be trying to get some much needed confidence back when they host a dangerous Southampton side at Villa Park. If anybody knows what the Saints can do it is Villa, they were thumped 4-1 at St Marys back in September and will be out for revenge, but whether they are in the right frame of mind or have the ability to conjure up a win right now is another matter.

Will Newcastle's terrible run continue?

Newcastle have less points at this stage of the season than they did in 2008-09 when they were relegated. If that doesn't illustrate the danger of their slide into the bottom half, then a loss at Carrow Road this weekend really will. Last season the Toon ran out easy winners here thanks to a Demba Ba brace, but with the striker now sold, the pressure is on Papiss Cisse to produce. The good news is Yohan Cabaye is on the brink of returning but this weekend may just be too soon. Norwich will be favourites to win too, despite a poor festive period, having seen off both Arsenal and Manchester United at home this season, a draw may not be a terrible result for Newcastle, but a loss really would.

How serious is Everton's Champions League push?

Everton have endured their share of disappointing results at Goodison Park over the last couple of months, despite a terrific start to the season. Still, the New Year is when they traditionally kick on, and sitting in fifth they are in a better position than they have been at this stage for the best part of over a decade. This weekend's clash with Chelsea's midweek cup conquerors Swansea is a real test of the club's credentials. Everton have dropped points at home to Newcastle, Norwich, Arsenal and Chelsea which have dented their aspirations slightly, and will hope their physical dominance over a classy Swansea side can get their third successive win over the Swans. A win, and its all systems go for the Champions League push and a big 2013, a draw or a loss and the self-doubt may begin to kick-in as more home points are dropped. It won't be a disaster, but games like this Everton need to win if they are serious about a top four place.

Can Stoke increase the pressure on Rafa Benitez or can Ba save him?

Rafa 'Interim coach' Benitez is so far having real troubles at Chelsea, and just can't seem to win the fans over in his favour. Benitez maintains they will get behind him so long as the results are good, so he better hope he avoids a third loss in four games. It won't be easy though, Stoke is a tough place to go, and have a fantastic record against the league's top clubs at the Britannia, and will be well up for the fight. In Chelsea's favour is new signing Demba Ba, who has a great record against Stoke who famously tried to sign him, scoring a hat-trick at the stadium for Newcastle last season. Stoke have conceded just seven goals all season at home, so Chelsea have it all to do and we're tipping this one to end in a draw.

Patrice Evra meets Luis Suarez - Again

Oh dear. At least the build-up to this clash has been low-key. The allegations of Suarez' racial abuse are well covered, and this is a chance for the pair, and both United and Liverpool to show bygones are bygones. But don't expect the Old Trafford crowd to be that way; the second the whistle blows Suarez will get booed until the game ends, and when the first tackle flies in, pre-game talk of respect will be out the window. The real excitement is not about Evra and Suarez - It's the hope of a shootout between the league's two most in-form strikers, Suarez and Van Persie. If both are on their games on Sunday, this one could be a cracker.

Can Arsenal continue their City hoodoo - And no Nasri

Last season when Arsenal beat City at the Emirates it seemed like the league was lost, and Mario Balotelli's red card added insult to injury. A month later City are champions, but they could enter the game 10 points behind leaders United if the Ferguson's men beat Liverpool, and then the pressure really will be on. While City have beaten Arsenal a number of times at the Etihad in recent seasons, they haven't won a league game away to Arsenal since 1975. We are sadly robbed at the prospect of Samir Nasri returning to the Emirates for the first time since he slagged the Gunners off last May stating he was 'right to leave' and gloating over his Premier League medal. He is suspended after his red card in December against Norwich, it's almost as if he planned it...

Which game are you most looking forward to this weekend?

images: © wonker, © wonker

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