Rooney, Falcao, Van Persie and Di Maria set for Man U v Saints

Will Van Gaal unleash his big guns as United face challengers Southampton at Old Trafford?

Radamel Falcao Wayne Rooney
(Image credit: Getty)

After the organised chaos of the Christmas schedule the Premier League's footballers will have been getting their breath back this week after four games in the space of ten days.

But they return to action this weekend and there is the unusual sight of the two teams at the top of the table both kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday.

Chelsea and Man City have identical records and the only things keeping the Londoners on top of the table is the C at the start of their name. That might not be the case by 5pm on Saturday after the Blues take on managerless Newcastle and City visit Everton.

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Elsewhere this weekend Arsenal face their bogey team, Stoke, and there is an intriguing clash between third and fourth in the table at Old Trafford. Here's the best of the weekend action:

Man United v Southampton

It's tough to pick a stand-out game this week, but the visit of fourth placed Saints to third placed United can justifiably take centre stage. The Saints, despite a run of four straight defeats in November and December, are only one one point behind United and will be looking to avenge a narrow loss to Louis van Gaal's team at St Mary's during that nightmare run.

Southampton are in much better form now, though, with three wins and a draw in their last four games, a run that includes a win over Arsenal and a draw with Chelsea. Another victory would see them leapfrog United and go third in the table. It would also give them a decent foothold in the top four and leave their rivals for Europe with work to do.

However, the Saints go to Old Trafford without midfielder Saido Mane and centre back Maya Yoshida. United are also on a five game winning streak at home and will not roll over for the visitors.

Van Gaal's run of bad luck with injuries may be coming to an end. There are doubts over Luke Shaw and Rafael after the FA Cup win over Yeovil, but United have almost all their key players available - and with a possible front five of Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie, Angel di Maria and Juan Mata available for pretty much the first time this season, most fans arriving at Old Trafford will be expecting a home win that would give United a real boost in the race for a top four finish.

Everton v Man City

After four league defeats in a row the last thing Roberto Martinez will want to see is the Manchester City team bus pulling up outside Goodison Park, but unfortunately for him it is indeed the champions who will be arriving on Saturday.

City have won 11 of their last 12 games and have not lost a match for two months. And the bad news keeps on coming for the under-fire Everton boss, as Manuel Pellegrini could welcome Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko back to the City squad after a month without them both. Vincent Kompany could also return.

Martinez may take some consolation from the fact that Yaya Toure will be absent, as he is taking part in the Africa Cup of Nations. He can also call on Leighton Baines and Antonio Alcaraz at the back, although they are likely to have a busy afternoon.

Toffees fans will hope that a committed display against West Ham in the FA Cup this week marked a turning point, and Romelu Lukaku's goal has been seen by many as a critical moment in Everton's season. Can they capitalise on that to get something against City – it's not unthinkable, but it looks unlikely.

Chelsea v Newcastle

The Magpies certainly brought bad luck to Chelsea last month. They arrived at St James' Park in December unbeaten, but after losing to Newcasltle Jose Mourinho's team have also been held by Southampton and humbled by Spurs, and their lead at the top of the table has evaporated. Little doubt then, that Chelsea will be out for revenge.

With Alan Pardew now gone it falls to caretaker boss John Carver to try and outwit a wounded Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, and he has his work cut out. Papiss Cisse and midfielder Cheick Tiote will both be missing, although Tim Krul is likely to return in goal for the visitors.

As for Chelsea, Mourinho has a full squad to choose from. It's hard to see Newcastle getting anything out of the game, and it will be interesting to see whether the Blues concern themselves with goal difference now that the title race is well and truly on.

Arsenal v Stoke

Matches between Stoke and Arsenal are like the cult classics of the Premier League season. They may lack a bit of razzle-dazzle but there is usually something to talk about afterwards, and the conversation often involves the words "Arsenal" and "they don't like it up 'em".

A month ago Stoke stunned the Gunners at the Britannia, taking a 3-0 lead before half time and then holding on for the win. Since then they have lost only once, and that was to Chelsea, so they will go to the Emirates with high hopes.

They also play a more cultured brand of football than many give them credit for. However, Peter Crouch looks like Mark Hughes's only option up front as Bojan Krkic is injured and Mame Biram Diouf has left for the African Cup of Nations.

The Arsenal form pendulum appears to be swinging in their favour again, however. A good run of results came to a predictably unedifying end with defeat to Southampton on New Year's Day but that, as ever, was followed by a bounce back victory against Hull in the cup. If things follow the usual pattern for Arsene Wenger's team they will beat Stoke before collapsing against Man City the following week.

Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta still out injured but Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey could return for the Gunners, who need all three points if they are to keep pace with their rivals for a top four spot. An added incentive is the sight of Spurs sitting a point above them in the table.

The weekend's other fixtures:


Sunderland v LiverpoolBurnley v QPRLeicester v Aston VillaSwansea v West HamWest Brom v HullCrystal Palace v Tottenham

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