The Not So Special One?
Three weeks ago all looked rather rosy at Chelsea. They sat two points behind Arsenal at the top of the Premier League, having beaten Manchester City in the league and the former in the Capital One Cup, six consecutive victories providing Jose Mourinho with solace after September defeats. Now, two matches and one controversial point against West Bromwich Albion later, pressure has heightened again.
Such is the tightness of the current table, Chelsea are still just four points from top in fourth place. But there will be concern at Stamford Bridge that Mourinho lacks the untouchable, unflappable aura that marked his first tenure at the club. During Jose's first season at Chelsea in 2004/5 it took until 6th February to match their current total of 12 dropped points.
Now is the time for the pre-season favourites to all aim for some much-needed consistency. For Chelsea that must start at West Ham United, live on Sky Sports 1HD on Saturday Night Football.
You can watch West Ham v Chelsea live on Saturday Night Football from 5pm on Sky Sports 1HD
Time to Judge Arsenal
The defeat at Manchester United before the international break was not psychologically destroying but Arsenal now need a response following their first Premier League loss since the opening day. England's friendlies perhaps came at a perfect time for Arsene Wenger, allowing him to take stock of just how far his side have come in a short space of time.
Given the current inconsistencies of the sides around them, losing to United was not terminal, nor even critical, to Arsenal's title bid, but getting stuck in a rut of underperformance would be.
Southampton's trip to the Emirates is therefore potentially the most intriguing of the weekend, and the key looks likely to be the home side's ability to create meaningful chances. Arsenal have had just four shots on target in their last two matches (admittedly against tough opposition), but Southampton have the third meanest defence in Europe's top five leagues.
The Stylish Derby?
Whether both sets of players can stick to their managers' principles amid the cauldron atmosphere of Saturday's Merseyside Derby remains to be seen. But there are suggestions the fixture could be ready to move away from the past, which has seen a Premier League record of 20 red cards. The reason is the presence of Everton and Liverpool managers, Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, who both champion the benefits of possession and a passing game. Could the Friendly Derby become the Stylish Derby? We will soon find out.
Ahead of their trip to Manchester City on Sunday lunchtime, which can be seen live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D, Tottenham Hotspur are just five points off the lead and, having conceded only six goals from their 11 Premier League matches, there are plenty of positives. But it is the miserable tally of nine goals that is threatening to scupper their ambitions. Only the bottom two clubs in the table have found the net on fewer occasions.
Spurs are the only team in the Premier League with more than 200 shots this season. Around Europe's top leagues only Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Paris St Germain and Real Madrid can match that feat. Evidently, Andre Villas-Boas and his players are doing something right. The quantity is there. But the poor goal return raises questions about the quality of these shots.
You can watch Man City v Tottenham live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D from 12.30pm on Sunday
Headache for Moyes
With Phil Jones ruled out for at least a couple of weeks and Michael Carrick still a few weeks away from a return to full fitness, Manchester United manager David Moyes has something of a midfield dilemma when taking his side to Cardiff City on Sunday, live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D.
Marouane Fellaini is also struggling for fitness with a wrist injury that will require surgery, increasing the probability of a central pair of Ryan Giggs and Anderson, something that very few United fans would welcome. Even if the Belgian is passed fit, his struggles to impress thus far will only be further tested by a combative Cardiff midfield. After an impressive recent run (unbeaten in nine games, won five of last six), Sunday will act as another marker of just how much United and Moyes have progressed of late.
You can watch Cardiff v Man Utd live on Sky Sports 1HD and 3D from 3.30pm on Sunday
Travel Sickness Cure
Unexpected victories over Newcastle United and Manchester City in Sunderland's last three games have given them a fair chance at survival. Gus Poyet has instigated a change at the Stadium of Light, and Sunderland are now just seven points off the top half. It is almost as if the players are breathing a sigh of relief following the departure of Paolo Di Canio.
That said, their away form desperately needs addressing. Since the beginning of February, Sunderland have lost 10 of their 12 games on the road, and defeats at Crystal Palace, West Bromwich Albion, Swansea City and Hull City do not particularly inspire hope of an immediate change of fortunes.
Five of Sunderland's next six away games must be seen as winnable, starting at Stoke City on Saturday (they then travel to Aston Villa, West Ham, Cardiff and Fulham before mid-January). Win at the Britannia and they could be level on points with three of those sides.
Trouble for Hughes
It is now no wins and three points in seven league games for Stoke, and Mark Hughes' side sit level on points with the relegation zone. A draw at Swansea City last time out was at least a point gained rather than two dropped but Hughes admitted they got a break thanks to Charlie Adam's late penalty, and it was the only thing keeping Stoke out of the bottom three going into the international break.
Despite Hughes' pre-season promise of passing football, no side has scored fewer home goals. No side has fewer home wins. They have now scored one goal in their last four home games and only West Brom and Cardiff have created fewer chances.