Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Ian McCourt and Jacob Steinberg
QPR's road to salvation begins at Norwich, how will Spurs fair without a striker and could there be a title-race turning point?
QPR have reason to be optimistic at Norwich
Before Harry Redknapp took charge at QPR, the club had taken just three points at home all season. Since then they have lost twice at Loftus Road but have managed to pick up a further six points – not a massive amount, by any stretch of the stats, but it is six points that could salt the road to safety. Despite their draw with Tottenham, this weekend's opposition, Norwich, have been in turgid form of late – they have picked up just two points from the last 18 that have been available and only QPR and Reading have been worse on the road this season than the Canaries. Bolstered by his new cast of players, including the very sensible purchase of Christopher Samba, and a favourable run of fixtures until mid-April, Redknapp's side should be able to take three points from this fixture and begin their route to freedom. Ian McCourt
Demba Ba's return to St James' Park
Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor know they cannot afford to lose concentration for a split second should they find themselves marking Ba. The same goes for Fernando Torres of course but everyone expects the Senegal striker to start on Tyneside against his old club. Ba scored some wonderful goals for Alan Pardew's team, playing a huge part in last season's fifth place finish but he may not receive the warmest of receptions. Especially as Newcastle could do with at least a point in their bid to escape the relegation zone. Louise Taylor
Sissoko's talent faces Chelsea test
Conventional wisdom suggests that the January transfer window is not the best time to buy. Prices are too high, the (supposedly) best players are not available, yada, yada, yada. However, there are various footballers that buck that trend – Nikica Jelavic, Nemanja Vidic, Luis Suárez – and perhaps the name of Moussa Sissoko will soon be added to that list. His strength to hold off a challenge of Matthew Lowton before exhibiting exquisite vision and precision to set up Newcastle's opener was his showpiece moment of his debut against Aston Villa, a moment of beauty that even Xavi himself would have been proud of. But it wasn't his only contribution. He worked hard, ran hard and was a constant threat going forward. "I don't think we would have won if we hadn't signed Sissoko," said Alan Pardew afterwards. "That's how important he was." One game does not make a player, of course, so it will be interesting to see how he fares against the more impressive and imposing talents of Chelsea. IMcC
Can Reading do it the easy way?
Reading came from nowhere to win the Championship, they came from nowhere to beat West Brom and they came from nowhere to draw with Chelsea. The repeated fightbacks at home are testament to their remarkable levels of self-belief, which is the consequence of Brian McDermott's astute and underrated management, but Reading's manager would probably settle for a nondescript 1-0 win over Sunderland rather than another rollercoaster ride. Jacob Steinberg
Can Spurs strike it lucky without a striker?
Standing beside Lewis Holtby, André Villas-Boas, his hair loose to the wind like an unbridled horse, posed for the obligatory, awkward player-with-shirt-with-manager photo on Tuesday. With that done, the Tottenham manager saw fit to heap some effusive praise on Spurs' new signing. "He's recognised as an excellent young talent and he was very willing to come to Spurs. He has done extremely well in Germany and we have high expectations for him," he said, before adding: "He will fill the No10 position, although he can play right or left, which he did for Mainz at the beginning of his career." While there is little doubt that Holtby is an exciting prospect – and at £1.5m something of a steal – there should be some doubt over whether he was the type of player Tottenham needed to bring in during the latest opening of the transfer window, especially since, in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey, they already have two players who can also fill that role. What they did need was another striker – Emmanuel Adebayor will take time to shake off the post Africa Cup of Nations fatigue and the demands of the Premier League mean relying on one striker is madness, especially if that one is the recently injured Jermain Defoe. Villas-Boas didn't use the word madness to describe the transfer policy but he did use the word "risk". Goals win games goes the cliche and that "risk" could see Spurs missing out on points. West Brom do not concede many at home (only Manchester City and Liverpool have let in less on their own turf) and Spurs' push for a Champions League spot could falter here. IMcC
Southampton doing it when it really matters
Sir Alex Ferguson called Southampton's performance in the second half on Wednesday the best he'd seen from any side at Old Trafford this season. High praise indeed and if Southampton can continue to play like that – and as they did in the first half against Everton – they will cruise to safety. But Mauricio Pochettino is still waiting for his first win and it will all have been for nothing if Southampton can't maintain their current standards at Wigan. JS
Can Villa find some fight at Everton?
It happened against Newcastle; it happened against Southampton; it happened against Tottenham Hotspur; it happened against Wigan; and it happened against Chelsea. In all of these games, and many more, Aston Villa conceded the opening goal and ended up conceding all three points. In fact, of the 12 games that they have let in the first goal they have lost 10, won none and drawn two. An inability to fight back from a losing position suggests a lack of mental strength and confidence on the part of Paul Lambert's players, which is only to be to be expected given how young and inexperienced his Villa side are – the average age of the starting 11 against the Magpies was just 24. Losing on Tuesday night and entering the relegation zone will have been yet another bulky blow to the Villa state of mind and it will need all of Lambert's managerial acumen if they are to get something from their trip to Goodison to face an Everton side who have only lost once at home all season. An early goal would help too. IMC
Danny Graham's reception from the away end at Reading
He is a lifelong Newcastle United supporter, he made unflattering comments about Sunderland in a fanzine interview a few years ago and he was heavily booed and called "scum" by home fans at the Stadium of Light when he came on as a Swansea substitute during Tuesday night's 0-0 draw. But Danny Graham is now a Sunderland player. Can Wearsiders forget the past? Can he confound the doubters? Up-staging Reading's wonderful Adam Le Fondre and scoring the winning goal would represent a good start. LT
The return of Andy Carroll
It will not have escaped Sam Allardyce's attention that West Ham have only won twice since Andy Carroll suffered a knee injury at the end of December. In Carroll's absence, West Ham have slipped down the table but he came off the bench near the end of Wednesday night's 3-1 defeat to Fulham and looked sharp, going close twice with shots from the edge of the area and setting up a chance for James Tomkins that should have resulted in a goal. With Carlton Cole and Marouane Chamakh struggling, Allardyce might be tempted to throw Carroll straight in against Swansea. JS
A title-race turning point?
After this weekend there are still 13 games to go but these two days could be turning points in the title race. Sir Alex Ferguson's team face a Fulham side they tore strips off with the utmost ease in the FA Cup last weekend and would, generally, be expected to repeat that feat. But they have a patchy record at Craven Cottage – they hammered Fulham 5-0 there last season but threw away three points the season before that and lost there in 2009-10 and 2008-09. Come away with three points, a sigh of relief and a confidence boosting 10-point lead over Manchester City and Sir Alex Ferguson can look forward to a run of fixtures before the next Manchester clasico that reads favourably – Everton (home), QPR (away), Norwich (home), West Ham (away), Reading (home), Sunderland (away). With the exception of Everton, all of those sides currently reside in the nether regions of the table and three points should be United's for the taking. Manchester City, on the other hand, face a much trickier tie against an ever-improving Liverpool before they take on Chelsea (home), Aston Villa (away), Wigan (home), Everton (away), Newcastle (home). By the time that derby, rolls around it could be a mere footnote in United 20th league-winning campaign. IMC
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