Premier League's Super Sunday is upon us
Back in the early 90s, when Sky Sports was launched in the UK, Super Sunday became a 'tagline' for their Sabbath football fare.
Euro-style music would blare out. A heavy baseline pounding away, with a Danish-sounding choir singing "...this is it...this is it...this is it"! Marvellous times.
Well, this Sunday (Monday NZT) is undoubtedly the first Super Sunday of the season, with two belting fixtures. And the main beneficiaries should be Chelsea, who will more than likely enjoy a comfortable three points at home to Stoke, before the big guns take to the stage. First up, it's Liverpool v Manchester United.
Now Sir Alex Ferguson has emphasised on numerous occasions the scale of this match. Not a local derby, but a bitter rivalry dating back decades - Liverpool, 18 titles, United 19 titles. Unfortunately, Liverpool have rarely been close enough to United in recent years to threaten in the championship race, in stark contrast to their total dominance of the 80s, but that hasn't diminished the intensity of the Anfield clashes.
Interestingly, United have failed to win in their last four league visits. They were also dumped out of the FA Cup, 2-1, last season. However, Brendan Rodgers knows that five games without a win would truly set alarm bells ringing. There have been positive signs, including 17-year-old winger Raheem Sterling. And they were unlucky to drop points against City and Sunderland.
As for United, only one midfielder has been ever-present so far this EPL - Michael Carrick. Fergie has a wealth of options at his disposal, but I get the feeling he's still working out his perfect XI. Galatasaray are first up in the Champions League tomorrow and it will be interesting to see who makes the line-up for Anfield. Kagawa has started three matches and Scholes two - but Valencia is electric on his day and should get the nod. But what are the key match-ups?
SKRTEL vs FERDINAND
The two lynchpins. Every great side has great centre backs and Fergie loves pairing Ferdinand with Vidic. He missed the first two matches and United were very shaky at Southampton, especially in the air, while Wigan didn't provide much of a test last weekend. As for Skrtel, well his calamitous back-pass to Tevez gifted Man City a point they didn't really deserve. He also scored in that game, illustrating his danger at set-pieces - he will be desperate to make amends.
STERLING vs VALENCIA
Defenders hate pace, they simply brick it! And although very new to the Premier League, Raheem Sterling has star quality written all over him. At QPR for seven years, the teenage wing-man was actually picked up by Rafa Benitez in 2010 for just over a million bucks. With Gerrard and Allen not exactly adding pace to the midfield, expect Sterling to see plenty of the ball. I hope Valencia gets the nod, otherwise this head-to-head is pointless! Technically excellent, the Ecuadorian was the fans' player of the year last season although his goal return of just 10 in United colours needs a boost. If he does start, I expect him to cause Liverpool's back four a few headaches.
BORINI vs VAN PERSIE
Against Celtic in the Europa League, new signing Fabio Borini was crap. He hit the post with a one-on-one and just looked bereft of confidence. Against Sunderland last weekend, I definitely saw an improvement. Stronger on the ball, his movement was excellent but he is still to register that first goal. To get the Kop on side, he should really start scoring this weekend. I think the Rooney injury has helped RVP and United. He has been 'the man' and has accepted that added responsibility brilliantly. A hat-trick against Saints and one against Fulham already, but it's versus the big boys where you earn your corn. Whoever wins this match-up, should decide the victor.
PREDICTION: With the memories of Hillsborough permeating heavily, a mosaic is due to be unveiled spelling out 96, Justice and The Truth before the match. Balloons will also be released by both captains. It comes in the wake of a damning report criticising police for their actions relating to the stadium tragedy in 1989. It will be an emotional game and I'm sure the players will respect the occasion. I'm therefore expecting goals aplenty and a classic encounter. Liverpool to edge it 3-2.
As I write this, I have just witnessed one of the most amazing Champions League matches in living memory. Citeh lost 3-2 to Real Madrid and will wonder how, considering they were 2-1 up with five minutes left - phenomenal last 20 minutes. So how will they react at home to Arsenal, who themselves have secured a slightly fortunate 2-1 win at Montpellier? The French missed some serious chances.
Mancini's men will be seriously knackered - they worked their tails off tonight, especially key man Yaya Toure. But running Mourinho's men so close in the Bernabeau will surely give them confidence. So far this season they haven't been overly impressive - but great sides get results when they don't play well.
As for Wenger's men, well a 6-1 victory over Southampton had the UK tabloids purring, but I wouldn't be getting too excited just yet. However, they undoubtedly have a wealth of attacking options with Podolski the main man - two goals already this campaign.
CLICHY vs JENKINSON
The role of the fullback in both these sides is crucial, as Mancini and Wenger want these guys to pile forward - not just to put crosses in, but also to act as decoy runners so the glory seekers in the middle can get their shots away. Often understudy to Kolarov, Clichy is now fighting hard for a first-team place and has big-game experience. Carl Jenkinson is the complete opposite, with spells at Charlton, Welling and Eastbourne on his CV. However he has played every minute of the first four games and popped up with an assist for Gervinho in Europe this evening. Has Wenger unearthed a little gem?
NASRI vs ARTETA
It's just the way it is in football ... more often than not a player scores against his old club. I fancy it could be this weekend. In the revolving door that is Mancini's midfield, Nasri is one of the few names always on the teamsheet, alongside the colossus that is Yaya Toure. At 25, the Frenchman is reaching his peak and can be unplayable at times. His passing and touch are world class - Arsenal will need to keep him quiet. Arteta has not missed a minute in the EPL so far. While the new boys (Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud) integrate themselves into the side, the Spaniard has settled into a slightly deeper role and is the new vice-captain. A set-piece specialist, he will have a major part to play.
TEVEZ vs PODOLSKI
Who would have predicted Mr Tevez back as the main man at City? But with the unreliable Balotelli still failing to deliver the world-class performances his ego surely warrants, our petulant little friend has already banged in three this campaign. Difficult to mark, Mancini will be banking on a major contribution. While Olivier Giroud continues to find his feet, Lukas Podolski is beginning to move into gear. Goals in his last three matches have helped ease the loss of RVP. A leftie, like the Dutchman, the German hitman is a powerful, chunky old unit - and his link-up play with Carzola is starting to look impressive.
PREDICTION: Never mind 6-1 drubbings of Southampton, this is the real test. Wenger's boys are on a high, while Mancini will be well aware his boys have not registered a clean sheet this season. Very tight, so I reckon 1-1.
But what are your predictions for the big games?
11.45pm Swansea v Everton, SS3
2am: Chelsea v Stoke, SS3
4am: Southampton v Villa (delayed), SS3
6am: West Ham v Sunderland (delayed), SS1
12:30am: Liverpool v Man United, SS1
3am: Man City v Arsenal, SS2