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Questions loom over massive weekend

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Rob Stone

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter.

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Jamie Trecker examines this season's best Barclays Premier League fixtures.

Will Liverpool get their first Barclays Premier League win? Can Chelsea extend their reign at the top of the table? And what kind of backline can we expect from Sir Alex Ferguson on Saturday? Lots of questions – hopefully answered soon – leading into this weekend’s Premier League action:

Fulham vs. Manchester City (live, Saturday, 10:00 AM ET, FOX Soccer)

Quick! Who is higher up in the standings? Time’s up. Did you guess Fulham? Then you’re absolutely right.

The Cottagers sit in sixth, one notch above Manchester City. Damiem Duff, Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petric and Steve Sidwell all sit in the top twenty scoring list, two more players than Manchester City at the moment (Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez). City’s still one of the teams to be reckoned with – but something seems to be missing.

Dare we say that 'something' is Mario Balotelli? He’s had few impactful minutes in league play thus far, but is it time to let him have a greater run and impact with the club? If not, the distractions that he provides will probably build up which might cause a negative impact with the Etihad club.

Arsenal vs. Chelsea (Saturday, 7:45 AM ET)

It’s our only top five meeting of the week and the first 45 minutes of this one will be paramount. Both teams are the only clubs in the Premier League yet to concede a second half goal this season. Chelsea’s held on to that top spot for a couple of weeks now, but they have shown hints of vulnerability.

Meanwhile, Arsenal continues to climb the standings – they had that impressive tie with Manchester City last weekend. This will be a good test at home to see where Arsene Wenger’s side stands against arguably the best in the league. A Gunners win will not move them into first, but it would certainly signal to the rest of the league that they are truly in the title conversation.

As a side note, what a bizarre last couple of days it has been for John Terry – though by now, he should probably be used to that. On Sunday, he retires from the international game, and on Thursday the English Football Association bans him for four games and fines him more than $300,000 for a racial slur from season. It will be interesting to see if this is indeed the last John Terry distraction we will deal with. How will his retirement from the national team impact him on the club level? Overall, it might be a good thing for Chelsea to have his mind and body solely with the club.

Manchester United vs. Tottenham, (live, Saturday, 12:30 PM ET, FOX Soccer)

This one is all about two of the top scorers in the league: United’s Robin van Persie and Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe. With five goals to his credit – including a second half winner last weekend against Liverpool – van Persie will look to add to his scoring tally having scored five goals and four assists in his last six home league games versus Spurs.

STUNNING BEAUTIES

Take a look at the wives and girlfriends from Major League Soccer.

On the flip side, Jermain Defoe – tied for second in the league with four goals – has fired more shots on target than any other player this season. Spurs two game win streak has quieted the Andre Villas-Boas critics for now.

Another conversation point that has appeared is Manchester United’s defense. As the injury blows continue to plague the Red Devils backline – most recently, Vidic, who underwent knee surgery and will be sidelined for up to eight weeks – an extremely young defensive unit looked impressive midweek in the Capital One Cup. The youthful formation worked in the win over Newcastle, so will Sir Alex Ferguson be tempted to stay with the young guns this Saturday?

Stoke vs. Swansea, Saturday, 10:00 AM ET

Both of these clubs are coming off of disappointing losses. For Swansea, it’s been back to back shut out defeats and a hard drop down into the bottom half of the table. The Michael Laudrup era began with so much success. This will be a real true test of character as they travel to one of the toughest places to play in the Premiership.

Being the oldest club in the Premier League, Stoke City, are finally starting to turn heads. The Potters, originally the “Stoke Ramblers” – (how can you not love that name? Would love a Ramblers T-shirt by the way) – has Gordon Banks as their president. We all remember watching him as a member of the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (come on you Tampa Bay Rowdies) and his 1970 World Cup save versus Pele is something you will see more about coming up on a new FOX Soccer series called “My Beautiful Game.”

There’s just something about the way the Potters play that may not be attractive to the eye, but it pulls you in and makes you want to cheer for them. This match will go down to the wire.

Norwich vs. Liverpool (live, Saturday, 10:00 AM ET, FOX Soccer Plus)

When was the last time that Norwich felt like they had more than a punchers chance against Liverpool? Norwich is sitting in 17th in the table – yes, just one spot above relegation zone dweller Liverpool.

A loss for Brendan Rodgers here and talk of replacing him will fire up. These two teams have the league’s worst conversion rate. Plus, their shaky defenses cannot seem to get their offenses going, and desperation has been slightly infused into this one, which usually makes for entertaining soccer.

With so much on the line for Liverpool, expect this match to be much better than it looks on paper.

NEVER WALK ALONE

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Off the script

Episode three of “Being: Liverpool” heads your way this Sunday immediately following our presentation of the Premier League game of the week between Aston Villa and West Bromwich. Here’s some things that you’ll learn: apparently chocolates and muffins are good electrolyte replacement (who knew!), Dr. Zaf is humorless, there’s an intriguing jersey debate and you’ll see a pre-signing physical that makes all Americans say to themselves, “Man, I wish I had that kind of health care coverage." You definitely don’t want to miss out on these enlightening revelations and much more.

You can always ask me a question via my Twitter account @RobStoneonFOX using the hash tag #askStone. Each week I’ll pick a few and we’ll give you a shout-out right here. Enjoy the game this week and I’ll see you right here on FOX Soccer this weekend!

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter  @RobStoneONFOX.

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