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Defenses take proverbial backseat

Barclays Premier League. Tune-in to see what's in store this Saturday.
Barclays Premier League. Tune-in to see what's in store this Saturday.
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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.



Which players should you be keeping an eye during the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League season? Find out.

After a week full of Champions League and Europa League play, we head into this weekend’s Barclays Premier League action hungry for even more drama.

While none of the big boys match up against each other, there are still plenty of intriguing games to be played – and the possibility for some giants to be toppled:

Newcastle vs. Manchester United (live, Sunday, 11:00 AM ET, FOX Soccer. Replay on FOX).

The defensive worries continue for United. Their nine goals allowed are tied for the most of a top 13 Premier League team. But what’s more bothersome is the fact that they have fallen behind in a game six times already this season (four of those times the offense has rescued them with wins).

Good news for Newcastle: Demba Ba leads the league with six goals in six games. Bad news for Newcastle: Has anyone seen Papiss Demba Cisse lately? He scored 13 goals in his first 14 appearances since signing with the Magpies, but has been almost nonexistent (zero Premier League goals) so far this campaign - although he did score in Thursday's 3-0 Europa League win against Bordeaux.

United are totally covered in the offensive department – maybe some of that money should have gone to the defense – with the growing partnership that is Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Since January 28, 2011, the best league ratio of goals-to-minutes scored belongs to RvP, followed by Rooney, with Ba sitting in fourth.

Translation: the defenses will once again take a back seat this weekend with an exciting matchup of attacking power.

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

Norwich is off to their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign, while Chelsea, 3-0 at home in league play, sit in the driver’s seat to claim their fifth top flight title. Seems like a no-brainer right? Absolutley, but some hooks still exist, particularly on the Blues side of things.

Eden Hazard's surreal start has been subdued as of late. This happens all the time in life, work and soccer. It’s now time for him to get back to being one of the 'on field' leading men for the club – ditto for Fernando Torres. His work off the ball has gone unnoticed, and he's been instrumental in helping his teammates, but his goal scoring rate needs to improve. He had a nice finish last weekend, and more needs to follow versus a Canary side that has allowed the second most goals (13) in the league.


Get unprecedented insider access to Liverpool on DVD and iTunes.

Liverpool vs. Stoke (live, Sunday, 10:00 AM ET, FOX Soccer Plus)

Congratulations Liverpool, you are no longer in the relegation zone!
Condolences Liverpool, you have earned just one point out of a possible nine at home.

Luis Suarez looked brilliant with his hat trick over the weekend, but other offensive players need to help carry the load (I feel like I have written and said that for about five weeks now).

Stoke, continuing to make a play to be my new favorite team, are hard to beat. They have surrendered just five goals; only three clubs have allowed less. The Reds need to reward their home fans as they are starting to trend upwards, but a slip-up Sunday could see them back in the bottom three.

West Ham vs. Arsenal (live, Saturday, 12:30 PM ET)

Arsenal has scored more goals, and allowed less than West Ham, yet they sit in eighth place, one spot behind the Hammers. Odd, right?

With a midweek Champions League home win, Arsenal is cruising in group play. Now it’s time to get back to their winning league ways after last weekend’s tough home loss to Chelsea.

It's also high time for Mikel Arteta to get his due credit. No player in the top five European leagues has made more passes than the Spaniard. His 547 passes have helped his outside fullbacks become more and more involved, as the Gunners continue to quietly sneak up on the top five in the standings.

Manchester City vs. Sunderland (live, Saturday, 7:45 AM ET)

Sunderland may sit in 13th place, but man, they are tough to beat. Three road games this season has resulted in three road ties for the Black Cats. Good luck keeping up that track record at the fortress that is the Etihad. City have lost none of their last 32 Premier League home games (29-0-3), although Sunderland was one of those draws.

It will be curious to see who starts up top this weekend for the Citizens. Eden Dzeko came off the bench last weekend to score a game winner. On Wednesday night, he was rewarded with a start against Borussia Dortmund. That move sent Carlos Tevez to the bench. Yet it was another substitute, Mario Balotelli, who hammered in a clutch late equalizing penalty. My guess is it’s Tevez and Balotelli in the starting XI.

While I wasn’t on the subject…

I read that Roy Hodgson let some beans spill while on the Tube en route to Arsenal's Champions League game. He told patrons that Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand wouldn't be called into the England national team’s camp for their next World Cup qualifiers – before releasing the squad list.


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

That got me thinking. I dare a national team coach to release their national team list via public transportation, and then see how long it takes for it to go viral.

My guess is the US would finish somewhere near the bottom.

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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