Chelsea head to Spurs needing a win
Chelsea's recent blip has turned into a full-blown slump ahead of Sunday's trip to London rival Tottenham, the first of three tough English Premier League matches in a row for the stuttering defending champions.
But the Blues have won just two of their last eight matches in all competitions, have slipped to third in the Premier League and play Manchester United and Arsenal - the division's top two who meet at Old Trafford on Monday - after the away match at fifth-place Spurs.
Chelsea captain John Terry denied the side is in a crisis but warned his teammates the bad run of results had to come to an end.
"We're going through a bad spell ... hopefully this will be the end of our blip otherwise teams are going to pull away," the England defender said. "We need to go on a good run and now would be the perfect time with Tottenham, Man United and Arsenal coming up.
"Nothing has changed on the squad basis, it's just about staying together and staying confident. The players need to realize if we don't start soon, we're going to give it away to Man United ... or to Arsenal. The good thing is we're not out of it."
Arsenal took advantage of United's postponed match at Blackpool last weekend to climb to the top of the standings with a 2-1 win over Fulham, its third straight victory in the league.
Chelsea, on the other hand, was fortunate to draw 1-1 at home to Everton last Saturday, extending its winless streak to four league matches.
"Early on in the season, we were playing very well and if we can get that form back, with other teams slipping up (and) everyone dropping points, we can pull away from teams again," said Terry, who returned last weekend from a nerve problem that had affected his leg and back.
England midfielder Frank Lampard was hoping to return for Chelsea on Sunday after more than three months out with a groin injury but he is set to miss out again, along with Brazil center back Alex (knee).
Netherlands playmaker Rafael van der Vaart is still out with a hamstring strain for Spurs, who are six points behind Arsenal.
Second-place United's home match against league leader Arsenal, which is a point clear at the top, will have been given some added bite following comments by its left back Patrice Evra ahead of the game.
The France defender, speaking on Canal+ Sport show Les Specialistes on Thursday, said Chelsea was United's biggest rival and branded Arsenal merely a "training center."
"I hear them being compared to Barcelona, but people in 20 years' time aren't going to remember Arsenal's football," Evra said.
"Arsenal is a great club which hasn't won anything in five years - that's a crisis ... our true rival is Chelsea."
United, which had its match against Blackpool last weekend called off because of a frozen pitch, should have Paul Scholes (groin) and Rio Ferdinand (hamstring) available.
Captain Cesc Fabregas missed that match with a hamstring problem, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is unsure whether the Spain midfielder will be fit for Monday.
"There is a big uncertainty if he can be in the squad or not. That will be decided very late," Wenger said.
In the other standout match this weekend, Alan Pardew takes charge of his first game as Newcastle manager when Liverpool visits St. James' Park on Saturday.
Pardew was hired as the replacement for the popular Chris Hughton, who was fired on Monday despite leading the club back into the Premier League and into a mid-standings position.
Disgruntled fans could vent their feelings toward the club's board on Saturday, and Pardew hopes this does not affect the players.
"I can understand the frustration of losing that stability with Chris. I just hope they channel that frustration into support for our team," Pardew said.
Liverpool has recovered from its difficult spell at the start of the season and has moved up to eighth, just four points behind Spurs.
Spain striker Fernando Torres should be back for Liverpool after missing the 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday because his wife gave birth to their second child, but captain Steven Gerrard is still out injured.
Elsewhere on Saturday, fourth-place Manchester City visits last-place West Ham, Villa hosts West Bromwich Albion, Everton is at home to Wigan, Sunderland goes to Fulham and Stoke hosts Blackpool.
On Sunday, sixth-place Bolton is at home to Blackburn and Wolverhampton Wanderers hosts Birmingham.