In-form Newcastle face City examination
Newcastle United's flying start to the season faces the acid test on Saturday as the Magpies travel to leaders Manchester City in a battle of the Premier League's only remaining unbeaten teams.
Alan Pardew's resurgent Newcastle have been the revelation of the season so far, accumulating 25 points from 11 games to lie in third place, their best start to a campaign since 1995/96. Yet Newcastle are about to embark on a demanding sequence of fixtures, with Saturday's clash at Eastlands followed by a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United before a home fixture with Chelsea on 3 December.
Pardew, who has skilfully reconstructed Newcastle's first team squad following the departures this year of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, and Joey Barton, insists his team are relishing the challenges ahead. "Belief comes from results as much as anything," Pardew said this week. "I genuinely think the team believe they can win every game we enter. We will go to Manchester City thinking we can win.
"That is very important because every manager, I don't care who he is, sets their team up to win. Players, though, have to believe because if there is not an inner belief you can win, then the players after 25-30 minutes accept it is going to be a tough day. Perhaps they start protecting themselves, come off the gameplan - then it is usually a case of trying to keep the score down or make it respectable.
"We are not doing that, we believe we can win, no matter if the (other) team scores two. We still believe we can win."
Although City's expensively assembled squad means they can field a second string made up almost entirely of internationals, Newcastle may benefit should manager Roberto Mancini choose to rest several of his first choice starting XI with an eye on next Tuesday's crucial UEFA Champions League match with Napoli.
United visit Wales
Any dropped points from City - who have won 10 of their 11 games so far this season - will be gratefully received by cross-town rivals Manchester United, who are aiming to close the gap with victory at newly promoted Swansea. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is expected to have Ashley Young and Tom Cleverley available for selection after injury.
United midfielder Darren Fletcher has meanwhile warned his team-mates against taking the Swans lightly. "They play football in the right way and have been a breath of fresh air since coming into the Premier League. It's going to be a real challenge for us on Saturday," the Scottish international warned.
Elsewhere this weekend, fourth-placed Chelsea take on sixth-placed Liverpool with both sides desperate for three points to stay in touch with the front-runners. Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is expected to line up against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after scoring four goals for Uruguay against Chile during the international break.
"It's great for Luis to get four goals - I wish it was for us rather than his country," Reds manager Kenny Dalglish said. "Maybe he's kept some up his sleeve for us in the coming weeks."
Arsenal meanwhile will be chasing their fifth consecutive victory at Norwich, with manager Arsene Wenger challenging his side to keep building on their recent improvements in form. Wenger believes Arsenal's resurgence - the Gunners now stand seventh, three points off of fourth place - has been down to a more conservative approach.
"I would say we are a bit more controlled and less cavalier," Wenger said. "We are less adventurous when the job is done, I must say. You can feel that there is some reserve there if needed."