1. Are Southampton the real deal?
Despite a raft of big-name departures during the summer, as well as the loss of manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham, many would have expected Southampton to crumble this season.
Last campaign Saints played some superb football under the Argentine but had the heart of their squad ripped out during the transfer window. Liverpool signed all of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren, while Arsenal snapped up Callum Chambers and Luke Shaw moved to Manchester United.
All of those clubs now sit below Southampton, who are the only team within sight of Chelsea at the top of the table. Dutch manager Ronald Koeman has worked wonders with a smartly assembled side: new signings Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Fraser Foster have made crucial contributions.
They now host defending champions Manchester City and can make a real statement against Manuel Pellegrini’s men. Win this match and a top four finish – perhaps even an unlikely title challenge – will become a real possibility.
2. Rodgers under pressure
It was a torrid trip to Bulgaria in midweek for Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool side. Simon Mingolet’s early blunder set the tone early as the Reds’ late lapse allowed little fancied Ludogorets to snatch a 2-2 draw.
The stage was set for Liverpool to revitalise their season but an opportunity was missed and a Saturday visit from Stoke City takes on greater importance. Anything less than a victory against The Potters at Anfield and the pressure will continue to intensify on Rodgers.
After seeing his team miss out on a league title in heartbreaking fashion last season, the Welsh manager has struggled to balance continental and domestic duties. Luis Suarez’s absence has been keenly felt, with a number of summer signings failing to deliver.
Mark Hughes’ visiting team are coming off the back of a 2-1 defeat at home to struggling Burnley. Can Liverpool get the goals and points they so desperately need to relieve the pressure that seems to be burdening the club?
3. Relegation six pointers
The old cliché rears its head again as QPR host Leicester City and Aston Villa travel to Burnley. All four sides have shown promise and had their weaknesses ruthlessly exposed in the same breath during the current campaign. The three promoted sides all find themselves in the relegation zone after twelve games.
Leicester missed a glorious opportunity to score at home against Sunderland last week, playing out a scoreless draw. Since their wonderful 5-3 win over Manchester United earlier on in the season, Nigel Pearson’s men have struggled to replicate the spirit and application that characterized that performance.
Both they and Aston Villa have collected just two points from their last six games, while Burnley are looking to make it three consecutive Premier League wins. Before beating Hull at home and stunning Stoke on the road, the Lancashire club were without a win in the top flight this season.
Suddenly they look a rejuvenated side and if they can beat Aston Villa at home, will climb out of the bottom three. This is a season-defining weekend for all four of the teams involved.