Paul Parker

Mario should be super every week

Paul Parker

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Player to watch: Mario Balotelli (West Ham United v Manchester City)

Balotelli is always worth watching. He can be good, bad and ugly all in one match.

When you break down his attributes - his pace, strength, skill and drive - you have to say that you are looking at a player who could be the best in the league.

If he can get his head right and get the chip off his shoulder, there is no doubt he can become a top-drawer player.

But, if he is not in the mood at Upton Park, then the crowd will delight in getting on his back and giving him a rough afternoon.

With all he has in his locker, Balotelli should have more than enough to tear through the Hammers' static defence and make City forget they are missing the suspended Carlos Tevez.

If he doesn't fancy it, however, then he and City could really suffer, and they could blow their chance to go top against the side at the bottom. Which, in its own way, will be worth watching.

Under pressure: Alan Pardew (Newcastle United v Liverpool)

Pardew has really leapt headfirst into the firing line by taking the job at Newcastle. There was a poll in one of the local papers asking who the next manager should be after Chris Hughton was sacked, and only two per cent voted for Pardew. Whoever those two per cent are will probably keep quiet about it, for a while at least.

His record as a manager suggests that he shouldn't have got that job, and that he certainly shouldn't have got a five-year contract. Perhaps Mike Ashley is banking on him being offered a bigger job so he can make some money with the compensation.

He is going to be under pressure from day one, no question. If you are a player or manager working in London, Birmingham or Manchester, you can have your own time and space away from the game, but with the Newcastle job you are living morning, noon and night in that goldfish bowl.

Fair play to Pardew for taking it on, though. Managers are always drawn in by a big challenge, and this is the biggest of his career.  He knows that if he can win a trophy for this club, he'll be a legend in the area. Never underestimate the 'What If?' factor when a manager mulls over a job offer.

Besides, if it all goes wrong, at least his bank manager will be happy.

Match of the weekend: Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea

Spurs' recent results against Chelsea at White Hart Lane have been exceptional - they have taken 10 points from a possible 12 in the last four league meetings in North London.

Those results have often been seen as perhaps a little fortunate in one way or another, or have at least raised eyebrows, but Chelsea will go to Spurs on Saturday under no illusions that they will be facing a top side.

The next three matches are huge for Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea - next up after Tottenham are Manchester United and Arsenal.

It's just the sort of run Ancelotti could do without right now. His team have been a shadow of the side that looked so fearsome in claiming the double in recent weeks. Even with most of his top players back, things did not improve in their Champions League defeat at Marseille in midweek.

Ancelotti fielded a strong side in that match despite it being a dead rubber, as he wanted to coax a big performance out of his players before this crucial part of their season. That just didn't happen.

I'm not sure I agree with John Terry musing that perhaps some of the senior players have lost the hunger for success, having won so much in the Roman Abramovich era. But if you can't get up for a derby match against an opponent that is really going places, when can you?

Upset of the weekend: Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion

The last time West Brom won at Villa Park in the league, Margaret Thatcher had just moved into Downing Street.

But these are very different times. The Baggies have hardly looked out of place since they came back up to the top flight, while Villa look in all sorts of trouble.

Gerard Houllier has had to deal with a lot of off-field issues in his short time at the club - most recently having to reprimand James Collins for going out clubbing ahead of Monday's 3-0 surrender at Liverpool - and on the pitch it hasn't been it hasn't been much better.

Houllier has brought several young players through, which could pay dividends down the road, but he needs results now.

Whereas at West Brom, Roberto di Matteo has got a squad which has by and large performed for him, and his team has the look of a unified camp confident of getting a one-off result against anyone.

Going into this fixture five points and seven places clear of Villa, this could and should be the match with which they end their awful record at Villa Park.

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