By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
There is no let up for either Manchester City or United this weekend as they take on Liverpool and Newcastle respectively.
Both Manchester clubs suffered setbacks in the Champions’ League this week, with City beaten 2-1 by Napoli and United held to a 2-2 draw by Benfica.
The results leave both teams needing results in their last group games to secure qualification to the knockout rounds.
Elsewhere in the top flight, struggling Bolton host Everton and Wigan travel to Sunderland.
In League One, Oldham travel to Bournemouth, Bury welcome Preston and Rochdale face Brentford at Spotland.
In the Blue Square Premier, Stockport County host the side that eliminated from the FA Cup, Southport.
Liverpool vs Manchester City
League leaders City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon looking to maintain their five point advantage over their closest rivals.
With a third of the season near enough gone, City are still unbeaten in the league and in beating Newcastle last week, became the only club to have picked up at least one point in every fixture so far.
The revitalised Toon Army had been unbeaten themselves before succumbing to a 3-1 defeat last weekend.
Roberto Mancini must now focus his team on domestic competition after the midweek defeat in Naples left City’s European hopes on the brink of collapse.
Sunday’s game against Liverpool will be a tough one, but City have proven their ability to defeat strong teams already this season.
The visitors will be buoyed by beating Chelsea last weekend and are unbeaten since September in the league.
However, mercurial Steven Gerrard misses the game and there is no set date for the England international’s return.
In the latest Carlos Tevez news, the Argentine striker is rumoured to be a target for AC Milan in the January transfer window.
Manchester United vs Newcastle United
Old rivals clash at Old Trafford tomorrow with the visitors in their best form since they pushed United close for the title in the 1995-1996 season.
Sir Alex Ferguson has this week praised Newcastle boss Alan Pardew for his role in the club’s unexpected climb into the top four.
Speaking to the club’s website, he said: “I’ve always respected Alan, I’ve always rated him. He’s done a great job for Newcastle.”
Since the 6-1 derby day humiliation, Sir Alex’s defence have developed a mean streak in the league – shutting out the opposition in three consecutive 1-0 victories, with five victories in all competitions.
The midweek draw with Benfica sees United needing to get something from their final game against Basel to secure their place in the last 16.
United old boy Gabriel Obertan plays his first game against the Red Devils since his summer switch to Newcastle.
Ferguson is likely to bring back Nemanja Vidic who was suspended for the European game, with Wayne Rooney again an uncertainty with a hip problem.
Long term absentees include Tom Cleverley and Michael Owen.
Bolton Wanderers vs Everton
Owen Coyle’s team rapidly need to start picking up points consistently to haul themselves out of relegation danger.
Last weekend’s 2-1 defeat to West Brom was especially disappointing following the manner of their 5-0 romp over Stoke City a week earlier.
The Trotters have been rooted in the relegation places all season, but will take heart from the fact the League is very tight again this year – six more points on the board at this stage would see them in the top half.
Coyle will have to do without young right back Joe Riley, who is suffering with a hamstring injury.
The manager said: “Joe looks like he will miss out, which is a blow because his last two performances have been of a high standard.”
In better news, the on-loan Dedryck Boyatta could return after missing three matches with a knee problem.
Everton – who have lost their last two visits to the Reebok – will be boosted by their victory over Wolves following successive League defeats.
Sunderland vs Wigan Athletic
Roberto Martinez knows that Wigan must come away with something in the North East against one of the club’s former managers.
Athletic prop up the Premier League table with just 6 points from a possible 36 and last weekend’s 3-3 draw with fellow strugglers Blackburn – in which Rover’s scored a 97th minute equaliser – was two points thrown away, not one gained.
This was a win Wigan could scarcely afford to submit, yet the performance was much improved on recent weeks and Martinez believes his side are changing for the better.
“We showed our best threat in the final third this season against Blackburn. Seeing new goalscorers for the club and for the season was also something to be happy with,” said Martinez.
Stephen Caldwell, Albert Crusat and Jordi Gomez all opened their accounts against Rovers.
James McCarthy is still injured, but Franco Di Santo could return after making progress in training this week.
Sunderland – led by former manager Steve Bruce – are winless in three, picking up two points in that time with draws against Fulham and Aston Villa.
Bury vs Preston North End
Richie Barker’s midtable Bury side host Preston and will have no fear against the recently relegated side who are struggling to find their feet in League One this season.
An impressive 4-2 away victory at Walsall last weekend saw the club record back to back victories – the same cannot be said for their opponents.
Perhaps surprisingly this will be the first time the club have met in 16 years – and Bury could not have hoped for a better time to face North End.
They were dumped out of the FA Cup by Southend in midweek and last tasted league victory in September, slumping to 15th in league.
Defender Luke McCarthy has joined Grimsby Town on an emergency loan basis for a month.
Bournemouth vs Oldham Athletic
Oldham boss Paul Dickov has warned his players that a repeat performance against their South coast rivals is not acceptable.
Despite three straight victories in three competitions – including a 5-2 thumping of Chesterfield last Saturday – Dickov is wary of Saturday’s opposition.
He said: “Bournemouth play good football. They turned us over comprehensively last year and I don’t want that to happen again.
“We go into the game with a lot of confidence and quite a bit of momentum now.”
Defender James Tarkowski has been recalled to the 18 man squad, in place of Carl Winchester who picked up a knock in the midweek game against Fleetwood Town.
Rochdale vs Brentford
The Dale head into this home clash having climbed out of the relegation places with a surprise victory over Preston last Saturday.
Manager Steve Eyre believes variety is helping move his team forwards.
Eyre said: “We’re assembling a good team with a mix of youth and experience.”
Striker David Ball has rejoined on an emergency loan until January, after hitting four goals in his first spell before being recalled by Peterborough.
The club have also received clearance to sign the magnificently named Kuabica Sebastiao Bondo David on contract terms. The Angolan defender had been on trial previously.
The game will be the first played after FIFA officials spent the day at Spotland on Thursday trialling goal line technology.
Stockport County vs Southport
James Gannon returns to Edgeley Park for the first time in his new role as Director of Football as high-flying Southport visit.
Gannon – who oversaw the club’s most successful period in the last ten years – is under no illusions as to the enormity of the task facing him, acknowledging that County are in a worse state than the last time he was at the club.
Last weekend saw Gannon taste defeat in his first game back at in form Fleetwood but the goalscoring return of Sean McConville to the team will be a boost.
Skipper and top scorer Nick Chadwick has joined Plymouth Argyle in a loan move until January after being an unused sub against Fleetwood, with winger Aaron Cole coming in from Derby on a similar arrangement.