Birmingham City v Wolves – Nikola Žigić v Roger Johnson
A feisty midlands affair will be mainly won and lost in and around the centre circle as is usually the case with derby set-tos. Should Wolves gain the upper hand in the attrition and scrapping for the second balls however expect them to move it forward quickly to their new-look dynamic front duo of Žigić and Marlon King. It is a classic little and large pairing that is bearing fruit of late; the giant Serb making a nuisance of himself with his imposing frame and the revitalised King picking off the scraps.
The responsibility for stymieing this straightforward but incredibly hard to stop strategy falls to Johnson who really could do without such a task as he returns to his previous club.
Johnson was nothing short of superb last term for the blues but has surprisingly struggled to settle in the Black Country. Bought to bolster McCarthy’s back line he has himself all-too-often been the weak link in a team that has shipped in nearly two goals a game. For Johnson’s sake it is hoped that the familiar environment of St Andrews will trigger off his old instincts and he will again become imperious.
He’ll need to be.
Chelsea v Portsmouth – David Luiz v Márkó Futács
In a repeat of the 2010 cup final Pompey take on the Pensioners and the Championship side should head to Stamford Bridge confident that they can hold their own as they did in that rather dreary encounter.
Chelsea are a team mired in inconsistency during a sustained transitional period and at the heart of their problems lies an uncharacteristically shaky rear guard staffed by an aging Terry and erratic Luiz.
The Brazilian has tempered his mindless forays into enemy territory of late and has looked all the better for it, but old habits die hard. Should he venture out of position Portsmouth have a striker who could punish him. Futács is a young Hungarian who chases lost causes and is a thorn to any side. Since arriving on the south coast last August he has also started to settle and find the net.
Don’t be surprised to see the tabloid back pages on Monday declaring ‘Chelsea Taken Fu Task’
Manchester City v Manchester United – Adam Johnson v Patrice Evra
Time was when Evra would be routinely torn to shreds by the scampering adventure of Shaun Wright-Philips during Manchester derbies. Now that onus falls upon Johnson who favours trickery over directness. With City depleted of strikers (both Balotelli and Dzeko are expected to miss out through injury) expect Aguero to be the lone front man so there is scant benefit from AJ hugging the touchline and playing the conventional winger role here. He must drift inside and hope that Evra dutifully follows allowing space for Richards or Zabaleta to steam forward.