Premier League: Key battles on Saturday

Sports Mole looks at three of the on-field battles that could decide Saturday's fixtures.

After the excitement of final-day group drama in Europe, we return to more familiar surroundings on Saturday with another round of Premier League fixtures. There are some important matches at the top and bottom of the league, with excitement a certainty.

Here, Sports Mole takes a look at three of the key clashes that are likely to take place on the pitch on Saturday.

1. Sergio Aguero vs. Per Mertesacker - Manchester City vs. Arsenal

Despite Arsenal currently sitting pretty five points clear at the top of the Premier League standings, some within the game are still questioning their title credentials. Centre-back Per Mertesacker in the build-up to the game against Manchester City has urged the players to prove that they are capable. He has perhaps the toughest task on the day: keep Sergio Aguero quiet.

Man City's Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring his team's fourth goal and his second of the match against Tottenham on November 24, 2013© Getty Images

As well as Arsenal defying their critics on the pitch, the big German defender has managed to cool talk that he is an accident waiting to happen. His performances in the Premier League this season have shown that he does have the capability to play against many different kinds of forward.

However, Aguero is not just any striker. On his day the Argentine can make most defenders look silly, so Mertesacker will need to be at his very best. Vital for him will be to stop Aguero - and probably his strike partner Alvaro Negredo - from getting a clear sight of goal. While Aguero can score from anywhere, he has a 24% chance conversion rate, which means that Mertesacker must keep him down to just three attempts at goal. A tough ask.

It is a game between the league's top home side and the best visitors. It also means a lot in terms of the league table, so Aguero and Mertesacker might not have many more important games this season.

2. Ross Barkley vs. Scott Parker - Everton vs. Fulham

Head coach Rene Meulensteen has overseen a mini-revival in his few weeks at Fulham, but it is important in the face of a relegation scrap that the improvement in performances continues. Key to the 2-0 win over Aston Villa last weekend was the understanding between the central midfield three of Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell and Giorgios Karagounis.

Parker, in particular, shielded the back four while the other two took turns to roam. Against an Everton side with an attacking trio in behind the main striker, Parker will need a big performance. He will most likely be directly up against Ross Barkley and how little room the summer signing gives the youngster might go a long way to deciding Saturday's result.

Scott Parker vies with Mohamed Diame during the English Premier League football match between West Ham United and Fulham on November 30, 2013© Getty Images

Barkley was brilliant against Arsenal in his side's 1-1 draw and at times controlled the play just off Romelu Lukaku. The 20-year-old has many different aspects to his game. He can run, pass and shoot from range, which means that Parker must be alert to all these if he is to keep his man quiet.

Meulensteen's selection of partner for Parker could decide how well the Englishman does. Derek Boateng might come in alongside him for a bit more strength, but it could hamper Fulham going forward. Whoever plays in midfield will be up against it facing an attacking Everton side.

3. Jussi Jaaskelainin vs. Vito Mannone - West Ham United vs. Sunderland

Both West Ham United and Sunderland are struggling. There are no two ways about it. Many more goals are going in their respective nets than their opponents'. However, in a 38-game season, struggling teams play each other and when they do it makes it a very important game.

Frank Lampard of Chelsea scores their opening goal past Jussi Jaaskelainen of West Ham from the penalty spot during the Barclays Premier League match on November 23, 2013© Getty Images

Despite their goals conceded tallies, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Vito Mannone have played well this season. There has been little that Jaaskelainin, in particular, could have done about most of the balls he has picked out of his net. On Saturday, two teams who have to attack in order to pick up points could be decided by which goalkeeper is in the better form.

West Ham have actually kept seven clean sheets so far this season, with their problem being that when one goes in others tend to follow. Conversely, Sunderland have just two, although they have looked more solid since Mannone has been given a chance by Gus Poyet.

The match is likely to be an edgy affair, with crosses coming in and quite possibly defensive mix-ups. How well either goalkeeper controls his defence will be important and could prove vital at full time.

Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates after Guy Demel of West Ham United scored an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 7, 2013
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1Manchester CityMan City23202167175062
2Manchester UnitedMan Utd23155348163250
5Tottenham HotspurSpurs23135546212544
8Leicester CityLeicester238783432231
11West Ham UnitedWest Ham2367102941-1225
12Crystal Palace2367102133-1225
14Huddersfield TownHuddersfield2366111939-2024
15Newcastle UnitedNewcastle2365122131-1023
16Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton2358101729-1223
18Stoke CityStoke2355132350-2720
19West Bromwich AlbionWest Brom23310101830-1219
20Swansea CitySwansea2345141435-2117
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