Arsenal and Liverpool hog weekend limelight
Pre-season pundits had predicted a five-horse title race between United and Chelsea, a Liverpool side who finished second last season, Arsenal and big-spending Manchester City.
Instead, City's still gelling squad have drawn half of their league matches, Liverpool have struggled to win games and Arsenal, eight points off leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, are still troubled by inconsistency.
Under pressure Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is enduring a testing campaign. His side have already lost three league games more than last season and will play in the Europa League after failing to progress beyond the Champions League group stages.
Sunday's visit of Arsenal could be just the tonic the Spaniard needs.
Arsenal will be looking for a first league win at Anfield since 2003, which would keep them in touch with Chelsea and above north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Defeat for Arsene Wenger's side, however, would move seventh-placed Liverpool within a point of them having played a game more.
Both sides have endured striker problems in recent months and the return to fitness of Liverpool frontman Fernando Torres could make the difference as Arsenal remain without injured trio Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo da Silva.
Even with those fit, Wenger would have been forgiven for starting with stand-in striker Andrei Arshavin who scored four times during a 4-4 draw at Anfield last season.
The Russian could be joined by Theo Walcott who has returned from injury while Liverpool's 20 million pound signing Alberto Aquilani could feature after making his first start in Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Fiorentina.
On Saturday, Chelsea will look to appease manager Carlo Ancelotti and rectify a three-match winless run in all competitions against an Everton side struggling in 15th place.
"It is good that we are now playing two games at home. We owe the manager because he is really mad and we have to make sure we win these next two games," Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel told the club website.
Second-placed United, who trail Chelsea by two points having both played 15 games, host Martin O'Neill's fifth-placed Aston Villa with a lengthy injury list.
Returning centre back Nemanja Vidic will slot into an unfamiliar United back four that includes midfielders Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick as Alex Ferguson copes with a host of defensive absentees.
"We have a very difficult game on Saturday against Villa, they are always very hard to play against, but our form is good and you want that going into any game. Hopefully we can keep it going," Ferguson told the club website.
Manchester rivals City travel to Bolton Wanderers hoping last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Chelsea will galvanise their campaign, while fourth-placed Spurs host second-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers.