Mikel rejects Chelsea crisis talk

LONDON - Brief news ahead of Premier League matches this weekend:

Chelsea's defensive midfielder John Obi Mikel, who will make his 100th Premier League start against Newcastle United on Sunday, has laughed off talk of a crisis at the champions and league leaders after three losses in four league games.

"I don't know about crisis, there's no crisis. We are all still focused, we know there is a long way to go," the Nigerian told the club website.

"Coming into the season everyone was saying how good we were when beating teams 6-0, but we knew this time would come. You cannot go through the season without having difficult times, but this is where we all come together and support each other and the manager, and we just hope we get back to winning ways."

Former England defender Sol Campbell is likely to make his first Premier League start for Newcastle. Defender Mike Williamson has been ruled out after being handed a three-match ban for violent conduct.

Fourth-placed Manchester City have Italian striker Mario Balotelli available for the trip to Stoke City on Saturday after a three-match ban: "Mario is available but I still have to decide," said manager Roberto Mancini. "I also have Jo and (Emmanuel) Adebayor as well so maybe he will be on the bench".

Midfielder Darren Fletcher will miss Manchester United's home game against Blackburn Rovers on Saturday due to an ankle injury while Paul Scholes is doubtful with a groin strain. Captain Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are recalled after being rested for the midweek Champions League game.

"We should have Darren available for the Arsenal and Chelsea games," said manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "We hope Paul is all right to play against Blackburn but we'll see."

Tottenham Hotspur's England centre-back Michael Dawson has returned to full training after almost three months out with knee and ankle injuries but Rafael van der Vaart's chances of playing against Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Sunday are "50-50 at best", according to manager Harry Redknapp.

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson says a Liverpool win on Sunday would be against the odds because of the Londoners' resurgence. "It is an expensively assembled team and we are not playing against mugs any more," he told reporters.

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is out for at least two weeks with a hamstring injury that is baffling manager Arsene Wenger: "We have analysed his body and it is not fatigued and he is not tired," he told Arsenal TV ahead of their away game at Aston Villa on Saturday.

Blackpool manager Ian Holloway, whose side are at Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, has blamed himself for a training injury that sidelined striker Marlon Harewood for six weeks: "I wanted it to be competitive at the end of training and it went on too long. I'm in the doghouse from the physio," he said.