3. Brendan Rodgers

(Chelsea vs LIVERPOOL)

Liverpool have actually won their last four meetings with Chelsea, but if they lose at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, you won’t be hearing much about that record. You can tell a manager is a media favourite when his team’s losses are used as examples of the “challenges” facing him rather than tangible evidence of his own shortcomings.

Brendan Rodgers’ much vaunted ‘style’ hasn’t much been evident as Everton, Anji, and Swansea have dominated possession and passing stats against the Anfield men in the last week. His naivety and lack of big match experience was demonstrated by the less than imposing line-up he fielded in a derby, which led to Everton dominating the midfield. The sorry state of the squad has merely been exacerbated by his dogmatic refusal to use the resources left to him by Kenny Dalglish, meagre though they are, Liverpool would be a better football team with Jose Enrique playing left back, and without Jordan Henderson being asked to play Right back.

Seemingly everyone has forgotten that “they’ve played quite well but haven’t taken their chances” was the exact same tune last year under Dalglish. Rodgers will survive a defeat here but pretty soon he’s going to run out of excuses, and run out of people willing to make excuses for him.

2. Nigel Adkins

(SOUTHAMPTON vs Swansea City)

Southampton are about to enter a crucial phase of their season, with home games against Swansea, Sunderland, Norwich, and Reading. If they still find themselves in the relegation zone after this easy stretch, then the Championship will be calling, and poor old Nigel Adkins will be tarnished with that most emasculating and patronising of tags – ‘out of his depth’.

As the yuletide vultures begin to circle, don’t be surprised if you hear Adkins referred to as the physio, the honest professional come good who is working as hard as he can, as legions of uninformed pundits kill the Saints boss with kindness, masking their shallow knowledge of Southampton’s inadequacies and falling over themselves to kill him with kindness.

Swansea aren’t too good to go down, or too good for the Saints to play with, and the reality is you don’t get many of these games a year. Three points is a must.

1. Mark Hughes

(Stoke City vs QUEENS PARK RANGERS)

Stoke are a nice contrast with QPR. They aren’t fashionable or flashy, but they are disciplined, and they do pick up results, which is more than you can say for Mark Hughes’ men, who are winless, and disjointed, and rapidly resembling a southern version of the side that got Hughes the sack in Manchester. Bloated, with too many star names and not enough team spirit, it isn’t lack of investment holding QPR back, but overinvestment, lack of stability that has seen too many talented footballers go underutilised.

Still, for a side that contains Julio Cesar, Fabio, Adel Taarabt, Bobby Zamora, Junior Hoilett, and Djibril Cisse, to not have a win with 10 games of the season gone, is nothing short of a calamity. Hughes appears to have absorbed all of his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson’s cantankerousness, but none of his tactical acumen.

A loss to Stoke could see Hughes be given the dreaded vote of confidence, with the spectre of the unemployed Harry Redknapp on the horizon within commuting distance from his south-coast home.