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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am

Bolton and Sunderland stand out as teams with the potential to last the course in the upper reaches of the English Premier League table and it will be interesting to see how they fare in their radically different tasks this weekend.

Just three points separate sixth-placed Bolton from Stoke in 16th, which suggest the league positions are far from set in stone after 12 matches and that there is likely to be a high degree of volatility up to Christmas at least.

Yet Bolton and Sunderland may be hard to displace from their early elevated positions. This weekend Bolton have by far the easiest match of the pair, with a visit to second-bottom Wolves, while Sunderland are away to leaders Chelsea. Sunderland lost 7-2 on their last visit to Stamford Bridge and their improvement will be confirmed if they give the champions a tougher match this time.

There is a reasonable chance that Steve Bruce's team will do so, despite the negative headlines surrounding their 5-1 derby defeat at Newcastle a fortnight ago. That was a blip because otherwise they have made quiet progress this season.

Sunderland were unbeaten in seven before the Newcastle game, a run that included a win over Manchester City and draws with Manchester United and Arsenal. Their only other defeat in the opening 12 games was 1-0 at West Brom - only undefeated United have lost fewer matches - and they have a solid record against the lower-ranking teams.

That makes them definitely a team to watch, especially now that Asamoah Gyan is fit and giving them an alternative to chief goalscorer Darren Bent.

Having also lost 3-1 at home to Chelsea last season, Sunderland will take heart from the fact that the champions have not been thrashing opponents in recent weeks. Chelsea's last big win in the league was 4-0 at home to Blackpool on September 19 and it is their rock-solid defence that has kept them going in recent weeks.

The likelihood is that Chelsea will break out of that low-scoring run soon and they still rate strong title favourites because, on the evidence so far, they are the best at maximising their points haul against the bulk of the division. The defeats at Manchester City and Liverpool may not matter too much in the long run, with Chelsea having taken 28 points from a possible 30 in their other matches.

Sunderland look more of a test for Chelsea this season, however, and rate a reasonable handicap pick.

Bolton have a much more obvious chance at Wolves and they could deliver at attractive odds. In just 10 months, Owen Coyle has turned Bolton from a dour side into an exciting and effective outfit. Like Sunderland, they have lost only two out of 12 this season - away to Arsenal and at home to Liverpool.

Bolton's new-found confidence was evident in last week's 4-2 home win over Tottenham and they were a little unlucky not to follow up on Wednesday night, when Everton's late equaliser held them to a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

Wolves, too, were unfortunate in midweek, when they lost 2-0 at home to Arsenal but were arguably the better side. They have performed well during a tough run of fixtures against the elite teams, but there is a suspicion they are raising their game for the big matches and falling below that level when passions aren't running high.

If that is the case, Bolton should take advantage tonight. They have scored in every away game and that gives them a first-rate chance of taking something at Wolves, who have won only five out of 22 when conceding at home since promotion. Bolton on the handicap is a good bet.

Arsenal could continue their revival with victory at Everton tomorrow. Everton are the sort of uncompromising side that can cause problems for Arsenal, but in fact the Gunners have a good record in their clashes. Since David Moyes took over at Everton in 2002, he has beaten Arsenal just three times in 19 meetings and has lost 13.

The Gunners have won four and drawn two against Everton in the past three seasons and look reasonably priced to add another victory to that record.

Two long-priced away teams - Blackpool and Fulham - stand out among the others on the Premier League programme. The Blackpool teamsheet for their visit to West Ham will attract plenty of interest, with Ian Holloway, their unconventional manager, likely to change his line-up again, having fielded an unfamiliar side in the 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa in midweek.

Holloway's attacking tactics are the key to Blackpool, however, as his 'second string' proved with a stirring performance at Villa Park, and the only teams to have beaten Blackpool this season have needed to score at least two goals to do so. West Ham have managed more than one goal in just two of their 12 league games and there is a big doubt over their ability to beat Blackpool.

Fulham look underrated for their visit to Newcastle, whose fifth place in the table may flatter them.

Shortlist: Bolton, Burnley, Coventry, Ipswich, Swansea, Wolfsburg, Mainz, Paris Saint-Germain

Top five bets

1 Burnley home win

Rank with the best in the Championship on home form

2 Coventry away win

Can get back on track against bottom club Crystal Palace

3 Wolfsburg home win

Have won four out of six against teams outside the top six

4 Mainz home win

Good chance to repair their faltering form

5 Paris Saint-Germain away win


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