Middlesbrough vs. Arsenal
After a good run Middlesbrough’s form has stuttered to a halt and a loss to Hull last week will have left them on a bit of a low. Arsenal picked up a good win at a resurgent Wigan last week but the pressure is still very much on them as they really cannot afford any more slip ups in the near future if they are to keep in touch with the title race. Still, I expect this to be a tight and nervy game with both sides cautious about over-committing. Middlesbrough, being the home side would usually be expected to make more of a go at it but against the top four sides that often isn’t the case. I think Arsenal will take the game to them a bit, which could go one of two ways: either letting Arsenal dominate and take a comfortable victory or giving Middesbrough the chance to utilise their counter-attacking skills, in which case we may see a draw.
Aston Villa vs. Bolton Wanderers
Villa picked up a very lucky three points at Everton last week, a result that their performance didn’t really deserve, but nonetheless they will take confidence from an away win over their biggest rivals for fifth place. Bolton though are also looking a different side in recent weeks, and even with last weeks defeat to Chelsea, will be quietly confident that they may take advantage of Villa’s sometimes dodgy home form. Whether Bolton will have the legs to cope with Villa’s extremely pacey attacking line up though will probably ultimately decide the tie, and I think that Villa’s solid defence should let them take all three points.
Liverpool vs. Hull City
Hull managed to get back to winning ways despite going a goal down last week and it is the side’s fighting spirit and never say die attitude that has served them so well this season. I think that will play a big part in today’s game too, and if Phil Brown is again prepared to have a go at the league leaders, they might get something out of the game. Liverpool are solid at the back up to a point, but if put under a lot of pressure they can come to pieces, so Brown needs to have a go. The trick is to try and do that without over exposing themselves at the other end, with an in form Dirk Kuyt likely to punish any lax defending. I would love to see Hull take something from Liverpool but at the end of the day, I don’t think it will happen.
Manchester City vs. Everton
Everton were hugely unlucky last week, after seemingly salvaging a point which was the least they deserved, a one-after-the-last-minute winner from Ashley Young broke their hearts. The lack of striking options for David Moyes is a real pain, especially as Man City’s weakness this season has been defensive frailty. Moyes will hope his midfielders can take advantage of that weakness, and at times last week they did look good, so it is possible, but with Anichebe not even fully fit, it will be difficult to find a proper front man. Man City have been struggling a bit of late but their home form is reasonable, and if they can sure up at the back, they always look liable to get goals. This could end up being a bit of a goal fest, despite Everton’s lack of firepower, I just hope that the away side ends up with more!
Stoke City vs. Fulham
Well everyone knows where Stoke’s main weapon is coming from, but in fairness last week they showed they can score proper goals too. Still, Fulham’s major work this week will have been on snuffing out the ‘Delapidator’ and I remember being impressed by their defence when they played Everton last month. I think if they can cope with the attacking threat of Stoke’s big men, they may get three points, as Stoke aren’t too convincing defensively and may expose themselves to Fulham’s nippy front man Andy Johnson.
Sunderland Athletic vs. West Bromwich Albion
Roy Keane’s departure seemed to have given the Black Cats a lift last week when they put up a real fight against United and really made the champions sweat it out. If they play that well again today then they may be in for a much needed three points against their relegation rivals here. West Brom are really struggling for goals and never look comfortable even with a one goal lead, so if Sunderland get a goal, they should be able to seize the advantage and press on. There’s no doubting the talent in their squad and maybe it is just a matter of time until they start producing some more encouraging results for their long suffering fans.
Wigan Athletic vs. Blackburn Rovers
Well the pressure is really starting to pile up on Paul Ince and he seems to be starting to crack a little bit with his accusations of a crusade against him being slightly absurd. He will need to really get his side organised for this one at Wigan, as they are a handful with Heskey and Kamara up front as well as the likely return of the highly regarded Zaki. It is a very physical threat that Wigan pose but Rovers are no slouches in that department and if they can frustrate them, I don;t have full faith in Wigan’s back line. Santa Cruz got back in amongst the goals last week just to spite me as I said he would, and Rovers fans will hope he can get another today and get them at least a point.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester United
Tough one to call this, but one thing is for sure, I think it will be a good game. Harry has got Spurs full of confidence and playing some good football, but they do give the opposition a bit to play with as well, and often even the tiniest bit is enough for United to punish you. A team containing such attacking riches will certainly test Spurs and if they don;t have Ledley King they may concede a few, especially if Gomes has one of his days. Mind you, I back them to test United a bit too, and I don’t think the Red Devils will have it all their own way.
Portsmouth vs. Newcastle United (Sun)
Newcastle were really starting to pick up their performances but letting a two goal lead slip last week will have infuriated Joe Kinnear (as his foul mouthed reaction showed). He may have good reason to fear that such a slip up will shatter the bit of confidence that they had been building up, and he will have to work hard to make sure that is not the case. Portsmouth haven’t been too consistent under Adams yet but as a squad I still rate it highly, especially their strike partnership. I think they will cause the Magpies some problems and with home advantage, should see Newcastle off.
Chelsea vs. West Ham United (Sun)
Nicolas Anelka has been bang in form so far this season and with Drogba now back fit and having made a heroic return in the Champions League in midweek, Chelsea look like getting goals. That’s bad news for Zola and the Hammers fans as their team has been struggling badly of late which can’t be helped by unsettling rumours about the clubs financial situation as well as the future of certain players. It will be a test of the character of the squad to see if they can band together in these hard times or if they become divided. If they all work together they may frustrate Chelsea, if they fall apart they’ll likely be destroyed, even though the Blues are in a rough patch of their own. I think West Ham will make a go of it but it will ultimately be fruitless.