Blackburn Rovers vs. Stoke City
Sam Allardyce has replaced the much maligned Paul Ince as Rovers boss this week, and he has the fortune of having a reasonable chance of getting off to a winning start. Stoke have not been very convincing on the road and it is their home form that has been their salvation so far this season, so if Rovers can get about them they could pick up three much needed points. Ince will feel rightly hard done by as he will feel he could have guided them to a win today and changed things around from there, but in football, chances are fleeting. Blackburn must take theirs today if Sam is to get the start he wants.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Portsmouth
After a good run, Gary Megson will be a bit disappointed with their last two results. A 4-2 loss to Villa last week is no shame, but he will be concerned that they were beaten too easily, as they were really outclassed by Villa. Portsmouth are in a spot of bother though. Since Harry Redknapp left they’ve been up and down, but with Lassana Diarra seemingly on his way out and strong rumours about many more following him, it may be difficult for the players to maintain their focus on what counts; namely, the game itself.
Fulham vs. Middlesbrough
‘Borough this season are a predictor’s nightmare, as they really are hugely inconsistent. At times they look like they could comfortable challenge for Europe, and at others they can barely string a pass together, and frustratingly for me, but more so for Gareth Southgate, there seems to be no pattern or reasoning to it. Fulham are solid at home and will certainly be hard to break down, but whether they get a result depends more on how Middlesbrough play than anything. You know from Roy Hodgson’s side you are going to get hard work and a physical attack, but whether ‘Borough deal with it or not is a mystery to me I’m afraid, so I’ll take a wild guess…
Hull City vs. Sunderland Athletic
Sunderland will be delighted with last weeks 4-0 drubbing of fellow strugglers West Brom and confidence should be high in the camp now – they’re clearly enjoying life after Roy Keane. But Hull are a very different prospect to fellow promoted club W.B.A. and will also be delighted with last weeks result: a draw with Liverpool at Anfield. I think this away day could bring Sunderland back to ground with a bit of a bump, as Hull, if they play to their best, could expose the weaknesses in thee Black Cat’s side.
West Ham United vs. Aston Villa
With a couple of good draws in the last few weeks, West Ham look to have sorted themselves out to a degree. All season they have looked a threat up front, but through calamitous defending and, at times, plain bad luck, have never really managed to hold out and win a game. Aston Villa will provide a big test for them today, with in form speedsters Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor sure to be a threat on the counter. Still, if they can defend as solidly as they did last week, they may snatch another point.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City (Sun)
City find themselves just one place above the relegation zone after a run of poor form in recent weeks and thus naturally the rumours about what will happen come January have begun. It is important that Hughes and his players don’t think about that though, as they need to band together and start playing the football we know they can again. West Brom were torn apart by Sunderland last week, putting in an abject performance in the process. Tony Mowbray’s side will need to buck up their ideas defensively if they are to get anything today, but I think City may be the ones to take the morale boosting three points from this clash.
Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Sun)
Michael Owen is back amongst the goals for Newcastle, at least for now, and that is making them a real threat of late. Kinnear has set up a hard working side and now that they have a focal point in attack they are picking up points more easily. But in Tottenham they face tough opponents, whose turnaround under Redknapp has been even more dramatic than their own. The battle of the new bosses will, for me, depend on how Newcastle cope with Spurs’ threat – if they can frustrate them for a while, they could grab all three points.
Arsenal vs. Liverpool (Sun)
Well, Aresnal have come up with some top results against their ‘big four’ rivals so far this season and if they are to remain in touch over the Christmas period, need to take something of Liverpool today. With Torres injured and Robbie Keane out of favour, the striking department at Liverpool isn’t looking too frightening but Kuyt is playing well and Gerrard is always a threat, so Aresnal’s shaky defence will need to perform. At the other end, my faith in Liverpool’s back line remains thin, and I think Fabregas could unlock them, with van Persie’s clever play and persistence bound to be a threat.
Everton vs. Chelsea (Mon)
This is a big game for both clubs. Everton need to start picking up points at home, because while their away form is good, they won’t be able to sustain a European challenge on away wins alone. Chelsea are under some pressure themselves, a disappointing week last week as they failed to capitalise on the other slip ups with a draw at lowly West Ham means Big Phil is by no means unanimously popular at the Bridge. Chelsea’s away form has been perfect so far though, so if Everton are to get anything, they need to be canny. Play it like an away game (which suits them it seems), frustrate Chelsea, and try and snatch one on the break. The fitness of Anichebe and Saha is a worry, but Tim Cahill showed last week he can provide good cover, and I think we will give them a very good run for their money.