Arsenal vs. Portsmouth
Against Villa on Boxing Day, Arsenal were rather fortunate to come away with a draw. They were outplayed for the first half especially and for the most part lacked any sort of creative flair in the middle of the park. Against Pompey that may not be a problem because the South Coast club are surprisingly generous at the back, given that Tony Adams is in charge, but it’s the other end they will worry about. Pompey aren’t looking too good at this moment in time but with Defoe, Crouch and the likes of Krankjar breaking from midfield, will always pose an attacking threat. Arsenal’s back line is frail, and so there could be goals in this one.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester City
Mark Hughes must have finally been able to enjoy his Christmas period after their 5-1 thrashing of Hull on Boxing Day and it will make his return to his former club a touch more comfortable. They are above Rovers in the table but not by as much as he may have expected and with Allardyce now in his old office he will know that Blackburn will be hard to break down. It all depends on which Man City turn up, though they will surely be in good spirits after the other day, with Stephen Ireland continuing his blistering form, and Robinho looking back to his influential best. Rovers must frustrate City and if they can, will be more than capable of grabbing a goal. City to get three points for me though.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Wigan Athletic
This should be a really interesting game. Both teams have been in good form, though Bolton got a bit of a lesson from Liverpool on Boxing Day. Wigan have been in top form at home especially, but coming to Bolton is going to be very tough for them , especially as Megson’s men will want to make amends for their roll-over at Anfield. They will have to watch for the big partnership of Zaki and Heskey, with the nippier Kamara in good form too. But Bolton have some big players of their own, and I feel that these two sides may end up cancelling each other out. If one side is to nick it though, I’d say home advantage might slide it towards Bolton.
Everton vs. Sunderland Athletic
Everton continue to have striking troubles with no senior strikers fully fit, but there is a chance Victor Anichebe could make the bench against Sunderland. Osman may give them a boost if he makes it back though Dan Gosling showed himself to be a capable stand in against Sunderland, and Tim Cahill has been a fantastic make-shift striker, so Moyes won’t have to rush Anichebe back. Sunderland have been a team transferred under Sbragia who has been handed the job full time, though they were frustrated by Blackburn on Boxing Day. Everton must be solid defensively and persistent in attack, and they need to start winning home games to keep their season on track. In this busy period, they may suffer from a bit of fatigue, but I think they will have enough to edge past Sunderland.
Fulham vs. Chelsea
Fulham have been looking pretty good at home, but the visit of Chelsea will be a very stiff test for them. They picked up a creditable draw away at Tottenham last time out though, and Chelsea saw their 100% away record ended as they scraped a draw at Everton before Christmas. Still, Anelka and Drogba formed a good partnership at home against West Brom though, and Scolari will surely field them both again, to break down Fulham who are bound to try and frustrate them. I can’t look any further than Chelsea for this one, and if they score early they could stick a couple in, but then, this season, Fulham could easily pull of a shock too.
Newcastle United vs. Liverpool
Liverpool will be delighted that Robbie Keane has started scoring (coincidentally around the time Benitez has been away from the dugout after surgery…) and they will be confident of getting a win against Newcastle today. Kinnear has instilled some fight into the Geordies but they were outplayed by Wigan and the scoreline was kind to them. He will need them to improve a lot today if they are to get anything from this game, but I don’t know if they have enough going forward to trouble Liverpool, even with Owen returning to his former club.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Tottenham Hotspur
West Brom had a tough Boxing Day clash with Chelsea and were outclassed, Chelsea strolled past them. Mowbray will know that his team have a chance of upsetting Tottenham today though, as the Londoners form has dipped a little of late. They need to stop shipping goals though, because they aren’t prolific enough in attack to outscore teams, and they may be helped by Spurs’ lack of a really in form striker. I don’t think they’ll be many goals here, but I have a feeling that Spurs may get back to winning ways at West Brom’s expense. It’s not going to be much fun at the Hawthorns for the second half of the season I don’t think.
West Ham United vs. Stoke City
West Ham had a great Boxing Day when Craig Bellamy inspired them to put four past hapless Pompey. They will need to make the most of Bellamy before January though as it doesn’t look like he’ll be sticking round for much of 2009 and so Zola will be desperate to capitalise on Stoke’s poor away form. At home they seem able to put teams to the sword and pin them in with their direct play but on the road their bustling tactics aren’t as effective when home sides look to dominate the game. I think West Ham will be full of confidence and will probably take three more valuable points from Stoke today.
Manchester United vs. Middlesbrough (Mon)
United just about got their comeback win at Stoke on their return to Premier League action, but the Midlanders sure made them work for it. Borough were outplayed by an Everton side without strikers though, and with United’s firepower and a home crowd behind them, Gareth Southgate may deep down be fearing a beating. He will hope his defence can be stubborn and frustrate United because they looked toothless going forward, and will need Downing and Tuncay to click if they are to get anything from this game. Don’t count on it though.
Hull City vs. Aston Villa (Tue)
Hull got destroyed by a demoralised Man City on Boxing Day and Phil Brown will know he needs to pick them up lest their great start to the season be undone by a run of bad form. His antics in giving them a lecture in front of their fans in Manchester were hilarious, but also seemingly effective, as the second half was a 1-1 draw. They will have to put in a gritty performance against an in-form Villa who should have taken all three points from Arsenal but were a touch wasteful with their chances. Brown will know they need to be careful not to expose themselves to Villa’s counter attacking, and if they can frustrate Villa, they may grab a point.