Aston Villa vs. West Bromwich Albion
A midlands derby promises to be a lively affair today, and West Brom would love to upset their high-flying neighbours. However, Villa have been in top form of late and will be extremely confident of getting three more points today. At home their fleet-footed counter attacking is less prominent though, and if West Brom are clever they should be able to frustrate Villa a bit. I don’t know if they have what it takes to get all three points, but there is a chance they could steal a point. I doubt it though.
Arsenal vs. Bolton Wanderers
Arsene Wenger really needs to add to his squad in this transfer window but for now he will have to rely on the players he has to do the business. I wouldn’t be surprised if a youngster like Aaron Ramsey didn’t get a chance in midfield today, and they will have to hope that their defenders have a good day. Bolton will cause problems, they have some good combative target men and will hustle and bustle Gallas, Silvestre and Toure, which could well pay off. Arsenal will create problems for Bolton at the other end too, but they need to be a bit more decisive and clinical at times I feel. Arsenal should conquer Wanderers, especially with the home advantage.
Everton vs. Hull City
Everton have recently overtaken Hull in the table after Hull’s miraculous start to the season faded and Everton finally started looking like themselves again. At Goodison Everton haven’t had too many good results but look to have turned things round of late and hopefully that will continue today. Anichebe should feature at least on the bench for the Toffees but don’t be too surprised if he isn’t rushed back in, Tim Cahill has done an exemplary job as a makeshift striker, with support from the five man midfield that suits their play so well. Hull are in a bit if a rut and will want to get back to winning ways this year, but I think Everton will be too strong for them today.
Fulham vs. Blackburn Rovers
Fulham have quietly gone about their business and are playing some good football, but more importantly, they have solidified defensively and are now very difficult to beat – in fact they haven’t lost for about two months now I think. Blackburn under Allardyce are a different prospect to under Ince though, and no doubt Big Sam will be hoping his players can start to turn things around right away. I expect this to be quite a cagey affair, Rovers will be careful not to give much away and Fulham will have to work hard to break them down. I think this will be a good, hard thought draw.
Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland Athletic
Middlesbrough were looking so good earlier in the season, but after being outplayed by Everton (but clinging on for a draw) they have gone downhill pretty fast, and are without a win in a good while now. Southgate will also be slightly worried about some of his players, with a few of them (and one in particular) attracting much attention in the transfer window, which will not help the sides’ focus. Sunderland are a team transformed under Sbragia, but he will know that it’s still not going to be easy to pull them out of a relegation fight. They will want to try and take advantage of Middlesbrough’s woes today and I have a feeling they might.
Newcastle United vs. West Ham United
West Ham look to be beginning to get a bit of consistency about them with a few wins over Christmas, thanks largely to the inspired form of Craig Bellamy. Zola will know that Bellamy will attract interest from other clubs though, as will Scott Parker amongst others and will need to take advantage of still having them all by capitalising on a downbeat Newcastle side today. The Magpies got hammered at Liverpool just when they were starting to look good, and then lost to Wigan as well. Kinnear needs to pick them up again and restore some morale but it will be a tough ask against West Ham today I think.
Portsmouth vs. Manchester City
Both of these clubs find themselves in hot water and this could be a crunch match for each today. Portsmouth have lost their main goalscorer and their squad looks to be very unsettled, while City’s players will be similarly uncertain of their futures, not to mention distraught at their embarrassing cup defeat. Perhaps though they will be galvanised to redeem themselves after that result and with Wayne Bridge coming in and perhaps Ireland and Wright-Phillips fit again, I think they may get an important win over Pompey today.
Stoke City vs. Liverpool
Liverpool are a team in form at the moment and look to be very hard to beat. They have Robbie Keane scoring goals at last and also Torres is back fit again so they could be scoring for fun. Stoke will be worried by that as they have a couple of suspensions (after that calamitous in-fighting last week) and injuries so will be severely weakened. Their only hope is to try and park a bus in front of their goal and frustrate Liverpool as other sides have managed to this season at times, but with the combined power of Gerrard, Torres and Keane and Rieira (both in form) I think Liverpool will win. But I hope not.
Wigan Athletic vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Sun)
Wigan are looking good again under Steve Bruce and their strike force is their real strength. I think there could be goals in this match today as neither side are especially good at the back and Spurs also have just brought Defoe back into the fold (I assume he’s OK to play). Spurs have been up and down of late, with a few disappointing results but I think they will match Wigan today. It may come down to either the most clinical team or the most defensively sound team taking it. So I’m going to take a wild stab and say…
Manchester United vs. Chelsea (Sun)
This game really couldn’t come at a worse time for Chelsea. After an embarrassing draw with Southend in the FA Cup the pressure is really on the squad bit on Scolari in particular. His selection for this will be interesting, especially the Drogba/Anelka conundrum, but I think he will be conservative and just play one of them, as they can’t afford to lose. United will be full of confidence and hoping to take advantage of Chelsea’s poor form to keep closing the gap on Liverpool, but as they usually are, this game could promise much and deliver little. Expect tempers to flare and tackles to fly in but a lack of real quality, and I think a draw is most likely, but you never know.