Blackburn Rovers vs. Newcastle United
Newcastle’s revival under Kinnear has stumbled a bit in recent weeks and a loss in the FA Cup to Hull in mid-week will have hurt – as shown by Kinnear’s misbehaviour on the touchline, and the pressure may be getting to them. Blackburn on the other hand are looking a much better side under Allardyce, unbeaten as yet, they will still want to kick on and start picking up more wins as that is what will propel them up this tight table. In this one I think Blackburn are the form side and with home advantage should have enough to overcome a troubled Newcastle.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Manchester United
Man United look to me to be all set to retain their title. While not hugely convincing against Wigan, they were professional enough to see the game out, and that sort of resilience is what seems to be lacking not just from Chelsea, but also from Liverpool and Arsenal too. They will need to call on it again today though, as Bolton will provide a stern test. They will be their usual physical selves but have also shown in recent times that they can play a bit too, and Elmander has given them a real spark of class up front. United will miss Rooney, but I fully expect Tevez to come in bursting to prove himself and can see him getting on the score sheet as United win.
Chelsea vs. Stoke City
Chelsea’s morale must be pretty low at the moment. They got well and truly thrashed at Old Trafford last week and despite a convincing 1-4 Cup Replay win over Southend, every minute they spent on that pitch they would have been thinking that they shouldn’t be there at all. They need to get back to winning ways in the League against Stoke, and in the past they have bounced back well from disappointments. But Stoke will feel they have a chance, catching Chelsea at their lowest, and will make it very hard for them. They will trouble Chelsea’s unusually frail defence with their presence, but I think Chelsea will come through, albeit nervously.
Manchester City vs. Wigan Athletic
These two clubs are being featured very heavily in the tabloids at the moment, for opposite reasons. Obviously the talk surrounding City is their incredible bid for Kaka, while Wigan are having to fend clubs off their players, though it looks like Palacios and Valencia could be on their way out. Either way, the media attention is probably not going to do either team a whole lot of good. Wigan have been playing well and looking like a really strong unit, but the sale of two of their stars will no doubt upset that balance. City’s players will perhaps feel a little eclipsed in light of the Kaka debacle and could either go missing, or come out firing to prove that they are worth a damn too. I think this’ll be a cracking game, and there could be goals.
Sunderland Athletic vs. Aston Villa
Villa will go to the Stadium of Light full of confidence as they sit very nicely positioned in the league and look set to make a real charge at Europe. I’m surprised that there has been so little talk of bids for their star players in the transfer window, but O’Neill will be delighted: they need to maintain their squad and keep a settled and happy mentality if their good run is to continue. Sunderland under Sbragia have looked very resilient but in the last few games have stuttered in front of goal after an explosive start under the new boss. They should be careful not to go all-out for goals today though as doing so would play right into Aston Villa’s counter-attacking hands. This could be a cagey game but Villa probably have the quality and luck to grab a win.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Middlesbrough
It seems Stuart Downing may have settled down at Borough, it’s certainly all quiet on the gossip front as far as he’s concerned, and that will only be good news for Southgate. They have had a massively inconsistent season so far and what highlights there have been have tended to feature the England winger quite prominently. West Brom have picked up a very handy signing bringing in Jay Simpson on loan from Arsenal and I think with his hunger and talent he will be a real hit there, and should solve some of their scoring problems. If they can keep tight at the back they could well upset this Borough side, which would be a huge boost for them. Draw for me I think though.
Hull City vs. Arsenal
Hull finally picked up a win in the Cup Replay in midweek, and it has been a long time coming since their great start to the season. Phil Brown will have his players fired up for this game too, he knows that they can beat Arsenal, they proved it in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. Arsenal are still in a bit of trouble too. With Adebayor and Bendtner not really firing and Van Persie very temperamental, it is hard to see where a match winner could come from consistently, especially without Fabregas to put things on a plate for them. Having said that, the likes of Nasri and Diaby they have some good young players who may step up and fill the void. Close one this, but Arsenal should edge it.
West Ham United vs. Fulham (Sun)
This London derby sees two sides coming into the game who will fancy their chances of taking the three points. Fulham have been playing well for a while now and I think with one or two clever signings in the transfer window could establish themselves as outside challengers for Europe. West Ham have come good in recent weeks too, but much of that comes down to Craig Bellamy who looks set to leave them sooner rather than later – he certainly doesn;t want to stay. They do have some other in form players though, and Zola will hope that his squad will not be too unsettled by the transfer rumours. If they can keep focused, I fancy them to take a win from this one, but they could easily slip up too.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Portsmouth (Sun)
Oh it is amusing how these things happen into it. Defoe, having just left Portsmouth amid clouds of death threats and ill-feeling will now face his old club alongside Popmey’s former gaffer Harry Redknapp. Portsmouth are in a bit of trouble though. Some very stuttering form of late will not be helped by Defoe’s departure and the possibility of the squad that Harry built falling apart. Spurs on the other hand are still enjoying life under Harry and with Defoe added to the ranks have a real notcher on board. They will feel they’re on the up and I think that confidence could inspire them. Having said that, football can often write incredible scripts, and don’t be surprised if Defoe and Redknapp go down to their old club. It’d sure make me laugh if they did.
Liverpool vs. Everton (Mon)
The first of this weeks Merseyside derbies looks set to be a very, very tense game. Everton are in great form, having not conceded in their last six or so games and getting goals from everywhere with no strikers on the pitch. They will miss Fellaini though, the Belgian suspended after being harshly treated from the get go by referees. Anichebe will probably come in for him with Cahill dropping back to play off him rather than leading the line as he has been doing so well. Liverpool on the other hand are not in such great form. They’re still top of the league but dropped a couple of points at Stoke last week. Form will probably go out of the window, and in the end the team that wants it most may win. In recent times though these derbies have had an unfortunate habit of being decided by the referee. It would be nice to see a competent performance from the man in the middle so we can really appreciate what is bound to be an epic battle between two top sides. As far as my actual prediction goes, my heart beats far too loudly when this fixture is concerned to even think about trying to listen to my head. I think that Everton have the ability and moreover the desire to step up and win this one though. Bloody hope we do anyway. COYB.