After a week’s international break during which England qualified for the World Cup, normal service should be resumed this weekend when we return to Premier League action. It’s the first lot of fixtures since transfer deadline day too, so there will be some new faces about and that’s going to shake things up a bit, adding a touch more unpredictability to a season that has so far proven very difficult to predict. Here goes nothing then…
Saturday Fixtures, 3pm kick off unless stated.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wolves have had a reasonable start to the season, picking up a win and a draw while performing well in their two defeats, they certainly haven’t looked out of their depth and Mick McCarthy will fancy his chances of springing a surprise on Rovers. Allardyce’s men still have just the one point so far, courtesy of a 0-0 with West Ham last time out, and they’ll have set their sights on three points from the new boys, with home advantage and plenty of fresh legs after the break meaning that their physical approach will be pretty intense, and may shade it for them.
Liverpool vs. Burnley
Burnley’s pretty intimidating introduction into life in the Premier League continues, but you have to say that they’ve handled it pretty well so far, collecting scalps from Man Utd and Everton while only being outplayed by Chelsea. This week’s opponents haven’t started their season as they would have expected and have been looking altogether below par and unbalanced after summer departures. Benitez knows that the pressure is already well and truly on and will be pushing his side hard but after a break which saw many of their players in action, I’m picking a draw.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal
This promises to be a tasty clash indeed, with Toure and Adebayor coming up against their former club with both teams bang in form. That said, City haven’t properly been tested yet and have not looked super convincing against the sides they have faced and Arsenal will provide a much sterner test. Wenger’s boys are bang in form and if they can bounce back from that undeserved defeat against Manchester United last time around, I think they’ll have a pin for Man City’s bubble.
Portsmouth vs. Bolton Wanderers
Doesn’t this match just have all the makings of a classic? No, you’re right, it doesn’t. Pompey and Bolton have both started the season poorly and are struggling to create much, and while Pompey’s new owners allowed them to open the cheque book on transfer deadline day, I’m not sure that the players they brought in will be able to have an immediate impact, and even further down the line, they’ll struggle. Bolton are solid and unspectacular and Megson desperately needs a win but this has 0-0 written all over it.
Stoke City vs. Chelsea
The Britannia looks like retaining its fortress status this season and will be crucial to Stoke’s survival hopes, but against Chelsea here today I think they’ll be outplayed and outclassed. The blues have been the form team so far this season and despite all the off-pitch palaver that’s surrounded the club during the international break I’m sure they’ll continue where they left off, possibly just even more determined and resilient as a result. Stoke bought well during the Transfer Window with Tuncay and Beattie bound to bring goals, they’ll stay up, but no points this weekend.
Sunderland vs. Hull City
Michael Turner will make his Sunderland debut against former club Hull this weekend, and I reckon Phil Brown will immediately regret his decision to let him go. Turner will boost Sunderland’s defence and give them a more solid platform to attack from and with Bent and Jones in good form, they’ll be a threat. Hull will make chances too, but having lost Turner who was so important to their defence I think they’ll leak goals quite easily and this one will be a home win for the Black Cats.
Wigan Athletic vs. West Ham United
Wigan lost out in the dying moments against Everton last time out but in fairness had been outplayed by the resurgent Toffees, and so Martinez has a bit of work to do to get his side back on track after a promising start has quickly gone off track. Still, the international break is a perfect time to do that and they’ll return refreshed and ready for West Ham’s significant challenge. I really like the Hammers under Zola and I think they’ll do pretty well, but away from home at a Wigan side with plenty of quality will be a tough game, probably a draw but either side could shade it.
Tottenham vs. Manchester United (5.30pm)
Tottenham have had a dream start to the season and deservedly sit top of the league with Chelsea. Redknapp has them playing attractive attacking football and in Jermaine Defoe and Aaron Lennon has two players who look like scoring or creating a goal whenever they touch the ball. That’ll worry Ferguson as his side is still missing Rio Ferdinand and haven’t looked their usual solid selves. They’ll have chances of their own as Spurs may over expose themselves, so this could turn into a bit of a goalscoring contest, and is that’s the case, I’m backing Spurs.
Birmingham City vs. Aston Villa (12 noon)
When Birmingham got promoted to the Premier League and the fixtures were announced, this would have been the first fixture their fans looked for: everyone loves a good derby game. What’s more, both will be hoping to get the win which would provide a massive morale boost to players and fans as both sides have had reasonably up and down starts to the season. Form goes out the window here though and it may well come down to who wants it more, or which side can better handle the nerves. Like most derbies it won’t be a classic and could well end with honours even.
Fulham vs. Everton (4.15pm)
Everton finally broke their Craven Cottage duck last season, winning there for the first time in donkeys years, and after a win against Wigan last time out, will look to continue their revival after a shocking start. With Lescott firmly gone and exciting signings Jonny Heitinga and Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (yep, I can say it!) joining the squad morale should be high. Fulham’s start to the season hasn’t been too convincing either and Roy Hodgson will be concerned about his attacking potency after he lost ex-Everton man Andy Johnson to injury and so I think Everton will shade a close game here.