It seems wherever I look on the internet at the moment, everyone is busy discussing the old ‘Hand of Henry’ incident and of course They Think It’s All Over… is no exception, international weeks can be slow old things after all. However, today we interrupt a two-part replay special to bring you our usual batch of predictions for this weekend’s Premier League action. There are plenty of tasty looking ties for our viewing pleasure, and there’s bound to be more controversy too, it wouldn’t be football if there wasn’t after all!
Saturday Fixtures; all kick-offs 3pm unless stated.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City (12.45pm)
It’s probably fair to say that the international break came at the perfect time for Rafa Benitez who has come under overwhelming pressure as they continue to struggle, a 2-2 draw with Birmingham the last result to enrage the Anfield faithful. Man City are quietly struggling too though, they haven’t won a game since September and have drawn their last five matches – hardly the form of a top four side. A trip to Anfield is never easy though, especially with Liverpool likely to see the return of talisman Steven Gerrard, but City seem to raise their games against the big boys and I think this’ll be a close one. Maybe another draw.
Birmingham City vs. Fulham
Both these teams were having decent little runs and picking up points regularly before they were rudely interrupted by the international break, so whether they’ll pick up where they left off is anyone’s guess really. I do rate Birmingham’s chances of staying up though and as the weeks have gone on you can see them adapting to life in the big league, while they’ve undoubtedly got players of sufficient quality. Hodgson still hasn’t got Fulham back to the form of last season when they were excellent at home, but struggled away, and I think Birmingham’s home advantage could edge this for them.
Burnley vs. Aston Villa
Burnley understand the importance of a strong home record – Stoke proved last season that it can be enough to keep you up – and they’ve done very well at Turf Moor so far. However, in Villa they come up against specialists at playing away from home and I think this will really test them. The new look back line that O’Neill has assembled has gelled incredibly quickly and is looking very solid indeed, while Gabby Agbonlahor in particular is on fire at the moment and provides a potent threat on the break. Burnley will probably have lots of pressure, and they’ll need to take their chances when they come, but I think Villa will soak it up and perhaps smash and grab a win.
Chelsea vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
It’s a shame for Chelsea that their victory over United in their last Premier League outing came just before the international break, as the confidence that gave them would have been immense. That said though, their slip ups this season so far have arguably been a result of complacency so maybe Ancelotti will have been glad to get his troops back down to earth, because Wolves aren’t to be underestimated. McCarthy’s men will be glad to see that Drogba is a doubt, and they’ll hope that their own strikers can be more clinical today – they’ve been creating chances but not putting them away, and they need that to change today, big time. Can’t see anything but a home win though.
Hull City vs. West Ham United
Hull got a massive, much-needed win over Stoke in their last game and that alleviated a little of the pressure that was on Phil Brown. Still, you sense that he needs to put a bit of a run together rather than just getting the odd result here and there if he wants to keep his job, and this is a good opportunity to pick up back to back wins for the first time this season. The Hammers are struggling, the loss of Carlton Cole (who’s unlikely to return today) has been a big blow but they showed against Everton last time out that they’re actually playing OK, they just need a cutting edge.
Sunderland vs. Arsenal
Arsenal will be gutted by the loss of Robin Van Persie, who along with Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin had made them a major force so far this season. They’ll hope that someone can step in to fill that void – probably Eduardo – and will look to take advantage of a Sunderland side that have struggled since their beach-ball fuelled victory over Liverpool. Sunderland are a good side though, with a lot of quality; and at home I think they’ll be a tough proposition for Arsenal who’ll need to mix it with the likes of Cana and Bardsley. This could well end in stalemate, but I think the Gunners will just about sneak it.
Manchester United vs. Everton (5.30pm)
Regular readers will remember my seemingly endless optimism when it comes to Everton’s fortunes, but of late even my resolve is being tested. We’re really struggling with a whole host of injuries which is doubly frustrating because if we had a fully fit squad, we could realistically expect to make a splash at Old Trafford. As it is, Moyes will rely on the battling spirit of his few fit players, and hope that they’ve had chance to recuperate over the break. United will also be stretched in defence, though Vidic may return, which could make this quite an open contest and if all goes well, we may snatch a draw… fingers crossed!
Sunday Fixtures; kick-offs as stated.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Blackburn Rovers (1.30pm)
Big Sam returns to the Reebok Stadium where the fans at present, will be crying our for the sort of solidity they were accustomed to under his leadership, and that Blackburn are likely to showcase. They’ve shipped nine goals in their last two games against Chelsea and Villa as well as picking up a couple of red cards – all is not looking too rosy for Gary Megson. Blackburn themselves recovered from a thumping at United a couple of weeks ago with a convincing 3-1 win over Pompey last time out and Allardyce will be keen to double up with an away win at his old stomping ground – it won’t necessarily be pretty, but I think Rovers might win this one.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wigan Athletic (4pm)
Wigan have been very difficult to predict all season, at times they can be quite brilliant (eg. 3-1 win against Chelsea) while at others they’ve been simply awful (eg. 4-0 defeat to Portsmouth). Tottenham however, have been pretty consistently good for the most part and are sitting pretty in fourth after shaking off consecutive defeats with a win against Sunderland last time out. With Defoe, Keane and Crouch all fit and available again, the smart money has to be on a home win for Tottenham, but if Wigan do turn up in the right mood, this could go any way, and might see a few goals scored too.
Stoke City vs. Portsmouth (4pm)
Pompey remain rock bottom and although we keep saying that they’re playing better than their results suggest, that doesn’t actually mean anything. They do play some good stuff at times, but it rarely produces a win and you’ve got to question their ability to grind out results – they may be suffering from having so many new or loan players who see this simply as a stepping stone to another club. Unfortunately, any side lacking in resilience will not get much from the Britannia Stadium where they’ll be bombarded from all angles from the world go, and I just don’t think Portsmouth have the mental toughness to scrap it out.
So what is your take on the weekend’s fixtures? Do you disagree with my predictions? Let me know your own thoughts about the weekend’s likely results in a comment below…