They Think It’s All Over… returns today after a short hiatus that has been pretty eventful for me, culminating in moving from Nelson (on NZ’s South Island) to Whangaparaoa (on the North). The football world has of course trundled on as usual but we have at least seen Everton start to find some hints of form (and, in Seamus Coleman, another bright young thing) while slip ups from Chelsea has seen the gap at the top of the league close. As for this weekend’s fixtures, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but here are my best guesses…
Saturday Fixtures; all kick-offs 3pm unless stated.
Stoke City vs. Wigan Athletic (12.45pm)
Stoke fans will perhaps feel confident of continuing their strong home form against a Wigan side that has struggled for any real consistency this season, but it may not be quite so simple. The thing with Wigan is that while they’ve put in some very poor performances, they can be a really good side on their day and so if the ‘right’ Wigan turn up they could turn Stoke over. And by all accounts Tony Pulis and James Beattie have had a disagreement this week, which may rob Stoke of one of their biggest threats up front. However, if he can swallow his pride I’m sure Beattie will be determined to show his worth and I think Stoke will grind this one out.
Birmingham City vs. West Ham United
Birmingham are unbeaten in their last six games and have really hit their stride in recent weeks. West Ham on the other hand are really struggling at present and have been rocked by Carlton Cole’s injury and the club will have been further disappointed by Dean Ashton’s retirement yesterday, although it has been coming (and all the best to Dean from me). Despite putting five past Burnley a few weeks ago they looked incredibly toothless against an incredibly makeshift Man Utd defence last time out and have also conceded seven goals in their last two games. I rate Zola as a manager, but he’s got a lot of work to do and I think Birmingham will continue their good form today.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Manchester City
City got a fantastic win against Chelsea last weekend which has really made everyone sit up and start thinking that they could provide a challenge to the top four this season, as Chelsea had previously looked nigh on unbeatable. However, they’ve already shown that they raise their game against the ‘bigger teams’ with cracking matches against Arsenal and Man Utd this season, it’s the less glamorous matches they need to sort out. Bolton are in a bit of trouble though, beaten by Wolves last week they just don’t really look like winning games at present. Away win.
Burnley vs. Fulham
Burnley were pipped by Portsmouth last week – a game I had them down as dead certs to win due to Pompey’s perilous situation, but by all accounts (I haven’t seen the game) they were a bit unfortunate to lose. However Coyle’s side have really established a habit of winning games at home and so they’ll be confident going into this game despite last week’s slip up. Fulham though, are a very good side and finally getting going this season, last week’s 1-0 win over Sunderland epitomising the organisation and quality that Hodgson has brought to the Londoners. They’re less strong away from home though, and this one could end up as a draw I think.
Chelsea vs. Everton
Chelsea succumbed to a comeback from Man City last week to see their lead at the top of the table cut, and they’ll be determined to bounce back to winning ways straight away – which bodes ill for my beloved Toffees. We engineered a comeback of our own against Spurs last Sunday and showed the sort of fight and spirit that we must rely on in the face of such a restricting injury list. Against Chelsea though, you really need all your best players playing well, and that just isn’t possible at the moment. If we really fight it out, we could get a draw, but a home win seems more likely I’m afraid.
Hull City vs. Blackburn Rovers
Hull’s form has really picked up in recent weeks, but that has very much seemed to coincide with Jimmy Bullard’s return from injury. Everyone’s favourite football prankster has really inspired their performances lately and provided some much-needed spark, but he’s now out injured again until January which is a big blow. However, Blackburn shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to Phil Brown’s men, as they look pretty toothless in front of goal, with Franco Di Santo particularly disappointing so far this season.Allaydyce’s side will naturally offer a physical threat, but I think Hull will cope and pick up three important points.
Sunderland vs. Portsmouth
Sunderland are almost a mix between Wigan’s inconsistency and Man City’s inability to raise their games for the smaller games. They’re a side full of quality and in some big games against the likes of Liverpool and Man Utd have been really impressive but they struggle to maintain that level of performance against weaker opposition and so drop points where they shouldn’t – undoing their own good work. This is a game that they must win though, Pompey are a very poor side and as a club seems to be rocking to its foundations. I think with a home crowd behind them, the Black Cats will win comfortably.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Spurs saw their two goal lead clawed back by Everton last weekend and then Jermaine Defoe missed a last-minute penalty which would have secured three points, so it was a disappointing weekend for them. However, they didn’t play that badly, they just couldn’t cope with an inspired Everton in the second half and Defoe has enough confidence to shake off his miss. A home game against promoted Wolves should see them win comfortably but McCarthy’s side will be boosted in confidence after their win against Bolton last weekend, and if they can frustrate Spurs they might sneak something. Unlikely though.
Manchester United vs. Aston Villa (5.30pm)
United’s defensive problems are well documented but it seems that Vidic may be able to return and so with him and Evra in there it should be a touch more secure. However, Villa are a side that will test their defensive solidity to the extreme, with pace and power in Agbonlahor and Heskey both in scoring form lately, while the likes of Milner, Downing and Young will test any makeshift full backs. Villa are in confident form after last week’s convincing win against hull and will test the Champions here. Close one to call this, I feel like it should be a draw but I can’t help but think we’ll see a winner…
Sunday Fixture, kick-off 4pm.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Liverpool’s struggles this season are well documented but it looks as if Fernando Torres may be set to return just in time for this big clash and with Gerrard also fit their two-man team will be back in action. There’s also the possibility that we may get a rare glimpse of that fiercely protected species Alberto Aquilani after he played in their defeat to Fiorentina. Arsenal are the one’s suffering from injuries instead here, with Van Persie and Bendtner both out injured they lack a real focal point to their attack. However, with the likes of Fabregas and Arshavin creating in the midfield opportunities are bound to be provided for whoever leads the line and I think they’ll push Liverpool. These games will often be tight, and I think this will end in a draw.
So what do you make of my predictions for this weekend’s action? Let me know of you disagree with any of them and feel free to leave your own predictions too…