Well it’s been a long time since I posted here due to numerous setbacks in what has been the most unconventional summer of my life, but I am now back in Wellington, and that means that They Think It’s All Over… is on the comeback trail. And of course, what better way to kick things off again than with a good old round of Premiership Predictions? I hope some people are still left to read this, please everyone, spread the word.
Saturday Fixtures, Kick-offs 3pm unless stated.
Everton vs. Manchester United (12.45pm)
Manchester United will be flying high after a classic Champions League victory away at Milan in midweek, but such exertions will have no doubt impacted on their players, and coming to Goodison Park is never easy – especially so early on a Saturday. What’s more, Everton have shown in recent matches against top four opposition (the merseyside derby – painfully – aside) that they have turned a corner and are eager to mix it with the big boys. The loss of Fellaini for the season is a big blow and Cahill will now be absent for three weeks too, but Everton have the spirit and tenacity to give United a real test all the same. All eyes will of course be on Wayne Rooney, and if he clicks then United may well emerge victorious, but the pressure of returning to his former home may be too much for the United talisman.
Arsenal vs. Sunderland
Sunderland find themselves in a bit of trouble at present, they’re without a win in 12 Premier League matches since late November last year and what was a very promising start to the season under Steve Bruce has slipped considerably to the point where they are now facing a relegation battle – things need to change sharpish for them. That last Premier League win did in fact come against Arsenal, but the prospect of a repeat result is I fear, a slim one. For a start, Arsenal have home advantage this time and they’ve been quite imperious at the Emirates all season, while Sunderland haven’t travelled well. You also have to consider that Arsenal will be out to avenge their Champions League disappointment, and for me all signs therefore point to a home win.
West Ham United vs. Hull City
Despite picking up some creditable draws Hull have still only managed one league win since November and just cannot seem to drag themselves far from the bottom three. West Ham have had similar struggles but after a fantastic win over Birmingham (that will have delighted their new owners, who of course used to own Birmingham) and the return of their main man Carlton Cole from injury, things may begin to look up for them. They struggled at the start of last season too, but their second half of the season propelled them to a 7th place finish – they have left it a little late for a similar turnaround this time, but I think they’ll win here and continue to climb to safety in relative comfort – unlike Hull City.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Chelsea
Chelsea were well and truly outplayed by a bang in form Everton side last week, and while John Terry’s poor performance on and off the pitch dominated the headlines, Carlo Ancelotti will have recognised that his team was simply not good enough to beat the Toffees last week. A week of training ground work uninterrupted by a Champions League fixture will have given the Italian plenty of opportunity to improve his side though and they travel to Wolves fresh and still top of the league. Wolves seem to have developed a habit of popping up with a win just when they need one – as with last week against Spurs – but I can’t see them repeating the trick today, Chelsea will be too strong.
Portsmouth vs. Stoke City (5.30pm)
Portsmouth… well everyone in football knows all about Portsmouth’s current troubles, and now they’ve apparently asked to be allowed to sell players outside the transfer window to help save the club. Clearly, survival of the club comes before top flight survival for the fans and management and that’s fortunate, because they are as good as down already. Such upheaval at a club simply isn’t conducive with success on the pitch and Stoke have to be clear favourites in the evening kick-off even before you consider that they are in good form themselves – unbeaten in nine matches. It may not be pretty, in fact prettiness is less likely than a Portsmouth win, but you can’t deny that Stoke are effective.
Sunday Fixtures, kick-offs 3pm unless stated.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Bolton Wanderers (Noon)
Three wins in their last five games has seen the pressure ease slightly on Blackburn and their boss Sam Allardyce, but they still struggle for goals a little and may find it hard to break down a Bolton side that will come to Ewood Park with the primary intention of being hard to beat. Owen Coyle would probably like to change Bolton’s style of football to a more pleasing brand than the solid and unspectacular that is Allardyce’s legacy at the club but for now he must make do with what he has and if they are to survive they must play to their strengths. This will be a very tight clash I feel, Bolton haven’t had many results to shout about lately but have looked OK lately and Blackburn will be confident and have home advantage. I can’t separate them.
Aston Villa vs. Burnley (2pm)
Aston Villa dropped away after Christmas last season when they had looked like challenging the big four and Martin O’Neill may be concerned that the same thing may be happening again. One win in their last seven league games has seen the slip to seventh in the table and though they have the Carling Cup final to look forward to next weekend O’Neill has shown in the past that finishing in the top four is his main priority and so he’ll want to get back to winning ways tomorrow. Burnley have struggled on the road all season and won’t find things any easier here. Brian laws has a difficult task ahead of him to keep them up, and three points here look very unlikely.
Fulham vs. Birmingham City
Birmingham’s well publiscised unbeaten streak was finally ended by Chelsea a few weeks back and they’ve now slipped up against lowly West Ham too. They’re still a fine side and will have no troubles this season but I wonder if the exertions of the Premier League are starting to tell a little. Fulham on the other hand are in the ascendancy, after a run of five consecutive defeats they’re unbeaten in three and look to be getting back to their best – with talk of ‘Zamora for England’ resurfacing. They’re usually at their best at Craven Cottage too and I expect this to be a good game between two strong sides who like to play football, honours will probably be even but either side could shade it.
Manchester City vs. Liverpool
Liverpool’s recent performances have seen them start to pick up points and get back towards the top four – though that is not necessarily because they’ve been playing well. Instead Benitez seems to have adopted an anti-football approach and has focused on making his team hard to beat and stopping their opponents from playing – it certainly worked in what was the most turgid merseyside derby I’ve seen in years. City like to play free-flowing football at home and they can be very dangerous, especially with Adebayor back leading the line, but if Liverpool can strangle them then they may well nick another ugly three points.
Wigan Athletic vs. Tottenham Hotspur (4.15pm)
Tottenham are another side who are having a bit of a new year slump after a great first half of the season. One win in six matches shows you just how much they miss the pentration of Aaron Lennon down the right hand side and a trip to Wigan is certainly not going to be easy – even the home side don’t like playing there some of the time. Wigan are a nightmare when it comes to predicting results because on their day they can be great, and on others they’re terrible – knowing whose day it is is very difficult indeed. Six games without a win though suggest that they could be due a performance so this one could go either way – on paper Spurs are the better side but on the day anything can happen.
That’s a wrap for this week’s fixtures, and it looks set to be a great weekend of football with plenty of scope for upsets. If you disagree with any of my Predictions or want to make some of your own, please do leave a comment below…