So, the first weekend of fixtures since the transfer window closed and fans across the country get a chance to see what their managers have splashed out on – or not, as the case may be – in January. After nearly a week training with their new teammates, the big money January movers will know that they have to perform this weekend – first impressions are just as important in football as they are out in the real world, and especially interesting will be the Suarez-Torres face off at Stamford Bridge…
Stoke City vs. Sunderland (Sat, 12.45pm)
Steve Bruce didn’t waste too much time reinvesting some of the money he received from the sale of Darren Bent, and in Sessegnon and Muntari he may well have added some real quality to his midfield – how quickly they can bed in and get going though, is another question. And, despite the potency of the Gyan/Welbeck partnership, I think Stoke at home will probably be able to strangle the life out of the Black Cats a little, and expect them to maintain their strong home record in the Premier League, though probably not in enthralling fashion.
Aston Villa vs. Fulham (Sat, 3pm)
Speaking of Darren Bent, he’s helped breathe a bit of new life into Villa’s season since he joined and things are looking a bit brighter around Villa Park than they were not so very long ago. The same could be said for Craven Cottage, as Mark Hughes looks to have begun to really get to grips with his side and has a few important players fit again too. They’re looking like the side that were difficult to beat last season, but they still don’t exactly set the world alight on their travels and with the feel good factor around Villa Park I would expect a home win here.
Everton vs. Blackpool (Sat, 3pm)
Everton were unlucky to lose out against Aresnal in midweek, even if their goal was probably offside (and, if you believe Cesc Fabregas, the Toffees decided to blow their January transfer budget on a bribe for the referee… honestly…). Things at Goodison aren’t exactly all lollipops and rainbows with the whole club drowning in the frustration of seeing the squad go backwards in January, but Wenger’s criticism of Moyes this week could well be the antagonist that Everton need to get some real backs to the wall spirit amongst the squad. Blackpool have struggled a little lately too, they’re still winning fans based on their attacking intent, but the results aren’t coming as often as they were near the beginning of the season and Everton should win this one.
Manchester City vs. West Brom (Sat, 3pm)
City were somewhat overshadowed in the final days of the transfer window, which was suprising given their recent penchant for headline grabbing big-money deals, but we musn’t forget that Edin Dzeko was brought in for big money earlier in the month and City fans will be hoping he may soon overshadow the likes of Torres, Suarez and Carroll with his on-pitch displays. Today represents a good opportunity to get himself on the scoresheet as West Brom shouldn’t pose too much threat to City’s quality. They certainly have some solid players on their books, but I’m not convinced that as the season goes on they’ll have what it takes to survive in the Premier League.
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal (Sat, 3pm)
Newcastle will be reeling from the loss of Andy Carroll. Though he’s been injured recently anyway, his presence in the team has been a big part of their good moments this season and they’ll really need to come together and try and find something in themselves to fill the sizeable gap he leaves – especially with injuries to other strikers. Arsenal are well in form at the moment though, and look to be United’s main title rivals for the first time in a while. Whether Wenger’s men have real title-quality will depend on if they can get results from tough, hostile away trips like this will be though, and I think they may drop a couple here today. Draw.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Bolton Wanderers (Sat, 3pm)
Spurs got back to winning ways against Blackburn in midweek, showing that they’re still right in with a shout of taking 4th place again this season. Bolton were up that way a while ago too, but have suffered badly through injuries and have struggled a bit of late, but will fancy that they might be able to cause Spurs a few problems. I get the feeling that Redknapp’s wealth of options in his squad means he doesn’t know his best XI and I think he needs to stick with a settled side if he’s to qualify for the Champions League again, but at home I expect them to beat Wanderers.
Wigan Athletic vs. Blackburn Rovers (Sat, 3pm)
Holding onto Charles N’Zogbia and Hugo Rodellega is probably almost as good as a few new signings would have been to Wigan fans, as the highs in their up-and-down sort of season often seem to centre around those two very talented players. Blackburn have been ticking along quite nicely though, and they’ll see this as a very winnable game on the road and will look to go and dominate Wigan. How Martinez’s team react to that will decide this one, if they’re up for a fight they will win, if not, this could be an away win.
Wolverhampton Wanderes vs. Manchester United (Sat, 5.30pm)
Mick McCarthy’s Wolves will not be relishing the visit of the league leaders to Molineux this evening. When you’ve lost four games in a row, you’d fancy a game against one of the struggling teams to try and find some confidence, but in a strange way it could free them to play without pressure and they may thrive. However, United traditionally only get better after Christmas and with Berbatov clearly enjoying the return to fitness of Wayne Rooney who looks fitter by the week, it will take a mammoth effort from Wolves to end their losing streak and I don’t really see it happening.
West Ham United vs. Birmingham City (Sun, 1.30pm)
West Ham are another side who have brought in a striker during January and they will be hoping that the experience of Robbie Keane will be able to fire them to Premier League survival this season. They’ve certainly seemed to be doing a bit better lately and the league is close enough that a few wins could see them climb clear of the relegation zone. Birmingham are struggling a bit though, the solidity that they seemed to have earlier in the season, partly thanks to the form of Ben Foster that seems to have dropped off a little, is missing and this away day will test them. I see this as a stalemate between two teams low on confidence though.
Chelsea vs. Liverpool (Sun, 4pm)
The big one, these two teams have had a fair few memorable clashes in recent seasons and this one promises to be right up there. It’s a shame Andy Carroll won’t be fit to line up against the man he replaced, but Luis Suarez is bound to feature and Torres will doubtless be eager to burn a few more bridges by finding his form against the club he’s just left. It’s not just the strikers under scurtiny though, Chelsea also spent big on David Luiz, a defender billed as being one of the best in the business for many years to come and so I’m looking forward to seeing how he slots into Premier League life too. As is often the case with these highly billed games though, there’s a chance this could bomb and be a scrappy, edgy affair, but let’s hope it’s all guns blazing warfare.
That’s the lot for this week… if you disagree and have predictions of your own, leave them in a comment below.