Premiership Preview – September 22
With Richard Willcox
Couple of big ones this weekend with Liverpool hosting United and Arsenal going to the the Etihad (City). I’ve also picked out a couple more tasty match-ups. Another possible hand-shake drama and perhaps some answers over whether there’s a rift at City. Emotional day at Anfield of course and let’s hope all fans show the appropriate respect.
Swansea v Everton
Swansea have never beaten Everton but the history will have little relevance on the outcome of the match on Saturday. They were the victims of Villa’s first win of the season last weekend but it was also the first game they’ve lost this season. Michael Laudrup has brought in some quality players with the likes of Michu and Hernandez, which will go some way to compensate for the loss of Joe Allen (who essentially funded their acquisition). In Michu they have the joint-highest goal scorer this season along with Van Persie (four goals).
Everton drew against Newcastle last Monday at Goodison Park when Demba Ba came on as a substitute for United and bagged two. Unfortunately for David Moyes, Jelavic was injured in a clash with a teammate and looks unlikely to be available for this game. In Mirrallas, Pienaar and Fellaini they still have plenty of attacking threat and Swansea are light on defenders due to Chico’s suspension and other injuries.
This is a hard game to call and should be one of the more intriguing match-ups this weekend, and one of the most competitive. For that reason I’m inclined to go for a draw.
Chelsea v Stoke
Eden Hazard has been the signing making all the headlines, until this week when Oscar was given his first start and scored two goals in three minutes – the second a work of art. Unfortunately for Di Matteo, there’s a reason Juventus haven’t been beaten in forty-two domestic games and in the end the points were shared.
In a disturbing turn of events, Police are investigating alleged racist abuse directed at Mikel via Twitter.
QPR held the Blues to a draw last weekend in a match that was somewhat overshadowed by the Ferdinand / Terry / Cole handshake debacle.
While Stoke were making the news due to their signing of Michael Owen, it was actually Peter Crouch who ended up being the subject of controversy and headlines thanks to his bundled goal against City, which earned the Potters a point at the Britannia. It was in fact their fourth consecutive draw which means of course that Tony Pulis’ side are unbeaten this season.
That match saw Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson pick up a retrospective three-match ban for an off-the-ball incident with Mario Balotelli which went unpunished by the referee,
While Chelsea did have a mid-week Champions League game, they should still have plenty in reserve to see off Stoke and I am backing them to win by two goals. Stoke look too light up front for me.
Southampton v Aston Villa
Southampton were literally hit for six last weekend at the Emirates and have yet to score a point – although of their four games they have played United, City and Arsenal. Up to last weekend Villa had looked so poor that I had backed Swansea to win at Villa Park – only to be proved wrong. Whether this was a turning point for Paul Lambert’s team is a question that might be asked this weekend when they make the trip to St Mary’s. Christian Benteke has joined Darren Bent up front and scored on his debut – hard to ask for more.
I have to think that Nigel Adkins can at least get a point at home against a team that still doesn’t convince me but will develop. With Villa off the blocks and travelling south with a bit more confidence, I can’t go as far as back a Saints win, so I’m afraid it’s another draw.
West Brom v Reading
Both these teams lost last weekend, the Baggies away to Fulham having been reduced to ten men and Reading at home to Spurs, in Villa-Boas’ first win as manager.
Steve Clarke has made a good start to the season having only lost that one game, when Odemwingie was sent off for a petulant kick at Sascha Riether (for which he has since apologised). They turned over Liverpool three-nil on the opening day of the season and then did the Merseyside double by beating Everton.
Reading were battered by Spurs last weekend and Chelsea the game before that. An opening day draw looked promising, but the Royals look like a team that are going down already.
I can’t even see the Royals getting a point at the Hawthorns so I’m going for the Baggies by a goal.
West Ham v Sunderland
Big Sam versus Martin O’Neil – this a big-ticket bout which I’m looking forward to as the Black Cats head to the Boleyn unbeaten.
Like Reading, Sunderland have also only played three matches this season, and although they have drawn all three, those games were against Arsenal, Swansea and Liverpool. Steven Fletcher looks as though he’s re-paying O’Neil’s faith in him while Sessegnon is clearly a quality midfielder as is Adam Johnson. If McClean can stay off Twitter for two seconds he may feature prominently as well this season.
The Hammers are of course missing Carroll but they still managed to put three past Fulham with goals from Nolan, Reid and Taylor. That said, I look at the performance against Norwich last weekend, albeit away, and I’m just not convinced by Big Sam’s side.
I’m always looking for the value in backing one or two away wins (and outside the big-four), so I’m going to stick my neck out and back O’Neil in this round, by a goal.
Wigan v Fulham
I like the look of this one as well. Berbatov made a superb debut last weekend, at home against the Baggies, having been reunited with Martin Jol. Fulham are delightfully inconsistent – beating Norwich 5-0 on the opening day of the Premiership, running Man United close 3-2 the following weekend and then getting walloped 3-0 by West Ham. I like watching Fulham because you just never know what you’re going to get.
Wigan haven’t had the best start, but the two games they have lost were against United and Chelsea. That loss to United last weekend was a thumping 4-0, but having watched the full game, the Latics went in at half time without conceding and looked pretty good value for it. Of course they collapsed in the second half but once Scholes had broken the deadlock it was somewhat inevitable.
Fulham look as though they may be losing Diarra for a number of weeks after he picked up a suspected cruciate knee ligament injury while playing for Mali. Jol commented that he could be out for ‘months’ which is a blow for the Cottagers.
Tricky one and I would opt for the draw but to call it I would have to be way too confident in the Cottagers to go for an away win, so the Latics by one.
Liverpool v Man United
So it’s another weekend and of course another ‘handshake’ row, except the expectation is that Suarez and Evra will shake hands. I really hope that this is the case and credit to both players if they do.
Of course there’s a bigger, and much more important back-story to this game given the revelations over the investigation into the Hillsborough tragedy.
Last weekend of course we heard of some despicable behaviour by United ‘fans’ chanting songs about Hillsborough – you would have thought with their own tragic history they’d be the last people to engage in this sickening act.
Back to the football…
Brendan Rodgers is still without a win and the highlight for Liverpool so far this season has been a draw at home to City. On Thursday they managed a bizarre 5-3 win over Young Boys in the Europa Cup (or whatever it is being called nowadays), with Rodgers quick to heap praise on his young side in what must have been some welcome, but temporary, relief from the pressure he’s under.
This is an opportunity for the Irishman to be an overnight hero, by beating United at Anfield. These fixtures are akin to cup-finals and the rivalry between the two legendary. A defeat for Rodgers would hit the Merseysiders hard even though it is somewhat expected amongst all but the die-hard Reds fans (not to be confused with the Red Devils).
I don’t think there’s much point in detailing United’s record to date, or form. I think it will be a hard-fought encounter but Sit Alex will nick it by a goal. Any more than that Rodgers could soon find himself getting the ‘full support of the board’, which as we know, is the first step towards getting the boot.
Only Mark Lawrenson is backing the draw here (surprise).
Newcastle v Norwich
What is going on with Demba Ba and Alan Pardew? So he was unhappy last season for moving out left to accommodate Cisse, but this season he’s moved to his favoured position. But then Pardew sits him on the bench at Goodison last weekend and he comes on to score both goals to rescue a point. His agent then goes public with the fact that his infamous ‘get-out clause’ for £7 million will be active in January – leading Pardew to admit that their leading goal-scorer might leave. How did they manage to keep him in the Summer?
This will be a sort of a ‘home-coming’ for the Canaries manager Chris Houghton, who will no doubt be greeted warmly by the Toon-Army faithful. After being spanked 5-0 by Fulham on the opening day, they’ve since been unbeaten but looking for their first win of the season.
They won’t get it at St James’.
Regardless of whether Ba features (and he didn’t mid-week in their Europa match), Newcastle simply have too much for the poor Canaries and I think they will win comfortably, by possibly two goals.
Man City v Arsenal
If Liverpool and United weren’t facing-off against each other this would the hands-down game of the weekend. Wenger heads to the Etihad after that 6-1 demolition of Southampton and a 2-1 away win in the Champions League at Montpellier.
Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud and Gervinho are on fire at the moment, plus, Wilshere and Frimpong look as though they may be back from injury (though maybe not in time for this game).
In the blue corner, City followed a draw against Stoke (thanks to that Peter Crouch ‘basketball’ goal) with a 3-2 loss against Real Madrid in a game where they threw away the lead twice. Comedy ensued as Joe Hart in his post-match interview criticised the team only for Mancini to go on air and berate his keeper for commenting on the team’s performance. Is there a rift between arguably the best keeper in the world and his manager?
City have conceded six goals in four Premiership games, plus three mid-week to Real – something’s not working, and it’s not Joe Hart that’s to blame.
If I was only looking at form over the past seven days I’d back Arsenal, but to bet against City at home would be irresponsible, and for that reason I’m going for the home win.
Tottenham v QPR
Andre Villas-Boas is a relieved man having picked up his first win for Spurs, with a 3-1 away win over Reading last week. The score-line hardly does justice to how good Tottenham looked, albeit against a poor Reading side. Against Lazio mid-week they scored three goals but not one of them was allowed (though two were clearly goals). Jermain Defoe has been given a new lease of life under AVB and Adebayor is close to being match fit.
Rangers got a point against Chelsea last week in a hard-fought nil-nil draw and Mark Hughes has made a lot of changes since that embarrassing 5-0 thumping on the opening day from Swansea.