Premier League preview: 19-21 November
|November 19, 2011||Posted by Max Fowler under sport|
Norwich v Arsenal (12:45)
Norwich have been really impressive at Carrow Road so far this season, but their success in the league this year hasn’t been entirely based on home form. The classic recipe for survival for any team in the Premier League is to pick up points at home and win the games against the teams around them. Anything else is a bonus. Norwich haven’t had the toughest set of fixtures so far but have entertained both home and away and have caused a real problem for the likes of Manchester and Liverpool. They should be fine come the end of the season, provided they keep scoring goals. I’ve been particularly impressed by Pilkington who looks to have the quality and the work rate to cause other teams problems.
I was extremely worried for Arsenal and in particular Arsene Wenger a couple of months ago, but he’s turned things around brilliantly. Everyone talks about the role of Van Persie (undoubtedly the best goalscorer in the division) but the form of Gervinho has also been impressive. I’m not convinced that Gervinho will be prolific for the Gunners, but he’s formed a real partnership with Van Persie and has played no small role in the Dutchman’s red-hot start to the season. I still think they are soft-centred and lack the quality or strength in depth, especially in defence, to challenge for the title this year, but I certainly think they’ll finish in the top four.
Should be an entertaining lunchtime kick-off with plenty of goals. However, Arsenal should win.
Prediction: Norwich 2-4 Arsenal
Everton v Wolves (15:00)
Everton are certainly stronger team than their results and position suggest, having had a tough start to the season but coping well against the lesser teams in the division. Their only really poor result was on the first day of the season against QPR, and they were unlucky not to get anything out of either of their last two games, against Newcastle and Man United. They tend to start the season slowly and will have easily enough quality to finish mid-table if not higher. They are currently loitering just outside of the relegation zone but if they win their game in hand they could move into the top half of the table. It’s going to be one of the closest seasons this year but Moyes’ experience will see their results improve.
I do worry slightly for Wolves and they’ll certainly be in the relegation mix come the end of the season. They picked up a vital three points against fellow strugglers Wigan a fortnight ago, but I’m not convinced they are dangerous enough going forward or organised enough in defence to ensure their potential survival will be at all comfortable. They’ve certainly got good experience throughout the team and the coaching staff, and as long as the murmurs from pockets of Wolves fans that are calling for McCarthy’s head don’t spread, they’ll have a fighting chance. I feel it’s crucial that Kevin Doyle starts scoring for them, as he’s their only real proven goalscorer at this level.
Everton to win comfortably.
Prediction: Everton 3-0 Wolves
Man City vs Newcastle (15:00)
City weren’t at their best last time around against QPR but crucially for them they picked up all three points. Despite the infinite resources available to Mancini, the footballing world is starting to realise what a really good job he’s done there. Crucially, most of his big name signings have been successful. It’d take a lot to keep the likes of Silva, Balotelli, Aguero, and Dzeko quiet and as I said a fortnight ago, I don’t think anyone will stop them winning the league this year.
Today it was announced that City recorded a record £195m loss last year, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can meet the financial fair play rules in 2013/2014. Whilst the losses will decrease as Mancini spends less on new signings, the key for Man City is winning trophies at home and abroad in order to pay off their massive wage bill. Certainly their short-term strength is without question but in order to become a sustainable business like United or Arsenal they must attract revenue from abroad. The only way to do that is to win trophies, but who would bank against them winning the league this year?
Newcastle have massively overachieved so far this season. They’ve had plenty of good fortune, but they are also starting to show signs that they are a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. Undoubtedly they’ll drop down the league come the end of the season, but if they can claim one of the European places then Pardew should win manager of the season. They are extremely well organised and with the signing of Demba Ba have provided a real goalscoring threat too. If they pick up points this weekend then they’ll really turn heads.
Expect a really hard-fought win for City, even if they score plenty.
Prediction: Man City 3-0 Newcastle
Stoke v QPR (15:00)
The Britannia is one of the toughest places for any team to come and play, let alone one who is just settling into top-flight football. Tony Pulis has done a wonderful job and they’ve done outstandingly well in Europe this season. They’ve got to be careful they don’t do a Birmingham and experience poor league form as a result of a great cup run, but I think they’ll be fine. They’re generally a well-organised team (their 5-0 at the hands of Bolton two weeks ago being the exception) and pose a decent threat upfront now with the much-improved Jonathan Walters and the ever-present Peter Crouch.
QPR could well get sucked into the relegation scrap at the end of the season. Warnock’s a real character and I have no doubts about the strength of their dressing room, but they seem to be able to go from great to awful in the space of seven days. They put up a real fight against City, especially in the first half two weeks ago, and could have quite easily got more out of the game. Warnock has said that they could bring a couple of new players in January and I think that could be crucial to them staying up. Joey Barton’s been one of the signings of the summer and he, as well as Warnock, could (vitally) entice some more experienced personnel to Loftus Road.
Stoke to steal a tight, scrappy game.
Prediction: Stoke 1-0 QPR
Sunderland v Fulham (15:00)
Sunderland fans might have to lower their expectations this season. Generally they are considered a team who should be looking to finish at least mid-table, but I think Bruce needs to rebuild the squad if to they are to achieve those heights again. They are showing some positive signs going forward and should have enough quality in Bendtner, Sessegnon, Larsson and the increasingly bright Connor Wickham to trouble other teams. I had some real concerns about them defensively but their results aren’t reading too badly and they should have enough to stay up. Crucially though, Bruce needs to start picking up points in order to gain the support of the Sunderland faithful, who can be a real twelfth man when they get behind their team.
Fulham have never quite been the same since Hodgson left, and without serious investment I’m not sure if they ever will be. Jol’s done okay so far however, and they are one of a number of teams who are achieving around a point per game. Undoubtedly once the season progresses the respective points totals will spread out and we’ll have a clearer idea as to where Fulham might finish. They have too much quality all over the park to go down, but I’m not sure if they will pick up enough points to finish higher than thirteenth or twelfth in the league.
Tough one to call – Sunderland the more likely to win but could easily be a close game.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-2 Fulham
West Brom v Bolton
I think Roy Hodgson has done an excellent job at West Brom and has successfully quelled any doubts over his qualities as a manager. Clearly his previous role at Anfield just didn’t work out for whatever reason, but he’s moved on and turned the Baggies into a really decent Premier League outfit. Much like Fulham, I’m not quite sure they’ve got enough to make it into the top half of the table, but the fans are realistic. If Hodgson can get Odemwingie and Long into shape then they’ll score plenty of goals, which is half the battle in the Premier League. As is the case for many teams, I’m not sure they’re particularly strong defensively, but Hodgson’s an organiser and they’ll give most teams a tough game.
If Newcastle have been the overachievers this year, then Bolton have to be the surprise underachievers. They were a really strong mid-table side last year but at times this year their defending has been woeful. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Coyle guides them safely away from the perils of relegation, but I’m not sure if their squad has yet got over their poor start to the season. Last week’s result against Stoke was a real positive for the Trotters though, and must have been a real confidence booster. If Coyle can get Cahill and Davies up to top form then they should have enough to stay up, although they could be in for a tough year.
With the influential Long and Odemwingie both potentially sidelined, West Brom could struggle to score, but I can’t see them losing the game.
Prediction: West Brom 1-1 Bolton
Wigan v Blackburn (15:00)
I find myself in the same position every season with Wigan. They seem rooted to the bottom of the table, with no chance of staying up, and then at the last minute Martinez rallies the troops and up they stay. This is a real six pointer and you almost feel Wigan have to win to survive. I actually think Martinez has done amazingly well to keep them up for the past few seasons, but I can’t help feeling this could be their final year in the top flight. They’ve lost the influential N’Zogbia and now don’t have enough going forward to make up for their often woeful defending. This will be a real scrap and a test of the character and spirit within the Wigan dressing room.
I actually hold slightly more hope for Blackburn and Steve Kean despite the huge pressure on his shoulders and their poor start to the season. There’s absolutely no doubt that they’ll be fighting against relegation all season, and you feel with a bit of luck they could just survive. They were extremely unfortunate not to take anything from the game against Chelsea the other night, and it’s by no means the first time anyone’s said that about Blackburn this season. Starting this weekend they’ve got four or five easier fixtures and they need to start picking up points. I have a sneaking suspicion they might do, and hopefully Kean can regain the support of the Blackburn faithful.
A tense, scrappy affair – Blackburn to come away with all three points.
Prediction: Wigan 0-2 Blackburn
Swansea v Man Utd (17:30)
Swansea and Brendan Rodgers are a real favourite of the neutrals this season. They probably play the best football of anyone other than the top five or six teams in the division, and have really added entertainment value to the top flight. The Liberty stadium is proving a real test for any opposition and three of their next four games are at home. Rodgers will be hoping for at least six points from those four games, but anything they get this weekend is a bonus. The problem for a team like Swansea is that when they need to defend they just don’t quite have enough strength to stop teams scoring. If you play a game of who can score most against teams like United, only one side is ever going to win. However, two weeks ago at Anfield they really fought hard and thanks to a wonder save from the talented Michael Vorm they picked up a fantastic point. Who’s to say they can’t do the same this weekend?
The one thing United should have over City is experience at grinding out results and winning the top competitions. Worryingly for Ferguson’s side their rivals seemed to have developed that quality as well, and you have to wonder (for the first time in years) if it’ll be at all possible for United to win the title. Of course, there’s a long way to go, and the return of the influential Rooney this weekend should seal victory. You should never count United out, but I had the feeling at the start of the season that they slightly lacked the quality to win major honours this year. We’ll wait and see.
United should have enough to grind out a victory.
Prediction: Swansea 0-1 Man United
Chelsea v Liverpool (16:00)
Chelsea picked up a vital (if lucky) three points at Blackburn last week and they undoubtedly have the experience to pick up points when they aren’t at their best. However, I think this season is a period of transition for the Blues and they won’t be a real force in world football until they’ve added a few more top signings to their team. The high defensive line that Villas Boas is employing mirrors that of Barcelona’s, but Chelsea just don’t have the pace in defence or the quality in ball retention to play such a risky strategy. Last season at home to Liverpool was Torres’ first game for the Blues, and he had a torrid time. I don’t expect him to do any better this time around, and he hasn’t yet reached the consistency levels that we are so used to seeing from seasons gone by.
Liverpool are definitely heading in the right direction under Dalglish, but they’ve had a few setbacks in recent weeks. Suarez is quickly turning into a talismanic forward but if he is adjudged to have been racist to Patrice Evra he could be out for over a month. He could aso miss this game through injury, and you don’t feel Liverpool are the same side without him. They’ve dropped some silly points this season but with a few more signings and time to gel they could still become a real force in the league once more.
Another tough call. I have a sneaking suspicion that Liverpool might take at least a point here, especially if Suarez plays.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-2 Liverpool
Tottenham v Aston Villa (20:00)
Tottenham have been fantastic to watch this season, and whilst City, United and Chelsea have all scored more goals, I’d argue that Spurs play better football than all three of them. Having started the season slowly and with heavy losses to both the Manchester clubs, I was beginning to write off Spurs as top four contenders. They’ll certainly be in the mix though, and I reckon they’ll provide more of a threat to Arsenal’s Champions League place than Liverpool will. Spurs have a fantastic midfield and a strong defence – the one thing I’d say they lack is a real top-quality centre forward. Whilst Van Der Vaart has led the line and scored well this season, he’s going to drift around the edge of the penalty area rather than always looking to get in behind. When Spurs sold Bent he was surplus to requirements amongst their plethora of goalscorers, but now Redknapp would have him back in a second. If he can get Adebayor firing regularly though, they could challenge Chelsea’s or even United’s place in the league.
It feels like Aston Villa have under-performed this season, but quietly Alex McLeish is doing a pretty decent job. They’ve only lost twice so far and could really move up the league if they cut out defensive errors. Everyone knows how strong they are going forward, especially now Agbonlahor looks to have rediscovered his top form. The key for McLeish is keeping expectation levels down. Villa are a great club and have regularly been one of the top five or six teams in the Premier League. Unfortunately the huge spending powers of Manchester City and Chelsea (and even Spurs and Liverpool) mean that Villa just can’t realistically aim higher than seventh this year, and if they do finish in seventh then it will be a great achievement in an extremely competitive division.
Should be a real footballing feast. Tottenham to outscore Villa.
Tottenham 4-2 Aston Villa