Premier League preview: 26-27 November
|November 25, 2011||Posted by Max Fowler under sport|
Stoke vs Blackburn (12:45)
It’s going to be a really tough Christmas period for Tony Pulis. Stoke are excelling in Europe but their Premier League form is suffering as a result, and they have to maintain their famously strong home form if they are to continue to sit comfortably in mid-table. They conceded soft goals at the Britannia against QPR last weekend to make it three losses on the bounce in all competitions for Pulis’ side. QPR did ride their luck last weekend, but Potters made it far too easy for them. Pulis will be expecting a response from his players but I have a feeling that their poor run of form could continue into the new year. Undoubtedly the Stoke faithful will relish an extended period of European football, but Pulis will know that he can’t sacrifice his top-flight status as a result.
Blackburn finally got a few slices of luck last weekend against Wigan and earned a vital late point. Some of their defending remains highly questionable but the once-prolific Yakubu scored a couple and his experience could prove vital in the long run for Rovers. I really don’t doubt that Steve Kean has the support of his players but clearly the fans won’t support him until Blackburn are safely clear of relegation. Fortunately they’re picking up enough points to stay just about in touch with safety, but they really need to tighten up at the back or else it could go to the wire. They’ve had no problem scoring against the teams around them but they’ve conceded equally as heavily, and against better teams they will be punished.
Blackburn are a nightmare to predict, but Stoke’s demise could see them picking up all three points.
Prediction: Stoke 1-2 Blackburn
Bolton vs Everton (15:00)
I like Owen Coyle’s honesty regarding Bolton’s failings, but he does seem to be slightly at a loss as to where things are going wrong, and I think his side’s downfall has been as big a surprise to him as it has been to everyone else. Bolton play well in spurts, but they lack the energy in attack to consistently cause problems for their opposition. They don’t defend well enough at the moment either, considering their personnel. The once-excellent central pairing of Jaaskelainen and Cahill doesn’t look a patch on what it was last season. I still think they have easily enough experience to stay up this year, but there’s no doubt they will come closer to relegation than they have done for years. It feels like Coyle needs to get a reaction out of his players, such as against Stoke, but somehow I can’t see it happening again this weekend.
It’s business as usual for Everton and David Moyes. There really isn’t too much to predict about them – they’re that reliable. Of course, they’re not as strong a team as they used to be but that’s largely down to the contrasting levels of squad investment that clubs around them have had by comparison. The spine of Moyes’ team is both experienced and hard working, and they have easily enough talent throughout the side to finish mid-table. The big question for Toffees fans is when the club’s takeover will happen. It seems like there’s plenty of initial interest and the fans’ protest against Bill Kenwright seems to have helped publicise their financial problems. The key will be to find an investor that cares for the club as much as Kenwright does, because one of Everton’s great strengths is their community, from Kenwright to Moyes to the fans, and in an increasingly money-driven football world it’d be a shame to see that disappear.
Bolton to struggle again. Could be a close encounter but I see Everton coming out on top.
Prediction: Bolton 1-2 Everton
Chelsea vs Wolves (15:00)
Many are labelling Chelsea’s poor run of form a ‘blip’, but I think the problems at the Bridge have been developing for a while and without new investment from Abramovich and a proper summer clear-out they won’t be the force they used to be. I feel sorry for Villas-Boas because he’s trying his best to incorporate a new style of football, but it’s just not working. They look better going forward than they did at the end of last season, but still not anything like as effective as they did under Hiddink or Mourinho. Of course the big talking point has been their defensive frailties, but these have been as much down to individual errors as anything else. Unfortunately Boas’ tactics aren’t suiting this squad and in order to maintain their top-four status he may have to drop the high defensive line until he’s added more troops in January or in the summer. They’ve still got enough quality to beat most sides but aren’t looking nearly as consistent as they once did.
Wolves played really well against Everton last weekend and McCarthy definitely has his team on side, which is often half the battle in football. Mick suggested that the late penalty against them was soft, but it was an unnecessary challenge that cost them dearly. I think that Wolves could stay up this year, but if they do it’s certainly not going to be due to points gained at feared grounds such as the Bridge. They’re one of the hardest working teams in the division and they have great energy, but they could do with a little more quality in the final third if they want to consistently damage teams. Fortunately it’s far easier to buy a quality striker than a quality dressing room, and my previous doubts about them going down are slowly slipping away.
Expect a hard-fought return to winning ways for Chelsea.
Prediction: Chelsea 3-1 Wolves
Man United vs Newcastle (15:00)
United come into this one following a disappointing draw in Europe, and they didn’t do much to address the concerns that I have about them defensively. Of course their problems are all relative – compared to Chelsea’s they look small, and to Wigan’s they look minuscule - but questions have to be raised about whether they’re strong enough at the back to win the league. Jones and De Gea are undoubtedly talented young footballers, but neither one of them has looked as strong as Vidic or Van der Sar did in their prime. They’ll qualify for the Champions League last sixteen and stay in touch with City in the league for some time, there’s no doubt about that. The questions are longer-term issues: is this going to be a season of transition or another trophy winning season for Ferguson’s side? I know what I’d vote for…
It’s really important for Newcastle to maintain their form after this weekend – they lost their last game against City and they are likely to suffer the same fate this time around. Pardew will know they’re playing the two toughest teams in the league but sometimes it’s hard to get that message across to the players, especially coming off such red hot form. If their first two league defeats of the season come on the bounce then their entire campaign could be affected. Pardew has enough experience to deal with these kinds of scenarios but it’ll be a real test of his squad’s mettle. If they can pick up points at Old Trafford then they’ll be real contenders for European football this year, but if they lose then it could be a cold winter on Tyneside.
It’ll be a tough victory for United I reckon, but it’ll be well worth the watch.
Prediction: Man United 2-1 Newcastle
Norwich v QPR (15:00)
Norwich, as I expected, gave Arsenal a very good game last weekend and despite losing they proved they’ve got what it takes to stay in the Premier League this year. It’s important that Lambert gets the message across to the players that they’ve essentially been narrowly beaten by the best striker in world football at the moment: Robin Van Perise. That’s no disgrace. What’s impressive about Norwich is that they’ve avoided any real thumpings this season, despite playing at Anfield, Old Trafford and the Bridge already. Add to that last weekend’s narrow loss at Arsenal, and you sense that their squad’s self-belief is still high. They’ve proved they can give the best teams in the league a close game but now they’ve got a different test, and it’s one they’ll be rather more familiar with. Paul Lambert is probably looking ahead to the away game at City next weekend with dread, so it’s important they pick up at least a point here.
I’ve only seen QPR once in full all season in their win over Chelsea at Loftus Road. That day the luck really shone for them, and I wasn’t actually as impressed with their performance as I had expected to be following their terrific start to the season. They’ve importantly picked up five points in a really tough set of fixtures since their drubbing at Fulham (which seems an age away now) and they keep picking up fantastic results away from home. Their results speak for themselves and if they continue scoring well they have a great chance of survival. I have a sneaky feeling that in 2012 they could slide down the table with Norwich and Swansea, but for now Warnock’s keeping spirits high and doing a really good job. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see another away win here.
Predicting a thriller. Both teams are exciting going forward but can be suspect defensively.
Prediction: QPR 2-2 Norwich
Sunderland vs Wigan (15:00)
Sunderland were slightly unlucky not to get more out of the game at Fulham last weekend and you do have to feel slightly for Steve Bruce. However, he’ll have no excuses this weekend against a bottom-of-the-table Wigan side that they should really be beating at home. It’s a must-win game for Bruce, even though they’re only a win away from the top half of the table. The Sunderland faithful demand good performances as much as results. They’re famously passionate in the north-east, and if someone isn’t pulling their weight they’ll know about it. They also want to see good football, but they’ll undoubtedly take a scrappy one-nil win this weekend. I think Sunderland will probably win and they should be fine in the end, but as I keep saying the league is tougher than ever this year and expectations should be downgraded slightly at the Stadium of Light.
Everyone likes Roberto Martinez and I think popular opinion of him only increased after the freak goal that Blackburn scored against his side last weekend. Wigan are overdue a bit of luck but their defending remains suicidal at times and Martinez must know that it needs addressing. They remain a goalscoring threat and that could be their saving grace this year, but a large number of teams will still outscore them. The one thing in the manager’s favour is that he’s got time. He was loyal to Wigan this summer, and I think that Dave Whelan and the fans will support him throughout the season. He’s gaining experience at escaping the inevitable year on year, but if they get cut adrift at the bottom of the league like West Ham did last year then they’ll bury themselves alive. Every point is vitally important now for Wigan but I don’t see them taking any here.
Both teams are on poor form and it could be tense and scrappy, but I expect Sunderland to win.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-0 Wigan
West Brom vs Tottenham (15:00)
The return of Shane Long clearly had a huge impact on Roy Hodgson’s side last week against Bolton, and he’s added another dimension to them this season. Whilst Odemwingie was fantastic for the Baggies last year he has a poor injury record and the addition of Long has given them strength in depth up front. West Brom’s other major asset is Hodgson himself, who has made them significantly harder to beat since Roberto Di Matteo left the Hawthorns less than a year ago. They’ve retained a lot of the positive attacking qualities that Di Matteo left however, which makes them a more rounded side than most of the teams around them. Things are ticking along nicely for West Brom and I have no concerns about them in the long run, although they’ll struggle to win this weekend.
I’ve felt for a while that Harry Redknapp is destined for the England job and the rumours seem to circle more regularly every week. He’s never denied it, and I think it’d be the perfect move for him and the F.A. I feel far more comfortable for Spurs fans now than I did a year or so ago when the rumours really started to begin. They’ve always been a good side but he’s added so much quality and got the best out of so many of his players that they really could almost challenge for the title this year. I think that prospect could be very slightly out of the question, but I definitely think they’ll finish in the top four. Everyone knows how good their midfield is (probably as good as, if not better than, Man City’s) but the importance of Adebayor’s brace last weekend can’t be underestimated either. As I said last weekend, if they can get him scoring regularly they’ve got a real shot at the title.
West Brom will make it difficult for Spurs but the away side will have too much for the Baggies.
Prediction: West Brom 0-2 Tottenham
Arsenal vs Fulham (17:30)
I’m not sure if I can exactly take credit for predicting that Van Persie will score at least once each week, but I’ll do the same again. He’ll easily reach twenty goals before Christmas, which is a feat that only Messi and Ronaldo can emulate or best. He’s certainly the third best player in the world right now. What’s strange about Arsenal’s return to form is you feel that Van Persie’s influence is so great on the team, you really don’t have a clue how they’d perform without him. He’s certainly raised the performance levels of everyone in the Emirates and deserves all the plaudits he gets. It seems like he’s never managed a season of full fitness, but for Wenger’s sake I’m happy to see him continue scoring and masking Arsenal’s clear defensive issues.
Fulham were slightly lucky to take a point at Sunderland last weekend but they worked hard and made things difficult for the Black Cats. I don’t think Jol’s reign has started as well as many would’ve thought, but things are ticking along nicely for Fulham and provided they ensure expectation levels aren’t the same as they were a couple of years ago they’ll do fine. It was nice to see Zamora get a call up for England duty, and whilst he hasn’t set the world alight this season he’s a quality player and a nice guy who deserves his chance at the highest level. The return of Andy Johnson, who has scored relatively well this season, has been important for Jol’s side and I expect them to have enough quality and experience to start edging up the table soon. I doubt they’ll get much this weekend though.
Van Persie to score or get injured. Or both, probably. Arsenal to win an entertaining London derby.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Fulham
Swansea vs Aston Villa (13:30)
Whilst Swansea have started the season really well, Brendan Rodgers must know the season is so tight this year that they’re only a couple of defeats outside of the relegation zone. His squad is young and largely inexperienced at the top level, which has actually been a major asset for the Swans. They attack with freedom and pace and are great to watch, but they’ve been surprisingly hard to beat as well. I am expecting Swansea to get sucked into the relegation battle but it’s against teams like Villa that they can really do themselves a favour or two. Villa aren’t known for their great away form and I don’t think McLeish has quite got things sorted at the back yet, so if Danny Graham can continue his good form and bag a goal Swansea might be in with a shout of nicking all three points.
McLeish has done a good job with Villa, and their position in the league says it all. Despite this, they seem incredibly haphazard at times when it comes to defence. I’ve been rather surprised by this, as McLeish ran a very tight defensive unit at Birmingham and Villa have vast amounts of Premier League experience to call upon at the heart of their defence. They really do have a good squad and everyone knows about the weapons and the damage they can do up front. I think that Villa should have enough experience and quality to finish in the top half of the table this year, but I have some doubts about them in certain games (this being one of them) that won’t be erased until McLeish has fully settled and sorted his defence out.
Swansea to nick a win… Maybe.
Prediction: Swansea 1-0 Aston Villa
Liverpool vs Man City (14:00)
Liverpool played well against Chelsea last weekend, especially in the first half, and once again changed the balance of power in the Premier League. The league is so tough and hard to predict this year that it’s tricky to know where Liverpool will finish, but on plenty of occasions this year they’ve looked like the top four side they used to be. I think the changes that Dalglish has made to his squad have ensured that his players remain hungry and competitive, as none of their places are assured (notably the antithesis of Chelsea, who they beat last weekend). Their home form has been comparatively poor this year, but Anfield always rises to big occasions. Tactically Dalglish has some huge decisions to make but he has the full support of the fans and his team will certainly come out of the blocks firing. I really think Suarez and co. could punish City if they are overconfident.
Mancini’s claims that City are as good now as Barcelona look to have been disproven slightly by their midweek beating in Naples. At times City can defend outstandingly, at their best better than anyone in the world, but I don’t think they are yet as consistent at the back as United or Chelsea back lines of old. Exiting the Champions League may not be such a bad thing for Mancini’s men with the league so in the balance right now, and sometimes one step at a time is the best approach. Man City have the quality to tear apart Liverpool like no other team could, but if they play too gung-ho then Liverpool could cause them problems too. It’s a real test for the blue half of Manchester.
Liverpool to win an enthralling encounter.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Man City