Premier League preview: 3-5 December
|December 2, 2011||Posted by Max Fowler under sport|
Newcastle vs Chelsea (12:45)
I predicted that Newcastle’s last game against United could be a turning point in their season, especially if United had given them a real beating. As it was, their blend of heroics in defence and a sprinkling of luck was enough to get them a vital point at Old Trafford. I’d still be very surprised if they can maintain their superb start to the season, but it looks as though they’ll have enough quality to easily finish in the top half of the table if not higher. Chelsea haven’t got the firepower that United possess and it’ll be a test of Newcastle’s concentration more than their ability to put bodies on the line. You feel that Demba Ba can cause Chelsea problems this weekend, and it’s vital that he remains fit for the majority of the season. They haven’t enough strength in depth up front to replace him.
Chelsea’s poor run of form continued on Tuesday against Liverpool, and without wholesale changes in January you can’t see them reaching the heights of previous years. Villas-Boas is publicly denying that his side is too old to compete but he must know that some of Chelsea’s biggest players are past the peak of their powers. The next few games will be a huge test for Boas’ side. They’ve got Man City and Spurs, the two in-form league sides, coming up as well as a vital European game at home to Valencia. Chelsea are well capable of turning their campaign around (as they did last year) but the standard has really increased this season. I think many expect them to get back to winning ways but if they lose some of the big games coming up then Boas could be gone by Christmas.
Newcastle are on a roll and will have enough to keep Chelsea out. Predicting a home win in an exciting lunchtime kick-off.
Prediction: Newcastle 1-0 Chelsea
Blackburn vs Swansea (15:00)
I predicted that Blackburn would beat Stoke last week but I was all too wrong. I thought that Steve Kean had full control of the dressing room, but it’s hard to know. Too many went missing at the Britannia last weekend and if they don’t turn up this Saturday then the pressure will really intensify on Kean. I still think enough of the squad is behind him and vitally the owners seem willing to give him time. Without a miracle turnaround the fans won’t give him support though, and you do feel sorry for him. Blackburn have an important run of easier fixtures coming up starting this weekend, and they could do well against Swansea. Blackburn’s defending remains catastrophic at times but Swansea may not have enough to really cause them problems. If they can find Rochina and Yakubu in decent positions then they could cause the Swans problems, but more importantly Kean needs to get the team fighting.
Swansea’s game against Villa last weekend was massively overshadowed by the terribly sad news of the death of Garry Speed. They can therefore be forgiven for not causing Villa enough problems but this weekend is a different kettle of fish. Blackburn have one of the weakest defences in the league and any side in the top flight should be able to cause them problems at the moment. It looks like Danny Graham will miss the game but Leroy Lita could be more suited to playing against a big Blackburn side. Brendan Rodgers must feel that this is a game they really could win, and you feel its key that they start well. Blackburn have more experience at this level but Swansea are definitely a more united group and they could pick up a vital three points this weekend.
This one really could go either way. Therefore I predict that the three points will go… neither way. Score draw.
Prediction: Blackburn 1-1 Swansea
Man City vs Norwich (15:00)
Whenever Man City have anything bordering on a bad result they immediately turn things around. They did so earlier in the season when Fulham took a point from them, and their loss in Naples seems to have had little effect on Mancini’s side. They do have some tired legs so their probable exit from the Champions League could come at a good time for them. Clearly they’ll look to compete at the top level in Europe in the future, but I’m sure winning the league will be enough for the City faithful this year. They’ve got enough strength in depth to deal with the busy winter schedule and I expect them to have little trouble in beating teams like Norwich at home.
Norwich took a vital (though not entirely deserved) three points at home to QPR last weekend and are looking well worthy of their top-flight status. Despite Neil Warnock’s unsurprising insistence that his side easily deserved all three points last weekend, I thought Norwich defended really well throughout. They’ve made it hard for every team this season, from United to Arsenal a couple of weeks ago. I think Man City are in a different league this year though and Norwich will do very well to contain them. Despite City’s defence being probably the strongest in the league they aren’t totally watertight and Norwich could cause them a few problems. The key for Paul Lambert’s side is to not just sit back and defend because they’ll get torn to shreds. That’s much easier said than done though!
Norwich will make it hard, but City can always score a handful.
Prediction: Man City 4-1 Norwich
QPR vs West Brom (15:00)
As mentioned above, QPR and Warnock felt they deserved more last weekend, but I thought Norwich defended better than them. They haven’t been much better away or at home, so it’s hard to predict how they’ll do each week. I think their side has enough quality to pick up some surprise wins here and there, but they don’t seem to have any consistency. Loftus Road can get boisterous when Warnock’s team plays well and I feel their survival could depend on them developing some consistency at home. Helguson has starting scoring well and his experience could be vital in the long run. They’re decent going forward but defensively I still have major worries, and I think Warnock knows that strengthening his squad in January must be a priority.
West Brom are easier to predict. They’ll win a lot of games at home against most sides and pick up fewer points away from home. They put up a really good fight against Spurs last week (who look unbeatable right now) and could’ve easily won with better finishing. The one disappointment for Hodgson has been Odemwingie, who’s been out with a knee injury for most of the campaign. He returned against Spurs last weekend and if he starts scoring he’ll give the Baggies an extra dimension. Odemwingie and Long have missed a lot of games between them all season but West Brom are still ticking along nicely and they are capable of doing well this weekend.
Warnock will look for a response out of his players and QPR could come out on top.
Prediction: QPR 2-1 West Brom
Tottenham vs Bolton (15:00)
Tottenham struggled through their game against West Brom and it was a closer game than the scoreline suggests, but that is indicative of how quickly Spurs can finish off sides. They’re effectively out of Europe now after a poor home result against Salonika, but that won’t be such a bad thing for them. Everyone talks about Spurs’ strength in depth but they still rely on a few key players and they’ll be much fresher without European football to worry about. Bolton are visiting White Hart Lane at the worst possible time and I expect Spurs to really go for them. There’s no team in the league as dangerous as Tottenham going forward and they really could score a hatful this weekend.
The nightmare continues for Bolton and Owen Coyle but the bottom of the table is so close that they’ll only need a few wins to rocket up the league. One of the big problems for them has been the demise of Gary Cahill, who looks a shadow of the player he did last year. They also haven’t been able to replace Elmander or Sturridge in the goals department, and although Klasnic is a good player he’s never been prolific up front. Unfortunately investment in the squad looks unlikely in January, so they may have to rely on more loan signings to get them out of trouble (like Wilshere / Sturridge in the past). They’ve got experience all over the pitch and that may eventually save them, but better teams than them have struggled against Spurs this year.
Bolton could be in for a drubbing if they’re not careful.
Prediction: Tottenham 4-0 Bolton
Wigan vs Arsenal (15:00)
I was pretty surprised to see Wigan beat Sunderland, and its fair to say that they got a real break last weekend. Martinez has got the support of the fans and the players, and I’m predicting they’ll stay up this year. Defensively they’re weak and Van Persie and Arsenal could rip them to shreds, but they’ve got something going forward. Despite not scoring Moses was excellent for them and he’s a real handful upfront. You do wonder if they’ll need a more prolific striker to ensure safety, but the benefit of not relying on one goalscoring outlet is that they’ll cope with injuries and suspensions better than most other teams this year (ironically their opponents Arsenal are hugely reliant on Van Persie). This could be a tough one for them because Martinez’ sides always like to play football and if you leave things too open against Arsenal there’s only one side that’ll win, as Chelsea saw a few weeks ago.
Fulham thwarted arsenal and Van Persie last weekend and it emphasised how much they rely on the Dutchman. Arsenal had built up a decent run of form but teams will play against the Gunners thinking there are in with a shout if they keep Van Persie quiet. They’re in a fine balance because if they don’t ensure Champions League football it seems unlikely that he’d sign a new contract, and if they lost him you couldn’t see them hitting the heights of old without huge investment. The return of Vermaelen is a real positive for Wenger as they look much tighter at the back when he plays, but I still think their defence needs a lot of work. They’ve got good competition in midfield and upfront but doing a Newcastle and finding a strong back four and keeper and sticking with them must be a priority for Wenger.
Wigan took a great three points away to Sunderland but they won’t be able to handle Arsenal.
Prediction: Wigan 1-2 Arsenal
Aston Villa vs Man United (17:30)
Aston Villa’s last game against Swansea was obviously played under difficult circumstances, so you can excuse them for only picking up a point. Seeing Shay Given with tears streaming down his face before the match put everything into perspective, but he played excellently and looks as good a goalkeeper he as ever has done. McLeish hasn’t really taken off yet at Villa Park, but they’re certainly picking up enough points to ensure a top half finish. They’ve got a similar feel about them as Spurs going forward, as they’ve got the pace and power upfront to really punish any side. If they had really gone for it against Swansea last weekend they could’ve taken all three points, but I think McLeish is focussing on making them a harder team to beat. Some of their defending earlier in the season was uncharacteristically poor, but he’s slowly turning them into a well-rounded side who could cause on upset this weekend.
United haven’t won any of their last three games in all competitions, and yet they so rarely go on an extended run of poor form that they remain favourites this weekend. I don’t think United have performed that well since their first couple of games this season, and they aren’t looking as impressive as in previous years. You have to make their Manchester rivals favourites for the title right now, but United undoubtedly have enough experience to mount a serious challenge. Rooney’s gone a bit quiet recently, and although he’s scored well overall this season he hasn’t netted in over a month. Hernandez is on brilliant form though and United have enough quality all over the pitch to cause any team a problem, even if Rooney isn’t on top form. They dropped points at home to Newcastle last weekend but they were unfortunate not to win.
West Brom will make it difficult for Spurs but the away side will have too much for the Baggies.
Prediction: Aston Villa 0-2 Man United
Everton vs Stoke (15:00)
Everton were extremely professional in beating Bolton last weekend, and David Moyes’ side looks stronger than ever. Their financial situation will always be in the back of everyone’s mind at Goodison Park and you do question how long Moyes will be able to get results from this side without more investment. However, they have started the season well compared to previous years and always seem to improve as the campaign progresses. They’re another side who aren’t relying on any one source of goals, and their top scorer Vellios has bagged all his goals off the bench. Moyes must be hoping that Saha rediscovers his form of old but the competition in his side is good and they’ll beat most teams at home this year.
I was perhaps both unfair and ignorant in predicting a Stoke defeat at home to Blackburn last weekend, but they recovered well and look as strong as they ever have done. After ensuring qualification on Thursday with an important point at home to Dynamo Kiev, they’re probably going to be a bit leggy for this one. What Pulis has done at Stoke is no mean feat. They’ve had a decent amount of investment in the team but he’s taken them from relegation favourites a few years ago to the last 32 of the Europa League. Their league form probably won’t be as impressive as in previous years but I’m sure the fans will sacrifice a couple of places for a long run in Europe. However, they rarely travel particularly well in the league and will do well to get anything at Goodison Park.
Everton should get all three points against a likely-to-be-tired Stoke side.
Prediction: Everton 3-0 Stoke
Wolves vs Sunderland (16:00)
Mick McCarthy must see this as a fantastic chance to get all three points against a Sunderland side in disarray. Wolves have lost both of their last games but they were away at Chelsea and Everton – two of the toughest away fixtures for any side. This is the first of a number of important home games for Wolves and the Christmas period could be vitally important for McCarthy’s men. My big worry for them is that they lack the ability to score goals, and if the funds are available they must strengthen in January. I think a relegation scrap is inevitable for them but they’ve got good experience and will certainly fight to the end. If they can beat Sunderland this weekend then they should rise at least a couple of places and give themselves some breathing space but if they lose McCarthy will be under real pressure to start picking up points.
Whilst Sunderland remain managerless the supporters must be seriously excited by the prospect of Martin O’Neill taking over at the club. He’s been looking for a club for a while and with probable money to spend the future is looking bright at the Stadium of Light. This season will be a tough one for O’Neill, though. They’ve got a lot of quality but they’ve lost a few key players that haven’t been replaced. You do feel sorry for Bruce as Gyan left right at the last minute and it really unsettled the side. If they can find a top quality striker in January then I fancy them to stay up and finish just below mid table, but without that addition they could be fighting for survival with their opponents today among others. Unfortunately until O’Neill arrives I can’t see an upturn in their fortunes.
Wolves to pick up a vital three points.
Prediction: Wolves 2-0 Sunderland
Fulham vs Liverpool (20:00)
Martin Jol must have been delighted with the point that Fulham took at Arsenal last weekend, and they defended really bravely. They’ve drawn a lot of games this season and that is the main reason why their position in the league isn’t as high as it should be. Teams like QPR who win one week and lose the next end up doing better in the long run, even if Fulham are harder to beat. I don’t think the Cottagers should be worried about relegation this year, but it’s such a competitive league this year that plenty of experienced sides could get sucked into a battle. They’ve got real quality upfront with Johnson and Zamora but they aren’t yet scoring regularly enough in the league to win more games for their side.
Liverpool are going from strength to strength under Kenny Dalglish. After beating Chelsea in the league they knocked them out of the cup too, and suddenly look well capable of achieving a top four place this season. That would be some achievement, considering how poorly they were doing under Roy Hodgson. Andy Carroll has been the real disappointment at Anfield, but Suarez has been magnificent and has kept a lot of the pressure off the Englishman’s shoulders. It’s looking like Newcastle got a fantastic deal for Carroll but other than that Dalglish’s signings have been astute. Bellamy and Adam have been particularly impressive, and both add real quality to the side. Their away form has been better than their home form this season and I expect them to cause Fulham problems again this time around.
Fulham are always tough to beat, but Liverpool are playing brilliantly at the moment.
Prediction: Fulham 0-2 Liverpool