Friday, 7 December 2012

A look ahead to this weekend's Premiership games

Hello scorers. Well, we've got a plethora of crucial six-pointers this week, concerning everything there is to battle for in this Premiership league, and it promises to be a belter.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Manchester derby is to be the sole attention-grabber of this weekends' action, but it's probably worth knowing that 4 of the bottom 6 are playing each other on Saturday. It's a clash of the nobilities as the Saints host the Royals in what promises to be a high-scoring contest, but who will be crowned king at the end? QPR look for their first victory of the season in what feels like a must-win game for them at Wigan, whilst Rafael Benitez looks to build on an encouraging win in the Champions League midweek although they went out by beating a slipping Sunderland side, and Aston Villa will attempt to put more distance between themselves and danger, but to do so they'll have to beat a solid Stoke squad.
Neither Swansea nor Norwich have been beaten since October and will want to continue their fine form when they go head to head at the Liberty, Liverpool's inconsistent start to the season has showed slight signs of gradual improvement over recent weeks, but they'll have a tough test in the shape of a competitive-looking West Ham team. Newcastle travel to a seemingly mediocre Fulham team in hope of building on their important win over Wigan last Monday.
Moving upwards in the table, Arsenal need to bounce back from a poor performance in their defeat to Swansea last week when they play host to West Brom, and the race for 4th heats up as Everton play Tottenham, who have recently stolen that final Champions League spot off the Toffees- Everton will want to put that right.
The first Manchester derby of the season promises to have a big say in the momentum of these teams' title chances, and I can't wait to watch it- it'll be very interesting to see which way, if any, the game swings.
Arsenal vs. West Brom
I can see a comfortable win for Arsenal here. With Wenger resting his whole team for the match in Greece on Wednesday, which I thought was a good call, they've had a week to concentrate on this one and I feel like there's a big reaction coming from Arsenal. Firstly they need to make up for the poor performance against Swansea in which they looked very jaded, but also I think rumours of Wenger leaving will be nulified on Saturday.
I say each week what a good job Steve Clarke has done, and with West Ham, Norwich and QPR coming up for the Baggies, I'd back them to avoid an extensive winless run, but I don't think they'll be able to avoid a third straight defeat. I've got a feeling Arsenal might score an early goal, which would set the tone for the rest of the match, and lead them on their way to a big 3-0 victory.
Del says: 2-2
Aston Villa vs. Stoke
Aston Villa, who are unbeaten in 3, play Stoke, who have won their last 3; it's a case of 'somethings gotta give'. Both teams have achieved what they have of late largely because of their strong defensive records- both have conceded just 1 goal in their last 3 matches. For those reasons, I'm edging towards a bore draw.
Considering the situation they're in, it wasn't a great point for Villa at QPR last week, but it does help them keep their distance from the relegation zone and I still think Lambert will keep them up. Stoke are on a bit of a role now and are continuing to build from the back- I think they've got enough aerial presence to exterminate Villa's biggest threat in target man Benteke, I think he'll be marked out of the game.
It's always dangerous to go with a goalless draw because your vision for the game is normally foiled as soon as the first goal goes in, but neither side seem to be scoring or letting in many goals, and both would be satisfied with a point. This has the makings of a goalless in my book.
Del says: 2-0

Southampton vs. Reading

From one end of the spectrum to the other. Unlike Villa and Stoke, both of these teams have plenty of goals in them and neither any good at the back- I think we could be in for a goalfest.

There were encouraging signs for both teams last week despite defeats. Southampton created a few chances at Liverpool which they might have taken on another day, and what makes me think that they can stay up is that they've got the best home record of all the teams in the bottom five and are also the second highest-scoring of all the teams in the bottom half of the table. I said neither side are any good at the back but that's probably being slightly harsh on Southampton who have tightened up their act recently- they've conceded just 2 goals in their last 3 games which is something to build on.

The same can't be said for Reading though, they conceded 4 goals against Manchester United, 2 of which were from winning positions, so I just don't think they have the mental strength required to hold onto the results needed to stay up. I'd expect it to go down to the wire for both clubs, though.

For this game, I'm going to go with 3-1 Southampton. I did think about 3-2 but it's worth remembering that the Saints haven't conceded 2 goals for 5 matches now, so I think they can restrict Reading to just the one goal, and I can see them scoring a few themselves.

Del says: 0-2

Sunderland vs. Chelsea

It's a strange time to be a Chelsea fan. I think part of the problem is that some of the fans are having difficulty believing that di Matteo has actually gone after winning the double last season and there was so much promise for what could have been, so I don't think they can find it in themselves to accept that the past is gone and just support the team now. And I don't blame them.

The 6-1 win over Nordsjaelland was good but it doesn't change the bigger picture in my book. It was really no less than I would have expected, so Benitez should get no brownie points for that.

Sunderland aren't looking great at the moment. The second half performance against Norwich might have been pleasing but because they struggle going forward, they can't afford to let themselves go 2 down in the first half. Earlier on in the season, they could get away with not being the most attacking side because they rarely conceded more than one goal and had Steven Fletcher in form. Recently, they conceded 4 against West Brom and 2 at Norwich, and if that habit of conceding goals develops, I wouldn't actually back them to stay up.

I think Sunderland and Southampton will swap places this weekend. If I was a Sunderland fan looking at how strong Southampton look going forward, I'd be very worried indeed. Chelsea's precarious situation means it won't be comfortable for them, but I'll go for a 0-1 away win.

Del says: 0-3

Swansea vs. Norwich

The battle of the in-form sides in the Premiership. Swansea have climbed as high as 7th after collecting 10pts from their last 4 games, whilst Norwich are on an impressive 9 match unbeaten run.

I expected both of these teams to struggle and suffer from second-season-syndrome this year. Both teams were fantastic last season and stayed up in style, playing some great football along the way, but their managers left this summer.

I felt that their previous managers, Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert, played a massive part in turning these teams into the force they'd become, by building a team that could perform better than the sum of it's parts. Without these influential figures, I didn't think the new managers could emulate what they had done, but they more than have.

I'm inclined to go with a narrow Swansea win. Norwich don't concede many but interestingly they've drawn all of their away matches during this unbeaten run, and are yet to win away from home this season. To me, this suggests that they aren't quite as good on the road, and they'll have a hard time against Swansea, who do keep the ball well. 1-0.

Del says: 1-0

Wigan vs. QPR

If a touch early, I'm happy to pronounce QPR down. I think the gap between themselves and safety is a little bit too big for them to get back into it, and they would have needed to have won 2 of Harry's first 3 games in charge to be in with a shout. It would have been useful if they could have done that because Sunderland, Villa and Wigan are all teams who aren't out of the relegation battle by any reach, and wins for QPR could have dragged them into it. They needed to beat Aston Villa to get any belief and momentum under their new manager.

I'm not worried about Wigan. Ironically, their unpredictability is what we've come to expect from them, and two defeats against Man City and Newcastle, which I expected them to lose anyway, shouldn't worry their supporters. Put it this way, if they had got anything from those games it would have been a pretty good achievement.

If anything, I think it'll fire them up for this match and I can see them knocking a few goals past QPR, who're gonna have massive problems financially in the next few years. I'm gonna be audacious with this prediction, and say this will be a 4-0 win for Wigan.

Del says: 1-2

Man City vs. Man United

I'm predicting a few goals for this one, both teams have laudable attacking options so I think it could be the kind of game that swings one way and then the other. It's going to be such a crucial game for both teams, and I feel like you'd get as good a chance of getting this right by tossing a coin as you would analysing it.

It'll be an incredibly nervy game for the fans to watch, I've got a feeling deep down, both sets of fans would be a little bit relieved to get away with a point. Certainly not on paper, because City need to win to get back on level terms in the title race, but they slipped up last week so United might sense initiative. But you could also look at it the other way around, because United are already 3pts clear and would stay top with a draw, but City are on a bit of a low after drawing with Everton and crashing out of Europe having played much of their first team.

It's very difficult to call, and in some ways the topsy-turvey nature of the game - as it may turn out to be - could mean fans would just be grateful to get the match over and done with. After possibly overdeliberation, I'm gonna sit on the fence and go for a 2-2 draw- could go either way.

Everton vs. Tottenham

Earlier on in the week, I was tempted to go with a Tottenham win, because they'd won 6 of the 7 games in which Moussa Dembele has played in- the last 6. That tells you what a key player he's been and Spurs got a great result at Fulham last week. But on the flip side, they'll be without Gareth Bale and played a strong team against Panathinaikos on Thursday night.

Everton got a good point at Man City last week, but just the 1 win from their last 9 matches wouldn't be good enough for a relegation-threatened team, so they do need to up their game if they want to challenge Spurs for 4th. The funny thing is that despite that statistic, if Everton do beat Tottenham, they'll probably go up to 4th on goal difference. I spose that, and the emergence of teams like West Brom and Swansea, tells you how the quality of teams in the upper segment of the Premiership has gone down in the last few years.

I'm settling on a draw for this, which neither side will really argue with too much. 1-1.

Del says: 3-1

West Ham vs. Liverpool

The Hammers got a great win over Chelsea last week and always look hardworking and tough to beat at home, and Liverpool don't normally get enough men in the box so I doubt there'll be many - if any - goals in it.

The other thing is the Reds played a full-strength team in the Europa League against Udinese on Thursday which I'm not sure I wouldv'e have done considering how physical a game this will be. To me, the Europa a competition designed perfectly to upset the rythym and preparation of your team for Premiership match, because it means they get hardly any time to train and are in completely the wrong sleeping pattern and they can't focus on the match at the weekend. What's worse, is that it's difficult to play your entire reserve and youth team because the fans have paid so much money and nobody likes to lose. But if Liverpool crashed out of the Europa League last night I think it would have benefitted the rythym of their season greatly.

1-0 West Ham is my prediction, I think they'll grab a goal and with the game they had to play in Italy on Wednesday night, I don't think Liverpool will have it in themselves to break down this solid Hammers team.

Del says: 0-2

Fulham vs. Newcastle

Fulham are without a win in 7 matches, and I can't see that changing in this game. Newcastle got a massive - in terms of nature and significance - 3-0 win over Wigan last Monday. It stopped the rot after a 4 game losing streak.

Alan Pardew has said his youngsters need to go out on loan to gain enough experience, but Newcastle have a small squad as it is! They need quite a bit of investment if they want to build a squad that can cope with the demands of the Europa League, but because the TV and prize money from playing in that competition isn't very much, I don't think it's worth it. I don't like to say this because I had a great time going to Birmingham City matches in Europe but I just think on the whole, the competition is a waste of everybody's time.

Newcastle lost in Bordeaux on Thursday but on balance, I think they'll bounce back and win this one 1-2.

Del says: 1-2

Well, those were my predictions, thanks for joining me. I can't wait to watch the Manchester derby which should be a cracker, hope you have a good weekend,

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