Friday, 16 August 2013

Gabriel's Weekend Predictions: Week One

It's the first week of the Premier League, and I can't wait for the new season to get underway. There's so many unknowns, with 7 clubs having changed their manager since January, 3 of which are the top clubs, who have only swapped this summer. There's the return of charismatic favourites Mourinho and Holloway, there'll be the first ever all-Welsh Premier League game, and Manchester United face their first season ever without Sir Alex Ferguson. This season promises to be more exciting than ever.

Liverpool vs. Stoke

Both teams begin their campaign having had positive pre-seasons, particularly in defence. Both had only conceded 2 goals throughout, and if they can remain solid at the back throughout the season, that would be a good base on which to create the attractive football Rodgers and Hughes are looking to implement. I don't think there'll be many goals, because at times last season Liverpool didn't get enough men in the box, and Stoke are still perfecting their style of play. I'll back the Reds to get the win though, because they need to come out of the blocks early if they want 4th place, next week at home to Palace is the game Hughes will really want to make sure Stoke win. 1-0.

Arsenal vs. Aston Villa

These two managers' faith in the unproven cost them at times last season, but both met their respective targets. Arsenal had a decent pre-season, starting with 7-goal wins, winning a minor cup, losing out on their own Emirates Cup, but finishing off with a comfortable win over Man City. Villa's started poorly, yet they finished with 4 straight wins including victory over Malaga. I think the pace in Villa's counterattacks could get the better of Arsenal's adventurous full-backs, and the gangling Per Mertesacker, so I do think Villa will score. But Arsenal will have the creativity in their team to find at least two goals, because without the ball, Villa lacked organisation last season. 2-1.

Norwich vs. Everton

It's not been a good pre-season for either club, so I think the first few weeks will act as a 'bedding-in period' for these sides. The Norwich board have been prepared to put their neck on the line this summer, investing £25 million towards the aim of sustained Premier League football. The 7 new players, most of whom have never played at this level, will need some time to adjust. And quite an adjustment it'll be for the Everton team, used to playing a rigid yet industrious 4-4-1-1 formation, will now be playing in a fluid and flexible 3-at-the-back system. I don't think either of the clubs' summer changes will come off as an instant success, so this might be a 1-1 draw.

Sunderland vs. Fulham

Paolo Di Canio has already put his stamp onto Sunderland, with 21 players coming in and out of the Stadium of Light. With such big changes, it was probably important for Sunderland that they got off to a strong pre-season which they did, with 4 wins from 5, one of which was 3-1 over Spurs. Given they had the oldest Premier League squad last season, it seems surprising that Jol has added three 30-year-olds, plus Adel Taarabt who offers little work rate off the ball. I think Sunderland will have the momentum from pre-season to overpower Fulham, and open their campaign with a 2-0 win. Fulham didn't travel well at all last season, and that's what they'll need to work on if they want to finish in the top half.

West Brom vs. Southampton

Romelu Lukaku played a fundamental part in West Brom's successful season, and although they've tried to replace him bringing in Anelka and Vydra, I think they'll struggle for goals. Southampton could be building something exciting under Pochettino, he's looking to instil exotic football at St Marys and has had the time now to analyse his playing staff. New signing Victor Wanyama definitely has the physical capability to become an instant success in the Premier League, and I think he'll be determined to assert his dominance on the midfield in his first game. 0-1.

West Ham vs. Cardiff

West Ham had such a comfortable first season back in the top flight, it feels like they'd never been gone. Having such a solid home record under Allardyce, with him in charge I think they'll be a consistent feature in the Premier League over the next few years, and that's the long-term aim for Cardiff. The now not-so Bluebirds take a similarly direct approach, and have brought big this summer, investing a massive £28 million. However, none of their players bar Craig Bellamy, have Premier League experience. I think West Ham will give Cardiff an early demonstration of how to establish yourself in this league. 2-0.

Swansea vs. Man Utd

I'm going to go with quite a heavy Manchester United win for this one. The players will be fresh from winning the Community Shield, and I think they'll be determined to get Moyes' United career off to a good start. Admittedly Swansea have had a successful pre-season, but they would do well not to get too complacent, and I think that could be the danger. Man Utd might be the more motivated, and I don't think Swansea will do as well as many predict this season. 0-3.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham

I think Palace could surprise us a bit, well, in this game at least. They've got the benefit of being at home and will have a big crowd for their first game in the Premier League, which might help them, they had the second best home record in the Championship. It's been a key summer for Tottenham, who have had to cope with the 'Bale to Madrid' saga for months. The disappointing pre-season results Spurs have had suggest that they might not start this season particularly well, it could take them a few weeks to get into full swing. 2-2.

Chelsea vs. Hull

Most people seem to think this will be a breeze for Mourinho's first match, but I reckon Hull will give Chelsea a difficult 90 minutes. The last time you want to play a promoted club is in August, when the team is normally raring to go. This could be level at half-time, but in the second half, perhaps Hull's legs will tire, and Chelsea have the outstanding attacking strength in depth to move up a gear when they need to. 1-0 to Chelsea, Hull won't embarrass themselves.

Man City vs. Newcastle

City's new signings may need time to adjust to the Premier League, and Fernandinho seems overpriced for someone who is 28, although in fairness I haven't seen much of him at Shakhtar. The Citizens haven't had a good pre-season, finishing on that defeat to Arsenal, so it's important they put that behind them and start their quest for the title with a win. Newcastle haven't done much in the transfer market, but maybe that'll become a good thing. It could give their large number of foreign players a much-needed settling in period, so I think they'll be fine this season, but will just miss out on a point on the first game. 2-1.

It's the third week of the Football League, and this Championship season remains in it's infancy. Whilst there'll no doubt be shocks galore along the way, the first couple of results haven't really given the table much of the 'crazy effect' that I thought it would. If I was to guess roughly where teams will finish two weeks ago, and if I saw this as the final table, the comparison wouldn't be a striking one. Blackpool are on maximum points, but they've had winnable games, I would probably expect Bolton to improve, but that's about it. Brighton and Millwall were in potential danger, due to the circumstances of their manager changes, whilst Nottingham Forest have invested well during the summer and they should finish high. Bournemouth and Yeovil have cancelled out their winning starts by losing the next week, and that's given this table quite a realistic look.

Doncaster vs. Blackburn

Doncaster will have had to wait 13 days for this fixture, after their 3-1 home defeat to Blackpool, and I think that might leave a bitter taste in the mouth. When you lose a game, especially your first home game in a new division, you want to recover quickly and get your mind onto the next one, Doncaster haven't had the opportunity to do that. Blackburn lost to Nottingham Forest last week, and you'd say this is a game they'll need to win, if they want to put themselves in September's play-off picture. I think they'll do it, 0-2.

Leeds vs. Sheff Wed

Getting a point and clean sheet at potential play-off rivals Leicester was an encouraging early step for Leeds to improve their away form this season, under Brian McDermott. By getting that away clean sheet last week, they've already equaled the number they had in all of last season! I would have to fancy them against Wednesday, who are still waiting for key players like Jermaine Johnson and Gary Madine to return from injury. I think Leeds will propel themselves into the top 3 or 4 with a 3-0 win.

Barnsley vs. Charlton

By Saturday night, at least one of these teams will no longer be without a point, but I don't think a draw would suit either. Chris Powell might consider fielding some of the fringe players who beat Oxford 4-0 in the Capital One Cup, because that was an entirely different starting XI to the one that lost their first two league games. Losing so late at Blackpool will have been difficult for Barnsley to take, and I wonder if that might have a 'domino effect', and lead to a hapless season for the Tykes. 0-1.

Birmingham vs. Brighton

Despite taking the lead in all three matches, Brighton have lost all of their opening fixtures. I feel that this is where having 14 foreigners in your squad will be costly. When you're on a run of winning games, communication isn't a problem because confidence is high and play becomes instinctive, but when you start losing, it becomes an issue because it's more about staying organised and grinding out a win as a team. I'm not sure Brighton will do that, especially amid this ongoing uncertainty regarding Poyet and the club, so as a Birmingham fan I think we've picked the right time to play Brighton. Our defence is looking much more solid that it did last season, so I think we'll smell the Brighton blood, and snatch three points. 1-0.

Bournemouth vs. Wigan

Gabriel Wigan's fancy trip to Wembley (*cough* waste of money, FA *cough*) could be a game, and an occassion, that they'll take confidence from. They played some good football, and did fairly well to keep it down to 2-0 against Man United. If I was a Wigan fan I'd be pleased with two encouraging performances so far, although missing out on a gameweek will add to an already congested fixture calender, with Europa League games approaching. The scoreline 6-1 didn't do Bournemouth justice at all last week. If you look at the stats, the Cherries had 66% of possession, they had the confidence to try and dominate Watford, but came unstuck in the second half. Two exciting teams, I can see a lot of goals in this one, but Wigan have it in them to win 2-3, given the attacking quality they have in their squad.

Burnley vs. Yeovil

It was an abandoned party for Yeovil last week, as they celebrated their first ever game in the second tier, but lost to a goal from the player who secured their promotion, Dan Burn. That defeat may dampen their spirits, because the squad's average age is quite inexperienced at 24, and therefore more partial to getting sucked into a run of defeats. Burnley have started nicely, and perhaps last week when I said they hadn't replaced Charlie Austin, I was being slightly ignorant of Danny Ings, who has scored 7 goals in his last 7 games including pre-season. I'd actually predict Burnley to win this by a big margin, because Yeovil's young team could crumble if they let in an early goal, and emergency goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey will have had very little time to prepare for this match. 4-0.

Derby vs. Leicester

The East Midlands rivals are on 4pts each, and this could be seen as a big game, beyond local pride. Whilst the winners would be shuffling around the automatic promotion places, the losers would probably have to win back-to-back games to find a play-off spot before the international break.  But I've got a feeling that both teams, secretly, would be content with a point. They've both got winnable games coming up, and with any rivals matches there's often an element of both teams being afraid of losing, rather than going out to attack. 0-0.

Middlesbrough vs. Blackpool

Gabriel To start the season with two wins is a perfect start for Blackpool, but the fact that they're second is more of a reflection on their opponents so far, than their ability. It was important for Middlesbrough not to get stuck in a cycle of defeats after the defeat to Accrington, considering that was what happened several times in the second half of last season. It'll be interesting to see if, having got their first win, Middlesbrough can refind their form in the first half of last season, when they were around the automatic promotion places. 2-0 Middlesbrough, they'll be a different proposition for Blackpool.

Millwall vs. Huddersfield

It's only two weeks in, but I've already given up on Steve Lomas, almost regardless of his managerial ability. The irrational Millwall fans have been against him from day one, the atmosphere at The Den will be horrible for the players, and I really can't see the ex-Hammer changing the fans' minds. Even though they're 18th, you could argue it's been a decent start for Huddersfield, having played two promotion contenders. They've picked up a point, it's been a brief period of damage limitation for them, and now they've got three winnable games, this being the first. 0-2.

Nottm Forest vs. Bolton

With Blackpool looking unlikely to stay at their end of the table, and Watford having a hard game at Reading, this is the perfect opportunity for Forest to move to top spot. And I think they'll do it. With back-to-back clean sheets, their new defensive players have settled in very quickly, whereas two mediocre draws follow a poor pre-season from Bolton's point of view. August hasn't dealt the Trotters a good hand, and it might take them until late September to start hitting a run of form. Forest have the incentive to win this 2-1.

QPR vs. Ipswich

I'm quite happy that QPR slipped up at a supposedly lower team like Huddersfield, because it supports my prediction that they'll struggle this season. It looks like they're going to sign Scott Parker, who as far as I'm concerned, is another money-grabbing past-it, of which type their squad is quite full of. Ipswich won 3-0 last week, which will give them a lot of confidence going into this game. I think McCarthy will ensure they put in a hardworking performance, which will cancel out the admitted quality QPR have in their team, because unlike Ipswich, the Rs lack in mobility. 1-1.

Reading vs. Watford

Both will have genuine promotion ambitions this season, but I just can't see Reading stopping Watford. If anything, the fact that they had so little of the ball against Bournemouth and yet scored 6 goals, highlights just how prolific their counterattacks are. Even though Reading are the relegated side, who have made a steady start to their Championship campaign, I think they'd be the more happy with a point, because the momentum is entirely in Watford's favour. The more I think about it, the more inclined I feel to go with an away win. 0-2, if Watford score the first goal you can bet they'll grab another one on their exceptional counterattacks.

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