Fulham vs. Arsenal
Some Arsenal fans seem to be giving Wenger funeral flowers for a doctor’s appointment. I don’t hold him mainly responsible for their transfer failings this summer, they had plenty of transfer targets, for many of which a fee had been agreed, but they couldn’t close the deal. It seems far-fetched to think Wenger handles the contract negotiations, so I don’t know what else he could do. I think much of their protests came out of frustration after the defeat to Villa – would they have happened if Arsenal won 3-1? The performance at Fenerbahce proves that the team, at least, is still very much motivated to play for Wenger. Fulham got an opening win at Sunderland (apologies to their fans for the short word!) but I think this will be Arsenal’s day. 0-2.
Everton vs. West Brom
Martinez should see his first point at Norwich as one gained, rather than two lost. The performance was encouraging, as Everton had a lot more of the ball and created more chances. When a manager brings in a new style of play, it’s always possible that the players will be unsettled or not used to it, which is why it might have been a good decision to refrain to playing 3 at the back in his first game. It’s a case of evolution not revolution, at Everton. I’m convinced Martinez will get his first win as the Toffees manager, against a West Brom team without key man Romelu Lukaku from last season, who Anelka and Vydra will struggle to replace. I wouldn’t rule out a relegation battle for the Baggies this season. 2-0.
Hull vs. Norwich
At the end of the game, Hull fans seemed admirably content with keeping it down to 2-0 at Chelsea. It’s fair enough, the odds were always against them in that game and in many ways it was a case of keeping their goal difference down, in the second half they became a lot more solid. A good start for the pricey van Wolfswinkel, who had an instant impact grabbing Norwich a point on his debut, but Hull will be very psyched up for their first Premier League home game. If they don’t win, then next up they’ll have a trip to the Etihad, perhaps making the visit of Cardiff after the international break too much of a crunch game. This is the right opportunity for them to get their first win, 2-1.
Newcastle vs. West Ham
Winning more games on the road is the target for West Ham if they want to improve on last season’s 10th placed finish. At Newcastle, they have a good chance to do it. I didn’t think Newcastle would roll over against Man City, because the quality in their team is decent and they’ve had a roundly quiet summer to gel, but perhaps the Cabaye issue has affected them. West Ham got a confident win against Cardiff, and I reckon they’ll build on that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Andy Carroll score against his old club. 0-1.
Southampton vs. Sunderland
Even though you’d probably label these sides as ‘midtable clubs’, they’re going in different directions, so this is an easy decision for me. It’s got to be Southampton. The £15 million signing of striker Osvaldo could be a great capture, a real statement of intent and he’ll make the best out of the creativity in Southampton’s midfield. Sunderland I think will go down this season. Di Canio has tried to overhaul the squad too radically and I think they’ll get off to a bad start, and then, when you’re on a run of defeats it’s difficult to undo the cycle with too many foreign players. I’m convinced Osvaldo will score at least once on his debut, and I would go as far as 3-0 to Southampton.
Stoke vs. Crystal Palace
Although Mark Hughes is looking to add an attacking edge to Stoke’s play, I still think goals will be an issue, with the team only scoring 4 in 5 pre-season games. It’s one thing trying to be more creative, but you’ve got to have players who can take the chances, at the moment I’m reserved as to whether Stoke have that. It’s early in Palace’s season and I think they can get a result here, they’ll play with a lot of enthusiasm for their first away game. They defended quite well against Spurs, which makes me think they can keep a clean sheet here, and get an important early point. 0-0.
Aston Villa vs. Liverpool
Just a week ago, I was thinking that maybe Benteke won’t do as well in his second season with the pressure on him this time. 7 days, and 3 goals later, and I look to be proved completely wrong. In Liverpool’s play, Enrique and Johnson have a responsibility to get forward and provide width which wasn’t a problem against Stoke, but could be against the pace on the flanks of Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia. But I’d have to back Liverpool to edge it. They have a lot of talent in their team, and Villa had a testing match against Chelsea in midweek. 1-2.
In an extra note, I would like to give my best wishes to Stiliyan Petrov, who has taken a break from his role as Aston Villa U21 assistant manager to focus on recovering from his leukaemia.
Cardiff vs. Man City
I’m thinking this could be the surprise result of the weekend, I firmly believe Cardiff will get something. They earned promotion on having an excellent home record, an iron defence at the Cardiff City stadium, where only twice all season did they concede more than one goal. The key factor in the extent to which Man City beat Newcastle, was that they were playing at home and scored an early goal. The rest of the night was easy. For this game, there’s a possibility of complacency, Cardiff are likely to keep it tight from the start and if it gets into the second half with Man City not winning, then it’s going to be difficult for them to find a way through. Controversially, I think 0-0. The result would hand a great initiative for Man United or Chelsea to win their game and take an early hold of the title race.
Tottenham vs. Swansea
Bale who? If Tottenham can complete the signings of Willian, Lamela and Coentrao, I think even if they sell their famous Welshman, they will have improved their squad. I don’t think Swansea will do at all as well as most seem to be predicting, there’s a concern with them playing in Europe, and buying so many foreign players, that they’ll lose their level of teamwork and Europa League football could see them struggle for fitness and injuries at times. I think they’ll start the season with two successive three-goal defeats, 3-0.
Man Utd vs. Chelsea
A big game, even at this early stage, and a difficult one to call. In all honesty, I think a point would just about suit both teams. There is so much pressure on Moyes to replace Ferguson, it’s most important that he doesn’t lose this game, United must stay solid and well in the title race until the new year, when the players will be settled under his leadership. From Chelsea’s point of view, they would probably be content with a point at Old Trafford, it would keep them top of the table, albeit having played a game extra. It’s the kind of game that you’ve got the best chance of getting right by not overanalysing, especially after both teams have made perfect starts, so 1-1 has to be the most likely outcome.
Week number four of this Championship season, as the ‘bedding in’ period continues. The so far underachieving teams like Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan will, for now, be granted the excuse of having had a big overhaul of players over the summer, who will take time to settle. On the flip side, it might also take time to see whether the good starts for the budding Bs of Blackpool, Burnley and Bournemouth will continue to boost in the Autumn. The pick of the games this weekend, sees QPR look to build on their solid start by getting a good result at floundering Bolton. And on Sunday, it’s an early top of the table clash of style against substance, as pretty footballing Watford take on a Nottingham Forest team built on defensive efficiency. Here's my preview to the action…
Bolton vs. QPR
The fixture computer hasn’t been kind at all to Bolton, this being another difficult game early on. It’s not until the end of September, that they get a run of games that you’d actually fancy them to win. For QPR though, it’s been fairly generous and playing three supposedly midtable teams, they’ve managed to pick up seven points without catching the eye. Scoring that last minute winner against Ipswich was vital, because going into two tough matches on the road against last seasons’ home specialists, Bolton and Leeds, with just the five points would have made life very difficult. My anti-QPR heart though, says a team of Bolton’s calibre will be determined to fight for their first win of the season, and I think they can do it with home backing. I’ll stick my neck out and say 1-0 to the Trotters.
Blackburn vs. Barnsley
I’ve not got much sympathy for Barnsley after last week, when they surrendered a two goal lead to take just a point against Charlton. They did put their opponents under pressure at times, but their organisation for the two goals they conceded was horrific. They can’t defend like that, and expect to remain afloat in this competition. Just one point from three games is a poor start for Gary Bowyer’s side, and with all the changes of managers last season, the one thing he needs to do now, is steady the ship slightly and get that first win. Against a Barnsley team lacking in defensive confidence at the moment, this is a good opportunity to do it. 2-0.
Blackpool vs. Reading
An injury time goal at Middlesbrough put end to Blackpool’s short-lived 100% record. With Reading and then force of Watford coming up to Bloomfield Road, I think it could be downhill from here. I find it difficult to say whether it’s been a good, or bad start for Reading, because you wouldn’t say five points from three games is promotion form at all. But Bolton away was a tough game, and in some ways the team deserves respect for finding Watford’s potential weakness in defence and nearly seeing out a win. I reckon the Royals will bounce back from that disappointment, and take the points which would move them above their opponents, and likely into the play-off spaces, which would be good progress. 0-2.
Brighton vs. Burnley
This is a very important match for Brighton. When a new manager comes in and struggles for the first few weeks, I find it’s usually the match that comes immediately after their first win, which is key. A win, and all of a sudden the belief in the team rises and they can go on a strong run of form. A defeat, and you go back to square one, and inconsistency sets in. Burnley have had a good start to their season, but with a small squad it’s going to be difficult for them to keep it up. If they do lose this game, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. Leonardo Ulloa looks like a great forward at this level, so I think he’ll score as well as Ings, Brighton to bag an all-important 2-1 win to set Oscar Garcia’s Brighton career alight.
Charlton vs. Doncaster
A difficult decision, but I’d just about go with Charlton for this. The Doncaster team will have a mixed response to giving away a two goal lead at Wigan on Tuesday, they would have surely taken a point before the game, yet to concede an equalizer in the last minute will have been a kick in the teeth. Charlton on the other hand, came back from two goals down at Barnsley, but they’re still looking for their first win. With Doncaster having played their game in midweek, Charlton might just have the extra energy to nick it 1-0.
Huddersfield vs. Bournemouth
Both teams, expected to struggled a bit this season, have actually made respectable starts to their campaigns. It looks increasingly likely that James Vaughan will be Huddersfield’s talisman for the season. He’s scored each of the Terriers’ four goals so far, but even if he got injured, I wouldn’t necessarily worry for Huddersfield because they have a couple of other decent strikers in Stead and Paterson. Four points, especially having had two difficult opening games, is a good return. Bournemouth bounced back brightly from their 6-1 thumping at Watford, by beating promotion candidates Wigan last week, and all of a sudden they’re just outside the play-offs. Interestingly, if they get a good result in this game, their next three opponents are Doncaster, Blackpool and Barnsley, which may assist them to crawl into the play-off places in September. This could well be an entertaining, open game and I can see a lot of goals. 2-2.
Ipswich vs. Leeds
It’s still an unknown as to which way Ipswich’s season will be swinging come Autumn. They beat Millwall at home, as most expected, but lost away against two of the relegated clubs, as most expected. I think it’s actually a reasonable start, considering Mick McCarthy brought in 11 new faces this summer. Leeds have a lot of creativity, particularly out wide, but I’m starting to worry that they might miss Luciano Becchio this season, even if they keep Ross McCormack he doesn’t tend to play as an ‘out-and-out’ forward. With a strong defence under McCarthy, Ipswich will get a 1-0 win.
Leicester vs. Birmingham
For Birmingham, our defensive performances have been good, but it was one simple positional error that cost us against Brighton. I worry that we might rely too much on keeping clean sheets to pick up points this season, because one (own) goal from three games is not a good scoring record so far. Leicester have made a very solid start, getting a couple of away wins and keeping clean sheets in their last two games. They might not have been too active in the transfer market, but so far, the signs are that the summer of stability has helped. I can see a third successive clean sheet for Pearson's men. 1-0.
Sheff Wed vs. Millwall
I wonder if playing away from home is actually going to be Millwall's best chance of getting something, in their circumstances. With such a poor atmosphere at the Den, you would think that it'd only be the true Lions fans who would bother to make the journey up to Sheffield. It's less likely the fans will get on their backs, because most of the Millwall fans clearly aren't helping their team at the moment. An important first point of the season at rivals Leeds for Sheffield Wednesday, who I would expect to climb the table in the coming weeks. This is the first of three forthcoming home games, the others against Yeovil and Doncaster, that they will have a strong chance of winning. I think this might be a draw though, Millwall have to get their first point from somewhere, surely? 1-1.
Watford vs. Nottm Forest
It might only be the fourth game of the season, but I'd hardly be exaggerating in saying this match is the unstoppable force of Watford, versus the immovable object of Nottingham Forest. Both teams have come out of the blocks very quickly, in different ways. Watford have scored a massive ten goals in three games, whereas Forest have kept three straight clean sheets. I'd say that this game might just suit Forest playing away from home, being already two points clear at the top. It means they can simply make sure they stay organised, whereas if they were at home and expected win, Watford's counter attacking ability would be more applicable. This will be a very even game, so possibly a draw, which Forest would be the more inclined to settle for. 1-1.
Wigan vs. Middlesbrough
These are two teams who are all too familiar with the expression '3's a crowd'! Attendances of around 13,000 in their last home games, despite both recently being established Premier League clubs. Both teams grabbed late equalizers in their last match, but in games the teams will have wanted to win. I'm just thinking a draw, because there's been a lot of changes in Wigan's squad, they're still getting into the season and had to play on Tuesday night, and in Lukasz Jutkiewicz, Middlesbrough have a player who could grab them a goal out of nothing. 1-1.