I'm going to predict this weekend's Premier League and Championship matches in a weekly feature. Here goes...
Man City vs. Hull
I said in my Man City season preview that I thought Pellegrini would struggle at City, and after their defeat to Cardiff, I’m glad I took that stance. Saying that they had Kompany out and it was Cardiff’s first home game, for me, is an excuse. If you want to win the title, you’ve got to be able to get by without your key players and handle the pressure, that’s the type of game that you need to be able to grind out a win from. After beating Norwich, Hull have their first win of the season which is an important confidence booster, I stand by my prediction that they’ll surprise everyone and end up midtable. I think they’ll put in a very spirited performance against Man City, it’ll be by no means a walkover, but I just think City might have the rotating attacking options to win the game in the second half. 2-1.
Cardiff vs. Everton
A great result for Cardiff last week. I predicted 0-0 for that game and spent Saturday night worrying about whether I’d been too generous saying they’d get a point, in fact I hadn’t been generous enough! A result like that should give the team massive confidence going forward, and playing at home I think they might actually be too powerful for an Everton team in transition. They didn’t put in a poor performance against West Brom, but will still be getting used to Martinez’s more fluent style of play, so it’s possible they’ll have a few disappointingly off-colour results in the first few weeks. This will be one of them, 2-0.
Newcastle vs. Fulham
It sounds like it was a very flat atmosphere at St. James Park when they drew with West Ham, and I think Fulham might take advantage of that. Although the Cottagers haven’t got much creativity in central midfield, what they have in Berbatov, Ruiz, Bent and Taarabt, is attacking players who can make a difference with a single moment of quality. Fulham don’t have to be incessantly creating chances, or controlling the game to win this, due to the poor atmosphere it could easily take one lapse of concentration from Newcastle’s point of view, and Fulham can grind out a win. 0-1.
Norwich vs. Southampton
Two of the surprise biggest summer spenders go head-to-head, in an intriguing fixture. Both teams disappointed a little last week, with Norwich losing against Hull, Southampton only managed a draw at home to Sunderland. The big money signings at these respective clubs might take time to bed in, but with so much invested in the squad, these club’s ought to be looking towards the top half, rather than the relegation battle. 1-1.
West Ham vs. Stoke
It’s been a very solid start for West Ham, kicking off with four points and back-to-back clean sheets, and I can see them getting another one. Stoke might have scored two goals last week, but that was against promoted side Crystal Palace, and the Potters are yet to have an out-and-out striker score in seven matches, since the start of pre-season. I mentioned Norwich and Southampton as potential top half clubs and you can add West Ham to that group, because they were so strong at home last season, and they’ve only improved their squad this summer. For Stoke, a more reliable goalscorer and a stabilised approach is required before they can be put under that bracket. 2-0.
Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland
After the Stoke game, Holloway commented: ‘we gave a good account of ourselves… in the second half we ran out of steam’. That, for me, is not good enough for a club that wants to compete in the Premier League. It’s not enough to ‘pass the ball around nicely at times’, you’ve got to have that competitive edge to see the big results out. Even though it’s very early in the season, I think this unlucky mentality in the Palace team could see them get sucked into a cycle of defeats. I’d go with Sunderland to win this game but that’s not to say I think they’ll be safe, their new influx of players will still take time to gel and September will provide some testing fixtures for them. 1-2.
Liverpool vs. Man Utd
The more I think about this, the more inclined I am to go with Liverpool. With ex-Everton manager David Moyes now in charge of Manchester United, and Liverpool having a 100% record, the Reds will have never wanted to beat United more. I think the atmosphere at Anfield will be intimidating, I can see the home fans cheering every tackle whilst in attack, they have potential to cause United problems. They’ve got a lot of weedy, clever players who operate in behind the defence which could cause the height of Vidic and Ferdinand difficulties in terms of pace and knowing which runners to track. My money is on Liverpool to pull off a surprise derby win, the fact that they’ve taken ten points from their last five Anfield meetings with United tells you just how much these games mean to them. 2-1.
West Brom vs. Swansea
There’s a couple of problems developing with West Brom, even this early in the season, and I’m sticking with my season preview tip for them to struggle with relegation. On the Anelka issue, I’m sure I speak for everyone sparing my thoughts for Eric Manasse’s friends and family, but on the professional side, you wonder where the goals will come from for West Brom. It may well be worth Steve Clarke giving a chance to young striker Saido Berahino, who scored a hat-trick in the cup midweek against Newport County. Another problem for Clarke is that Ben Foster has been ruled out for three months, and they’ll either have to persist with an inexperienced goalkeeper in Luke Daniels, or bring in a new one on a short-term deal, for whom it could take a while to settle. Given these goings on at West Brom, I would have to fancy Swansea, who will be keen to kickstart their season with a win and have that bit more firepower up front. 0-2.
Arsenal vs. Tottenham
You can question why Wenger played a first choice team against Fenerbahce on Tuesday, despite holding a 3-0 away goal lead, but I think it was by default. Arsenal still lack that strength in depth, which comes back to the issue of no transfers, and personally I don’t hold Wenger responsible for that. Whoever handles contract negotiations is to blame in my opinion, and on the playing side, three straight wins suggest Wenger still has the respect of his players. As for Tottenham, I’ve been bored to tears all summer with Sky Sports constantly droning on about the Bale to Madrid deal, and it’s carried on this week. People give Daniel Levy praise for being a good businessman, but if negotiations were taking place on the Bale deal, I think he’s haggled for too long. If a bid anywhere near the region of £80 million came in for an, in my eyes overrated player in Gareth Bale, I would accept it instantly. It’s a hugely inflated price and getting the deal done quickly gives you the chance to rebuild the squad, bring in new players, and give them time to settle. In the event that this saga is a complete myth, or that Spurs have absolutely no intention of selling Bale full stop, then surely you’d come out publicly and say that? I can’t understand the delay, and I think on this occasion Levy has done his club a disservice, dragging too much attention onto the team. Largely for that reason, and also because Arsenal will have had an extra two days to prepare for this match, I’m going to go for a Gunners 2-1 win.
Leeds vs. QPR
People have been talking about the strength in depth of QPR’s squad, but Harry Redknapp only made six changes for the match against Swindon, and they lost 2-0. The signing of Matt Phillips will help them, but the age of QPR’s squad is, in my opinion still too high for them to sustain their promotion challenge. Vitally, it looks like Leeds will keep hold of Ross McCormack because the last news on him possibly leaving was two weeks ago, and his four goals already suggest that his mind is very much on the pitch. 1-1.
Barnsley vs. Huddersfield
Once they had M’voto sent off, it was an utter capitulation for Barnsley at Blackburn, as their defence was torn apart. But that wasn’t the only time Barnsley’s defending has been poor in these first few weeks, and up against a striker with the power of James Vaughan the form he’s in, Barnsley are definitely going to struggle. These teams stayed up when playing against each other on the final day of last season, but I feel their respective fates will be known long before the final day of this. 0-3.
Birmingham vs. Ipswich
Darren Randolph should return to the Birmingham goal after a gashed hand, but my main worry with Blues is where our goals will come from if Chris Burke keeps being left out. For me he's our best player, he'll chip in with a lot of goals and Clark needs to find a way of shoehorning him into the team. From an entirely unbiased viewpoint I think Ipswich will win, because they've had a week to prepare for the game, whereas most of our team has had to play 120 minutes in the Capital One Cup. Last season, Ipswich never lost back-to-back matches under Mick McCarthy, and on six out of ten occassions, they kept a clean sheet in the match following a defeat. Like McCarthy or loathe him, those statistics tell you how good a disciplinarian he is, and I think Ipswich will bounce back with a hard fought win. 0-1.
Blackburn vs. Bolton
I've had a look back at some of my predictions so far, and I've noticed that every week I say Blackburn to win. Although they got an important 5-2 win over Barnsley last time, their overall form so far hasn't been good, so I might shake it up a bit this week. I've got a little bit of sympathy with where Bolton are, they've had a number of injuries and have had to play two of the relegated sides, plus top of the table Nottingham Forest. Hardly an ideal start, and I the squad they have is, on paper, a lot better than 21st. It's a case of fight or flight for the Trotters, players like Jay Spearing and Matt Mills need to step in and replace the experience of the injured Darren Pratley and now David Wheater in the spine of the team. I can see Bolton battling to get that overdue first win of the season, 1-2.
Blackpool vs. Watford
This time last year, Blackpool were top of the Championship table, having won each of their first three matches - and Ian Holloway was still in charge. Twelve months, four manager changes and a 15th placed finish later, the scenario is strikingly similar. I don't think Blackpool will be anywhere near the promotion places in the second half of the season, although their win over Reading last week tested my opinion. Their squad looks thin, and from the outside, it seems like a strange decision to loan out defender Caprice when they're short of defenders, and loan in striker Delfouneso when they have plenty of attackers. Watford have fought back from behind in important games against Reading and Forest, and the one thing you'd say about them is that they always threaten in attack, eleven goals from four games tells itself. At some point Blackpool are going to get a bit of a reality check, and Watford with their attacking prowess, might just be the team to provide it. 0-3.
Brighton vs. Millwall
The main circumstances in which I'd fear for Brighton on Saturday, would be in the pub brawl afterwards! I get a feeling that Oscar Garcia has turned things around very quickly at the AMEX. Two weeks ago, he had lost his first three games, but now back-to-back wins puts Brighton up to 10th. What were they ever worried about?! The point at Sheffield Wednesday last week at least stopped the rot for Millwall, but watching Steve Lomas in his interviews, he just strikes me as a bit of a lightweight. For someone taking over as manager of Millwall, particularly in his circumstances, you need to have a very firm, disciplined approach and create a profile as a tough person not to be 'messed with'. He doesn't seem to have done that, and with only one point so far, he's now going to struggle to get the respect of his players, let alone the fans. 2-0.
Charlton vs. Leicester
Joint-bottom hosts joint-top. Deeply contrasting starts to the season for these teams, Leicester have got off to an impressive start, whilst Charlton seem to be suffering from a mild dose of second season syndrome. The strange thing is though, it really wouldn't surprise me if Charlton won this game. Although Leicester have won their last three, their defence has been exposed in the last couple of games and they fielded a lot of their first choice players against Carlisle. Charlton need to start picking up some points, they'll be desperately scrapping for their first win of the season, and I have a sneaky feeling they'll get it. 2-1.
Derby vs. Burnley
To run out 5-0 winners against Brentford, who are doing well in League One, will be a big confidence booster for Derby's young players, and braces for strikers Chris Martin and Connor Sammon should create healthy competition for places up front. Burnley did beat Lancashire rivals Preston 2-0 on Tuesday night, but after eight goals in two games for Derby, I would say the momentum favours the Rams at the moment. On the League Cup Show, Steve Claridge said that they've got a good chance of reaching the play-offs this season. Personally I still think bigger investment in experienced players is required before they can be considered much more than a midtable club, but they might edge this one 2-1.
Doncaster vs. Bournemouth
The first match of the season between two of the promoted clubs from League One, and both teams have adapted to Championship life with ease so far. Bournemouth have taken an admirably bold approach, which in the games against Watford and Huddersfield left them exposed at the back, but they've proven that they can score goals at this level. The signing of young Malmo striker Tokelo Rantie, who has a career record of 33 goals in 72 games, will only improve that. Doncaster have made an attacking start to the season as well, scoring eight goals and conceding three if you count the Charlton game, which they were unfortunate to have abandoned. But on the Tuesday after that game, it was their first choice players who lost at home to Leeds in the cup. I can't see either side having any difficulties with relegation, I think Bournemouth will get their first away point of the season, and Rantie will bag a goal on his debut in a high-scoring game. 2-2.
Middlesbrough vs. Sheff Wed
A mixed start to the season for Middlesbrough with a win, a defeat and two draws. It's still very early in the season, but I would be surprised if they did much better than midtable. The new signings in Varga, Adomah and Whitehead have been underwhelming so far, and Albert Adomah is the only new player to chip in with so much as an assist. Wednesday missed an opportunity to ease the pressure on themselves when they failed to win at home to Millwall last week, but new signing Kamil Zayatte has been a key part of their defence in recent games. Both teams line-up with just the one 'out and out' striker, so the game could be quite a scrappy midfield battle, and because the Riverside doesn't tend to draw big attendances, I don't think this will be a noteworthy game. 0-0.
Wigan vs. Nottm Forest
After their 4-0 win at Barnsley on the opening day, I thought Wigan would be at the top of the table by now, right where Nottingham Forest are. Playing forty six games in a season is difficult enough, but add to that having to play in the Europa League on Thursday nights will be a tough ask for the Latics when September comes. The key was whether they could start well to build momentum, but with twenty seven changes made to the squad this summer, they've not quite been able to do that. It can be considered a good point for Nottingham Forest at Watford, and with a set of very winnable fixtures between now and the next international break, they could conceivably afford to drop points here and still be in a decent position in the promotion race. Looking at the squads, I actually think Wigan have slightly more quality, it could work in their favour that Nottingham Forest are top, because they know they'll have to put in a committed performance to win. I'm tipping this to be the game that the new players at Wigan pull together, I can't help feeling Nottingham Forest are due a defeat. 2-0.
Yeovil vs. Reading
In my opinion, people have overreacted to Yeovil's controversial goal against Birmingham. It is considered common courtesy for a player to throw the ball back, but people need to accept that morality plays very little part in football. Footballers will do anything to gain an advantage for their club, and what Yeovil did was no better or worse than someone diving for a penalty. They were desperate for an important goal late in a match, and also, surely it's up to the referee to stop play? Debates aside, their penalty shoot-out loss means it's effectively four straight defeats for Gary Johnson's team, and it could soon be five, because I reckon Reading will come into this game like a team possessed. After getting thumped 6-0 at Peterborough, with a strong side at that, Nigel Adkins will get his team psyched up for this game. He's proven he's a great motivator at Southampton, so I'm sure Reading will bounce back in emphatic style. 0-4.