Welcome all, to a weekly feature in which I predict this weekend's matches, in the Premier League and the Championship. Here goes...
Norwich vs. Aston Villa
|Will Lambert win on return to Norwich?|
Both teams come into the game having only managed one shot on target in their last match, which makes me think this will be a low-scoring contest. Norwich put in a slightly disappointing performance at Spurs last week, only having 32% possession. Chris Hughton cited the quality in the Spurs team as a factor in their win and took the ‘not our day’ line, but I feel the money Norwich have spent this summer, the performance could have been better. Villa lost at home to Newcastle, and all of a sudden that opening day win at Arsenal seems like a long time ago. With a key defender in Jores Okore now out for nine months, I get a sense that they’ll be very reliant on Christian Benteke once again, and it’s up to Norwich to keep him quiet. 1-0.
Liverpool vs. Southampton
|Can Sturridge make it 5 goals from 5?|
Liverpool drew at Swansea last time out, but overall they’ve made an excellent start to their quest for a Champions League place – it’s far too early to talk about them as title contenders. Southampton have amassed a below-par two points from three games against Sunderland, Norwich and West Ham, where they should have been expecting to pick up five or six with the squad they have. Liverpool to remain top of the table on Saturday with a win, and place a little bit more importance on Southampton’s game against Crystal Palace next week. 2-0.
Newcastle vs. Hull
|Ben Arfa - a match-winner|
After Newcastle’s no-show defeat against Man City on the opening day, and a lacklustre draw with West Ham, I didn’t expect them to pick up back-to-back wins. But that’s exactly what they’ve done and now they will reach an average of two points per game, if they beat a Hull side who have made a steady start to life in the Premier League. So far they don’t look like they’ll concede many goals this season, but the main issue is whether they can find a goalscorer in their ranks, Danny Graham is yet to score for them and missed a number of good chances against Cardiff. It might be difficult to build his confidence in front of goal. On that basis, I’d have to fancy Newcastle to keep a clean sheet, because they’ve only conceded one goal since the opening day, so they’ll get a 1-0 win.
West Brom vs. Sunderland
|Who will win early battle at the bottom?|
An early bottom-of-the-table clash, with the added spice of Stephane Sessegnon having his work permit granted in time to play against his old club. Sunderland lost at home to Arsenal, the fact that they lost 3-1 with just 32% possession and two shots on target suggests they were beaten comfortably, but there were a number of worrying moments for Arsenal. After Sunderland equalized, they were on the front foot and looked like scoring, even at 2-1 they had a disallowed goal. The problem is, things just don’t seem to be falling Sunderland’s way at the moment, whereas West Brom battled for a good point at Fulham, and their squad is freshened up with Sessegnon now added. With home advantage I’ll go with West Brom to win 2-1, but neither side could afford to settle for a draw.
West Ham vs. Everton
|Carroll injured - West Ham to struggle for goals?|
This might be West Ham and Everton’s third goalless draw of the season, both teams would be content with a point. It’ll be key for West Ham to avoid getting into a series of defeats at this stage, so the pressure on Mladen Petric to replace Andy Carroll can be temporarily reduced. On the other hand, it’s key for Everton to make sure they maintain some of the momentum from beating Chelsea last week, which would dissipate if they lost this match. Both teams are struggling for a reliable goalscorer at the moment. Lukaku is a good loan signing for Everton, but he’ll be under a lot of pressure for someone as young as 19, he’ll be expected to score goals which wasn’t necessarily the case at West Brom. This goes down as a 0-0 draw in my book.
Chelsea vs. Fulham
|Does Juan Mata, Mata Juan bit to Mourinho?|
I was shocked that Chelsea lost 2-1 at home to Basel on Wednesday, I didn’t see it coming at all. Chelsea fans seem to be concerned about the omission of Juan Mata from the team, and I feel the problem Chelsea are having, is that the squad is almost too big and lacks structure. They’ve signed players willy-nilly this summer, Abramovich had a lot to do with the signing of Willian. I predicted with Mourinho back, he’d soften his grip of the club’s transfer policy, but it seems I was wrong. Fulham with their experience, will provide an unexpectedly difficult test, and I might stick my neck out and say they’ll grab a point. They can capitalise on the potentially shell-shocked atmosphere at Stamford Bridge with a moment of quality from Taarabt or Berbatov, and grab a shock 1-1.
Arsenal vs. Stoke
|Giroud - improved season ahead?|
Olivier Giroud is in fine form for Arsenal, having already scored five goals from five games. After what was a bit of a transitional season for the Frenchman last year, he’s already scored a third of the number of goals he scored last season, in an eighth of the number of games. With Mesut Ozil in behind him this season, I’d back him to reach the 20-mark. Stoke have started the season well, but Arsenal are in my opinion the best passers in the league, and with the pitch at the Emirates so wide, I think they’ll create a lot of shooting opportunities. Erik Pieters is a left-back who likes to move forward, so I can see Theo Walcott having a field day on the right, Arsenal to win 3-0.
Crystal Palace vs. Swansea
|Can 'Olly's boys climb out bottom three with a win?|
With Norwich and Villa playing each other, Palace will take themselves out of the drop zone with a win, and Swansea might fancy their chances against last season’s play-off victors, so I can see a game with goals. Swansea have had to cope with a European trip to Valencia this week, so they’ve only had a day to prepare for the match, seeing as they will have been travelling and resting on the Friday. Crystal Palace made a decent account of themselves at Old Trafford last week, with the first goal conceded being a wrongly-awarded penalty, and so far they’ve at least looked competent in the Premier League. I think it’ll be an entertaining draw here. 2-2.
Cardiff vs. Tottenham
|A tough trip awaits Spurs|
Most people seem to have this down as a routine win for Spurs, but I think Cardiff might get a point. The atmosphere their fans created against Man City played a big part in the goals they scored, and they also managed to keep at bay a top ten team like Everton on their own turf. If they can send three quality teams away from the Welsh capital without a win, that will do their confidence a lot of good. Spurs were playing at home in Europe, and at the time of writing, are expected to have a comfortable time against Tromso, but it’ll still be an adjustment to go from resting from the match on Friday, to playing in a very competitive game at Cardiff. It’s a 1-1 draw for me.
Man City vs. Man Utd
|Who will run out victors in Manchester Derby?|
A massive game for both clubs, and a win for either team would make either manager a lot more popular with their new clubs. Manchester City will be boosted by the return of Vincent Kompany to central defence, having had an eventually comfortable evening in the Czech Republic on Tuesday. United got their Champions League campaign off to a good start, beating Leverkusen 4-2, but in all honesty I can’t see the midweek games having too much of an impact. Both teams will have had five days to get ready for the match, and the players should be at their physical peak. The key battle will be between Yaya Toure and Fernandinho against Fellaini and Carrick in the centre of the park, which will be an intriguing contest. I don’t tend to be bold when it comes to predictions for the big games, I’ll sit on the fence and say a 1-1 draw.
Charlton vs. Millwall
|Lomas - changing opinions?|
I would find it quite funny if Millwall won this game, because those Millwall fans who were protesting against Steve Lomas just five days ago would all of a sudden have to reassess him. I still think he's got a lot of work to do, though. One win doesn't change people's opinions overnight, and the key thing for this game is that his side pick up a result. The match against Blackpool won't mean much if they then lose this South London derby, so I can see a strong defensive display from the Lions. Charlton have only managed four shots on target in their previous two games, and striker Yann Kermorgant is only just returning from injury. Millwall to grab a 0-1 win, which would mean their fans will need to think twice before chanting 'Lomas Out' again.
Barnsley vs. Watford
|Flitcroft's side could go bottom with defeat|
Watford haven't quite hit the heights of last season, only scraping a victory over Doncaster on Tuesday, with what sounded like a dodgy penalty in the closing stages. Their away form has been a little disappointing so far, taking just four points from a possible nine on the road, and it was their counter-attacking strength when playing away that made them a force in the promotion race last season. This is as good an opportunity as ever for them to put that right, though, because their passing quality is excellent and because Barnsley's defence presses quite high up, so they'll be vulnerable to Watford's through balls. With the Tykes second-bottom, the fixture list isn't smiling at the hosts, as they have to play Leicester, Reading and QPR in their next few games, so this isn't the sort of game they can afford to lose, and 'take confidence from the performance'. It's vital they pick up a result, and I could see Watford taking advantage of their desperation, to come away with a 1-3 win.
Birmingham vs. Sheff Wed
|Will Lingard impress on Birmingham debut?|
Birmingham have conceded the first goal in all but one of their opening games, and Sheffield Wednesday have scored the first in each of their last four, although the Owls are yet to pick up their first win of the season. With both teams perching precariously outside the relegation zone on goal difference, the losers of this game are likely to drop under the red line on Saturday night, so I’m seeing a low-scoring draw. The loan signing of winger Jesse Lingard, highly rated by some of the Manchester United fans, should help Birmingham’s goal scoring efforts in the next few weeks. 1-1.
Blackburn vs. Huddersfield
|Rhodes to score against old club?|
If there were odds of 0/1 for Jordan Rhodes to score on Saturday, I'd probably still bet on it. Prolific goal poachers like Rhodes, who base their game mainly on being able to put the ball in the back of the net, seem to have a certain arrogance in their mentality. An inward belief that they're the best player on the pitch, which means they tend to thrive on high-pressure situations. It doesn't come much bigger than facing your old teammates, so I would bank on Rhodes grabbing a goal to add to his tally of six goals from his last four games. Talking of goalscorers, let's not forget about James Vaughan, who's exceptional start to the season continued on Tuesday night with the important opening goal against Charlton. In what I expect will be a battle of the poachers, I would back Jordan Rhodes- err.. I mean Blackburn, to come out on top. 2-1.
Blackpool vs. Leicester
|Victors of Bloomfield Road go 2nd|
A first defeat of the season for Blackpool came on Tuesday night, in the unexpected form of Millwall. I've said since the beginning that once the Tangerines lose a game, it's going to be difficult for them to remain amongst the promotion-chasing pack with teams like Forest, Watford, and Saturday's opponents Leicester, sniffing around. The Foxes bounced back from their defeat at Charlton very well with back-to-back home wins, and after this game, Autumn offers them a favourable set of fixtures, with Barnsley, Yeovil and Doncaster coming up in the next two weeks. I'll go with a Leicester win, and I think at this point Blackpool's early promotion hopes may start to fade away. 1-2.
Brighton vs. Bolton
|Can Freedman's side get first win at the AMEX?|
Bolton continue to sit bottom of the table, having taken just a point from two home games against midtable sides in Leeds and Derby. Looking at Dougie Freedman's post match comments after the draw with Derby, he signified his determination to 'put it right', but I felt his words had a twinge of desperation. When results aren't going your way, the one thing you want is your manager to remain calm. A trip to the south coast isn't exactly the perfect remedy either. Brighton might not have scored in their last two games, but they've only conceded one goal in their last five, and previously held two of the promotion clubs on their own turf. Although, the loss of Leonardo Ulloa will weaken their attack slightly. If as I predict, Brighton win this 1-0, next week at home to Yeovil is an absolute must-win in terms of Freedman's job safety as Bolton Wanderers manager.
Derby vs. Reading
|Not-so Pride Park|
Remarkably, Derby have only taken one of their eleven points on home soil. They have taken the second-lowest percentage of their points from home matches in the Championship, despite relying largely on home form last season. The visiting Royals might well take advantage of that, because they're looking quite solid at the moment, having taken seven points from their last three games, and keeping a clean sheet in all of them. Nigel Adkins seems to have made the team more solid at the back, and when teams deny Derby space at Pride Park, their forwards start to drop deeper and find it difficult to work openings. Reading might pinch a handy 1-2 away win in their quest for promotion.
Doncaster vs. Nottm Forest
|Will Macheda loan move boost Doncaster?|
Federico Macheda has only played thirty minutes for Doncaster, but he's already spoken of his hopes to extent the one month loan. I think the move will benefit all parties; Macheda hasn't scored a career goal since December 2011 and needs regular game time, Doncaster have only averaged a goal per match so far, they could do with another forward, and if Macheda starts scoring goals, United will make more money from him - I don't think he has the potential to make it in a Devils shirt ultimately. With Doncaster not having won since gameweek two, Nottingham Forest will go to the Keepmoat expecting a win, motivated by the possibility of breaking into the top two should results go their way. But their defence at the moment isn't looking like quite the immovable object it was in the first few weeks, Forest have conceded six goals in their last three games. They might be a little frustrated at having dropped points at home to Middlesbrough on Tuesday, so Doncaster could take a point. 1-1.
Leeds vs. Burnley
|In-form Danny Ings|
This should be a really interesting game. I talked about Rhodes and Vaughan earlier as goalscorers who do well under pressure, and you can definitely put Danny Ings in that category. So far he's dealt with the burden of filling Charlie Austin's boots perfectly, having already scored seven goals, including two clinical finishes against Birmingham on Tuesday night. Leeds could really do with someone like Ings in their push for the play-offs, because from their last three games they only got 23% of their shots on target, scoring just the one goal. They have players in the team who can create chances, but six goals from seven games so far is a goal tally that Brian McDermott will look to improve. A bit like Derby, Leeds haven't started too well at home this season, despite having a really good record at Elland Road in their last campaign. Burnley will go into this game with the more momentum after their 3-0 win on Tuesday, and I reckon they can please their fans with another win, and a fourth clean sheet of the season. 0-1.
Middlesbrough vs. Bournemouth
|Key Man - Albert Adomah|
The main area Bournemouth have struggled in these first few weeks, has been in aerial battles. According to Who Scored?, they've only won 39% of their headed duels, whilst Middlesbrough have won 61%, so you would expect Middlesbrough to dominate in the air. The other thing is Bournemouth play quite a conservative game when it comes to tackling, and Borough like to operate with a 4-5-1 formation, therefore I think they'll make the extra man in the centre count. They could see some joy down the right side with the pace of Albert Adomah, who has already contributed to a third of Middlesbrough's goalscoring successes this season. Bournemouth rely on fullback Charlie Daniels to get forward and provide width, so Middlesbrough may see some space to exploit down their favourite right side. I'll go with a 2-1 home win.
Yeovil vs. QPR
|Tough task for Johnson's side|
A 'QPR win to nil' is the sensible bet for this one. A Yeovil team who have scored three goals from seven games have the unenviable task of playing a QPR side who have kept five consecutive clean sheets. I'm beginning to quieten down on my pre-season tip of QPR to struggle this season. Although I'm a loather of Harry Redknapp, I know deep down that after such a strong start, they've probably got the experience to cement their place at the top as the season goes on. Obviously anything can happen in one game, but I can't see Yeovil getting anything. As much as anything else, they'll be hoping that the teams just above them playing each other, Birmingham and Wedneday, Charlton and Millwall, share the points so that the relegation battle stays compact at this early stage. 0-2.
Wigan vs. Ipswich
|Will Wigan's experienced players cope with fixture congestion?|
It'll be a test of Owen Coyle's managerial abilities how he manages to rotate his squad over what will become a very congested fixture pile-up. Playing in the Europa League on Thursday nights is always going to be difficult, because once you've spent Friday travelling and recovering, you've just got Saturday to prepare for the match on the Sunday. The key for Wigan will be to keep themselves in and around the play-off places until Christmas, and in the second half of the season they'll be able to focus entirely on the league if they're out of the cup. This will be a difficult game for the Latics, because Ipswich are currently celebrating back-to-back wins, and as always a Mick McCarthy side isn't going to give their opponents much space in the final third. A tight 1-1 draw, which Ipswich would be slightly happier with.