My prediction for every match of this weekends football, in the Premier League and Championship...
Palace vs. Arsenal
|Tough job for Millen|
It seemed very surprising that Arsenal lost the match against Dortmund, having had so much of the ball. They came up against a very well-organised German defence, and didn’t manage to guard against Dortmund’s counter attack at the end. That first defeat in twelve games could spark a difficult period for Arsenal, with some testing fixtures coming up in all competitions. Palace’s 4-1 home defeat to Fulham was a blow in their survival ambitions. As a result they might go into this game being a little bit more cautious and disciplined defensively, which puts me off tipping this to be a cricket score. Arsenal to grind out a 0-1 win.
Aston Villa vs. Everton
|Barry returns to Villa Park|
Lambert and Martinez are two looking to modernise their teams, as both sides have converted to three at the back during certain phases of play this season. Lambert is trying to make Villa more fluid, as Bacuna and Luna push forward much like wingbacks, and Westwood occasionally fills in the gaps at the back. It’s a similar strategy for Everton, with Coleman and Baines playing very attack-minded, leaving Gareth Barry to drop back. Talking of Barry, the ex-Villa man returns to his old stomping ground after a controversial game against Hull. He was alleged to have scored an offside goal, and shortly afterwards, injured Danny Graham. From the replay, he didn’t seem to have got a touch for the goal, and the challenge looked like a bit of acting from Graham – Barry’s foot was high, yet there was no contact from the boot. This could be a high-scoring game. With forward-minded fullbacks and an aging defensive partnership, Everton might struggle against the pace of Villa’s attack. The Toffees are amongst the league’s higher scoring teams though, so an entertaining draw could be on the cards at Villa Park. 2-2.
Liverpool vs. West Brom
|Looking solid - Yacob|
I could see West Brom taking a point here. They did the double over the Reds last season, winning 5-0 on aggregate - without much of a change in either squad since, this could have an impact. Liverpool started the season very solid with three straight clean sheets, yet since they’ve conceded seven goals from five games, and against teams in the bottom half of the table. They’ve started to concede goals from set pieces and defend sloppily, lacking leadership at the back. In fact, they’ve now conceded more goals than their opponents, West Brom. The Baggies have already kept three clean sheets this season, which has had a lot to do with the defensive midfield partnership of Yacob and Mulumbu. The Liverpool trio of Moses, Suarez and Sturridge, rather than directly attack the defence, tend to drift around looking for space, and take advantage of the gap between defence and midfield. With Yacob and Mulumbu remaining firm, those three might not get the space they need to create chances, which could result in a frustrating afternoon for Liverpool. 1-1.
Man Utd vs. Stoke
|Time for Vidic and Rio to move on?|
A reasonable performance from United against Real Sociedad on Wednesday put them in control of the group. They should qualify with another win, which will allow Moyes more freedom when it comes to resting players and correcting their league form. It looks as though the partnership of Jones and Evans is actually stronger than Vidic and Ferdinand; they have more pace, less injuries, and provide long-term options. This is the time for Moyes to show more faith in youth; United's squad is filled with players who have a lot of potential. Stoke City stumbled to a draw against West Brom last week and sit one point above the relegation zone; thankfully for them rivals Norwich and Cardiff are playing each other, so the Potters are unlikely to fall into the drop zone with defeat on Saturday. United have only scored eleven league goals under Moyes this season, but they might have turned a corner after the result against Sociedad, so they should be due a convincing win. 3-0.
Norwich vs. Cardiff
|Bright prospect - Redmond|
Things aren’t looking so good for the Canaries. They’ve invested north of £20 million this summer, bringing in three strikers, yet they’ve only scored six goals this season and sit in the drop zone. Although Hughton needs to improve results quickly, they have played five of the top seven teams in their opening eight games – losing to Chelsea and Arsenal in their last two is no less than anyone expected. Cardiff on the other hand, let themselves down slightly at Chelsea. They conceded the equalizer because of a self-inflicted error from their keeper Marshall, whilst Caulker looked a liability at the back. Both teams have lost their last two, so you wouldn’t particularly fancy either side going into this one, it looks like the game might be a draw. 1-1.
Southampton vs. Fulham
Two vital wins for Fulham takes them away from the relegation zone, and eases some of the pressure on Martin Jol. They thumped Crystal Palace 4-1 last week which should build confidence, although personally I didn’t think Kasami’s goal was quite as good as people have said. It looked like a pot shot, where he just wanted to whack it and hope, with nothing else on. Southampton’s fine start to the season continued with a late point at Old Trafford, and at the moment the team is playing full of confidence. Southampton have very flexible players and work at a high-tempo, which will be difficult for Fulham to handle defensively. The Cottagers have a much more rigid style, and their attacking players don’t tend to track back, so this is a comfortable win for Southampton. 2-0.
Sunderland vs. Newcastle
It was a baptism of fire for
Poyet last week, he watched his new side lose 4-0 at Swansea, and fall to seven
points away from safety. Defensively Sunderland don’t look like competing, the
one positive is that under Poyet, Brighton had the second best defensive record
in the Championship last season. Re-organizing the team will be the Uruguayan’s
first priority, but this game doesn’t give him the best opportunity do so.
Bitter rivals Newcastle have scored two goals in each of their last six games
in all competitions, and outside the top four, only Everton and Swansea have
scored more goals than Toon this season. Newcastle fans have protested against
the ownership of Mike Ashley this week, for various reasons. Whilst his running
of the club has been questionable at best, you can’t criticize the lack of
signings this summer. Not bringing too many new faces in seems to have settled
the squad, and given a lot of French players who came in January a chance to gel.
For a lot of teams in Sunderland’s situation, they would see a derby game as a
chance to come out fighting and kick-start their season. But with thirteen new
foreign players having signed in the summer, they will lack that extra
determination to get the result. For Newcastle it won’t be a problem, because
they are playing with confidence going forward, so they can get a 1-2 win
|Toon fans: Ashley Out|
Chelsea vs. Man City
Chelsea beat Cardiff 4-1 last week,
but the game did highlight a potential problem defensively. David Luiz
naturally bursts forward from the back to break up attacks and start moves, but
it leaves the aging John Terry exposed. Fullbacks don’t have the freedom to
support attacks, which is a problem because Chelsea lack width with three
attacking midfielders. Man City got their first away win of the season at West
Ham last week, to put them three points off the top, and qualification from their Champions League group will be confirmed with another win, giving Pellegrini the freedom to rest players. It may have been an inconsistent start for him, but the Chilean has gotten the best out of Sergio Aguero, who already has nine goals to his name, and Yaya Toure, the driving force behind City's 11/12 title winning campaign. Both sides have plenty of creativity, and with neither top of the league, neither manager is likely to take the 'play for a draw' approach which usually leads to a drab game. This should be a cracker. 2-2.
|Aguero rediscovering form|
Swansea vs. West Ham
Swansea play at home on Thursday
night against Kuban Krasnodar, but that’s unlikely to make a difference. Their
record from matches which have come directly after a European game for Swansea
this season, is six points from four games. Their overall record this season,
is ten points from eight games. This suggests that Swansea keep the ball so
well and retain energy, that they’ve been able to negate the problem of having
to compete on two fronts. The Swans should have a lot of the ball in this game
as well, because West Ham like to sit back in their own half, particularly away
from home. The Hammers picked up a meagre thirteen points on the road last
season, whilst a routine defeat to City last week suggests that their 3-0 win
at Spurs was simply a freak result. Swansea to win 1-0.
|Congested fixtures for Laudrup|
Tottenham vs. Hull
After the aforementioned horror
show against West Ham, Spurs got back on the road against Villa last week, as
Andros Townsend continued his string of impressive performances. He is likely
to have another good game against Hull, who have started the season well, but
tend to find it difficult against teams who play with a lot of width.Hull will also be without first choice goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who picked up an injury on Wednesday, leaving goalkeeping duties with Steve Harper at short notice. It could turn out to be Harper's day, like it was for Boaz Myhill, who had an extraordinary game for Hull when they last came to Tottenham and earned them a point in 2009. But it's unlikely, and with so much creativity in their team and Soldado having found his goalscoring boots at Villa Park last week, Spurs won't have a problem winning 3-0 here.
|Myhill MOM at Spurs 2009|
Middlesborough vs. Doncaster
Middlesbrough have sacked Tony
Mowbray, after a very mediocre start to the season. It was probably the right
decision from Steve Gibson, but he has said that Mowbray had one of the biggest
budgets in the Championship, which I'm not convinced about - Middlesbrough only
spent a net total of around £2 million since Mowbray was appointed. With
ever-dwindling attendances, the club has little spending power, so the next
manager definitely needs to build through the club’s impressive academy. For
now the caretaker manager’s job is with Mark Venus, who was Mowbray’s
assistant, but going purely on his first press conference he didn’t look
particularly convincing. The man strikes me as someone who is very adept
tactically, but lacks the media-handling ability and charisma to be a good
manager - I could be proved completely wrong. Doncaster might just smell blood
in this one, and take advantage of the uncertainty at the Riverside. Only once
this season have Rovers lost back-to-back games, which indicates that Paul
Dickov keeps his team motivated, and ingrains a strong mentality into the
dressing room. They lost 4-1 at Reading last week, so Dickov will want an
improved performance and I think he’ll get it. 1-2.
|How will Venus fare as 'Boro boss?|
Barnsley vs. Sheff Wed
A crunch clash between
two of the bottom three teams is Saturday’s early kick-off, and even at this
relatively early stage, it’s a vital game for both teams. Barnsley scored three
on Saturday, but they couldn’t keep their concentration towards the end and
defended sloppily for Middlesbrough’s two goals in the final ten minutes.
Although they got the much-needed win, their defensive organisation is
something they’ve struggled with since the start of the season and Flitcroft
needs to work on it. I’m not sure how Wednesday manager Dave Jones can defend
Semedo after a terrible challenge on Jay Spearing, in their 1-1 draw at Bolton.
He completely deserved his sending off. Wednesday’s third successive draw
leaves them still without a win this season, which will be a big concern for
the fans. Without that confidence booster of winning games, it is highly
possible that this series of draws for the Owls will eventually turn into a
cycle of defeats. Given uncertain times at Wednesday, on and off the pitch, I
favour Barnsley going into this Surprisingly, they’ve only lost two home games
this season. I would fancy them to improve defensively, and pick up their first
clean sheet of the season with a 2-0 win.
|Semedo sent off|
Huddersfield vs. Leeds
Given the apparent lack of
firepower in their squad, Leeds’ 4-0 win over Birmingham last week came as a
surprise to everyone, having picked up just one point from six beforehand.
McDermott changed to a 3-5-2 for that game and it worked wonders - the
partnership of Matt Smith’s height and Ross McCormack’s finishing quality looks
quite promising. They now have the perfect opportunity to build confidence, in
a West Yorkshire derby against a Huddersfield side who are without a win in
five games. Crucially, the Terriers are missing striker James Vaughan, who has
scored nine of Huddersfield’s fourteen goals this season. He’s suspended for
this match, meaning Jonathan Stead is likely to feature up front. Stead, by
contrast, has only started three games this season, making little impression in
his role as an 'impact' substitute. Leeds will feel confident of keeping a
clean sheet, so they will come out the victors 0-2.
|Leeds boosted by 4-0 win|
Blackpool vs. Blackburn
Blackpool’s 1-0 win over Wigan
last week keeps them in the play-off places. The Tangerines are built on a
solid foundation, having kept three consecutive clean sheets and Gary
MacKenzie, in particular, looks to have settled in well at the heart of their
defence. When Blackpool have played five in midfield they have proved difficult
to break down, so this will be a tough game for Blackburn. In a similar case to
Huddersfield and James Vaughan, Jordan Rhodes has scored the majority of
Rovers’s goals, yet I’ve got a feeling he might hit a rough patch in form. The
Scot picked up an injury on international duty, looked to have had an ineffective
game against Charlton - there’s a lot of pressure on him to score goals.
Blackburn have lost their last two, and if this game makes it a third
consecutive defeat, they could drop into the bottom half of the table. 1-0.
|MacKenzie settled well|
Bolton vs. Ipswich
Bolton badly need that second win
of the season, to give themselves some breathing space from the relegation
pack. The Trotters might be unbeaten in four, although some consistency is
required from Jermaine Beckford - their main striker has scored in his last two
games. As for Ipswich, talks of Mick
McCarthy taking the Ireland job have continued which will be unsettling for the
players, who were unfortunate in their defeat against Burnley. The Tractor Boys
are searching for their first win on the road this season, and I can’t see them
getting it at the Reebok, because Bolton look like they’re about to start,
gradually, climbing the table. 1-0.
|"One more please, Jermaine!"|
Burnley vs. QPR
I’ve thought about this game all
week, and the conclusion I keep coming to is a bore draw. Firstly, both teams
have been extremely organised. QPR have always had the best defensive record in
the Championship, while Burnley have only conceded one goal in their last four.
Also, both teams would probably accept a point. Burnley will look at the
quality of QPR’s side and feel an element of fear, whilst QPR, playing away
against the team top of the league, would probably take a draw themselves. We
could see a game of two teams defending deep as well. If Richard Dunne partners
Clint Hill at centre-back for QPR, they are both aging defenders so they’ll want
to make sure they’re not caught out by the pace of Ings from Sam Vokes’
flick-ons. Burnley are a team that naturally defend deep and look to hit teams
on the counter, and that plan is unlikely to change for this game. The match is
not a ‘must win’ for either side, so this might be a 0-0 stalemate.
|Will Austin score against old club?|
Derby vs. Birmingham
Derby’s 3-2 win at Watford will
bring confidence for the now joint-highest scoring team in the Championship,
under the management of Steve McLaren. Two games, two wins is the perfect start
to his reign in charge. He needed it, because otherwise his unsuccessful time
with England would start to become an issue for the media, and a target for
opposition fans. He’ll be delighted with the start, and his 100% record is
likely to continue against Birmingham, a side who have lost their last five
away games. A big factor in their 4-0 defeat at Leeds was the absence of Tom
Adeyami and Callum Reilly in the centre. Adeyami may return for this game, but
the blow for the Blues is that impressive loanee Jesse Lingard is out for this
game. With Birmingham having conceded nine goals in their last three away
games, this will probably be a comfortable Derby win. 3-1.
|Birmingham missed Adeyami|
Leicester vs. Bournemouth
Bournemouth continue to throw
their weight around in the Championship, picking up a late point at Nottingham
Forest last week. Eddie Howe’s side now have another challenging East Midlands
trip, this time to Leicester, who have won each of their last five home games.
They beat Huddersfield last week, with out-of-form Jamie Vardy getting his
first goal in nine games - since signing for Leicester in 2012, Vardy hasn’t
been able to convert his non-league form to the Championship. But with Burnley
playing QPR this weekend, the Foxes will fancy their chances of furthering
their claim in the automatic promotion race. Bournemouth like to play with
attacking fullbacks and that might leave some spaces for the likes of Dyer and
Knockaert to exploit, a Leicester win for me. 2-1.
|Vardy needs to start scoring|
Reading vs. Millwall
Reading got an impressive 4-1 win
over Doncaster last week, with four different goalscorers, including a belter from
Danny Guthrie. It’s a good way to bounce back from a couple of disappointing
results against Barnsley and Burnley, and if Reading’s home form will be key to
their play-off chances this season, they will need to win 'routine' games such
as these. But Millwall showed some spirit last week, by coming from behind
twice against QPR’s strong defence. If Lomas is getting that kind of response
from the players, he clearly can’t have lost the respect of the dressing room,
despite the disdain of most fans. A positive for Millwall is that Scott
MacDonald scored his second goal of the season, the Lions will make this a
close game, but Reading will have just enough quality to nick it 2-1.
|Adkins' side in play-offs|
Yeovil vs. Nottm Forest
On paper, this is probably the
most predictable game of the weekend. A bottom of the table Yeovil Town team,
who draw a blank as often as they score, play a promotion-chasing Forest side
unbeaten in seven. Billy Davies’ men did drop two points late on at home to
Bournemouth last week, but they should be able to bounce back from that, even
without the injured Kelvin Wilson. Yeovil on the other hand, looked simply
doomed. They desperately need their top scorer in League One last season, Paddy
Madden, to start finding his Championship feet, because otherwise they don’t
look capable of scoring goals. Forest will ease to a 0-2 win.
|How long is the gap since Paddy Madden last scored?|
Charlton vs. Wigan
There may not be too many goals
in a game between two of the lower-scoring teams in the table. I was very happy
to have predicted Charlton's 1-0 win at Ewood Park last week - I went very much
against the table and form guide, but I felt that Chris Powell's side were due
a win, having been a little unlucky in previous games. The fact remains that
only Yeovil have scored less goals than Charlton this season, but the
well-taken strike from Simon Church last week, and his goal for Wales recently,
will give Powell much to deliberate over when Yann Kermorgant returns from
injury. Wigan's away form so far has been abysmal. Since the 4-0 win at
Barnsley on the opening day, they've lost to nil in each of their following four
Championship away games. To say that their Europa League campaign has disrupted
their league form could be inaccurate though - they have won both of the
domestic matches which have followed a Europa League clash. A 1-1 draw seems
the most likely outcome here.
|Important win for Powell's side|
Brighton vs. Watford
|Watford won 3-1 at Brighton last season|