Friday, 25 October 2013

Gabriel's Weekend Predictions: Week Nine

My prediction for every match of this weekends football, in the Premier League and Championship...

Premier League

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
Pochettino Impressing
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
Toon fans: Ashley Out
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 here.

Chelsea vs. Man City
Aguero rediscovering form
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.

Swansea vs. West Ham
Congested fixtures for Laudrup
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.

Tottenham vs. Hull
Myhill MOM at Spurs 2009
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.

The Championship

Middlesborough vs. Doncaster
How will Venus fare as 'Boro boss?
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.

Barnsley vs. Sheff Wed
Semedo sent off
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.

Huddersfield vs. Leeds
Leeds boosted by 4-0 win
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.

Blackpool vs. Blackburn
MacKenzie settled well
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.

Bolton vs. Ipswich
"One more please, Jermaine!"
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.

Burnley vs. QPR
Will Austin score against old club?
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.

Derby vs. Birmingham
Birmingham missed Adeyami
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.

Leicester vs. Bournemouth
Vardy needs to start scoring
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.

Reading vs. Millwall
Adkins' side in play-offs
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.

Yeovil vs. Nottm Forest
How long is the gap since Paddy Madden last scored?
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.

Charlton vs. Wigan
Important win for Powell's side
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.

Brighton vs. Watford
Watford won 3-1 at Brighton last season
Brighton are now without a win in four. In mid-September, it looked as if they were going on a run of wins under Oscar Garcia, but they are now back down to sixteenth, eight points off the play-offs. The Seagulls pass the ball around well, they have a fairly sturdy defence, yet they are currently averaging less than a goal per game - therein lies the problem. They need a goalscorer. The pressure is on loanee Lita to find his form, as Leandro Ulloa won't return until Christmas, and may soon leave to be re-united with Poyet at Sunderland. Watford lost at home to Derby last week. The Hornets have been something of a jack-in-the-box so far this season, in the sense that you never know quite what kind of performance to expect from them. Even though there's a significant gap in the table, I might go with Brighton to get a win with home advantage, because the squad they have is better than their league form suggests. 2-1.

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