Good morning (to those of you who are up at this ungodly hour (6:20 AM here)) – here’s a quick preview of the weekend’s games, predictions and the inevitable question – will the football be as good as we remembered?
If last year’s opening day is anything to go by, I certainly hope it is. That day brought out frustration, anger and then tears of joy. I’ll settle for 3 points come Sunday night.
Saturday 11 August, 2007
Sunderland v Tottenham
Home game for Sunderland so you’d expect Keano’s boys to be bullish (can they ever be anything else?) and there will be a great degree of optimism at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland need to keep things tight and stick to their disciplined passing game. Tottenham, on the other hand, will need to settle in quickly in the first half (without King and Lennon it’s going to be a ‘bit’ jittery) and if they can manage that, you’d be hard pressed to look at anything else but a Spurs victory.
Soccerlens Prediction: Draw – The mind says Tottenham but the heart says Sunderland, so I’m going with a punt on the draw.
Bolton v Newcastle
No doubts in my mind that the Bolton players will up and running for this. I can see Bolton winning this, especially based on past matches between the two sides but there’s some hope for Newcastle this season (despite the injuries) and if they can put 11 fit men on the pitch (especially if Viduka and Smith start) they will score goals and I’m not sure that Bolton’s defence, shored up as it is, will be able to match them this early in the campaign.
Soccerlens Prediction: A Newcastle win as Big Sam walks the talk.
Derby v Portsmouth
Derby don’t have the squad to stay in the Premiership, but what the fans and pundits will be looking at is whether they can put up a good fight or not. A fighting spirit is what saved Wigan at the end of the season, and it could mean the difference between utter humiliation and grudging defeat.
Pompey must be chomping at the bit for this game – an away fixture will give the players an early test but against Derby this has (no offense intended) the air of a pre-season game and Portsmouth players will be wanting to kick the season off with a convincing win.
Soccerlens Prediction: Portsmouth win, no two ways about it (although, mind you, Sheffield United almost beat Pool at home last season, so anything’s possible).
Everton v Wigan
I’ve been impressed with Everton’s transfer dealings this season and even with the players Wigan have brought in they are not a match for Arteta and co. I’d expect Everton to run out comfortable winners, although if you hear what the new Wigan boss has to say they are aiming for a top-10 spot (ambition is always good) AND Wigan fought hard last season, so new players plus a good fight could give Everton some trouble.
Soccerlens Prediction: Everton win.
Middlesbrough v Blackburn
Middlesbrough’s have Woodgate, Huth and Pogatez out injured, and they will be susceptible in defence. While you expect Southgate to compensate for that in team strategy Mark Hughes is a smart man and McCarthy, Pedersen and Bentley could have a field day at Teeside if Boro were to falter even for a minute.
Not too convinced with Boro while Blackburn have tried to patch the few holes in their squad and this should a tough but credible win for the Rovers.
Soccerlens Prediction: Blackburn win, but only just.
West Ham v Man City
Both teams boast new signings and both are looking at a top-10 finish (isn’t everyone?). I’d bank on West Ham to pull this fixture as long as their defense holds out – they have always been decent going forward and the new signings AND the return of Ashton should add steel and sharpness to the side.
City are doing better than people think, but it’s all talk until you see the new players perform on the pitch. Optimism aside Sven couldn’t have fixed the problems pointed out with his management style during his spell as England manager (or has he hired cheerleaders to motivate the players?) and the play-safe philosophy may actually work in Manchester City’s favor as West Ham will be looking to get forward and will expose their defence from time to time.
Soccerlens Prediction: A high-scoring game, maybe a West Ham win.
Aston Villa v Liverpool
Like it or not, Torres will be amongst the goals this season and the only thing worrying me about Benitez is that he might give Crouch and Voronin games at the expense of Torres and Kuyt. At Villa Park though, T and K should start and if Gerrard starts behind them in central midfield, Reo-Coker, Barry and co. are in for a very harsh game.
Aston Villa have brought in quality players but Liverpool are a class apart and the only thing saving them here will be Martin O’Neill’s tactical nous as Villa will undoubtedly park the bus and defend first.
Soccerlens Prediction: Liverpool to win, if Rafa can get his team to break down attacks, that is.
Sunday 12 August, 2007
Arsenal v Fulham
Big game for Arsenal – they saw teams come to the Emirates and park the bus and effectively frustrate them, and hopefully Wenger has a plan to break such teams down this season.
Lawrie Sanchez has been talking the talk pre-season but I doubt that they have the players to trouble Arsenal and his focus was, predictably, on the supposed gap between Arsenal and the top two. I’d recommend that if Sanchez wants to keep his job and more importantly, if he wants Fulham to stay in the Premiership he will have to figure out a way to win matches without sacrificing the odd goat to the Premier League gods.
Soccerlens Prediction: A tubthumping win for Arsenal.
Chelsea v Birmingham
Injuries be damned – a back four of Ferreira, Carvalho, Ben Haim and Ashley Cole is good enough to keep out the Birmingham attack and in midfield and up front Chelsea’s players are heads and shoulders above the Brum players.
Add to this the fact that this game is being played at Stamford Bridge and you’ve got to feel for Steve Bruce.
Like Derby and Sunderland (and also Fulham, incidentally), the most important thing for Birmingham will be to prove to themselves that they can fight for these matches and give Chelsea a run for their money. A goal ought to do nicely, thought I wouldn’t bet on it.
Soccerlens Prediction: Chelsea win.
Man United v Reading
I would be tempted to sacrifice a beautiful virgin girl at the altar of the Premier League gods if United can manage a start similar to last season (when they thrashed Fulham – oh, the memory!). 3 points will do though.
Soccerlens Prediction: Manchester United win.
I’ll follow up on Monday with a quick look at the midweek games – I’m thinking of altering the format from last season so if you guys have any suggestions to improve the previews, let me know here.