It feels like the season has really begun now, the international break is well behind us, the Champions League & the Europa League are in full swing, and the big clashes are starting to come thick and fast.
Here are my predictions for this weekend’s Premier League fixtures – make sure you add yours to the mix and check out the podcast crew’s predictions for this weekend’s big matches across Europe as well.
Arsenal v Wigan Athletic
The Gunners are the enigma of the league, as per usual, so slick and stylish so often, yet also lacking the solid base on which most successful sides are built. They showed off their fighting spirit with a comeback win against Standard Liege in midweek, and their home form is generally superb.
Roberto Martinez’s Wigan are still bedding in pretty much an entirely new midfield, but last week’s win over West Ham came off the back of four straight defeats, and it would be fanciful to suggest they could pick up a win here.
Prediction: Arsenal 3 Wigan 0
Aston Villa v Portsmouth
The well-run versus the poorly-run. Villa’s derby win at Birmingham last week may not have been pretty, but achieved as it was with three debutant defenders, it suggests the best is to come from Martin O’Neill’s side. O’Neill still has to find his best starting eleven perhaps, but Villa are certainly heading in the right direction.
On the other hand, Portsmouth’s summer strategy seemed to revolve around offloading players with quality, and replacing them with players with issues. Danny Webber is the latest arrival on the South Coast as they look to pick up their first points of the season. Their current squad however looks incapable of doing so, and it would be silly to back against Villa here.
Prediction : Villa 2 Portsmouth 0
Bolton v Stoke City
On the opening day of last season, this fixture provided a chastening debut in the top flight for Tony Pulis’ Stoke side. A year on, they arguably enter the game as favourites, with a raft of new signings looking to make their mark.
Bolton picked up a crucial win at Pompey last time out, but look defensively weak, not ideal against the threat of Stoke’s ever improving attack. With Tuncay added to James Beattie, Ricardo Fuller, Liam Lawrence & Matty Etherington, Stoke could well have the firepower to overcome the Trotters. But never back against Bolton at home, the spirit Sam Allardyce instilled in them is always liable to make a return in times of adversity.
Prediction : Bolton 1 Stoke 1
Burnley v Sunderland
Owen Coyle’s Clarets could barely have wished for a tougher start to the season, already they can cross Manchster Utd, Everton, Liverpool & Chelsea off their fixture lists until the winter, but life does not get much easier. Sunderland are building well under Steve Bruce, possessing an in-form striker in Darren Bent, as well as a revamped defence.
Burnley were overrun at Anfield last Saturday, but are a different proposition at Turf Moor, they will need to defend better if they are to contain Sunderland’s nicely balanced midfield and attack, but a partisan crowd may spur the Clarets on.
Prediction : Burnley 1 Sunderland 1
Hull City v Birmingham City
A relegation six-pointer in September? Don’t laugh, these sides are both struggling at the moment. Hull’s problems lie in defence, whilst Birmingham’s are very much at the other end of the pitch. Will the two issues cancel each other out at the KC?
Birmingham need a spark from somewhere, whether it be James McFadden or Cristian “Chucho” Benitez, whilst Hull need to replace Michael Turner, and fast. Instinct says this will be a draw, but Hull were so bad defensively at Sunderland last week, I can see Brum sneaking it.
Prediction : Hull 0 Birmingham 1
West Ham United v Liverpool
Liverpool have a made a stuttering start to their season, and it is fair to say that this tricky trip to Upton Park falls into the “must not lose” category. Gianfranco Zola’s side is not the most expensively assembled, but it is neat, tidy and effective. Carlton Cole and new signing Alessandro Diamante will be looking to form a partnership, whilst another new boy, Guillermo Franco, may be available having completed a free transfer to East London today.
Liverpool were far from fluent in beating Debrecen of Hungary midweek, but are at least looking more solid defensively. With Javier Mascherano & Yossi Benayoun back to face their old club, and Lucas Leiva, Dirk Kuyt & Steven Gerrard in good form, they may well have slightly too much in the tank for Zola’s side.
Prediction : West Ham 1 Liverpool 2
This is the bit where the upstarts get a firm kick in the privates from the old-timers, yeah? Sadly, I think that this is true (and the betting odds on this game back me up on this). Emmanuel Adebayor’s antics last weekend have been talked about at great length, but the final facts are that his absence this weekend deprives City of their physical threat, and diminishes their chances sizeably. Craig Bellamy will run all day, but Adebayor was the focal point.
United, on the other hand, looked stylish at Spurs last week, yet subdued in Turkey midweek. A lot will depend on the midfield, expect Anderson & Fletcher to feature heavily here, and perhaps Park too, whilst Wayne Rooney will have a point to prove following his substitution on Tuesday night. Expect him to prove it.
Prediction : Manchester United 2 Manchester City 0
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham
Mick McCarthy’s men were woeful in defeat to Blackburn last weekend, their defending amateurish. Fulham, by contrast, responded well to come from behind and beat a decent Everton side. Simple? Not really.
Molineux is a cauldron of noise, and Fulham are notoriously poor travellers. They may play neat and tidy football, but Wolves will be in their faces from the off, and with the energy and vibrancy of McCarthy’s team, I can see them picking up a win. Especially with Fulham in action on Thursday night in the Europa League.
Prediction : Wolves 2 Fulham 1
Everton v Blackburn Rovers
Everton can’t seem to get a break at the moment, every false dawn (or win over Wigan) seems followed by a setback (Phil Neville crocked). Welcome then, should be a home fixture with a Blackburn side who look organised, yet bereft of genuine quality.
Positively too, Everton could welcome back Yakubu from the start, the Nigerian is a far more reliable attacker than either Jo or Louis Saha, and gives the Toffees a purpose to their play. With Tim Cahill back amongst the goals last week, I expect them to outclass a Blackburn outfit that lacks guile or conviction.
Prediction : Everton 3 Blackburn 1
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
Hands up who could see Tottenham’s loss to United coming? I could, Harry Redknapp’s side had started well, but were picking up far too much hype. They still have Benoit Assou-Ekotto in their side after all. Hot on the heels of that hammering, comes a daunting trip to Stamford Bridge, from which they should emerge empty handed as usual.
Didier Drogba, refreshed after sitting out midweek (disgwace!), will return and look to keep up his goalscoring record, Nicolas Anelka looks in good form, whilst Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack & Michael Essien should have little problem with a midfield that sat neatly in Anderson’s pocket last weekend. Luka Modric’s absence will no doubt be a blow, but I wouldn’t fancy Spurs even if he was playing.
Prediction : Chelsea 2 Spurs 0