Finally, the international break is over and it’s back to “proper” football. I’ve absolutely no time for these breaks so I’m delighted to have the domestic action back. I imagine the international managers might even be glad to see the back of the players, as none of the home nations, covered themselves in glory. Anyway, as I said, I don’t particularly care for international football and l imagine even the people who do won’t want to talk about it anyway,so let’s get on with the preview
Norwich v West Ham – Sat 12.45
What is it with West Ham and Saturday lunch time fixtures. Tomorrow’s game will be the third in a row, they have played on a Saturday at lunch time. The Hammers are without Andy Carroll, which leaves them short of a target to hit up front. Norwich will be looking for their strikers to start finding the net. They have had a lot of chances in their last few games and Robert Snodgrass, in particular has been particularly guilty in front of goal. Norwich boss, Chris Hughton, still hasn’t had a win as manager and he will be eyeing this fixture as the ideal opportunity to change that.
Prediction – Norwich to pick up their first win of the season.
Arsenal v Southampton – Sat 3.00
Arsenal picked up their first win of the season, last time out at Anfield. Manager, Arsene Wenger, won”t have welcomed the international break as his team will have lost all the momentum that win at Anfield gave them. Key midfielder, Abou Diaby, picked up an injury on international duty and will face a late fitness test. Arsenal can’t afford to lose players to injury, particularly in their midfield were they have very little cover. Southampton are still looking for their first points of the new season. The fixtures have been very tough on them. They have already played both Manchester clubs and were very unlucky on both occasions. The Saints are one of few teams who may have been helped by the international break. That defeat against United was the sort of loss that leaves mental scars. The Saints have two options, they can feel sorry for themselves or they can come out fighting like a wounded animal. I fully expect them to come out fighting and to give Arsenal a good test.
Prediction – Arsenal to come out on top but it won’t be easy.
Aston Villa v Swansea – Sat 3.00
These two have had totally different starts to the season. Villa find themselves in the bottom four after a poor start and Swansea are sitting pretty in second. Villa lost their first two games and looked very poor in doing so. They picked up a good point at Newcastle in their last game so manager, Paul Lambert, will want to carry that form into this game. Swansea have looked fantastic in their three games so far with new signing, Michu, looking particularly impressive. They have lost full-back, Neil Taylor for the season which is a blow but Swansea will hope new signing, Dwight Tiendalli, will be able to fill the void.
Prediction – Villa really need to pick up a win and I think they will come out firing and just edge this one.
Fulham v West Brom – Sat 3.00
West Brom are another side who have got off to a flying start, with two wins and a draw in their first three games. The Baggies will be delighted with that start and they will looking to keep their unbeaten run going at Fulham. Fulham have had a few mixed performances. They had a great win on the first day of the season, winning 5-0 against Norwich but they have followed that up with an unlucky 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford and then they were well beaten, 3-0 by West Ham. They have signed Greek international, Giorgos Karagounis, on a free transfer. When you consider he is to replace Mousa Dembele, then it’s just not good enough. Dembele was the driving force in the Fulham midfield and they have replaced him with a 35 year old who is unable to play for 90 minutes. I can’t see that signing working out too well for them.
Prediction – I think this one will end in a draw.
Manchester United v Wigan Athletic – Sat 3.00
Manchester United have been far from impressive so far this season. A defeat and two narrow victories over Southampton and Fulham isn’t a bad return for United when you consider how poor the performances have been. Defensively, United have been far from their best and if they are hoping to compete in the league and in Europe then they will need to address those issues fairly quickly. Wigan will be happy enough with four points so far. Wigan haven’t always been the quickest of starters in the league, so mid table is a step up from were they usually are at this stage of the season. Wigan will most likely come to Old Trafford and have a go at United and United’s defending has been poor so far this year, so it is probably as good an idea as any.
Prediction – It’s hard to see past a United victory.
Queens Park Rangers v Chelsea – Sat 3.00
Nobody really cares about the football in this game but instead it’s a hand shake, or lack of hand shake, that is making the headlines. I don’t really know what happened between Anton Ferdinand and John Terry. I remember at the time watching coverage and trying to lip read it and as far as I could see, John Terry was saying, “I didn’t call you a (you know the rest).” That would suggest to me that the argument was over what was said prior to what I saw. I can’t say what was said, how it was said or anything else on the subject as I wasn’t there and didn’t see it. All I know is I don’t like John Terry and to be honest I’m not a huge fan of Anton Ferdinand either. There’s no place in football, or society for that matter, for racism and it is a sad state of affairs that we are having to talk about this in 2012. Hopefully on Saturday evening we will be talking about the football and not anything else, on or off the pitch. Ironically, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Anton Ferdinand are all listed as possible injuries so it could end up that none of them actually play anyway.
Prediction – Chelsea to keep their 100% record alive.
Stoke v Manchester City – Sat 3.00
Stoke have started the season with three draws. They are clearly a hard team to beat but draws alone won’t keep you away from relegation. Stoke have brought in former England striker, Michael Owen. I have always said that all Owen had was pace and when it went, he’d be finished and I am more than happy to stand by that comment. Owen had a good career when he was younger but he’s had far too many injuries and I’d be surprised if he plays more than 10 games this season. City could hand debuts to as many as five players, although I get the feeling Richard Wright, won’t be given a debut. The City line up will be interesting to see, as Roberto Mancini signed Maicon, Matija Nastasic, Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair just before the transfer deadline and I am looking forward to getting an idea of what way Mancini sees the team playing.
Prediction – Stoke will get their fourth draw of the season.
Sunderland v Liverpool – Sat 5.30
This will no doubt be an emotional game for Liverpool as it’s their first game since the announcements during the week on the events at Hillsborough in 1989. The fans will be happy that the first steps towards justice for the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster have been taken. Emotions will be running high but Liverpool can not afford to let it get in the way of what they are doing on the pitch. Liverpool need a positive result to ease the pressure on the team and manager, Brendan Rodgers. At the minute, Liverpool are in the bottom three and things won’t get any easier as they face Manchester United next weekend. Sunderland have only played two games and drew them both. Martin O’Neill’s team will be hard to beat. Steven Fletcher got two goals on his debut in the last game and Sunderland will look to him again, to score the goals to fire them to victory.
Prediction – I just can’t see Liverpool, in their current form, winning this game. I think they’ll settle for a point.
Reading v Tottenham – Sun 4.00
Both teams are still waiting for their first wins of the season. Reading have had a huge gap since their last game. It will have been 25 days since they lost 4-2 to Chelsea. Their game with Sunderland was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and they played Chelsea earlier than they should have, due to Chelsea’s participation in the European Super Cup. I don’t think the break will have been a good thing for Reading. They will have spent the summer looking forward to getting started, they played two games and then they have a three and a half week break. Tottenham need to learn to finish off games. They have conceded late goals in all three of their games and it has cost them points. Without those late goals, Tottenham would be sitting on seven points. As it is, they only have two points. It looks as though Brad Friedel will retain his position in nets for the time being. Villas-Boas spent a lot of money getting Hugo Lloris and in my opinion he should be playing him.
Prediction – AVB to finally get his first win of the season.
Everton v Newcastle – Mon 8.00
Both sides have made decent starts to the season but both could have been slightly better. Everton missed a lot of chances in their defeat at West Brom and Newcastle should have won at home to Aston Villa. Everton will be happy enough with six points from their opening three games as they are traditionally slow starters. There’s no reason why Everton can’t compete anywhere between 4th and 8th in the league, so they will be looking to bounce back to winning ways in this game. Newcastle are a good side to watch, especially when Cisse, Ba and Ben Arfa are on song. There’s a lot of talent in Alan Pardew’s team these days and they should be in that same bracket as Everton, fighting it out for the European spots.
Prediction – The teams to split the points.
Norwich 2-1 West Ham
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton
Aston Villa 2-1 Swansea
Fulham 1-1 West Brom
Manchester United 3-1 Wigan
QPR 1-2 Chelsea
Stoke 1-1 Manchester City
Sunderland 1-1 Liverpool
Reading 0-2 Tottenham
Everton 1-1 Newcastle