Premier League Preview Weekend 21-03-2009
Vital Wigans Andy Jackson does his weekly preview of the weekends Premier League action
FULHAM V MANCHESTER UNITED
Everyone is either tipping this as a merciless United backlash, or the second in an end of season blip that will change the title`s destination. Whatever the outcome, United will be eager to get the game on the way and put the Liverpool result well and truly behind them.
Ferguson made the risky decision to opt with Tevez and Anderson in last weeks clash of the titans. He clearly felt that the pace and stamina of the two South Americans would be a more advantageous weapon against the Reds than the languorous, controlled presence of Berbatov and Scholes.
The decision backfired, and it is expected that Sir Alex will rotate again, bringing the Bulgarian and the Ginger genuis back in at Craven Cottage.
Fulham`s season looks like it could filter out into mid-table mediocrity. Hodgeson however is unlikely to admit as much to press or players. He will no doubt deliver the unusual platitudes and claim that relegation is still a real risk.
A late season sprint could send Fulham into the Europa League next year, but with City, Tottenham, West Ham and Wigan in the fold, it looks a long shot.
PREDICTION 3-0 My bet is the backlash option, Berbatov clinching a few to mark his return to action..
LIVERPOOL V ASTON VILLA
A mouth-watering game. Villa, struggling to handle the pressure, have slipped out of the 4th place spot. They are currently enduring some poor form and a remarkable fickle fan backlash.
Agbonlahor`s confidence will have taken another knock in the 'kick when your down` abuse he received from his own fans in the last match. O`Neil also faces a tough decision as to whether to name the England hopeful in the starting line-up.
Carew has started few games since Heskey`s move from Wigan in January, but with the other England forward man also on the end of some dissatisfaction amongst the Villa crowd, he could be recalled for the Anfield trip.
Liverpool have the world class attack that wreaked such misery on the best defense in Europe last week, and they make a rare start together at their home ground.
Torres will look to add his tally in the league after a run of injuries and Gerrard is can always be relied on to net a goal or two. Both Real and United have conceded 4 against Liverpool in the space of a few weeks, it looks a unenviable task for the Midlands side.
PREDICTION 2-0 Comfortable win for Liverpool, Villa will fail to get back on track and fail to make any ground on Arsenal.
NEWCASTLE UNITED V ARSENAL
Owen may have no qualms about leaving a club in Summer who have dished out millions for only the odd game, but his job in the North East is still far from over.
If the Toon Army are to grab anything against a resurgent Gooners side, they will need the ex-Liverpool man to be at his best. Newcastle are right in the relegation mix, and what seemed an audacious and farfetched possibility is now very real.
Arshavin has shown glimpses of true class in his opening shows for Arsenal, and will lineup after getting off the mark last week. His speed and unselfish play fits into the Arsenal`s slick tempo, and he looks like he could fire the team into that final Champions League spot.
Whilst they rode their luck against Hull at home, Arsenal will have their powerful guardian, Kolo Toure back in alongside good friend, Gallas.
A partnership that lacks the buddy Ant and Dec nature, has been key to Arsenal`s form of late. Bendtner appears to be the hero/villain of the moment at the Emirates, and surely cannot pass off another flurry of chances without hitting the back of net.
PREDICTION 0-3 Newcastle`s troubles don`t look like getting better as the Gooners warm up for their Villarreal Quarter Final clash.
PORTSMOUTH V EVERTON
Pompey are another side in the mire. They will need their famous support to raise the spirits and the roof against a solid Toffees side. Crouch and Kranjaer would appear too good for such a relegation scrap, both potentially good enough for the Champions League.
They will need to show an all too different side of their game if Pompey are to maintain their status in the league, and Crouch will need to improve on his poor goal scoring of late. It is clear that the South coast side miss Defoe and Redknapp miserably.
Everton just keep on trotting along peacefully. Fixed in that 6th spot, they look very doubtful to catch the sides above nor drift beneath those below.
The season appears to be drifting by with little going on, little fuss. The lack of pressure could mean that results suffer against the likes of Portsmouth, who will fight and scrap for every ball. Moyes however isn`t one to let them drift into complacency.
PREDICTION 1-0 Pompey need the points a lot more than Everton, and I expect a tight battle, settled with a solitary strike from the home team.
BLACKBURN ROVERS V WEST HAM UNITED
Almost every game features a relegation battler, this is no different. Big Sam has steadied the ship for his new side, as they slowly progress up the league. A home game against West Ham is a must win in the fans` minds. West Ham could be without key players again, after there were major absences in the game at West Brom on Monday night.
The Hammers will be desperate to keep picking up points to stave off rivals for 7th place. Carlton Cole looks a doubt, and once again they will be stretched to the bare bones in attack. Di Michele has showed displays of class at times this campaign, and will need to be on top form to trouble a defense which Sam has tightened considerably.
For Blackburn, Jason Roberts got his name back on the goal sheet last weekend, and will hope to start, possibly alongside Santa Cruz who has failed to match last year`s standards.
PREDICTION 2-1 Blackburn look as though they will avoid the drop this year, and a win will go a long way to move them further away from the black hole.
STOKE CITY V MIDDLESBOROUGH
With Wigan not in action until Sunday, this game will be favourite to clinch that last spot on Match of the Day. Stoke`s home form is their only hope for survival, and they begin what could be a vital run of games against sides in and around the bottom 3.
A good month could guarantee safety. A bad one could end their Premier League adventure before it has really begun.
Southgate has the support of a patient, patient chairman, and many neutrals will hope that such loyalty will pay off for the club.
Alves has never looked like paying off any of the hefty price paid for him, and the price tag appears to be weighing him down and dragging his bearings to one side, especially in the shooting department.
Tuncay has quality, and like Crouch he should be playing a role in a much more illustrious position. His class needs to be demonstrated however, and he too has failed to create the chances that can lift Boro to safety.
The infamous long throw has faded, and it has not bought about its early season terror and results. Stoke however have a new more traditional route to goal. This comes in the shape of new goal scoring hero, James Beattie. A striker proven in the league and that fits like a glove into the big, strong, physical Stoke side.
PREDICTION 1-1 A draw at the Britannia is by no means a disgrace, but will it be enough in the heavy scrap at the bottom?
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR V CHELSEA
Something about Hiddink has made Chelsea a completely different outfit. Back is their superb, miser-tight defensive line, and back is the dangerous Ivorian Didier Drogba having spent his time under Scolari with a morbid pout.
Essien is almost a new signing for the blues, his bulldozer style mixing with splendid slick movement to act as a huge boost for the side. They have not given up on the title, though the Champions League does look a more realistic possibility.
Spurs are another brand new, on-form side of late and their pick up is comparable to that of their fierce rivals. A rare away win was sealed at Villa Park of all places, and players are beginning to show their talent. Lennon`s speed strikes fear and Keane`s presence, composure into a skilled attack. They certainly offer a testing challenge to a revitalised Chelsea back line.
PREDICTION 0-1 Another solid display. I can`t see spurs scoring if Hiddink organises his men as well as he has in recent weeks.
Spurs will also struggle to keep out the likes of Lampard, Drogba and the league`s top hit man, Anelka for the full 90.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION V BOLTON WANDERERS
The home side has been written off my fans and pundits alike. An all too familiar scenario whenever they venture into the country`s elite league. Jay Simpson has failed to add a cutting edge to the Albion attack after his loan move, and shifting to a single striker lately is unlikely to resolve their goal scoring issues.
Former Villa front man, Luke Moore has certainly shown some promise when he has featured, but appears to be out of favour with the WBA management.
Bolton`s team features the top English goal scorer in Kevin Davies with 11. His performances have provoked talk of an England call-up with Defoe ruled out through a broken foot. He could cause major problems for the league`s bottom team, his aerial power and strength being a menace for a weak defense.
MANCHESTER CITY V SUNDERLAND
City managed to seal a quarter final UEFA Cup qualification, but they did it the City way. After a comfortable lead, the blues made it a difficult trip, and had to go through 120 minutes before winning a shootout. Ireland looked exhausted at one point, and Wright-Philips worn out.
They will need to recover if they are to continue their fantastic home form this year. At the Eastlands, Hughes`s side just look pure class, whipping the ball around like Barcelona or Arsenal, and when they get going can inflict a heavy defeat on someone a side like Sunderland. Robinho thrives on his home turf, and Ireland just thrives this season.
Bellamy remains injured on the sidelines, Calceido should deputise with Evans having started the game in Denmark.
Cisse and Jones barely touched the ball in the Wigan game last week, and they could play another peripheral role in Manchester.
Richardson could come back into the side, and this may help break down the odd City wave, but it still looks a tough tie for Sunderland, who could find themselves edging closer and closer back into the relegation scrap.
PREDICTION 2-0 Midweek efforts may soften the blow, but I really don`t see Sunderland picking anything up at the City of Manchester Stadium.
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