The naked shower wrestling Prem Preview

Frustration for England, disappointment for Northern Ireland, so near but yet so far for Scotland and not even close for Wales. It wasn’t the best of international weeks for the home nations, and many a player will be glad to get back to the day job, so the newspapers can crucify them for that instead.

One man who really may have to impress is Gareth Barry. The media has finally started to pick up on the fact he hasn’t had a decent game for England in over a year, and is probably only another couple of months away from realising he’s just not that good any more.

But hey, Roberto Mancini must see something in him, if he’s happy to continue putting him at the centre of a phenomenally unadventurous 4-5-1 with three holding midfielders. This is what happens when you give free reign to an Italian manager…


Arsenal v Birmingham (3pm, Absolute Radio)

It's good news on the injury front for both teams: the Blues have no major problems, and Arsenal may welcome Nicklas Bendtner back into the fold after one of the club's less successful World Cup stories.

A player with a World Cup story he probably can tell his future grandchildren is Cesc Fabregas, who is likely to return to the action. A player who probably can't regale his future grandkids with such stories is Theo Walcott, also available again. Still, he'll have his chance, both in the World Cup and to have grandchildren, you'd think.

A stat for you: Birmingham haven't beaten Arsenal away from home since 1957, when Alex McLeish was a wee bairn and Arsene Wenger had just started managing the Gunners (one or both of these statements may be false).

Aligkszanderer Hleb, or however you spell it, returns to the club we once said he wished he'd never left. Wenger has this effect on players. It's Stockholm Syndrome. Apparently Robert Pires breaks down at night crying, soothed only by hand puppets made to look like Arsene and Freddy Ljungberg.

What won't happen: McLeish to look any more like a baby set on fire - the image is already complete

What will happen: Tempted to say Brum steal a deserved point, but Arsenal should just edge it

Bolton v Stoke (3pm)

It’s been one hell of a recovery for Stoke after their poor start to the season, losing each of their first three league matches. Ten points from 12 has seen them reach what would have once be called the dizzy heights of seventh, that now seem almost expected.

This is all terrible news for a certain blogger. To quote one office exchange:

“My prediction for Stoke to go down is looking shaky.”

“It’s looking more than shaky, Huw, it’s looking sh*t.”

One thing’s for sure: Stoke need to learn from last season. Twice going into the final six minutes 1-0 up against the Trotters, they managed to draw one game and lose the other. Keep battling until the end, fellas, or it’s Naked Wrestling In The Shower time for you.

What won’t happen: Stoke to stay up. Definitely going to stick with this at least for another month

What will happen: Bolton have drawn their lost three matches at the Reebok, and this looks destined to be a fourth

Fulham v Spurs (3pm)

The Cottagers will be hoping to continue the most interminably dull of unbeaten runs in this game. Failure to win games is definitely a problem with Mark Hughes: whether he lacks the killer instinct, tactical nous or in this case simply strikers, Sparky does lack that spark to turn a draw into a victory.

Good news for Spurs, you’d think. The bad news is that the rapidly declining Robbie Keane – who missed a penalty as Ireland drew with Slovakia – may start in Defoe and Pavlyuchenko’s joint absence, which means Harry Redknapp’s side will have to create at least 16 chances to have a hope of scoring a goal.

What won’t happen: Fulham’s striker shortage to last much longer: Moussa Dembele is close to a return, though they may have to experiment again with either Zoltan Gera or Clint Dempsey upfront for this match. That, or play 4-6-0 ala Scotland, because that goes down ever so well with the fans

What will happen: 0-0. You should know, by the way, that this blog is absolutely hopeless at predicting Spurs results, so put your house on 3-0 Fulham

Manchester United v West Brom (3pm, 5 Live Radio)

It’s fascinating, this saga over Wayne Rooney’s ankle. After Srralex claimed the striker was struggling with an injury, the bolshy Mr Potato Head-a-like has claimed there’s nothing wrong with his ankle thank you very much, he’s just playing rubbish.

For all the stories about Fergie and his hairdryer treatment, not that it would have much effect on Rooney, he does protect his players and that’s what he seems to be doing here: giving his player an excuse for some sub-par performances. Rooney seems to be biting the hand that throws the teacups, which suggests a serious bit of miscommunication or even feuding between the two.

It’s too early to say Rooney’s shot his bolt at a young age and is now on an inevitable decline (tabloids, take note). But suddenly it’s plausible he may be on his way from Old Trafford, which would have been a ridiculous suggestion only six months ago. It could even be as soon as January.

At least there’s some good news for Manchester United fans: the once magical pairing of Rio and Vidic may be back on the cards. The terrible news for the Baggies is that Peter Odemwingie may not recover from a knee injury in time.

What won’t happen: The inevitable rout statistics would imply: the Red Devils have beaten West Brom 11 times in their last 12 meetings, and have now scored in 14 straight home games in the league (scoring at least three in 12 of those). This will be a tougher encounter

What will happen: Wayne ‘Mickey’ Rooney to falter after being a child star? It’s not impossible. But this blogger is saying no, and furthermore, a home win to nil

Newcastle v Wigan (3pm)

With Hatem Ben Arfa clinically dead, Andy Carroll will get his chance to impress Fabio Capello. It’s not really worth trying, though: he’s clearly not good enough yet and people saying he is need to shut up and sit on a cabbage.

We like to welcome debate on this website.

Meanwhile, Ryan Taylor could feature for Newcastle having scored in his last four games against them – as a Wigan player. Bum, bum, BAAAH!

What won’t happen: A worse spelling of that dramatic sound effect but believe us, it’s practically impossible

What will happen: A couple of Wigan stats to be broken, perhaps: they’ve not conceded away from home this season, and they’ve not scored in the first half either, at any ground. Expect the first of those to change in a narrow home win

Wolves v West Ham (3pm)

Big news for the Molineux faithful is that Stephen Hunt, bought from Hull in the summer to keep Kevin Doyle company, turned out for the reserves the other day and may soon be fit enough to make his competitive debut. It'll be interesting, when he's back, to see how he and Doyle link up on the pitch: not to gauge if it's just like old times at Reading, but for the show of mutual bedroom eyes from the two players. It's sweet, really.

Doyle may have to wait a little longer for his on-pitch love affair to renew, but at least he himself is looking a bit less stiff (ooh, matron). The striker should feature against the Hammers, while Karl Henry will not, due to suspension. Not sure what that's for.

West Ham's Thomas Hitzlsperger will be protected from Wolves' nasty ankle-slammers: he's already out until the spring with a thigh injury.

What won't happen: Forget dangerous - we'll never see a more lightning-fast foul committed than Henry's on Jordi Gomez. It’s like the replays are on fast-forward. All those tales about the victim seeing his assailant come flying towards him in slow motion can't be true here: Henry was through him in a matter of nanoseconds

What will happen: Draw, and Victor Obinna to miss another hatful of half-chances - he's still holding this season's record for the most shots without scoring in the Prem (16)

Aston Villa v Chelsea (5.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

Top haul for ESPN, this, who have managed to capture little since losing Monday night footbaaaaall to Sky again. This could be a cracking game, too, if Villa take the game to Chelsea, remembering they’ve only lost one of their last 12 Premier League home games against them.

Frank Lampard is still struggling to come back from a surprisingly complicated hernia injury, but may make a brief appearance. John Terry is also a doubt, and Alex a certainty to miss out. In fairness, if you’re going to injure yourself, doing it by hitting a gravity-defying free kick at 6,000mph is a good way to go.

What won’t happen: A better free kick in the league this season. Seriously. It was a belter

What will happen: Chelsea win


Everton v Liverpool (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)

It’s been a quiet week or two for Liverpool, very much behind the scenes amidst all the turmoil surrounding fudged finances in football. Did you see Dundee have gone into administration, ultimately ruined by just one man? It’s appalling.

But while there’s good news for Liverpool in that those dastardly Americans will be replaced by an as-yet undastardly American (‘Built by Shanks, Broke by Yanks, Bought Back By Yanks’?), it’ll take a lot of crowd optimism to lift the players.

A Mersey derby is enough to fire up any footballer worth his salt, pepper or paprika; with the criminally underrated Dirk Kuyt on the sidelines with an ankle injury, however, the newly-fit Fernando Torres may find himself short of support.

To be honest, it’s still bizarre to think that Liverpool and Everton are either side of the relegation zone, not just because Liverpool haven’t been in the dropzone since the ‘60s but because Everton should be doing so much better too. For the second season running they’ve been scuppered by a poor start. Both teams here really need a win, and not just for emotional reasons.

All to play for here then. Except any silverware, of course. That may be somewhat absent from this part of the world for a bit. But hey, Jamie Carragher’s signed a new deal.

What won’t happen: Good seasons for either club

What will happen: Everton steal a win to compound Hodgson’s misery. He’ll be gone by Christmas. Shame

Blackpool v Manchester City (4pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

Minnows visited by millionaires, etc. etc. etc. The narrative Sky Sports and the rest were obviously planning when they chose at the start of the season to air so many Blackpool games – this is their third Sunday fixture in four – is unravelling with each positive result for the Tangerines. You’d think that would make it more exciting for them, but no: they were clearly expecting 8-0 thumpings and goals, goals, goals.

Sorry, guys. Blackpool are earning their right to non-patronising coverage and there’s only one thing you can do: deal with it.

What won’t happen: Having said all that, a thrashing by Mancini’s millionaires

What will happen: A less comfortable way win


Blackburn v Sunderland (8pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)


What won’t happen: David Dunn to feature for the hosts: hamstring injury, as opposed to “quim strain”

What will happen: A very physical draw