Prem Previews: Big Sam's return, Delap's KO & the race for 3rd
WeÃ¢ÂÂre going to have to make an apology straight off the bat this week. Due to the spectacular changes afoot on Talentspotter weÃ¢ÂÂve been a forced to work like dogs getting things on our sister site up to speed.
We say Ã¢ÂÂworking like dogsÃ¢ÂÂ, obviously dogs donÃ¢ÂÂt actually work, all they do is lick their own privates, sniff each otherÃ¢ÂÂs backsides and urinate in public. Saying that, our extensive internet research tells us there are some unsavoury sorts in the human world that make cash from that kind of activity, so perhaps weÃ¢ÂÂre being a bit harsh on our canine chums.
Anyway, back to the matter in hand and we start our rather brief look forward to the weekendÃ¢ÂÂs Premier League action with Big SamÃ¢ÂÂs return to management with Blackburn, as his new side host Stoke in a match which could yet be a crucial one in deciding the relegation issue.
Big Sam's modelling days were sadly over
Having been expected by many to return to former club Sunderland after Roy Keane walked out last week, Allardyce instead opted to take over at the one time Premier League champions, in a move sure to rile his former admirers at the Reebok.
The move came just days after Rovers disposed of the perpetually perturbed Paul Ince, who will most likely feel aggrieved that he was only given five months to stamp his authority on a club that, despite being on such a nightmarish run of form, looked like having the players to turn things round.
Brush of failure
The worst possible outcome of the whole affair would be that Ince struggles to get another job in management. Having been such a success at Macclesfield and MK Dons, he doesnÃ¢ÂÂt deserve to be tarred with the brush of failure because some of the Rovers players he inherited decided they couldnÃ¢ÂÂt be bothered anymore (cough, Roque Santa Cruz, cough).
Stoke suffered a blow this week with the news that Rory Delap may be forced to curtail his long throws due to a shoulder injury.
The Irishman has had a series of injections in the last couple of months to overcome pains in his shoulder, but he has been told by doctors that his latest injection is the last chance he has to cure the long-standing injury.
If he is forced to stop the torpedo-style hurls into the opposition penalty area, Stoke are going to need to find a new method of scoring goals, as seven of their 17 Premier League strikes so far have resulted from Delap throw-ins.
Delap: Doesn't want to throw in the towel (chortle)...
We fancy the boost of the arrival of Big Sam coupled with the probable lack of a fully-firing (or should that be flinging?) Delap will mean Rovers edge what is likely to be a hard-fought, cagey match 1-0.
In whatÃ¢ÂÂs probably the match of the weekend, Arsenal host Liverpool in what we reckon will ultimately be the first-leg of a play-off to decide third place.
That may surprise a few people, given that Liverpool are currently top of the pile while Arsenal are sat down in fifth place, but Aston Villa havenÃ¢ÂÂt shown the kind of consistency usually required to earn a top four finish, and will have the added distraction of European football to contend with during the run-in Ã¢ÂÂ a burden the Arsenal squad are more used to coping with.
Liverpool on the other hand seem, as ever, over-reliant on Steven Gerrard to get them out of trouble (see last weekendÃ¢ÂÂs 2-2 draw with Hull), and without Fernando Torres they look like theyÃ¢ÂÂll struggle to score goals with the ease of champions.
Much like Chelsea, Liverpool have found the going easier away from home than on their own turf in the league so far this campaign, dropping points at home to Stoke, Fulham, West Ham and Hull, although their only league defeat so far did come away at Spurs.
They have six away wins to their name, at Sunderland, Everton, Man City, Bolton, Blackburn and, most notably, Chelsea.
Arsenal, having lost just once at the Emirates in their first two years at their new home, have already lost home matches to Hull and Aston Villa this term.
Rafa Benitez has rather bizarrely claimed that Liverpool need to be top of the league going into Christmas to have any chance of winning the title. To be sure of doing that theyÃ¢ÂÂll need to go to the Emirates and win, which theyÃ¢ÂÂre certainly capable of, although it will be a big ask without Fernando Torres and if they defend anywhere near as poorly as they did against Hull last time out.
"Mental note: Must stop scoring own goals..."
The Gunners have had a frustrating first half of the season, although theyÃ¢ÂÂll take heart from the fact that the lapses in form of all of the top four has meant theyÃ¢ÂÂre currently only eight points off the pace, a deficit they can further reduce with a win on Saturday.
We have a feeling Torres-less Liverpool wonÃ¢ÂÂt get the breaks they did last weekend, and will suffer their second league defeat in north London of the season.
Oh, and as an early Christmas gift, here come the predictionsÃ¢ÂÂ¦
FourFourTwo.comÃ¢ÂÂs Premier League predictions:
Saturday, December 20Blackburn 1-0 Stoke Bolton 2-1 PortsmouthFulham 1-0 MiddlesbroughHull 1-1 SunderlandWest Ham 1-2 Aston Villa
Sunday, December 21Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool Newcastle 3-1 Tottenham West Brom 1-1 Man City
Monday, December 22Everton 1-2 Chelsea
Footy15 Pundit Predictions:
Alan HansenArsenal vs Liverpool - DRAWBlackburn vs Stoke - HOME WINBolton vs Portsmouth - HOME WINFulham vs Middlesbrough - DRAWHull vs Sunderland - HOME WINNewcastle vs Tottenham - DRAWWest Brom vs Man City - AWAY WINWest Ham vs Aston Villa - DRAWEverton vs Chelsea - DRAW
John BarnesArsenal vs Liverpool - DRAWBlackburn vs Stoke - HOME WINBolton vs Portsmouth - DRAWFulham vs Middlesbrough - HOME WINHull vs Sunderland - HOME WINNewcastle vs Tottenham - DRAWWest Brom vs Man City - AWAY WINWest Ham vs Aston Villa - DRAWEverton vs Chelsea - AWAY WIN
Tony CascarinoArsenal vs Liverpool - DRAWBlackburn vs Stoke - HOME WINBolton vs Portsmouth - HOME WINFulham vs Middlesbrough - DRAWHull vs Sunderland - HOME WINNewcastle vs Tottenham - AWAY WINWest Brom vs Man City - AWAY WINWest Ham vs Aston Villa - AWAY WINEverton vs Chelsea - AWAY WIN
Graham PollArsenal vs Liverpool - DRAWBlackburn vs Stoke - HOME WINBolton vs Portsmouth - HOME WINFulham vs Middlesbrough - HOME WINHull vs Sunderland - HOME WINNewcastle vs Tottenham - DRAWWest Brom vs Man City - DRAWWest Ham vs Aston Villa - AWAY WINEverton vs Chelsea - DRAW