Prem Previews: Rory Delap and other massive tossers

If the year 2008 is remembered for anything, it won’t be for that US Election caper, Gordon Brown knocking over the economy and then fixing it with gaffer tape or even Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand insulting that little Spanish waiter chap.

It will be for being the year that Stoke and Hull both gave the Premier League establishment an almighty kick in the jaffers.

Well maybe not. After all, who is ever going to be able to get over the dispicable actions of Brand and Ross, but it’s still been refreshing to see newly promoted sides go for it from the off and get their just rewards (Paul Jewell and his Derby County bottlers take note).

Between the two of them, the two Premier League debutants have seen off Arsenal (twice), Spurs (twice), Villa, Newcastle and West Ham, and both look like having more than a decent chance of Premier League survival.

Brand: Knows Andrew Sachs's granddaughter, apparently 

The last three meetings between Stoke and Hull have ended 1-1, infact you have to go back seven matches to February 1993 to find a home win in this fixture, when Stoke beat Hull 3-0 at the Victoria Ground.

The fact that match took place in English football’s third tier tells you how far the two clubs have come.

Both sides have utilised not-so-secret weapons this season. Stoke have made the most of Rory Delap’s Herculean hurls into the six-yard box, while Hull have benefited several times from Geovanni’s ability to hit the back of the net from pretty much anywhere within seven miles of the city in which the match is being played.

Massive toss

Delap’s massive toss is unlike anything else in the Premier League, as they’re chucked in at such a pace and such a shallow angle – they’re like a Beckham free-kick from off the top of a wardrobe.

It’s baffling that, having scored from the long throw five times at home, the Potters have only managed the trick once away.

But home has been where the points are for Stoke this season, with 15 of their 17 points coming courtesy of five wins at the Britannia Stadium.

Although this record highlights the need for improvement away from home, it also goes to show how much difference a partisan crowd can make, with Stoke’s stadium recently named the loudest in the Premier League.

Delap: More power to his elbow(s) 

Conversely, Hull have managed just two home wins from seven, but boast an away record that is currently the envy of the Premier League’s elite sides... well, Manchester United and Arsenal anyway.

The Tigers have drawn twice and won four times on the road this season, with only Liverpool and Chelsea boasting better away points hauls.

The aforementioned records make this game a close one to call, so we’re just going to say 1-1 and move on swiftly.

Things aren’t going to be any easier to call at Eastlands on Sunday, where Manchester City host Manchester United in the season’s first Manchester derby.

Until a week ago City were sliding towards oblivion, with just one win in the eight Premier League outings prior to their match with Arsenal, and looked more likely to face a relegation scrap then one for a European place.

Seven days on and City have dispatched crisis club Arsenal 3-0 and come back from tricky a looking tie at Schalke 04 with a creditable 2-0 victory. Suddenly it looks like they might be able to get somewhere near their inflated expectations of late August.

Knickers in a twist 

United are still struggling to live upto their own expectations too, and currently sit third in the league, eight points off the pace.

As good a player as Dimitar Berbatov is, perhaps it’s time to question whether he was the best fit for United. His often leisurely and languid style is probably not quite suited to United’s full-throttled and direct approach in the same way that Carlos Tevez or Wayne Rooney are.

Berbatov is unlikely to start against the team he spurned to join United in August, having picked up a knock on international duty last week, before promtly getting his knickers in a twist at Bulgaria's heavy defeat to Serbia and threatening to quit international football. 

Perhaps reverting to the system that served them so well last season will work in United’s favour, and United will do what Chelsea and Liverpool before them have done and win at Eastlands.

One team that didn’t win at City this season were Arsenal, who travel across London to face Chelsea in Sunday’s other big Premier League match.

The Gunners may have won in Europe in midweek but are still currently in the midst of what is by their standards a slump. With five Premier League defeats to their name already this season and a sixth looking far from distant, the Gunners are a million miles away from their unbeaten season of 2003/04.

To make matters worse, Willy ballsed-up the forward roll 

If Willy Gallas’s ill-timed rant last did little to help settle the side for that trip to Eastlands, his comedy performance on Tuesday night in the win over Kiev will have left his team-mates questioning quite why Professor Wenger didn’t just boot his sulky backside into touch.

If you believe what you read, AC Milan are monitoring Gallas’s situation in North London with a view to signing him next month. Perhaps Arsene could recall Phillipe Senderos from the San Siro and ship Gallas out in his place. On second thoughts, maybe things aren’t quite that bad yet.

Chelsea have been almost relentless in the league this season, and despite dropping Premier and Champions League points to Newcastle and Bordeaux in the last seven days, they will be well up for this one.

Last season the Blues came from behind to beat Arsenal 2-1 in this fixture, and we’re expecting a similar scoreline again this time round. Premier League Predictions:

Saturday November 29Aston Villa 2-1 Fulham, Middlesbrough 2-2 Newcastle Stoke 1-1 HullSunderland 0-1 BoltonWigan 2-0 West Brom

Sunday November 30Chelsea 2-1 ArsenalMan City 1-2 Man UtdPortsmouth 1-1 BlackburnTottenham 0-0 Everton

Monday December 1Liverpool 3-0 West Ham (Live on Setanta Sports, 8pm)

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Footy15 Pundit Predictions: 

Alan HansenAston Villa vs Fulham - HOMEChelsea vs Arsenal - HOMEMan City vs Man Utd - DRAWMiddlesbrough vs Newcastle - HOMEPortsmouth vs Blackburn - HOMEStoke vs Hull - DRAWSunderland vs Bolton - DRAWTottenham vs Everton - DRAWWigan vs West Brom - HOMELiverpool vs West Ham - HOME

John BarnesAston Villa vs Fulham - HOMEChelsea vs Arsenal - HOMEMan City vs Man Utd - AWAYMiddlesbrough vs Newcastle - DRAWPortsmouth vs Blackburn - HOMEStoke vs Hull - DRAWSunderland vs Bolton - HOMETottenham vs Everton - HOMEWigan vs West Brom - HOMELiverpool vs West Ham - HOME

Tony CascarinoAston Villa vs Fulham - HOMEChelsea vs Arsenal - HOMEMan City vs Man Utd - AWAYMiddlesbrough vs Newcastle - DRAWPortsmouth vs Blackburn - HOMEStoke vs Hull - AWAYSunderland vs Bolton - DRAWTottenham vs Everton - DRAWWigan vs West Brom - HOMELiverpool vs West Ham - HOME

Graham PollAston Villa vs Fulham - HOMEChelsea vs Arsenal - DRAWMan City vs Man Utd - AWAYMiddlesbrough vs Newcastle - HOMEPortsmouth vs Blackburn - HOMEStoke vs Hull - AWAYSunderland vs Bolton - DRAWTottenham vs Everton - AWAYWigan vs West Brom - AWAYLiverpool vs West Ham - AWAY