The teeth-grinding, pseudo-fake derby-hating Prem Preview

Happily for many, tiresomely for some, it’s Christmaaaaas (thanks, Noddy). It’s also probably the only time footballers deserve the least, tiny, tiny bit of sympathy. Those based in England, at least.

While players in other countries get a month or so off to spend with their families, inside where it’s warm, the Premier League soldiers on with twice as many games as it would usually feature. So, after this weekend, each time will play four games over 11 days, including hangover-busting fixtures on Boxing Day and, cruelly, New Year’s Day. No wonder Harry Redknapp has taken to banning Christmas…

Just give them your f***ing money, all right?

Anyway, this blogger isn’t as hard-working as a professional footballer, so this will be your last predictions blog before the New Year (aww). It’s been a good 2010, all in all, with a few more fascinating games left in it.

But since you insist, here’s a quick prediction for those 30 games before this blog returns. In no particular order:

1-0, 0-0, 2-2, 3-0, 2-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-1, 2-1, 3-0, 2-2, 1-1, 1-1, 1-0, 1-1, 1-0, 0-1, 0-1, 0-2, 1-0, 3-2, 4-0, 1-5, 2-6, 3-8, 17-20.

Now, this weekend. Be prepared for a slightly exhausted effort.


Sunderland v Bolton (12.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)

A surprisingly good choice of match on Sky Sports, who seem to have realised that this match-up between two overachieving teams will be vastly more fascinating than whoever Man City are playing (oh wait, that’s Monday).

It’s worth pointing out that Sunderland are so injury-struck at the back that Ahmed Elmohamady is being moved back into defence and Nedum Onouha moves into the central defence. That should be interesting.

Sigh, time for a sly observation from editor Gary Parkinson, who points out that Johan Elmander will take on Elmohamady at the back. He wonders if, given one of them has a wife called Amanda Elmander, the other has a wife called Alma Elmohamady.

This site’s really gone downhill, hasn’t it?

What won’t happen: Onouha to make such driving runs from central defence

What will happen: A genuinely exciting tie – really, we believe that. Score draw – 2-2, perhaps

Arsenal v Stoke (3pm, 5 Live Radio)

Free-flowing football vs long throws, Shawcross decimating Ramsey, etc. etc. – look, it’s only fair you hear all this first from us before Sky Sports talk about it ALL DAY.

What won’t happen: Stoke to outpass Arsenal, admittedly

What will happen: Home win

Birmingham v Newcastle (3pm)

Alan Partridge – sorry, Pardew – will be praying all day today that Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini don’t suffer any late injuries, seeing as the alternative at centre-back is Sol Campbell, playing at something below League Two level at the moment.

Steve Harper may return after his shoulder injury, but Tim Krul has been imperious in his absence. Well, nearly imperious. What’s below an emperor? Vice-emperor? Also known as David Gold (heigh-o!).

What won’t happen: Birmingham, who have lost just one home game this season, to give up three points without a fight. Theyu’ve even cancelled their Christmas party to focus on relegation, the selfless Scrooges

What will happen: A gruelling draw picks the Blues up after that disappointing defeat to Wolves, with Cameron Jerome finding the scoresheet by hook, crook or knob

Blackburn v West Ham (3pm)

If Avram Grant really does have just three games to keep himself in gainful employment at West Ham (at least, in the role of manager as opposed to unconvincing tea lady), he’ll be thanking his lucky star of St David that he’s facing Rovers at such a time.

Blackburn’s sacking of Big Sam was, of course, ludicrous, but at least it gave The Big Sam some ammunition to be even more brilliant than usual. Give him a follow. Not on Twitter? Get on Twitter, then give him a follow.

What won’t happen: Blackburn to beat West Ham for the first time in nine painful, for them and everyone, attempts

What will happen: Surely, surely Big Sam to be present: this is basically his old club playing his soon-to-be new one. West Ham take their first away win this campaign

Wigan v Aston Villa (3pm)

Bizarrely, the last 10 fixtures between these two have seen no fewer than six away wins, probably down to Wigan’s inconsistency, occasionally brilliant, occasionally woeful, as much as both sides lacking a home fortress.

It’ll be tough for them missing Honduran duo Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas through suspension, and Victor Moses hasn’t recovered from a dislocated shoulder, but hey, Franco di Santo’s back!

In Aston Villa ‘news’, a win last week thanks to a surely accidental header from Emile Heskey doesn’t disguise the fact that Gerard Houllier was probably the wrong choice.

What won’t happen: Injurees Petrov and Luke Young won’t feature, though Agbolahor should return

What will happen: Wigan to play without a single Honduran for the first time in precisely 100 matches. Stick that in your stats pipe and smoke it. Home win

Liverpool v Fulham (5.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

Steven Gerrard’s been rated ‘touch and go’, which we all knew, in fairness. He’s always played tough and go football, with the occasional hack ‘n’ blast. Oh, touch and go fitness-wise? That makes more sense.

This should be a really exciting game, simply because Roy Hodgson is coming back to a club he brought unparalleled success while struggling with a team who have, in previous decades and centuries, paralleled and surpassed that success.

Unfortunately, it won’t be an exciting game in the slightest. Mark Hughes’ draw merchants may be slipping inexorably towards the relegation zone, but a point’s a point and they’d settle for one here. Liverpool, meanwhile, arguably don’t have the technical capability or tactical nous to beat them.

What won’t happen: Fulham to record a second away win in 27...

What will happen: ...but Liverpool won’t win either. Dull draw worthy of the ‘meh’ reaction the game will get due to being on ESPN


West Brom v Wolves (12pm, TalkSPORT Radio)

Feisty Black Country derby, this, as opposed to the pseudo-fake derbies we get between the four Premier League Birmingham teams almost every week. These are two teams in different straits: West Brom in mid-table, Wolves second from bottom.

But things are beginning to change, with Mick McCarthy’s men recording a useful win over Birmingham last week. And remarkably, four teams are tied on 22 points, so the Baggies could be anywhere from seventh to 14th after this weekend.

What won’t happen: The first of those possibilities

What will happen: Tchoyi to get his chance upfront after impressing in midfield for West Brom, and to smash a ridiculous goal in a 3-1 win

Blackpool v Spurs (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)

Statistics are funny things. You wouldn’t be surprised to hear Blackpool haven’t beaten Spurs at home since 1956, because, well, when would they play them? But in eight meetings since 1966 (and all that), the Tangerines are winless.

It was a very encouraging performance from Michael Dawson in his first game back from a horrific injury, and he and Kaboul at the back might actually be a better bet than Daws ‘n’ Gallas. Rafael van der Vaart would be a welcome replacement for an absent Jermaine Jenas, still cleaning snow off the inside of Alan Hutton’s car.

Blackpool will still be without Matt Gilks and two players who sound like they’ve been taken from Roy of the Rovers, Chris Basham and Billy Clarke. “Great pass, Sniffer! Go on, Bash! Smash it!”

This is, of course, all academic because the match is going to be called off due to bad weather.

What won’t happen: A game of football

What will happen: Postponement until 2013, which will at least preserve Blackpool’s nicely symmetrical home record in the league (won 2, drawn 2, lost 2, scored 11, conceded 11)

Chelsea v Manchester United (4pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

Fergie has only won one of his six competitive meetings against Carlo Ancelotti (the Community Shield SO doesn’t count) but here is a golden opportunity to make that two from seven.

After a good performance against Spurs, a game they probably should have won, Chelsea are no longer in freefall but they are without a league win in six attempts and it’s not often you see Chelsea in fourth, except when

The good news for them is that the talismanic, Mr Boombastic, very fantastic Frank Lampard will start, taking penalty duties from Didier Drogba, you’d think, who – and there’s no point holding back here – cost Chelsea a potentially crucial two championship-chasing points by being completely, utterly selfish. Tool.

What won’t happen: As good a game as we hope for on his marvelous Super Sunday...

What will happen: Chelsea look to grind a win and so do United. They both succeed in grinding merely teeth and a draw – United’s seventh in the league this season. They’ve only won one away from home, fewer than lesser-known travelers Blackburn and Stoke


Manchester City v Everton (8pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

This is interesting: a quick glance at the league table shows that even though they are just two points behind their Manchester rivals in the league, Citeh have scored just eight goals at home compared to United’s 25. Quite a difference, that, and one you’d think Mancini will want to reduce: averaging one goal a game at home isn’t a table-topping rate.

That’s hardly going to be helped if Tevez and Balotelli knob off, not to mention Jo, Santa Cruz and Adebayor as well. They’ll be left with Patrick Vieira upfront challenging for headers, thinking, “Hang on a minute...”

What won’t happen: All five of them to go, surely

What will happen: Everton miss a suspended Arteta and an injured Hibbert, but take a good draw