The graceful, tasteful but thoroughly unsympathetic Premier Preview

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The Champions League is nearly upon us again (mumble mumble, and, uh, the Europa League as well, mumble mumble), but will the big boys rest their top boys for these Premier League clashes?

Not likely. Tottenham and Arsenal both have massive midweek games, away at Milan and at home to Barcelona respectively, but given they’re both still involved in the title/top-four race, can’t afford to put out the reserve teams this weekend.

Spurs face a tricky trip to Sunderland, which seems almost as far as Milan if you ever drive it, while Arsenal face a resurgent Wolves who just handed Manchester United their first league defeat of the season...

Actually, at home to Wolves, Arsenal really might rest a few players.

Chelsea will mean business in their awfully posh west London derby, though, and Manchesters United and City will be taking their own derby pretty bloody seriously.

But that’s only the beginning of the weekend’s excitement…


Manchester United v Manchester City (12.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)

That clock will continue to virtually tick until Citeh win a trophy of any kind, or indeed anything – this blogger hears they’re pretty unlucky in the end-of-season Premier League raffle as well.

But there’s another City-mocking clock that could be designed, should United fans find the time and inclination. The newly rich noisy neighbours have only won once at Old Trafford since 1974, when men were men and Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson was rounding up his playing career with Ayr United.

Can this game provide a hallowed second away victory? It’s not inconceivable now United have shown a weakness at last, but finally losing a game could actually help them: less worrying about an unbeaten record, more thinking about winning.

And no doubt: a win here would be an earth-shatteringly massive blow to City’s title hopes. Good thing for them, then, that Rio Ferdinand is merking about with Jonny Evans on the touchline with an injury, so Chris Smalling will start in the centre of defence. He’s not there yet...

What won’t happen: City grab a vital point...

What will happen: …as United bounce back to win all three.

Arsenal v Wolves (3pm)

Stephen Hunt in ‘injured’ shocker! ‘Wolves play well against good teams’ revelation! Blogger shocks world by predicting Arsenal victory anyway!

What won’t happen: Such excitement, and exclamation marks, to last the rest of this blog

What will happen: Hunt not to play, Wolves to put in a decent performance, and Arsenal to win

Birmingham v Stoke (3pm)

A potential thriller this ain’t, or at least that would be my usual prediction. But in fairness to Stoke, of whom I am guilty of consistently underestimating, they were on the right end of a five-goal thriller last week against Sunderland.

The Potters are likely to name an unchanged side, while Birmingham’s quest for their first back-to-back victories in over a year will be boosted by the eventual granting of a work permit to Obafemi Martins. Given that he’s played in the Premier League before, you’re led to wonder if he tried the old ‘Do you know who I am?’ at customs – a question that never prompts a satisfying answer.

Ben Foster has miraculously recovered from a thumb injury that kept him out of the England game against Denmark. Extraordinary turnaround times physios manage between meaningless international friendlies and must-win Premier League relegation battles these days, eh?

What won’t happen: Martins to display the scarily blistering pace once endowed to him years ago, though the scarily inept finishing may get a run-out

What will happen: A draw, and Stoke’s fourth in 26 league matches

Blackburn v Newcastle (3pm)

Shefki Kuqi goes straight into the Newcastle squad and may face one of his 639 former clubs. He’ll have fond memories of Blackburn, having scored a goal every five games in the 2005-06 season he was there. Better than his one in nine for Finland, admittedly, but still – not brilliant.

The Big Finn is on a hiding to nothing at Tyneside, with fans and pundits up there and the world over condemning him before he gets a chance (well, another one).

It’s worth remembering that, thanks to the probably-still-sensible decision not to splurge £35m of ready monies on a striker, any striker, in the last few hours of the transfer window, Newcastle only find themselves short due to a long-term injury to Shola Ameobi.

They should still be fine with the trio of Lovenkrands, Best and Ranger, but a fourth striker is always useful in case another one loses a leg. And given the transfer and loan windows are both shut, Alan Pardew could only sign a player out of contract. Kuqi is likely to be the best of a bad bunch. He is at least a striker, he does at least have experience, and he does at least have two working legs. He may not be as ridiculous a signing as all that.

We shall see.

What won’t happen: A Kuqi hat-trick on debut, in all likelihood

What will happen: Scant benefit for Blackburn as Santa Cruz makes his return, as the Paraguayan still needs to find his shooting boots after a long time on the bench. Nonetheless, 1-0 home win

Blackpool v Aston Villa (3pm)

Holloway’s mob have slowly gone from being everyone’s second team to getting on everybody’s wick, or at least a few wicks. Now the increasingly whiny westcountryman is insisting he needs to sign an emergency keeper.

Emergency keeper my elbow – they have three first-choice keepers plus a reserve team and a youth outfit. This rule allowing emergency transfers is ridiculous and it's hard not to be thoroughly unsympathetic. And an injury crisis between the sticks serves Holloway right, anyway, for disposing of Richard Kingson after one high-profile mistake and replacing him with Paul Rachubka, now injured. Well, Kingson’s your only fit keeper now, Olly. Deal with it.

In happier Blackpool-related news, Jason Puncheon is set for a home debut, just five since the 24-year-old was playing non-league football. Good luck to him.

Villa’s England heroes return to domestic action, keen to help the team that pays their not insignificant wages.

What won’t happen: Ollie picks himself in goal and saves a penalty from – who else? – Darren Bent

What will happen: Kingson, low on confidence, fluffs again and Blackpool lose their ninth game in ten

Liverpool v Wigan (3pm)

Suffice it to say that Steven Gerrard is, unbelievably, set to play for Liverpool having missed the England game through injury. Loves his country, he does. Jonjo Shelvey is out for months, too. Disaster!

Gary Caldwell, brilliantly, may play this game wearing a mask, due to a fractured cheekbone. Hopefully someone will make the suggestion that he goes with a Kane mask, or perhaps the Hannibal Lecter facial treatment. Alternatively, wearing a cardboard box over his head and pretending to a robot would bring some joy for the 12 travelling Wigan fans.

James McCarthy is available having missed Ireland’s win over Wales, but Maynor Figueroa is still out with a hamstring. Lucky him.

What won’t happen: Caldwell to wear any of those above suggestions. Hmph

What will happen: A Wigan game to feature fewer than four goals for the first time since January, as the Reds steal a narrow win – their fifth in a row

West Brom v West Ham (3pm)

Roy Hodgson, your time is now. Unite a disparate squad. Win games. Soar up the league table. Win the respect you deserve.

Alternatively, record a bunch of 0-0 draws and become the latest in a long line of managers to go down with West Brom.

It’s 50/50, really.

What won’t happen: Davids Gold, Sullivan and Brady (you know that is Karren’s real name, right?) to take the Olympic victory over Spurs with quiet grace, avoiding all media opportunities on account of taste

What will happen: “YEEEEAAAHHH! F*** YOU, SPURS! THIS WHITE ELEPHANT IS OURS!” In this game: draw

Sunderland v Spurs (7.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

Lee Cattermole’s unavailability gives Sunderland a good chance of winning by virtue of having 11 men on the field, though Danny Welbeck is injured, so unable to fill Darren Bent’s boots. Where’s Shefki Kuqi when you need him?

Spurs’ injury worries are continuing to mount, and Rafa van der Vaart and Gareth Bale look likely to miss out in order to avoid exacerbating niggling injuries ahead of the Milan game.

What won’t happen: Sunderland lack that cutting edge...

What will happen: ...and it’s another smash and grab win for Spurs


Bolton v Everton (4pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 1st half: 5 Live Sports Extra, 2nd half: 5 Live Radio)

This could be a very exciting game, so it’s a good choice for TV coverage. We’re allowed to say that, too, having complained last week before the games that Newcastle v Arsenal (4-4) should be on television ahead of West Ham v Birmingham (0-1).


What won’t happen: A penalty to the away team – the Toffees haven’t been awarded a single one all season

What will happen: 5-4 to Everton. Like, really


Fulham v Chelsea (8pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

Bit of a toughie for Chelsea, now level on points with Spurs after losing to Liverpool.

If ‘Arry’s men get anything out of their game against Sunderland, Chelsea will start their match playing catch-up. Interestingly, Frank Lampard talks about this exact scenario in the new issue of FourFourTwo [PLUG], saying that he would always prefer to be leading than chasing (as it were) and one of Jose Mourinho’s strengths is in accentuating the positive.

“You can either go into your game with a negative idea that if we lose, we’re going to be three points behind,” explains Lampard. “Or, you can think, ‘If we win this game, we’ll be back level on points.’ It’s a small thing but you’re more likely to win with a positive mindset. And Jose was good at making sure everyone stayed positive.”

Your move, Carlo.

What won’t happen: A worse start, or more closely scrutinised performance, for Fernando Torres than against Liverpool

What will happen: Fulham fail to grab their second win over Chelsea in 29 meetings, with the Blues prevailing by a single goal. Still, at least Bobby Zamora is nearing a return, yes?


Birmingham v Newcastle (7.45pm, 5 Live Sports Extra)

This rearranged game is a good opportunity for Brum to grab some much-needed points, with Newcastle tottering slightly after their loss to Blackburn (we have to stand by our predictions here). Sure enough, Toon slip up again...

What won’t happen: A Shefki Kuqi hat-trick. Again

What will happen: Home win