The Hoarding-Moving, Buckaroo-Playing Premier Preview

It’s been a great week for English football, as Manchester United and Arsenal showed total dominance over AC Milan and Porto respectively (or disrespectively, perhaps).

But with Real Madrid going out too for their sixth last-16 exit in a row, despite £250m of summer spending and numbering such would-be worldbeaters as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Iker Casillas and, uh, Guti among their ranks, the results of the last 16 were as much of an indictment of the dismal state of some ‘big’ European clubs than on the quality of England’s.

After all, anyone who lets Nickl-arse Bendtner score a hat-trick should take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror.

So, the Premier League – the best in the world after all? One thing’s for sure: until it gets such amazingly bombastic press coverage as this, it’s not top in the entertainment stakes.

Saturday

Birmingham vs Everton

When Phil Neville turned out for the Toffees in their 5-1 demolition of Hull last weekend, he not only played his 420th top-flight game, but in doing so clambered into the prestigious Premier League Appearances XI that this blog definitely didn’t just make up.

Nevster Jr booted Edward Paul Sheringham into 12th to helpfully turn the XI from an unworkable 3-4-3 formation into a slightly awkward 4-4-2 featuring two reluctant full-backs. But what this mostly English dream team lacks in fluidity it makes up for in experience:

Mmm, functional.

What won’t happen: Brother Gary to join Phil in the team: he's 19th in the list and above him are Shay Given, Mark Schwarzer, Rio Ferdinand and Gareth Barry, all still playing a lot more regularly than he does.

What will happen: Birmingham’s last seven results now read WLWLWLW, meaning the obvious suggestion would be a home defeat. So, with that in mind: draw.

Bolton vs Wigan

Relegation Battle Of The Week #1 comes between two teams in healthier positions than some. Despite collapsing to Sunderland, Bolton are growing in confidence and Wigan toppled Liverpool the other day. Well, you can only beat what’s in front of you.

What won’t happen: Wigan to run riot. The Latics have scored one goal in their last four games, three of which were at home.

What will happen: It could be a lively game, this, but goals may not be forthcoming. Draw.

Burnley vs Wolves

Relegation Battle Of The Week #2 is probably the bigger one: the two combatants sit either side of the dotted line with only goal difference separating them.

Looking at the form book, well, can you count a first point in five games as a resurgence for Burnley? Still, it was sweet to see David Nugent’s smile upon scoring in the 1-1 draw with Stoke. He always looks so surprised.

Wolves, meanwhile, kept Manchester United to a 1-0 scoreline last week but haven’t netted themselves in four matches. Testing times.

What won’t happen: Brian Laws to be snapped up by a post-Pellegrini Madrid.

What will happen: Wolves sink their teeth into a vital, vital victory.

Chelsea vs West Ham

Of the teams scrapping at the bottom, you’d think West Ham would be relatively assured of safety.

They have by far the best – or more accurately least rubbish – goal difference (-9, while the six fellow strugglers around them are all 20-plus goals in the red).

On paper, they probably have the most squad depth, certainly in the attacking department. And finally, they have plenty of experience in battling to avoid the drop. All in all, it seems, they’re looking good.

Then they go into a home game against a goal-shy Bolton having not conceded themselves in four matches at Upton Park and somehow conspire to lose 2-1. Simply, they defended like numpties – and they’d have to have done, to give Owen Coyle an away win (his first in the Prem).

So it’s hard to know what to think about the Hammers. If the right team turns up and takes advantage of a distracted Chelsea, looking ahead to facing Inter a few days later, they could spring a shock. But if they play as they did against Bolton, the only shock would be seeing Chelsea’s tally remain in single figures.

What won’t happen: Zola does the dirty on his old team, bringing himself off the bench and banging in a hat-trick.

What will happen: Bish bash bosh, comfortable home win.


"Yippee!!"

Hull vs Arsenal

Arsenal will be without Cesc Fabregas for this encounter, but who needs him, right? Having missed a hatful last weekend, Bendtner knocked in a hat-trick against Porto in an odd night that also saw Hell freeze over, pigs soar majestically over the Emirates and Peterborough win a game.

Fabregas may be joined in the KC Stadium stands by fellow injury doubts Tomáš Rosický (groin), Bacary Sagna (ankle) and Sol Campbell (brilliantly, ‘fatigue’).

Hull lost 5-1 to Everton in their last fixture, with Phil Brown complaining “We left our game in the changing room.” Apparently a sit-down on the pitch with a round of Buckaroo gets their hopes up before a match.

What won’t happen: Hull win.

What will happen: Arsenal win.

Stoke vs Aston Villa

Burnley, the cheeky scamps, tried to thwart Rory Delap’s long throws by moving the advertising boards closer to the pitch. Delap ran around them, delivered a long throw and Stoke duly scored. Brilliant.

What won’t happen: Stoke flick the Vs by copying Burnley's ad-board ruse.

What will happen: Delap nabs his 11th assist of the season in a score draw with the Villans.

Spurs vs Blackburn

Peter Crouch has been named the funniest man in British sport after a recent and totally pointless survey. Seriously, who does these things? And how do you assume the right to award such prestigious titles?

The Spurs beanpole wasn’t given the award for doing the robot (described as ‘witty’ by one thesaurus-abusing tabloid) or for being the player most physically capable of performing Basil Fawlty’s Hitler walk, but because he replied to the question, “What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?” with the answer, “A virgin.”

Full marks for honesty, but he’s forgetting how much the girls like a basketball player.

INTERVIEW: Peter Crouch in Ask A Silly Question

What won’t happen: As much as we all hope and pray, these ridiculous non-stories won’t stop appearing. Next week: Theo Walcott is voted The Footballer Most Likely To Cry After Sex (actually, that’s more likely to be Ashley Cole).

What will happen: To be fair, Theo’s probably a demon in the sack. Home win.

Sunday

Manchester United vs Fulham

Anyone interested in the protests against the Glazers, or just interested in football, should read this utterly superb article on the narrow-minded hypocrisy of it all.

FEATURE: Man U fan protest is sloganeering in a bubble

It’s a testament to how boring the ‘race’ to win the league has become that fans of a team looking for its fourth title in a row have allowed themselves to be sidetracked by this. It’s also ludicrous to think the Glazers would sell up anyway. Why would they?

What won’t happen: Sadly, Fulham’s amazing run in Europe may have come to an end, but they’ll put up a fight here (even if they do end up losing).

What will happen: Ferguson has challenged Rooney to surpass Ronaldo’s 42 goals in a season in 2007-8. Rooney will probably do it, whereupon he won’t move to a team less likely to win the Champions League than Chester City.

Sunderland vs Manchester City

Definitely one of the more impressive prediction cock-ups in this blog was the epically bold and epically wrong statement that Bolton would ‘send Sunderland a message’ with an away win last week.

That the Black Cats ran out 4-0 victors puts that prediction right up there with the very best. Since you ask, No.1 is still predicting a draw in the first Wigan-Spurs match-up this season and we all nine how that one ended.

To be fair, few expected Bolton to implode quite as dramatically as they did. Actually, can something dramatically implode? Probably not. Anyway, if it can, they did.

What won’t happen: Manchester City ‘send Sunderland a message’ with a 5-0 win.

What will happen: City win, but any message is blocked out by Steve Bruce sticking his fingers in his ears, chanting, ‘La la la, can’t hear you, we’re in the top half challenging for Europe’.

Monday

Liverpool vs Portsmouth

The fixtures march on into Monday with a titanic battle between two teams having seasons to forget. Pompey... well, we know about Pompey. But how far can Liverpool sink? (NB: This was actually written before the loss to Lille).

There were jokes during the farce that was Man United vs Milan that Portsmouth could have given Milan a game, but the Rossoneri would probably still have seen off Rafa’s ruffians.

The man known to his critics as a fat Spanish waiter and to his fans as a fat Spanish tactical genius went on the attack after his team’s loss to Wigan – and in the crosshairs were his own players.

Unsurprisingly, this led to complaints of “Methinks thou dost protest too much” and, from blunter critics, “It’s your fault your players aren’t performing, you k**b.”


"How dare you?!"

He then had a go at Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, who had said Liverpool were “in a mess,” arguing Whelan should concentrate on his own struggling club.

But Benitez has also been targeted himself by Sam Allardyce, who decided to launch a verbal battering on the Liverpool manager in delayed response to being mocked by the Spaniard for his style of play. Clearly Big Sam’s been waiting for this moment to get full effect but declared, “Personal criticism is not the road I go down.” No, just Route One.

Overall, there’s a lot of talk from people insisting they don’t deal in character assassination.

What won’t happen: Liverpool’s opponents Pompey to play in Europe even if they win the FA Cup, simply because they haven’t applied for a UEFA licence (well, would you have bothered in their position?). So there’s no looking south over the channel for the Pomp. That probably defines the phrase ‘blessing in disguise’.

What will happen: Much more difficult to call than it should be, but the Reds still scrape a win.

Tuesday

Wigan vs Aston Villa

Oh, go on, one more.

As the World Cup draws nearer, every game becomes that much more important for Emile Heskey. A typically assisting performance here against one of his many former clubs wouldn’t hurt his claims for a starting place, but he’ll have to start first – he’s only played 90 minutes of a game four times this season.

What won’t happen: Heskey to throw a strop in the changing room, shouting ‘Play me or sell me’ before moving to Notts County in a part-exchange deal with Kasper Schmeichel.

What will happen: Heskey to be instrumental in a Villa victory.

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