The Hoarding-Moving, Buckaroo-Playing Premier Preview
ItÃ¢ÂÂs 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 ÃÂ£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 Ã¢ÂÂbigÃ¢ÂÂ European clubs than on the quality of EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs.
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 Ã¢ÂÂ the best in the world after all? One thingÃ¢ÂÂs for sure: until it gets such amazingly bombastic press coverage as this, itÃ¢ÂÂs not top in the entertainment stakes.
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 didnÃ¢ÂÂt 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:
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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: BirminghamÃ¢ÂÂs 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 whatÃ¢ÂÂs in front of you.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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 NugentÃ¢ÂÂs 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 havenÃ¢ÂÂt netted themselves in four matches. Testing times.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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, youÃ¢ÂÂd think West Ham would be relatively assured of safety.
They have by far the best Ã¢ÂÂ or more accurately least rubbish Ã¢ÂÂ 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, theyÃ¢ÂÂre 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 Ã¢ÂÂ and theyÃ¢ÂÂd have to have done, to give Owen Coyle an away win (his first in the Prem).
So itÃ¢ÂÂs 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 ChelseaÃ¢ÂÂs tally remain in single figures.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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.
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 TomÃÂ¡Ã Â¡ RosickÃÂ½ (groin), Bacary Sagna (ankle) and Sol Campbell (brilliantly, Ã¢ÂÂfatigueÃ¢ÂÂ).
Hull lost 5-1 to Everton in their last fixture, with Phil Brown complaining Ã¢ÂÂWe left our game in the changing room.Ã¢ÂÂ Apparently a sit-down on the pitch with a round of Buckaroo gets their hopes up before a match.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Hull win.
What will happen: Arsenal win.
Stoke vs Aston Villa
Burnley, the cheeky scamps, tried to thwart Rory DelapÃ¢ÂÂs 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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 wasnÃ¢ÂÂt given the award for doing the robot (described as Ã¢ÂÂwittyÃ¢ÂÂ by one thesaurus-abusing tabloid) or for being the player most physically capable of performing Basil FawltyÃ¢ÂÂs Hitler walk, but because he replied to the question, Ã¢ÂÂWhat would you be if you werenÃ¢ÂÂt a footballer?Ã¢ÂÂ with the answer, Ã¢ÂÂA virgin.Ã¢ÂÂ
Full marks for honesty, but heÃ¢ÂÂs forgetting how much the girls like a basketball player.
INTERVIEW: Peter Crouch in Ask A Silly Question
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: As much as we all hope and pray, these ridiculous non-stories wonÃ¢ÂÂt stop appearing. Next week: Theo Walcott is voted The Footballer Most Likely To Cry After Sex (actually, thatÃ¢ÂÂs more likely to be Ashley Cole).
What will happen: To be fair, TheoÃ¢ÂÂs probably a demon in the sack. Home win.
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.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs a testament to how boring the Ã¢ÂÂraceÃ¢ÂÂ 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. ItÃ¢ÂÂs also ludicrous to think the Glazers would sell up anyway. Why would they?
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Sadly, FulhamÃ¢ÂÂs amazing run in Europe may have come to an end, but theyÃ¢ÂÂll put up a fight here (even if they do end up losing).
What will happen: Ferguson has challenged Rooney to surpass RonaldoÃ¢ÂÂs 42 goals in a season in 2007-8. Rooney will probably do it, whereupon he wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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 Ã¢ÂÂsend Sunderland a messageÃ¢ÂÂ 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Manchester City Ã¢ÂÂsend Sunderland a messageÃ¢ÂÂ 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, Ã¢ÂÂLa la la, canÃ¢ÂÂt hear you, weÃ¢ÂÂre in the top half challenging for EuropeÃ¢ÂÂ.
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 RafaÃ¢ÂÂs 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 teamÃ¢ÂÂs loss to Wigan Ã¢ÂÂ and in the crosshairs were his own players.
Unsurprisingly, this led to complaints of Ã¢ÂÂMethinks thou dost protest too muchÃ¢ÂÂ and, from blunter critics, Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs your fault your players arenÃ¢ÂÂt performing, you k**b.Ã¢ÂÂ
"How dare you?!"
He then had a go at Wigan chairman Dave Whelan, who had said Liverpool were Ã¢ÂÂin a mess,Ã¢ÂÂ 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 SamÃ¢ÂÂs been waiting for this moment to get full effect but declared, Ã¢ÂÂPersonal criticism is not the road I go down.Ã¢ÂÂ No, just Route One.
Overall, thereÃ¢ÂÂs a lot of talk from people insisting they donÃ¢ÂÂt deal in character assassination.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs opponents Pompey to play in Europe even if they win the FA Cup, simply because they havenÃ¢ÂÂt applied for a UEFA licence (well, would you have bothered in their position?). So thereÃ¢ÂÂs no looking south over the channel for the Pomp. That probably defines the phrase Ã¢ÂÂblessing in disguiseÃ¢ÂÂ.
What will happen: Much more difficult to call than it should be, but the Reds still scrape a win.
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 wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt hurt his claims for a starting place, but heÃ¢ÂÂll have to start first Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂs only played 90 minutes of a game four times this season.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Heskey to throw a strop in the changing room, shouting Ã¢ÂÂPlay me or sell meÃ¢ÂÂ before moving to Notts County in a part-exchange deal with Kasper Schmeichel.
What will happen: Heskey to be instrumental in a Villa victory.