The melodramatic, trampolining Prem Preview

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West Brom winning at the Emirates? Last-placed West Ham beating Champions League-scaling Spurs? Chelsea and Manchester United dropping points?

Honestly, making predictions is going to become really difficult if teams don’t stop knobbing around and just do as they’re told.


Wigan v Wolves (12.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)

Stat fans, or alternatively, non-delusional Wolves fans, will know the Midlands outfit scored the fewest goals in last season’s Premier League: a pitiful 32 in 38 games.

This season, it seems little is destined to change despite an excellent – relatively speaking – front line of Doyle, Ebanks-Blake and Fletcher. So far in this campaign, Wolves have had just 43 shots – fewer than any other team. It’s too early to call this game a six-pointer, but they might want to start being more trigger-happy sooner rather than later.

Similarly, Wigan should consider hitting the target: they’ve converted just three per cent of their shots into goals, a lower percentage than anyone else in the league.

Blimey, this is going to be a thriller, isn’t it?

What won’t happen: Many lunchtime kick-offs for these comparatively unfashionable sides – this in itself has been moved from Monday night, when it would have contravened FIFA regulations by falling within an international week. Well, LA-DI-DA, FIFA. Who do you think you are, the guys in charge or something?

What will happen: An ugly game, as a struggling outfit entertain the first team to crack the 100-foul mark this season – but the travellers take the points

Birmingham v Everton (3pm)

BANG: it’s time for the battle of the bizarre away kit merchants.

In the blue but sometimes red corner, we have Birmingham, confusing everybody by wearing a change strip so different in colour to their home kit. And in the blue but sometimes pink corner, we have Everton, who are confusing everybody’s retinas with the most shocking shade of pink since designers discovered ‘hot magenta’.

(For posterity: I did just look that up. I don’t have a vast knowledge of variations on pink).

What won’t happen: Birmingham give up their incredible 18-game unbeaten record at St Andrew’s

What will happen: They have to settle for a draw, as Everton finally start to gain momentum

Stoke v Blackburn (3pm)

Calling this the worst game of football the Premier League has to offer is appallingly predictable. So dull football be damned – this season has seen upsets, thrashings and goals, goals, goals.

All except in matches featuring these two teams, neither of whom have been involved in a league game with more than three goals.

Ho hum.

What won’t happen: Ricardo Fuller to feature: the 30-year-old Jamaican was rushed to hospital after dislocating his shoulder for approximately the fourteenth time. He’s expected to be out for just a couple of weeks, but it could be much worse

What will happen: 0-0? Yeah, 0-0

Sunderland v Manchester United (3pm, Absolute Radio)

Fergie’s men haven’t lost to Sunderland in 17 meetings, but they may struggle this time: Rooney, Valencia, Giggs, Carrick and the rejuvenated Scholes are all out, while the Black Cats boast serial giant killer Darren Bent, who has scored eight goals in 10 games against ‘big four’ sides since joining Sunderland.

I can see Sunderland winning this game, but that would go violently against the Golden Rule: former Fergie charges never beat him in the managerial stakes. They’re just too cowardly.

What won’t happen: As much space for Berba, averaging nine touches per game in the oppo’s box this season, as Sunderland get wise to his antics

What will happen: Can they do it? Can they do it? Sure they can, despite Steve Bruce’s Fergie-love: Sunderland claim three points. Nope, I’m bottling it: draw. Sorry

Spurs v Aston Villa (3pm)

Tottenham’s defensive woes don’t look likely to cease: Gallas, Dawson and, ahem, Woodgate are all ruled out of this game, and Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are also injury doubts. Ledley King is unlikely to play two games in four days, so Spurs may have to resort to that tried and tested centre-back duo of Sebastian Bassong and Vedran Corluka, the one-man caravan of acceleration.

Villa have their own problems, with strike pairing Carew and Agbonlahor under the physio’s watchful eye. This could be a low-key affair.

What won’t happen: Spurs to rack up more questionable penalties than they did on Wednesday in the entire remainder of the season

What will happen: Frustrating draw for the hosts

West Brom v Bolton (3pm)

The conquerors and frustrators of Arsenal and Manchester United meet to trade ‘look at us’ stories. West Brom win that one, I think.

There’s a nice alliterative ring to the Baggies’ injury list: Miller, Mattock and Miete are all mullered and may miss the match. Bolton, in turn, are without sitcom pairing O’Brien and O’Brien.

This is West Bromwich Albion’s best start to a Premier League season ever, which is a bit like saying Kevin Davies is top of the fouls-per-game table (he is). Of course it’s their best start to a season. They’re sixth. The only surprise is that their sole previous season of survival came after their worst-ever start.

What won’t happen: A less popular referee among visiting fans: official Peter Walton has given four penalties against them in his last four Bolton games

What will happen: Odemwingie continues to embarrass his critics in a solid home win

West Ham v Fulham (3pm)

Fulham were forced to experiment with Zoltan Gera upfront last week, with Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Moussa Dembele all injured and Eddie Johnson simply not good enough. They’ll have to do the same again in this game, although I’m surprised they’re not tempted to try Clint Dempsey up there.

West Ham are almost as goal-shy, at least from open play: all four of their goals this season have come from set-pieces. Also, Victor Obinna has had the most shots in the Premier League without scoring. See if you can guess how many (hint: it’s 13).

What won’t happen: Carlton Cole to extend his scoring run against Fulham to five games

What will happen: Fulham’s most boring of unbeaten records to continue. Draw, AGAIN


Manchester City v Newcastle (1.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

Citeh and Toon meet in a game that will be hyped to the skies and back, then back to the skies and returning once again to terra firma like an child left on an overstrung trampoline, but that will ultimately come to nothing as Manchester City’s defensive set-up bores the Toon into defeat.

Still, at least the Sunday kick-off times are back to normal.

What won’t happen: Shay Given is found on his knees in front of the Newcastle bench, begging, “Please, please take me back”

What will happen: Home win

Liverpool v Blackpool (3pm)

Another high-profile Sunday kick-off away day doesn’t bode well for Blackpool when you consider the last one resulted in a 4-0 pasting at Chelsea, but Liverpool are a side less assured of their greatness at the moment.

Poor Roy Hodgson has his back to the wall as the toothy jowls of ravenous Liverpool fans baying for blood close in – although actually, he doesn’t seem to deserve the epithet ‘poor’ any more since joining the Reds. When he was at Fulham, his appeal to neutrals was all about overachievement; even a vastly underrated and unconsidered manager deserving of another big job to go with his memories of Inter.

Now, to many people he’s become just like any other big-club manager: bitter, moaning and without self-awareness. He has also gained several more chins. And just like any other big-club manager with neckwear made of human skin, he may find himself on the scrapheap soon enough.

Too melodramatic? Perhaps. But a shock defeat here and it might not be that ridiculous a prospect after all...

What won’t happen: Hodgson has a facelift and is arrested for scaring the local children

What will happen: Blackpool stun the hosts. Seriously

Chelsea v Arsenal (4pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)

It’s the big one, etc. etc. But all the hype and drama is put into perspective when you consider what one man involved in the game is contending with.

Very sadly, Carlo Ancelotti’s father has passed away this week. But the funeral being the day before the game isn’t going to deter the Chelsea boss, who has pledged to attend this Arsenal encounter.

It’s to Ancelotti’s credit, and if the effect is the same as Stoke’s galvanisation after Tony Pulis’ reaction to his mother passing away, there could be the smallest of silver linings for the Italian eyebrow-raiser. And he does look good in black.

What won’t happen: A duller procession than Chelsea’s win against Marseille, which rivaled the Warsaw Veterans’ Lamppost Appreciation Society’s 1987 AGM for tedium

What will happen: Theoretically, a thriller: these two have hit more shots on target than any other team in the league this season. Add to that Mike Dean’s propensity for giving penalties for or against the men in blue, awarding five spotkicks in his last seven Chelsea games, and you should have goals galore. 0-0, then...