The Neighbours-watching, dead-rubbering, Mourinho-insulting Premier Preview

The dream continues for Fulham; the nightmare continues for Liverpool.

Yet another overcoming of the odds has given Roy Hodgson’s men a bona fide European final. In fact, their dream has lasted so long now – their first game in this Europa League campaign was exactly nine months ago – that it’s more like the dreams of a coma patient. But in a good way.

As for Liverpool, well…it was never going to be a good season but this is the final kick in the delicate parts that sees a once proud club keel over in the gutter spewing bile.

But for the neutrals, Atletico Madrid’s victory was a perfect result. Apart from Liverpool fans and passionate Anglophiles, no one really wanted to see a Fulham-Liverpool final: the Cottagers have earned the right to some exotic fixtures and playing a team they see twice a year anyway would have been a bit of a let-down. Especially since Sod’s Law says they’d have lost.

And so Fulham will take on the might of Atletico for the chance of a first major title EVER. It’s enough to make the plots of Aussie bastion of quality Neighbours, not at all on in the background at the time of writing, seem realistic.

All in all, simultaneously watching Fulham-Hamburg and the leaders’ debate while also monitoring Liverpool-Atletico and tweeting more than 120 times on all three has made the Thursday evening that sees this blog begin to take shape a little bit – hang on, Karl Kennedy seems to be having a heart attack....


Birmingham vs Burnley

Well, some relegation battle that ended up being.

The problem with this stage of the season is that you get quite a few dead rubbers. Sure, the title race is very close and the battle for the final Champions League place is exciting for a change, but three teams being officially relegated (well, unless Hull win both their games 6-0 and West Ham lose both theirs by the same margin) means there are some pretty pointless games ahead.

Here’s one. Burnley are relegated; Birmingham are 10 points adrift of eighth and three points ahead of closest rivals Sunderland and Blackburn, who play Manchester United and Arsenal this weekend.

Basically, they’ve finished ninth – and fair play to them. But it does mean this game loses a bit of edge.

What won’t happen: A full-strength encounter. Clarke Carlisle and Chris McCann are unlikely to feature for the visitors; Scott Dann and Stephen Carr will be missing for the Blues

What will happen: Carr probably will be brought to rights by the West Midlands Police for making an offensive gesture at Aston Villa fans, because it’s obviously a very important crime that they should spend their valuable time investigating.

Manchester City vs Aston Villa

Massive game, this, and one that Spurs fans will have mixed feelings about. They certainly don’t want to see City win but a Villa victory could be just as damaging, and even a draw could put Spurs temporarily sixth. If it’s possible for both teams to take zero points from the game, now’s the time.

City will be boosted by the emergency loan arrival of Márton Fülöp, though the Hungarian has the worst save ratio (56%) of all goalkeepers to have played at least five Premier League games this season.

This must be a strange league loophole: yes, you can have an emergency ‘keeper EVEN THOUGH IT IS COMPLETELY UNFAIR but only if you have statistically the worst one in the league.

It’s a touch harsh on Faroe Islands international Gunnar Nielsen, at any rate. He has an 100% clean sheet record for goodness sake...!

Cue a series of blinding saves from the Hungarian.

What won’t happen: Martin O’Neill’s blood pressure won’t be lowered by this decision. He’s already expressed his annoyance

What will happen: Home win demolishes Villa’s hopes of fourth

Portsmouth vs Wolves

Another dead rubber does at least present Mick McCarthy’s side with the chance of scoring some damned goals.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake’s successful strike against Blackburn last week was Wolves’ first in five games, taking their home tally to 11 goals in 18 games. Crikey. Lou Bega was more prolific.

So, how do you evaluate the seasons for these two teams? For Wolves, it’s been a quiet triumph: survival for the first time in a Premier League season.

Portsmouth…well, there it gets a little complicated. Even just looking at their success on the pitch gives a tale of two halves: in one, an FA Cup final and in the other, the reminder they’d still be bottom even if they hadn’t been deducted points.

What won’t happen: Wolves, fined £25,000 earlier this season for fielding a weakened team, have asked the Premier League to clarify its extremely muddy and inconsistent rules on team selection. Good luck with that

What will happen: Wolves fail to improve next season and find themselves right in the relegation mixer. Sorry…

Stoke vs Everton

It’s been such a good season for Stoke that it would be a shame for them to finish as low as 13th now. You imagine Tony Pulis would feel the same way, were it not for the fact he’s currently trying to stop a civil war in his dressing room. Well, not his dressing room. The players’ dressing room. Unless…never mind.

In the way all skilled media managers do, Pulis reacted to reports of player unrest not by dismissing them as untrue or calling the affair an internal matter, but angrily demanding, “Who told you that?”

The Welshman seemed surprised that the media found out about Abby Faye and Glenn Whelan’s bust-up – despite the obvious conclusion that it’s simply too good a story not to share – and has announced himself “desperately disappointed” that he doesn’t know who is responsible for the leak, although the 7-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge would suggest it’s probably his defence.

Oh, and Whelan: Pick your battles.

Actually, don’t: it would be amazing for stories such as this to keep coming just so we can read the very official-sounding statements of Stoke’s backroom staff in The Guardian.

“The Irishman reiterated that he had been unimpressed with the Senegalese’s attitude before the game and in training, and Faye responded by, in the words of a club source, ‘belting him in the face’.”

What won’t happen: Pulis engages in some more naked wrestling with his players. Ugh, that mental image has just come flooding back

What will happen: More rumours to fly around like Tony’s tackle in a shower room grapple. Argh, mental image! Mental image!

Spurs vs Bolton

Tottenham’s destiny is in their own hands now, which is why they’ll lose this match 2-0.

What won’t happen: Ledley King’s legs to fall off to make Fabio Capello’s selection job a little easier

What will happen: 0-2. Seriously


Fulham vs West Ham

It’s apt these two should play each other: un-shut-up-able West Ham co-owner David Gold recently admitted it was wrong to complain about Fulham fielding a weakened line-up against the Hammers’ erstwhile relegation rivals, Hull, last month.

Oddly, this admission comes only now Hull are relegated anyway and West Ham are safe. Huh. Probably a coincidence.

Now Fulham and West Ham meet, and it’d be nice for the Cottagers to win just to shut Gold up, really. He’s like Prince Philip without the old-fashioned British reserve.

Oh, and Fulham won quite an important game midweek, or something.

What won’t happen: A Three Stooges remake featuring Gold, Sullivan and Zola, even though it clearly should

What will happen: Let’s face it: neither team gives two hoots about this game, do they? Away win low on entertainment and high on futility

Liverpool vs Chelsea

It’s been a long time since Sky Sports would have been worried about the BBC taking their viewers, but Championship relegation play-off Crystal Palace-Sheffield Wednesday on BBC1 is massive (it’s certainly what your correspondent will be watching, in a flagrant disregard of his Premier League blogging duties).

It’s a good thing the snooker sessions are either side of this match at Anfield: the BBC would be taking Sky’s viewers wholesale. After all, it’s not like this match really means anything, is it?

Balls. Although once upon a time – last season, in fact – Liverpool vs Chelsea in the penultimate game of the season could be a title play-off, it’s now a mere title decider, with the Reds envious onlookers.

There are even rumours that Liverpool will effectively down tools to stop arch-rivals United winning the league but that’s rubbish.

Besides, it’s not like they even have to try: their squad is weak enough to lose without intention. Against Atletico they had to play Babel up front and replaced goalscorers Alberto Aquilani – yes, he really scored – and Yossi Benayoun with Nabil El Zhar and Daniel Pacheco.

All right, stop laughing.

What won’t happen: Liverpool deliberately throw it (though they do lose)

What will happen: A deflated Benitez wanders off within the year, blaming a lack of transfer funds. Just to remind: perma-sub Aquilani was bought for £17 million and Rafa refused to pay £8m for Dani Alves but three years later bought Glen Johnson for £18m. Lack of funds, football’s collective arse.

Sunderland vs Manchester United

Sunderland actually have an aim as this season ends: they could finish in the top half of the Premier League for the first time in nine years.

Darren ’25 goals in my first season’ Bent has to take some of the praise for their achievement this season, although the BBC’s comparisons between him and the likes of Brian Clough and Len Shackleton may be a little premature.

With a win, Steve Bruce could ruin his hero Sir Alex Ferguson’s chances of a twelfth Premier League title, but will he want to do that? Of course – your current club comes first and those heady days at Manchester United were a long time ago now. A long, long time ago…

What won’t happen: Wayne Rooney won’t celebrate his two PFA and Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year awards with a hat-trick, because he’s DEAD...or injured, or something. He’ll probably be fine.

What will happen: Away win


Blackburn vs Arsenal

It’s England’s very own Inter Milan versus Barcelona! Guess which team is which.

What won’t happen: Harsher words on Jose Mourinho in any Barcelona-favouring newspaper. There are insults and there are insults, but comparing him to Big Sam, well

What will happen: Blackburn 0, Arsenal 2. In red cards: Blackburn 2, Arsenal 1

Wigan vs Hull

Strangely, this deadest of dead rubbers could actually provide some real entertainment. Here you have two teams who struggle to defend and who are both keen to beat relatively poor opposition and finish the season on a high.

Expect some ambitious but ultimately inept attacking play.

What won’t happen: Roberto  Martinez to be awarded Manager of the Year, with Iain ‘Three home defeats including 4-1 to Burnley’ Dowie taking Manager of the Month

What will happen: Wigan 7, Hull 6 (that’s the score, not the attendance) Put your house on this.