The Poem-Writing, Face-Punching Premier Preview

What a week of European football. Controversial goals, controversial free kicks, controversial controversy. Also, inside sources reveal some English bloke played for Milan against Manchester United, but goodness knows why they think that’s important.

Nope, it’s the Premier League that’s really intriguing this blog, and specifically the chat about a fourth-place play-off for that final Champions League spot. Is it a good idea?

In short, no. Shorter, N.

The only way of making this even briefer would be to punch the original exponent of the idea in the face.

Putting aside the argument that 38 games should be enough to decide the standings without the need for a play-off, it’s utterly ridiculous that a team finishing seventh, potentially some 20 points behind fourth, could play in the damn CHAMPIONS LEAGUE.

It’s absurd enough that a team finishing fourth can. At least change the name of the tournament to ‘The Also-Rans Midweek Kickabout’ or something.

The play-off idea really might happen. For it to go any further, 14 of the league’s 20 teams need to back the idea, which is interesting considering 14 of the league’s 20 teams won’t be in any way affected.

Predictably, those in favour include Martin O’Neill (Aston Villa are seventh) and those against include Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger (Liverpool fifth; Arsenal third).

It seems almost too obvious that the final spot shouldn’t go to fourth at all but the FA Cup winners, opening the race for a Champions League place wider than a play-off would and giving the tournament more importance.

Hell, play tiddlywinks for the spot if you have to. Just don’t give it to fourth.

None of the contenders even want fourth, it seems.

The best teams drop points now and then, but even as a fan you have to ask the question: based on this season, do any of Liverpool, Manchester City, Spurs or Aston Villa really deserve to rank alongside Europe’s league champions? Really?


Arsenal vs Sunderland

How the comparatively mighty have fallen: after hitting heady heights early in the season, Sunderland could find themselves as low as 16th, just two places off the drop zone, after this weekend’s fixtures.

True, that would involve Wolves beating Chelsea, West Ham and Hull dodging a draw and Wigan overcoming a Spurs team to whom they previously lost 9-1, but one thing’s certain: if the Black Cats lose to Arsenal, as they most assuredly will, they’ll no longer be just ahead of the rat race but very much in it.

Time, then, for some savage clawing and biting to restore their points advantage. Shame they wasted an opportunity to claim three points at Portsmouth by conceding in the 96th minute (presumably the ref’s watch stopped), because this match at the Emirates isn’t the only toughie coming up.

Fulham next week, and a trip to Villa Park after that... Sunderland, you are very much part of the scrap. Oh, and Andy Reid’s out for another month. Good luck.

What won’t happen: Sunderland to go down (though it won’t be an easy ride); Fabianski to be awarded Goalkeeper of the Year; Wenger to admit/realise there was nothing wrong with Porto’s second goal.

What will happen: Arsenal 3-0 Sunderland. You read it here first.

FEATURE: The 2010 Premier League champions revealed

Everton vs Manchester United

A poetic prediction for you in honour of Valentine’s Day, which apparently happened during last weekend’s FA Cup fixtures:

Away team in red,
Home team in blue,
Saha’s gonna score,
So’s Yakubu.

Thank you, here all week.

What won’t happen: Marouane Fellaini to play for six months – an ankle injury has ended his season and dented Everton’s quest for, uh, 8th. Physio reports suggest it came from his hair placing excess weight on his legs.

What will happen: Everton 2-2 United, with Saha stalling his former employers’ charge for the title.

Portsmouth vs Stoke

The teams at the heart of last month’s Sub Goalkeeper Transfer Saga (it was a quiet window) do battle, but the man who moved between the two, Asmir ‘Beggers’ Begovic, is unlikely to feature.

Normally it would be folly to leave a club when you’re keeping David James out of the team, but when it’s Pompey, playing second fiddle to Thomas Sorensen at Stoke makes a great deal more sense. Beggers can be choosers, it seems. Again, just a bit harsh on the now third-choice Steve Simonsen, that’s all.

In actual news, John Utaka has hit out at neverending reports claiming he’s earning £80,000 a week (‘earning’ in the loosest sense of the word), saying it’s actually “one third of £80,000”. That works out as £26,666.66 recurring, which is precisely the kind of maths that’s put Pompey in this mess.

What won’t happen: The truth to come out: Utaka is on 80k a week but entirely in loose change, which is why he loses 50k of it every week down the back of the sofa.

What will happen: Shock but not so much awe as Pompey grab a point.

West Ham vs Hull

[Cheesy Blind Date-style theme music]

Voiceover (see if ‘Our Graham’ is available): Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Relegation Battle of the Week! And here are your hosts: Gooooold ‘n’ Sullivan!

[Canned applause]

Gold: Hello, hello. Hey Sully, what do you call a West Ham owner who makes dodgy deals?

Sullivan: I don’t know, Goldy – what do you call a West Ham owner who makes dodgy deals?

Gold: Upton O’Goode!


Sullivan: Let’s meet the teams!

Gold: In the clarety-blue corner, it’s everybody’s favourite Italian leprauchan, Frank O’Zola!

[Zola does a jig before being buried under his players. Canned laughter]

Sullivan: And in the orangey-black corner: he’ll keep you back after school – it’s the one and only Headmaster Brown!

[Canned boos. As opposed to canned booze]

What won’t happen: This show to be anything but a hit.

What will happen: A great tie for the neutrals, ending in a West Ham win that takes them into the nosebleeds of 13th.

Wolves vs Chelsea

Opinion is divided on whether Wolves should have been fined a paltry sum for fielding a weakened team against Manchester United.

Should they have been fined at all? Bigger teams do the same, and it shouldn’t be for the league to tell a manager what their best team is (otherwise Liverpool could arguably be fined for benching Aquilani).

But isn’t it good for a warning to be sent? But then shouldn’t it have been more money? Fine: £25,000. Cost of relegation: £40,000,000.

Questions, questions.

What won’t happen: An answer from this blog or the league.

What will happen: Chelsea will be happy travellers to Molineux after crushing Wolves 4-0 at the Bridge earlier this season (3-0 after 22 minutes), and they should win this comfortably.


Aston Villa vs Burnley

Burnley’s trek to Craven Cottage last week won’t have pleased the travelling Clarets fans (especially those who were misdirected on their way to a winetasting).

Their 3-0 loss to Fulham was, as the media always say on Football Manager even if your Barcelona side has redefined football with a sensational display in a 5-4 win over an equally incredible Manchester United, “not one for the purists”.

It’s undeniable that Fulham’s first two goals were provided by players so offside they were approaching the Welsh/Scottish/French/Russian border (delete according to correct geography).

But Burnley’s defence was so poor it made Portsmouth FC look like Steve Jobs. The only punishment more fitting than defeat would have been death.

What won’t happen: Much of an improvement against Villa.

What will happen: A home win puts even more pressure on Spurs

Blackburn vs Bolton

Blackburn supporter John Taylor, who died in the stands as his team played Stoke, was given a minute’s silence, and the players given black armbands, before Rovers played Hull last week.

Sam Allardyce commented: “It is a great shame. If it helps the family in some way, we will get them a win and three valuable points.”

Kind of brings the true meaning of ‘valuable’ into context, really, doesn’t it?

What won’t happen: Big Sam to reflect on this tragedy and stop killing football.

What will happen: Ugly home win in the Battle of Lanarkshire. Sorry – Lancashire. The Battle of Lanarkshire is the less popular name for the Old Firm derby.

Fulham vs Birmingham

With the business end of the season peeping over the brow of a hill, this blog is looking at the only table that matters – Most Fouls Committed By An Individual.

All due respect to Kevin Davies and his foul ways, but it would be nice for someone to take his Cripplers’ Crown for once. And yes, he’s in the lead again.

The referee has blown up – love that phrase – a whopping 78 times this season to penalise the Bolton bully, who is searching for a seventh ‘title’ in eight seasons. Some feat. Better than his feet, certainly.

So where’s the competition? Tim Cahill, five infringements behind on 73, is Davies’ main rival to reap the rascals’ reward, especially as team mate Fellaini, third on 67, is now out for the season.

But if you fancy a bigger punt than the kind Davies aims at defenders, place an outside bet on Wham-Bam-Thank-You-Zam(ora). Bobby Z has committed 52 fouls this season – some way behind the leaders, it’s true, but he has a point to prove.

This kind of fouling form could send him to the World Cup! And send him off 20 minutes later!

Could he be the man to replace Wayne Rooney in leaving his studmarks on an opponent’s nads? He’s caused enough GBH to spectators before this season. When the ball hits your eye and you’re sat in Row Y, that’s Zamora...

Hell of a strike on Thursday, though.

What won’t happen: Roy Hodgson to sound any more like Harry H Corbett from Steptoe & Son if he tried. In his press conference about r‘sugar daddies’ taking over football clubs, he was one sentence away from saying, “Al Fayed, you dirty old man.”

What will happen: Fulham win. Off to Harrods to celebrate! No Shakhtars allowed.

FEATURE: Thrown out of Harrods, Shakhtar will throw Fulham out of Europe

Man City vs Liverpool

Big game. BIG. GAME. Massive. Stop the talk of a fourth-place play-off – this is it.

What won’t happen: A match worthy of a fourth-place play-off.

What will happen: Proof, over 90 minutes, that neither team should be allowed into the laughably monikered ‘Champions League’.

Wigan vs Spurs

Someone needs to tell Harry Redknapp that a top-four team doesn’t lose to Wolves. Twice.

Someone needs to tell Roberto Martinez he’s far too dashing to be a Premier League manager, and he should instead form a beloved-by-housewives boy band with Roberto Mancini: ‘Robertwo’. Think Robson and Jerome but with better accents.

What won’t happen: A repeat of the ‘Predicted a draw only for Spurs to beat Wigan 9-1’ fiasco. Not making THAT mistake again.

What will happen: 24-nil.

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FEATURE: The 2010 Premier League champions revealed

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