Prem Preview: Fruit blenders, Babylon Zoo & the ghost of Steve Harper

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No haikus this week and, to the lasting beneficial mental health of all of you, no rants about FIFA or the World Cup bidding system either.

Suffice it to say that Russia, with its racism, homophobia and vast expanses of Arctic wasteland, will make superb hosts for 2018, and Qatar, with its non-existent fanbase, lack of footballing prowess and population just over half that of Wales, will make even better hosts for 2022.

Anyway, back to the self-professed ‘best league in the world’ that has put England on the world football map to such an extent it will now go a minimum of 70 years without hosting its premier competition.


Arsenal v Fulham (3pm, Absolute Radio)

Few would have believed, a while back, that Mark Schwarzer would be in the away dressing room for this match, but he obviously loves Fulham so much that, after several Arsenal bids were turned down, he’s committed his future to the west Londoners.

If you can call it a future. It’s a real coup for Fulham keeping his services, but there’s a reason it’s a one-year deal with a later option of two – he’ll be dead soon.

What won’t happen: Andy Johnson to last 90 minutes, though it’s good to see him back

What will happen: Two out of form teams here, but the Gunners seem to have turned the corner from their Month From Hell and Fulham have never, ever, ever won away to Arsenal, in some 100 years and 24 attempts (of which they’ve lost 21). Home win

Birmingham v Spurs (3pm)

Spurs will want to carry the momentum from a fantastic result against Liverpool into this game. Birmingham are tougher opponents, with tougher fans – although it was good of Villa supporters to pity the pitch invaders for standing and throw them some chairs for a nice sit-down.

The Blues are blissfully injury-free, with only Hleb and McFadden doubts. Tottenham, on the other hand, will be without up to ten players including Younes Kaboul and Rafael Van der Vaart, who both withdrew against Liverpool, the Dutchman after only 10 minutes. Well, the showers take so long to heat up at White Hart Lane.

What won’t happen: Sebastian Larsson’s “No, YOU” goal celebration to catch on. Honourable as it is to congratulate a team-mate for a good assist, it did look a bit luvvy

What will happen: Conceivably, a decent Christmas period for Spurs. December notoriously sees a difficult run, but after this game and Chelsea, their four-week cram session sees them face Blackpool, Villa, Newcastle and Fulham – all winnable ties. First, though, it’s a battling draw here

Blackburn v Wolves (3pm)

Two teams you really, really don’t associate with scoring – hey, just imagine either Big Sam or Big Mick coming on to you in a nightclub – are actually showing some promise to do just that.

Wolves scored three (THREE) last week while Blackburn shipped seven (SEVEN)...hmm, that capitals thing only really works when you’re using numbers. Blackburn conceded 7 (SEVEN) – yes, much better.

And that’s not all: in the last four top-flight fixtures between these two, the fans have seen 16 goals. There is some benefit in bringing a DVD player to a live match, then.

What won’t happen: With Wolves poor on the road and Rovers trying to recover from that humiliation at Old Trafford, there could be more shutting up of shops here than in mining towns during the 1980s

What will happen: Wolves avoid defeat on the road for the first time in seven matches. Draw.

Chelsea v Everton (3pm, 5 Live Radio)

Mary-Ann Fellaini makes his annual return from suspension just in time to tag Mikel Arteta, who begins his three-match ban. They could really miss his creativity against Chelsea, but at least Fellaini can decapitate a few more Blues defenders – they’re almost down to the bare bones.

Don’t bet on an away win though: Everton’s only Premier League triumph at Stamford Bridge was 1-0 in 1994, thanks to a Paul Rideout goal. For the younger readers among you, Paul Rideout was the inventor of the fruit blender.

What won’t happen: Chelsea to ever listen to me and buy some more defenders; for this game, the stars align to let John Terry come back into the team to tag with injured Alex

What will happen: ‘Shock’ draw

Manchester City v Bolton (3pm)

Obviously with a squad list longer than a Qatari phonebook – actually, that’s not hard – some Manchester City deadwood will be cut in January and set to float down the river like so many uninvestigated corpses.

According to inside sauces, these unwanted players include the talented Emmanuel Adebayor, the superb Shay Given, the promising Michael Johnson, the nippy Shaun Wright-Phillips, the underrated Roque Santa Cruz, the reliable Jo, and Wayne Bridge.

One of the more bizarre choices for departure may be Pablo Zabaleta, who, despite not being the sort of household name City like to acquire, has impressed at full-back. In fact, he’s been almost their only attacking option behind Tevez.

It’s hard to understand, but then with Manchester City, you’re just not meant to.

What won’t happen: A more beautiful team goal for Bolton than their second against Blackpool last week...oh, who are we kidding, they’ll do it again with their eyes closed. Better than Barcelona, these boys

What will happen: Manchester City to play Real Madrid to Bolton’s Barça? Afraid not, sorry – score draw

Wigan v Stoke (3pm)

The clubs themselves probably don’t even care about this match.

What won’t happen: Record signing and flop Mauro Boselli, and to a lesser extent Wigan, to ever get their act together. He might have to soon, though: Victor Moses is out injured for three months

What will happen: Away win of the not-so-crushing variety

Blackpool v Manchester United (5.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

There’s a nasty rumour this game will be called off due to bad weather (Ian Holloway has been promoting Blackpool beach for use as training facilities, it’s got that bad). That’d be a disaster for ESPN as much as the fans: with the loss of Monday night footbaaaall they don’t get as many games as they did.

If the game does go ahead, expect goals: Blackpool haven’t kept a clean sheet at home yet and have scored twice in every game bar one.

Expect Manchester United’s players to wrap up warm, too. Tevez may no longer be there with his snood, but you wouldn’t put it past Berba to wear leggings, three pairs of gloves and thermal underwear plugged into the pitchside mains.

What won’t happen: Ian Holloway to bray like a donkey in his post-match conference and announce he’s the son of God, all to the tune of Spaceman by Babylon Zoo. His mind does seem to be going that way, though

What will happen: This could be just what United need after a 4-0 thumping by West Ham: away win

STOP PRESS! What won't happen: The game to be played this weekend - it's been postponed due to a frozen pitch...


West Brom v Newcastle (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)

Let’s face it, West Brom’s Carling Cup defeat to Ipswich was inevitable. Arsenal have the tournament wrapped up this year, which is just as well because fans have been begging for silverware about as prestigious as a 2am QVC sale.

What won’t happen: Newcastle to be torn apart as thoroughly as they were by Bolton a fortnight ago, as Kevin Nolan reminds his team-mates that if they don’t buck things up, he’ll make them live in his unheated conservatory with the ghost of Steve Harper

What will happen: Home win. Just

Sunderland v West Ham (4pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

Oddly, Sunderland have only won once in their last 11 Premier League outings against West Ham, scoring in just four. You’d expect that to change in this game, even if Avram Grant’s side did over Steve Bruce here in the Carling Cup – before dumping out Manchester United for good measure.

Famously, Carlton Cole scored two goals in a game for only the second time in his career, and the first time against top-flight opposition.

Before we get carried away with this statistic, we should remember that if his one-time England rival Emile Heskey scored a double, Villa fans would be bidding for a national holiday (or at least a car jack to pick up their jaws from the floor).

What won’t happen: Victor Obinna to destroy a team as comfortably as he did Manchester United – it’s what you’d expect from an Inter loanee, but not when it’s taken him 70 shots to score in the Premier League

What will happen: 11-0. Oops, typo. 1-0


Liverpool v Aston Villa (8pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

Hodgson out, Houllier in? Give it time – the chants will come...

What won’t happen: Hodgson to last the season, even if he guided Liverpool to a solid third and Europa League glory. He’s no Kenny Dalglish, y’know

What will happen: A home win shuts the naysayers up for a bit longer. Well, the walk home at least...