Prem Previews: Title challenges, whinging fans and 'Cheggers'

It seems every season for the last 15 has been the season Liverpool will finally make a real push for the title.

The fact of the matter is that since the Premier League started (which as any keen viewer of Sky Sports will tell you is where all football history begins) the closest Liverpool have gotten to the trophy was watching TV’s own Tim Sherwood and his Blackburn chums lift it on their patch in 1995.

However this year there seems to be something different.

Liverpool have actually shown a bit of backbone and ground out results with late goals in a style reminiscent of the Manchester United side of 1999, not that any respectable Liverpool fan will welcome any comparison to their mates from down the M62.

However, should United win a third successive Premier League crown in May then the two North West giants would have one very notable thing in common. They will have both have won 18 league titles.

"Yes, we've won it five times, but we don't like to brag..." 

For Liverpool fans there is probably very little as unimaginable as that; losing their proudest record (other than that five European Cups thing, perhaps) to their most hated foes.

Despite the season being at a relatively early stage, you get the feeling Sunday’s trip to Chelsea could be a key match in Liverpool’s domestic season.

However you also get the feeling that Rafa Benitez's priority has always been the Champions League, and always will be until he thinks his side have a real chance of winning the title.

The two perennial Champions League semi-final opponents are currently both on 20 points at the Premier League summit and a win for the Reds would represent a massive psychological boost, as well as putting them three points clear at the top with a quarter of the season played.

If the Anfield side can pick up three points Señor Benitez may just be tempted to switch his attentions from Europe to domestic matters, and make a real concerted challenge for the championship.

Obviously it will be far from easy, with Chelsea unbeaten at home in the League since February 2004 (December 2003 if you discount matches in which they had Neil Sullivan in goal) and looking frankly superb in the bulk of their league outings to date this term, but Liverpool finally seem to have added that extra dimension required to win the big matches, as proven by their win over Man United last month.

Chelsea have a habit of drawing at home, possibly born out of not wanting to risk losing the aforementioned unbeaten record by throwing men forward in the dying stages of tied matches, and another draw looks a good shout here.

Speaking of shouting - sweary, now marginally less temporary, Newcastle boss Joe Kinnear takes his side to Sunderland on Saturday, with more than pride at stake for the St James’ Park outfit.

If it hadn’t been for Daniel Levy, Damien Comolli and Juande Ramos’ often baffling management of Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle would be the club facing relentless public dissection in the national press, with Magpies fans the ones being subjected to a barrage of ‘your football team is rubbish’ jokes that wouldn’t seem out of place had they been delivered by Keith Chegwin in 1982.

"Did you hear the one about Spurs and the toothpick..."

Saying that, things have improved in the last two matches (for Newcastle, not Spurs, obviously), with a creditable point being smuggled out of Goodison Park before a spirited performance at home to Man City on Monday evening left the Geordie public questioning whether one point may have been three had it not been for Rob Styles getting bored and giving random decisions to entertain himself again.

Sunderland haven’t won a home game against Newcastle since April 1980 and despite some good performances so far this season, most notably in their recent home draw with Arsenal, don’t be surprised if it finishes honours-even at the Stadium of Light on Saturday too.

One team that would probably settle for a point from this weekend’s matches would be West Ham, who face the daunting task of taming an Arsenal side who have scored eight goals in their last two games against fairly decent opposition.

Saddam: loved a good whinge...probably 

In coming back from 1-0 down to beat Everton 3-1 before jetting off to Turkey to batter Fenerbahce 5-2 in their own back yard, the young Gunners silenced the doubters among their own support, some of whom have come under fire from boss Arsene Wenger this week for getting on his precious young stars’ back.

That's right, Arsenal fans are having a whinge about their lot.

Granted, their side has shown an inconsistent underbelly (try to picture that one) this season, but with all that pretty football, a place in the Champions League knock-out stages looking probable, a top-four finish pretty much nailed on (assuming Man City don't ever get their act together) and a wins at Upton Park and at home to Spurs on the horizon, life could certainly be far, far worse.

For the proof, they just need to look down the Seven Sisters Road... Premier League Predictions: 

Saturday, 25 October 2008Blackburn 1-1 Middlesbrough (Live on Setanta Sports 1, 17:30)Everton 0-2 Man UtdSunderland 2-2 NewcastleWest Brom 0-1 HullSunday, 26 October 2008Chelsea 1-1 LiverpoolMan City 2-0 StokePortsmouth 2-1 Fulham Tottenham 1-1 BoltonWest Ham 0-2 Arsenal Wigan 2-2 Aston Villa

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Footy15 Pundit Predictions:

John BarnesBlackburn v Middlesbrough - HOME WINEverton v Man Utd - AWAY WINSunderland v Newcastle - DRAWWest Brom v Hull - DRAWChelsea v Liverpool - DRAWMan City v Stoke - HOME WINPortsmouth v Fulham - HOME WIN Tottenham v Bolton - HOME WINWest Ham v Arsenal  - AWAY WINWigan v Aston Villa - HOME WIN

Tony CascarinoBlackburn v Middlesbrough - HOME WINEverton v Man Utd - AWAY WINSunderland v Newcastle - HOME WINWest Brom v Hull - DRAWChelsea v Liverpool - HOME WINMan City v Stoke - HOME WINPortsmouth v Fulham - HOME WIN Tottenham v Bolton - DRAWWest Ham v Arsenal - AWAY WINWigan v Aston Villa - HOME WIN

Graham PollBlackburn v Middlesbrough - DRAWEverton v Man Utd - AWAY WINSunderland v Newcastle - HOME WINWest Brom v Hull - DRAWChelsea v Liverpool - HOME WINMan City v Stoke - HOME WINPortsmouth v Fulham - HOME WINTottenham v Bolton - HOME WINWest Ham v Arsenal - AWAY WINWigan v Aston Villa - DRAW