The ribcage punching, coffee soiling, Chekhov-loving Prem Preview

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Relegation weekend, yeah? Because if you didn’t know, it’s a statistical fact that 97 per cent of Premier League relegation battles are actually settled on the second weekend of November: it’s these games that ultimately really matter.

That’s why this Saturday we have such fangtastic dogfights as West Ham-Blackpool, Wigan-West Brom and Wolves-Bolton.

Oh, except... hang on... at the moment they’re not relegation six-pointers, any of them. West Brom are looking pretty comfy at the moment, as are Blackpool, and Bolton are as high as sixth. Admittedly, Wigan, Wolves and West Ham are still making up the bottom three, but when aren’t they?

So once again, England’s top league throws up an unpredictable season – one so exciting and different that even Ollie the Octopus, shamelessly trading off his relative Paul’s fame, couldn’t foresee what might happen.

But that’s because he’s rubbish.


Aston Villa v Manchester United (12.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)

An intriguing match-up, this, with Villa unbeaten in four and United unbeaten since last season. Admittedly it’s the most unconvincing evasion of defeat since Fulham’s effort at the start of this campaign, but results are results, and United are grinding them out like Stoke in a coffee beans factory.

The biggest virus since Trojan seems to have hit Old Trafford, with up to eight players rumoured to be under the weather at one point. Some Vicks has done the job since then, but the visitors are still likely to be missing Rafael to a dead leg – always sounds like a crap injury, that – and Patrice Evra, while Giggs, Anderson and Gibson are all doubtful. Also, Scholes is suspended, Hargreaves and Owen permacrocks and Rooney on a witness protection scheme in America.

A good chance for Villa then? Maybe not – an injury to Carew as well as Heskey leaves them short upfront, while no fewer than four players have knee injuries. Sounds like the famously no-nonsense Gerard Houllier has been whipping out the kneebreakers and getting on the phone to the glue factory.

What won’t happen: A home win here: their last triumph over Fergie’s charges at Villa Park was before Gerard Houllier was even in charge of Liverpool.

What will happen: Away win

Manchester City v Birmingham (3pm, 2nd half only on 5 Live Radio, full commentary on 5 Live Sports Extra)

Adebayor and Tevez have shared seven goals in their last four appearances each against Birmingham, and Citeh recorded a thumping 5-1 win in this fixture last year.

It bodes well for the home side and Roberto Mancini’s inspired rotation technique. Basically, make sure your star Italian striker gets sent off after scoring twice so he’s suspended for a while, then everyone gets a game. Sorted.

Apart from poor old Roque Santa Cruz, of course.

What won’t happen: Santa Cruz to get the respect he deserves

What will happen: Santa Cruz to move to Fulham or a similarly placed club, or quite possibly abroad – to Santa Cruz, even. It’s not that far. A home win knackers Brum further.

Newcastle v Fulham (3pm, Absolute Radio)

It’s slightly scary seeing Newcastle in fifth, because the last time that happened this blogger was in nappies (at least, that’s how long it feels). We definitely don’t want a return to those days (the nappies, that is…).

Nor do we want a return to the days of Joey Barton being allowed to walk the streets. It was one hell of a punch he landed to Morten Gamst Pedersen’s ribcage, perhaps he was incensed by this...

But what was even more impressive was the way he tried to persuade the referee and even Pedersen that it was a slap and not a punch, which basically involved Barton hitting Pedersen over and over again while the official watched. It’s a genius way to get in some repeated assault, but hardly an original one: we never knew Barton was a Blackadder fan...

What won’t happen: Barton’s three-match ban to be rescinded on account of good behaviour in the past

What will happen: Fulham to miss their excellent signing Carlos Salcido, out for a month with a Villa-esque knee injury. Newcastle take only their second home win over Fulham in six attempts

Spurs v Blackburn (3pm)

Crikey, you’d never know Jason Roberts was frustrated with being permanently benched at Blackburn. If his celebration upon scoring the winner at Newcastle wasn’t a ‘f**k you’ to Sam Allardyce, we don’t know what is – short of taking a dump in his morning coffee, of course.

Maybe Roberts should go to Spurs. ‘Arry has already complained about a lack of pace in his attack. And you’d think the Grenadan – Roberts, not Redknapp – has to be quicker than human lamppost Peter Crouch.

What won’t happen: Defoe to feature, as rumoured. It would be an incredible boon for Spurs, but an even more incredible error to rush him back

What will happen: We can’t keep getting Spurs predictions wrong, surely... this one will be a draw. Which means it’ll probably now be 8-0 one way or the other

West Ham v Blackpool (3pm)

The last time these two met was in 1971, when men wore hats and Avram Grant was recovering from his Bar Mitzvah. The West Ham boss should have an easier task in this game than an epic Hebrew recital, and one that involves a little more Ian Holloway.

You’d hope Ollie doesn’t carry out his threat to quit if he is punished for fielding a ‘weak’ team against Aston Villa – but then, of course, he shouldn’t be punished at all.

Forgetting the predictable gag about any Blackpool line-up being a weak line-up (it doesn’t really work now they’re doing quite well), it wasn’t a bad team at all. And he had a good reason for resting players: after plenty of games in quick succession, they’re knackered. If Holloway is censured, it will be the biggest miscarriage of justice since Jesus was crucified. And that’s not an exaggeration…

What won’t happen: West Ham have found their scoring boots at last, thanks in part to a shot from Scott Parker against West Brom that, but for the net, would still be travelling, but they need to convert goals into wins.

What will happen: Draw

Wigan v West Brom (3pm)

The Baggies’ amazing start has been curtailed by taking only one point from three games – two of them against relegation candidates too – but they’ll feel confident against a Latics side without a league win in six matches. Still, their defence is looking a little tighter now.

In the revolving door of suspensions, Youssuf Mulumbu returns from a ban for West Brom but Gonzalo Jara still has one game to go, and Steve Gohouri returns from his ban for Wigan.

In other news, there’s still a direct correlation between the relegation zone and your team beginning with s‘W’.

What won’t happen: Martinez to play 8-1-1 and go for the point

What will happen: Away win gets West Brom back on track

Wolves v Bolton (3pm)

Bolton have a great chance to keep up with the big boys for a bit longer here: a win could take them into fifth. Cue a spate of injuries as the Trotters succumb to altitude sickness.

It’s a slightly different story for Wolves, who, despite always being touted as relegation fodder, should really be doing better. They have a good squad and a manager with a sense of humour. That puts them above most teams.

What won’t happen: Stephen Ward to feature for Wolves after having stitches in his leg on Wednesday (ow)

What will happen: A draw brings Bolton back to Earth

Stoke v Liverpool (5.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

The late televised kick-off is an opportunity for Liverpool to know where they stand, or slide, before going into battle at Stoke. While we’re here patronising the Potters with accusation of violent football and long throws, take a look at this baby and turn the sound UP.

Things are looking better for Roy Hodgson now, and the Reds actually have a chance to push back into the top five with a result here.

Unbelievably, six – SIX – teams are tied on 16 points, meaning his team could also be as low as 16th if results don’t go their way. Close league. Closer than... something... that’s close. It’s OK, the editor will add something funny here [Get stuffed, it‘s nearly lunchtime - Ed].

What won’t happen: All the managers in the league to vote on each other, with Pulis being relegated to the Championship on account of being a ref-bashing misery.

What will happen: A frustrating draw for Liverpool ala Wigan on Wednesday, and tiresome calls for Hodgson’s head on a platter to renew once more


Everton v Arsenal (2pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)

Marouane Fellaini in sending off shocker! He’ll miss this game after his latest red card. Arsenal will miss Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen; less so the injured Manuel Almunia, as Flappy-hand-ski seems finally to have got his act together. This is a problem: his moniker doesn’t lend itself to a more positive nickname unless you just emphasise the ‘FAB’ part and have done with it. But surely no tabloid would be that lazy…

What won’t happen: The Polish glovesman (isn’t that a Chekhov play?) to suddenly stumble upon an English grandparent and Capello to pick up the phon

What will happen: GUNNERS SAVED BY FAB-IANSKI. Away win

Chelsea v Sunderland (4.10pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)

It was a bit of a surprise to see Ray Wilkins thrown out on his ear, the former Chelsea assistant manager now out of a job.

The popular explanation is that, having inherited Wilkins from Big Phil Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti has decided he doesn’t really need him as part of his coaching set-up and waited until it would cost nothing to get rid of him.

Either that or the Italian has realised, entirely correctly, that there’s nobody less attractive in a tracksuit.

What won’t happen: Away win

What will happen: Home win. We’re nothing if not concise.