The short-wearing, happy-slapping, frantically rowing Premier Preview

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Anyone else have that Friday feeling? This blogger does, and it’s lifted yet further by a tantalising weekend of Premier League Fixtures.

Everton-Sunderland, Newcastle-Bolton and Wolves-Blackpool should all be tight ties, and hopefully entertaining ones at that, then there’s the mouthwatering prospect of Chelsea taking on Manchester United on Tuesday night, when, admittedly, we’re all back at work.

Well, that’s a bit of a downer. There goes that Friday feeling...


Aston Villa v Blackburn (3pm)

Two teams with highly different but equally confusing owners meet, with both having one eye over their shoulder – a biological marvel even in this day and age – to look at the teams performing behind them.

It’s a fantastically close in the bottom half this year, and you can see why many are proclaiming it the best Premier League season to date (it’s certainly up there). Blackburn are 11th but only five points above the relegation zone, while Villa are 16th with just two fewer points. It’s all very close.

Last season, Blackburn completed a league double over Villa while the Villans did a cup double over Rovers. This time around, Villa have already done the cup double over Venky’s Chicken Inc., while Blackburn are on for the league double if they win this. Very recent history could repeat itself.

And touchingly, Ryan Nelsen will wear a black armband to pay his respects to those affected by the Christchurch earthquake in his native New Zealand.

What won’t happen: A longer preview with less insight into the actual fixture

What will happen: Villa score their 500th Premier League goal at Villa Park, but are matched by their opponents in a score draw

Everton v Sunderland (3pm)

This could be the highlight of the weekend, if both teams play as balls-to-the-wall as they can do on their day.

All the statistics favour Everton: they’re unbeaten in their last 12 league matches against the Black Cats, and in Sunderland’s last three visits to Goodison Park they’ve conceded no fewer than 12 goals. Cahill and Saha look ripe for scoring too, netting 10 in their last 17 visits between them.

Still, what do stats mean when you cross that white line and you hear the roar of the crowd? Eh? NOTHING. NOTHING, THAT’S WHAT.

And since Everton and Sunderland have drawn a whopping 22 games between them this season, and you’d expect them to cancel each other out here.

What won’t happen: Leading 1-0 in the 90th minute, Steve Bruce takes a bung from Opta and orders Nedum Onouha to score an own goal to secure the draw

What will happen: Saha to shock no one and miss the game through injury, defeating the object of everything just written about him. Craig Gordon’s also a doubt, meaning Fillet Mignolet in goal for Sunderland

Newcastle v Bolton (3pm)

Either side could move into seventh with a win at St James’, but not both because...well, they can’t. Bolton could climb as high as sixth if Liverpool slip up, which would be enough to give Owen Coyle a bulge in his shorts.

It still seems ludicrous that any manager would wear shorts to a match, just because the clash with the opposing gaffer would be too extreme.

Obviously you don’t want to turn up in the same Saville Row suit – managers do ring each other before games to consult about this – but shorts? Really? It just looks like you’re threatening to bring yourself on as a sub because you’ve ‘still got it‘, which is probably Coyle’s point. “Look at me, Fergie, Avram, Brucie! I’m so much younger and fitter than all of you!”

Brucie just wishes he could still pull off the shorts and long socks look

But imagine the embarrassment when you turn up to the opposing manager’s office for a glass of Chablis and you’re wearing shorts. The toe-curling awkwardness doesn’t bear thinking about.

What won’t happen: Kevin Nolan to score a hat-trick against his old club, then do a lap of the pitch, happy-slapping all the young Bolton fans in the front row. Nobby, you bastard

What will happen: What looks set to be an entertaining draw turns into a late smash-and-grab win for the visitors

Wigan v Manchester United (3pm)

This Lancashire lukewarmpot is, sadly, the most pointless derbies. The home side have few fans, the away supporters naturally expect an easy win and the result is seemingly inevitable.

Wigan’s record against the Red Devils is nothing short of extraordinary. They’ve played their ‘rivals’ – a misleading term that suggests anything other than a massive gulf in talent – 12 times and lost on every single occasion, scoring four goals and conceding 37. That’s a goal to every nine for United.

Still, seeing as United have scored the last 12 in their meetings, it’s the Latics’ turn now, right? You’d hope so, just to keep the title race alive a bit longer.

What won’t happen: Let’s face it – anything other than an away win. Worryingly, Wigan have won only one of their last nine league games at home. And that’s at home! Without wanting to generalise or simplify football, home is where you usually want to play!

What will happen: A depleted United do the job, Michael Owen making the scoresheet and celebrating by ripping off vital cartilage in a tangle with the net

Wolves v Blackpool (3pm, Absolute Radio)

This is why your blogging correspondent is a fan of Absolute Radio getting 3pm commentaries: this is a fascinating relegation tussle, ignored by the big broadcasters. And given Blackpool’s record away from home, it should be an exciting game as well, even if Wolves often threaten about as much as lambs in their clothing.

Blackpool are turning things around again after losing five on the trot. Wolves, however, continue to shake their heads, stamp their feet and refuse to work their way out of trouble, like adolescents caught sniffing glue who just need to admit they’re wrong to be given a suspended sentence.

The Wolves players certainly can’t afford to chuck away points in the dying minutes as they did last week against West Brom, not least because Mick McCarthy will destroy them with his fists.

Kevin Doyle will at least return, having ripped out his injured rib and donated it to charity.

What won’t happen: A Charlie Adam goal, seeing as he’s suspended for picking up yellows like buttercups in springtime, the cheeky flower-collecting tyke.

What will happen: Can Wolves finally beat a team around them instead of only performing against the big clubs? What do you think? No, really, we don’t know…


West Ham v Liverpool (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)

Surprise, surprise (read that in a high-pitched cod-Scouse accent, if you want) - Liverpool are on television again! With the TV money the club is raking in, John Henry must be laughing himself silly while bathing in pound coins (the billions of dollars he’s already made have been stapled together into a very nice four-bedroom detached with accompanying double garage)

"Sh*t, I left the tap on - that's going to cost a ruddy fortune..."

What won’t happen: John W. Henry to be able to find a bidet made of Yen.

What will happen: Liverpool to be spared the blushes of conceding to massive flop Robbie Keane, as he’s injured, and it’ll be much the same for West Ham as Joe Cole is likely to miss out with a gippy knee. Narrow away win.

Manchester City v Fulham (3pm, 5 Live Radio (possibly))

Five Live is continuing to insist they will be covering this game live on Monday night, even though kick-off will have been some 30 hours previously. Perhaps they’re expecting a lot of injury time. As for whether this is actually on radio: sorry, folks, you’re on your own.

Now that Shay Given is set to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, Citeh will field Iker Casillas as their reserve keeper, or perhaps Julio Cesar or Victor Valdes. We don’t know as yet: the name on the team sheet is currently ‘Emergency Loan Signing’.

Fulham could turn their unbeaten run in the league into a mightily impressive four games, but that depends largely on whether Mark Hughes is inspired to beat Manchester City’s excellent line-up, or reduced to tears, wailing, “It could have been me!”

What won’t happen: Man City record only their second home win over Fulham in eight attempts. Instead, it’s...

What will happen: ...a very, very, very dull draw


Stoke v West Brom (8pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1)

Now that Roy ‘Away games are for air miles, not for scoring’ Hodgson is in charge of West Brom, this fixture doesn’t promise to be a thriller.

But in fairness to Stoke, they don’t do draws, with just three to their name so far this season. They’ll miss Matthew Etherington, but will look to continue their Manchester United-esque feat of constantly scoring in the last minute – six goals and counting in the 90th minute or later.

What won’t happen: Both sides turn up, apologise to the fans in advance and return their money, having agreed to play behind closed doors after Sky Sports realise their error in booking this ‘blockbuster’, and show under-15s lacrosse instead

What will happen: An almost injury-free West Brom still fail to gel with Hodgson and his new 8-1-1 formation. Home win


Chelsea v Manchester United (7.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)

United on the ropes? Nope. Chelsea’s last chance to keep themselves in the title hunt? Hardly. But this match still holds a lot in store, as the Red Devils are keen not to drop points with Arsenal breathing down their neck, and Chelsea are in the same, slightly smaller, slightly leakier boat trying to overtake Spurs, who are frantically rowing ahead of them

They’ll be cheered slightly by the win over Copenhagen, and largely nonplussed with Yuri Zhirkov’s threat to leave if he doesn’t get more match time. Rumour has it Carlo Ancelotti had to telephone Ray Wilkins to ask him who the Russian was, thinking all along that he was a cleaner who just hung around.

What won’t happen: Goals, goals, goals

What will happen: Draw