The stick-poking Premier Preview

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It’s back. Oh, it’s back. After an interminable summer punctuated by a terminable World Cup, the English Premier League is back to prove to its doubters that it really is the best league in the world.

The bad news is I’m back too. Yes, for the next however-many weekends, I’ll be taking up valuable moments of your time previewing the Premier League matches around the land, predicting, prophesying and guessing results with all the accuracy of a blind limping weasel attempting an Einsteinian variation on Hungarian hopscotch.

Still here? Oh good.

Here at we’re struggling to think of a domestic campaign in recent years with as much impending significance as the coming Premier League season. After Spurs’ momentous achievement / Liverpool’s momentous implosion last year, the Big Four oligopoly has finally been broken, and this year it could be obliterated altogether.

But seeing how Man City will fare, whether Spurs can do it again, and who will join Blackpool to go down (alas, there are some inevitabilities in football) is going to be exciting as hell, which is pretty damned exciting, pardon the pun.

And talking of exciting, the opening weekend couldn’t be more of a belter. Spurs vs Man City? Liverpool vs Arsenal? Manchester United vs Newcastle? Ooh! What an opening set of fixtures. Join me as I poke them with a stick.

Tottenham vs Manchester City (12:45)
Limey, guv’nor, what’s this then? A bunch of foreigners coming in on our property, trying to take our slice of Europe? Broadswords at the ready, boys!

Horrible mishmash of stereotypes aside, it is a bit of a culture clash, this opening fixture at White Hart Lane. Both teams have money behind them and both want to break the seal on the four Champions League spots this season, but with ‘Arry vs Mancini, it’s an Anglo-continental affair.

And while Spurs fans seem to be waiting forever for the freewheelin’ wheeler-dealer to buy those three unnamed players he promised, City have done that and more.

Unfortunately for them, that means it’ll take a while for the players to settle in. There’s no doubting that the likes of Jerome Boateng, David Silva and Yaya Toure are quality individuals, but can City really pull together as a team on opening day when half of that team is made up of new faces?

What won’t happen: Harry Redknapp addresses Spurs’ real weaknesses: dodgy full-backs and a pair of permacrocks in central defence
What will happen:
Joe Hart starts, Shay Given flounces, and a nervy game kicks into life in the second half, ending in a score draw. ‘Arry celebrates the point by buying three more midfielders

Aston Villa vs West Ham (3pm)
The good news for Villa is that the world is still spinning. Villa Park hasn’t been bulldozed by drunk pensioners; the players haven’t fallen into a volcano. These are all positives.

But positives aren’t easy to find in that particular area of Birmingham right now. It’s hard to see how Martin O’Neill leaving his fifth club (never been sacked, y’know) could have come at a worse time: the club now faces an opening-day game without a permanent manager, as is the state at the time of writing, or with a man so new to the job he won’t even have time for a training session with the team.

And, as Gabby Agbonlahor tweeted at the time of O’Neill’s departure: “It gets worse.” Defensive pairing Carlos Cuellar and James Collins are both out, and there are also doubts over back-up Curtis Davies (but then we knew that).

At least West Ham got through all this rubbish last season. Now they’re a little more settled and with an excellent manager at the helm – although new signing Thomas Hitzlsperger may have to put that debut champagne on ice after sustaining a thigh injury.

What won’t happen: O’Neill returns, mumbling, “Sorry, my bad”
What will happen: First upset of the season: the Hammers shock an already shellshocked home side

Blackburn vs Everton (3pm)
OK, for those new to this blog, those first two game previews/predictions aren’t usually that long. At least, they’re not meant to be. I’ll cut it down, as of... now.

What won’t happen: Frank Fielding comes down from Cloud Nine to play a part in the match
What will happen: Blackburn carry poor pre-season form into the league campaign and make a woeful start, exactly as they did last year. Away win

Bolton vs Fulham (3pm)
You have to feel sorry for Philippe Senderos. The Pan’s Labyrinth extra had endured enough before this six-month injury curtailed his new start at a club that actually wanted him.

You also have to feel a bit sorry – well, maybe – for Mark Hughes. The Welshman committed himself to Fulham and vowed to make them a top-six team, but had he waited a few more days he could have just been given one at Villa. It’s like Martin O’Neill has a grudge and waited.

As for Bolton, they’ll be wanting more out of Johan Elmander this season than a bag of crisps and a tearful apology. Still, they look stronger this year: genuine mid-table contenders. Martin Petrov and Robbie Blake both on free transfers represent two fantastic deals.

What won’t happen: Elmander opens his season’s account with a hat-trick. He’s more likely to saw a lady in half
What will happen: Tricky... home win

Sunderland vs Birmingham (3pm)
Already this game seems destined to be a battle of the mid-tablers, but not everyone agrees. Birmingham are aiming to build on last year and even secure a top-six finish, which is adorably sweet of them, while The Sun predicts Sunderland to finish 17th, which is adorably sour of them.

The Black Cats may miss the Stoke-dispatched Kenwyne Jones this season more than they currently realise, but they can at least rely on Darren Bent, who missed the England game through ‘injury’ but is expected to start here, coming flying out of the blocks as he always does.

They’re having a bad time of it with injuries, with five men laid out. Most significant is Craig Gordon, leaving Sunderland with only Belgian under-21 international Simon Mignolet in goal.

Birmingham will most likely be without their main ‘keeper too, the injured Ben Foster, but fellow £6m signing Nikola Zigic should feature – all six foot eight of him.

What won’t happen: Through force of habit, Steve Bruce gives his half-time team talk to Birmingham by mistake
What will happen: A good, intriguing match ends in a draw

Wigan vs Blackpool (3pm)
It’s not the Hollywood away game Blackpool fans were hoping to start with – Wigan have the smallest capacity ground in the league after Blackpool themselves (still twice the size though) – but it is a chance of an early point on the board. The Latics are tipped by many to go down this year, and if they defend like they did last time around, they will. No Gary Caldwell for this game either. Nyargh.

Much will depend on Charlie Adam for Blackpool, although Ian Holloway has just snapped up five players in a week, including 49-year-old Marlon Harewood (there’s no way he’s 30). One question: why did they get rid of Hameur Bouazza?

What won’t happen: Lots of spectators?
What will happen: This is Wigan and Blackpool we’re talking about here: it could be 7-all. Score draw, anyway

Wolves vs Stoke (3pm)
Is it too early to call this a relegation battle? You’d have to say so, especially given these clubs finished 15th and 11th last season. But this writer is convinced Stoke are going to be relegated, and doesn’t care how many Stoke fans (several and counting) he upsets in saying so.

Besides, it’ll never happen. I’ve put two bets on it. Also, striker and club record signing Kenwyne Jones is a useful acquisition.

Striker and club record signing Steven Fletcher should help Wolves with their goalshyness (shut up, that’s a word) but accomplished new boy Stephen Hunt, surely signed to keep his old Reading partner in crime Kevin Doyle company on the pitch and off it, will be out until October with a foot injury.

What won’t happen: Stoke finish 9th, as predicted by the Metro, and Kenwyne Jones’ transfer begins to make sense. Seriously, he was starting for Sunderland and had a good partnership with Darren Bent – why move sideways or, in some opinions, backwards?
What will happen: Dull game, home win

Chelsea vs West Brom (5.30pm)
West Brom back in the Premier League? How novel.

Well, something’s changed at least: it’s the first time since 1984 that all four major West Midlands clubs, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Wolves and West Brom, have been in the top division together, which adds an extra dimension (and puts a nice spin on the entire Premier League basically being split between teams from four areas of the country).

Still, many will be hoping the likes of Graham Dorrans and Chris Brunt can keep the Baggies up this time, just to end the monotony of their bouncing back and forth.

Chelsea are a bit shy of centre-backs for this game, since Alex is out injured and Ricardo Carvalho out in Madrid. Branislav Ivanovic should deputise and probably will for much of the season when Jose Bosingwa, he of the amazing eyebrow, is fit.

What won’t happen: Roberto Di Matteo brings himself on as a sub and scores the winning goal against his old team
What will happen: Home win, but not as comfortable as you might expect

Liverpool vs Arsenal (4pm)
Welcome to Anfield, Mr Hodgson. Good luck in this one.

It’s a horrible start for Liverpool, but you have to start somewhere. Unfortunately that somewhere is without Fernando Torres. Opposing striker Nicklas Bendtner will be absent from the Arsenal team with the same groin problem afflicting Torres (I’m saying nothing). You feel one striker may be missed more than the other.

What won’t happen: As good a game as we expect, because life just doesn’t work that way. Sorry
What will happen: A 0-0 draw leaves Hodgson happy and Wenger whinging

Manchester United vs Newcastle (8pm)
What a game for the return of Monday night footbaaaaall. It’s certainly going to be an intriguing one. How will Newcastle act: as humble reapplicants to the big time or swaggering, ball-swinging Club With A History? No prizes for guessing which way the fans go.

They couldn’t have asked for a harder opening game, though, and they’ll come down to Earth with a harder bump than any former team-mate tackled by Alan Smith. At least Nicky Butt’s been let go by Newcastle now. That would have been too much history for a United player’s ankles to deal with. Oh well, there’s always Joey Barton.

What won’t happen: Andy Carroll, Peter Lovenkrands and Shola Ameobi to share a 100 percent shot accuracy
What will happen: United win by three or four goals. I shouldn’t have to tell you which United that is Club news * Features * News * Interviews * Home
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