The stick-poking Premier Preview
ItÃ¢ÂÂs back. Oh, itÃ¢ÂÂs 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 IÃ¢ÂÂm back too. Yes, for the next however-many weekends, IÃ¢ÂÂll 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 FourFourTwo.com weÃ¢ÂÂre struggling to think of a domestic campaign in recent years with as much impending significance as the coming Premier League season. After SpursÃ¢ÂÂ momentous achievement / LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs 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 couldnÃ¢ÂÂt 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, guvÃ¢ÂÂnor, whatÃ¢ÂÂs 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 Ã¢ÂÂArry vs Mancini, itÃ¢ÂÂs an Anglo-continental affair.
And while Spurs fans seem to be waiting forever for the freewheelinÃ¢ÂÂ wheeler-dealer to buy those three unnamed players he promised, City have done that and more.
Unfortunately for them, that means itÃ¢ÂÂll take a while for the players to settle in. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Harry Redknapp addresses SpursÃ¢ÂÂ 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. Ã¢ÂÂArry 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 hasnÃ¢ÂÂt been bulldozed by drunk pensioners; the players havenÃ¢ÂÂt fallen into a volcano. These are all positives.
But positives arenÃ¢ÂÂt easy to find in that particular area of Birmingham right now. ItÃ¢ÂÂs hard to see how Martin OÃ¢ÂÂNeill leaving his fifth club (never been sacked, yÃ¢ÂÂknow) 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt even have time for a training session with the team.
And, as Gabby Agbonlahor tweeted at the time of OÃ¢ÂÂNeillÃ¢ÂÂs departure: Ã¢ÂÂIt gets worse.Ã¢ÂÂ 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 theyÃ¢ÂÂre a little more settled and with an excellent manager at the helm Ã¢ÂÂ although new signing Thomas Hitzlsperger may have to put that debut champagne on ice after sustaining a thigh injury.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: OÃ¢ÂÂNeill returns, mumbling, Ã¢ÂÂSorry, my badÃ¢ÂÂ
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 arenÃ¢ÂÂt usually that long. At least, theyÃ¢ÂÂre not meant to be. IÃ¢ÂÂll cut it down, as of... now.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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 PanÃ¢ÂÂs 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 Ã¢ÂÂ well, maybe Ã¢ÂÂ 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. ItÃ¢ÂÂs like Martin OÃ¢ÂÂNeill has a grudge and waited.
As for Bolton, theyÃ¢ÂÂll 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Elmander opens his seasonÃ¢ÂÂs account with a hat-trick. HeÃ¢ÂÂs 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 Ã¢ÂÂinjuryÃ¢ÂÂ but is expected to start here, coming flying out of the blocks as he always does.
TheyÃ¢ÂÂre 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 Ã¢ÂÂkeeper too, the injured Ben Foster, but fellow ÃÂ£6m signing Nikola Zigic should feature Ã¢ÂÂ all six foot eight of him.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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)
ItÃ¢ÂÂs not the Hollywood away game Blackpool fans were hoping to start with Ã¢ÂÂ Wigan have the smallest capacity ground in the league after Blackpool themselves (still twice the size though) Ã¢ÂÂ 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 (thereÃ¢ÂÂs no way heÃ¢ÂÂs 30). One question: why did they get rid of Hameur Bouazza?
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Lots of spectators?
What will happen: This is Wigan and Blackpool weÃ¢ÂÂre 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? YouÃ¢ÂÂd 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 doesnÃ¢ÂÂt care how many Stoke fans (several and counting) he upsets in saying so.
Besides, itÃ¢ÂÂll never happen. IÃ¢ÂÂve 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, thatÃ¢ÂÂs 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Stoke finish 9th, as predicted by the Metro, and Kenwyne JonesÃ¢ÂÂ transfer begins to make sense. Seriously, he was starting for Sunderland and had a good partnership with Darren Bent Ã¢ÂÂ 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, somethingÃ¢ÂÂs changed at least: itÃ¢ÂÂs 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 wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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.
ItÃ¢ÂÂs 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 (IÃ¢ÂÂm saying nothing). You feel one striker may be missed more than the other.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: As good a game as we expect, because life just doesnÃ¢ÂÂt 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. ItÃ¢ÂÂs 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 couldnÃ¢ÂÂt have asked for a harder opening game, though, and theyÃ¢ÂÂll come down to Earth with a harder bump than any former team-mate tackled by Alan Smith. At least Nicky ButtÃ¢ÂÂs been let go by Newcastle now. That would have been too much history for a United playerÃ¢ÂÂs ankles to deal with. Oh well, thereÃ¢ÂÂs always Joey Barton.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt 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 shouldnÃ¢ÂÂt have to tell you which United that is