The teeth-grinding, pseudo-fake derby-hating Prem Preview
Happily for many, tiresomely for some, itÃ¢ÂÂs Christmaaaaas (thanks, Noddy). ItÃ¢ÂÂs also probably the only time footballers deserve the least, tiny, tiny bit of sympathy. Those based in England, at least.
While players in other countries get a month or so off to spend with their families, inside where itÃ¢ÂÂs warm, the Premier League soldiers on with twice as many games as it would usually feature. So, after this weekend, each time will play four games over 11 days, including hangover-busting fixtures on Boxing Day and, cruelly, New YearÃ¢ÂÂs Day. No wonder Harry Redknapp has taken to banning ChristmasÃ¢ÂÂ¦
Just give them your f***ing money, all right?
Anyway, this blogger isnÃ¢ÂÂt as hard-working as a professional footballer, so this will be your last predictions blog before the New Year (aww). ItÃ¢ÂÂs been a good 2010, all in all, with a few more fascinating games left in it.
But since you insist, hereÃ¢ÂÂs a quick prediction for those 30 games before this blog returns. In no particular order:
1-0, 0-0, 2-2, 3-0, 2-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-1, 2-1, 3-0, 2-2, 1-1, 1-1, 1-0, 1-1, 1-0, 0-1, 0-1, 0-2, 1-0, 3-2, 4-0, 1-5, 2-6, 3-8, 17-20.
Now, this weekend. Be prepared for a slightly exhausted effort.
Sunderland v Bolton (12.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5 Live Radio)
A surprisingly good choice of match on Sky Sports, who seem to have realised that this match-up between two overachieving teams will be vastly more fascinating than whoever Man City are playing (oh wait, thatÃ¢ÂÂs Monday).
ItÃ¢ÂÂs worth pointing out that Sunderland are so injury-struck at the back that Ahmed Elmohamady is being moved back into defence and Nedum Onouha moves into the central defence. That should be interesting.
Sigh, time for a sly observation from FFT.com editor Gary Parkinson, who points out that Johan Elmander will take on Elmohamady at the back. He wonders if, given one of them has a wife called Amanda Elmander, the other has a wife called Alma Elmohamady.
This siteÃ¢ÂÂs really gone downhill, hasnÃ¢ÂÂt it?
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Onouha to make such driving runs from central defence
What will happen: A genuinely exciting tie Ã¢ÂÂ really, we believe that. Score draw Ã¢ÂÂ 2-2, perhaps
Arsenal v Stoke (3pm, 5 Live Radio)
Free-flowing football vs long throws, Shawcross decimating Ramsey, etc. etc. Ã¢ÂÂ look, itÃ¢ÂÂs only fair you hear all this first from us before Sky Sports talk about it ALL DAY.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Stoke to outpass Arsenal, admittedly
What will happen: Home win
Birmingham v Newcastle (3pm)
Alan Partridge Ã¢ÂÂ sorry, Pardew Ã¢ÂÂ will be praying all day today that Mike Williamson and Fabricio Coloccini donÃ¢ÂÂt suffer any late injuries, seeing as the alternative at centre-back is Sol Campbell, playing at something below League Two level at the moment.
Steve Harper may return after his shoulder injury, but Tim Krul has been imperious in his absence. Well, nearly imperious. WhatÃ¢ÂÂs below an emperor? Vice-emperor? Also known as David Gold (heigh-o!).
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Birmingham, who have lost just one home game this season, to give up three points without a fight. TheyuÃ¢ÂÂve even cancelled their Christmas party to focus on relegation, the selfless Scrooges
What will happen: A gruelling draw picks the Blues up after that disappointing defeat to Wolves, with Cameron Jerome finding the scoresheet by hook, crook or knob
Blackburn v West Ham (3pm)
If Avram Grant really does have just three games to keep himself in gainful employment at West Ham (at least, in the role of manager as opposed to unconvincing tea lady), heÃ¢ÂÂll be thanking his lucky star of St David that heÃ¢ÂÂs facing Rovers at such a time.
BlackburnÃ¢ÂÂs sacking of Big Sam was, of course, ludicrous, but at least it gave The Big Sam some ammunition to be even more brilliant than usual. Give him a follow. Not on Twitter? Get on Twitter, then give him a follow.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Blackburn to beat West Ham for the first time in nine painful, for them and everyone, attempts
What will happen: Surely, surely Big Sam to be present: this is basically his old club playing his soon-to-be new one. West Ham take their first away win this campaign
Wigan v Aston Villa (3pm)
Bizarrely, the last 10 fixtures between these two have seen no fewer than six away wins, probably down to WiganÃ¢ÂÂs inconsistency, occasionally brilliant, occasionally woeful, as much as both sides lacking a home fortress.
ItÃ¢ÂÂll be tough for them missing Honduran duo Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas through suspension, and Victor Moses hasnÃ¢ÂÂt recovered from a dislocated shoulder, but hey, Franco di SantoÃ¢ÂÂs back!
In Aston Villa Ã¢ÂÂnewsÃ¢ÂÂ, a win last week thanks to a surely accidental header from Emile Heskey doesnÃ¢ÂÂt disguise the fact that Gerard Houllier was probably the wrong choice.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Injurees Petrov and Luke Young wonÃ¢ÂÂt feature, though Agbolahor should return
What will happen: Wigan to play without a single Honduran for the first time in precisely 100 matches. Stick that in your stats pipe and smoke it. Home win
Liverpool v Fulham (5.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)
Steven GerrardÃ¢ÂÂs been rated Ã¢ÂÂtouch and goÃ¢ÂÂ, which we all knew, in fairness. HeÃ¢ÂÂs always played tough and go football, with the occasional hack Ã¢ÂÂnÃ¢ÂÂ blast. Oh, touch and go fitness-wise? That makes more sense.
This should be a really exciting game, simply because Roy Hodgson is coming back to a club he brought unparalleled success while struggling with a team who have, in previous decades and centuries, paralleled and surpassed that success.
Unfortunately, it wonÃ¢ÂÂt be an exciting game in the slightest. Mark HughesÃ¢ÂÂ draw merchants may be slipping inexorably towards the relegation zone, but a pointÃ¢ÂÂs a point and theyÃ¢ÂÂd settle for one here. Liverpool, meanwhile, arguably donÃ¢ÂÂt have the technical capability or tactical nous to beat them.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: Fulham to record a second away win in 27...
What will happen: ...but Liverpool wonÃ¢ÂÂt win either. Dull draw worthy of the Ã¢ÂÂmehÃ¢ÂÂ reaction the game will get due to being on ESPN
West Brom v Wolves (12pm, TalkSPORT Radio)
Feisty Black Country derby, this, as opposed to the pseudo-fake derbies we get between the four Premier League Birmingham teams almost every week. These are two teams in different straits: West Brom in mid-table, Wolves second from bottom.
But things are beginning to change, with Mick McCarthyÃ¢ÂÂs men recording a useful win over Birmingham last week. And remarkably, four teams are tied on 22 points, so the Baggies could be anywhere from seventh to 14th after this weekend.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: The first of those possibilities
What will happen: Tchoyi to get his chance upfront after impressing in midfield for West Brom, and to smash a ridiculous goal in a 3-1 win
Blackpool v Spurs (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)
Statistics are funny things. You wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be surprised to hear Blackpool havenÃ¢ÂÂt beaten Spurs at home since 1956, because, well, when would they play them? But in eight meetings since 1966 (and all that), the Tangerines are winless.
It was a very encouraging performance from Michael Dawson in his first game back from a horrific injury, and he and Kaboul at the back might actually be a better bet than Daws Ã¢ÂÂnÃ¢ÂÂ Gallas. Rafael van der Vaart would be a welcome replacement for an absent Jermaine Jenas, still cleaning snow off the inside of Alan HuttonÃ¢ÂÂs car.
Blackpool will still be without Matt Gilks and two players who sound like theyÃ¢ÂÂve been taken from Roy of the Rovers, Chris Basham and Billy Clarke. Ã¢ÂÂGreat pass, Sniffer! Go on, Bash! Smash it!Ã¢ÂÂ
This is, of course, all academic because the match is going to be called off due to bad weather.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: A game of football
What will happen: Postponement until 2013, which will at least preserve BlackpoolÃ¢ÂÂs nicely symmetrical home record in the league (won 2, drawn 2, lost 2, scored 11, conceded 11)
Chelsea v Manchester United (4pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)
Fergie has only won one of his six competitive meetings against Carlo Ancelotti (the Community Shield SO doesnÃ¢ÂÂt count) but here is a golden opportunity to make that two from seven.
After a good performance against Spurs, a game they probably should have won, Chelsea are no longer in freefall but they are without a league win in six attempts and itÃ¢ÂÂs not often you see Chelsea in fourth, except when
The good news for them is that the talismanic, Mr Boombastic, very fantastic Frank Lampard will start, taking penalty duties from Didier Drogba, youÃ¢ÂÂd think, who Ã¢ÂÂ and thereÃ¢ÂÂs no point holding back here Ã¢ÂÂ cost Chelsea a potentially crucial two championship-chasing points by being completely, utterly selfish. Tool.
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: As good a game as we hope for on his marvelous Super Sunday...
What will happen: Chelsea look to grind a win and so do United. They both succeed in grinding merely teeth and a draw Ã¢ÂÂ UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs seventh in the league this season. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve only won one away from home, fewer than lesser-known travelers Blackburn and Stoke
Manchester City v Everton (8pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5 Live Radio)
This is interesting: a quick glance at the league table shows that even though they are just two points behind their Manchester rivals in the league, Citeh have scored just eight goals at home compared to UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs 25. Quite a difference, that, and one youÃ¢ÂÂd think Mancini will want to reduce: averaging one goal a game at home isnÃ¢ÂÂt a table-topping rate.
ThatÃ¢ÂÂs hardly going to be helped if Tevez and Balotelli knob off, not to mention Jo, Santa Cruz and Adebayor as well. TheyÃ¢ÂÂll be left with Patrick Vieira upfront challenging for headers, thinking, Ã¢ÂÂHang on a minute...Ã¢ÂÂ
What wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen: All five of them to go, surely
What will happen: Everton miss a suspended Arteta and an injured Hibbert, but take a good draw