The whinge-o-meter cranking Prem preview

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Pfft, plus ca change, eh? Only four games into the new season and already the top four is made up of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and...uh...Blackpool.

Next year's FIFA and PES covers are going to look a bit weird at this rate. Gary Taylor-Fletcher posing athletically with Lionel Messi? Yes please!


Stoke v West Ham (12.45pm, Sky Sports 2 & HD2, 5Live Radio)

Up until the dying stages of the Stoke-Villa game on Monday, this fixture looked destined to be bravo-two-zero, with both teams on nil points.

So it's a good thing for Stoke they won in such dramatic fashion against a semi-rudderless Villa (Gerard Houllier will take over after their match against Bolton), not least because they'll carry some momentum into this should-win/must-win/try-not-to-balls-it-up-if-you-can home match.

And, it must be said, Tony Pulis deserves a lot of credit. This blog is so far removed from being his biggest fan it could be facing several libel cases by winter, but arriving at half-time after mourning the passing of his mother, then inspiring his team to a last-gasp victory, is Roy of the Rovers stuff. Fair play to the man.

Right, that's it, reasonableness over. Stoke are still boring swines who are going to be relegated this season.

What won’t happen: Pulis decides the 'turning up at half-time' approach is obviously a good idea and does it again, but to the opposite effect as Stoke blow a 4-0 lead

What will happen: A dour, dour game gives West Ham their first point

Aston Villa v Bolton (3pm)

Kevin MacDonald is on a hiding to nothing here: thought by many Villa fans to have dithered over taking the job on a permanent basis and plunging the club into further uncertainty, he now signs off with a final game in charge that he really should win – any other result and he'll be even more unpopular.

Not that he's sulking much; just considering a move to another club after being "very disappointed" to lose out to Houllier. You'll be missed, Kevin, I'm sure.

What won’t happen: Bolton's last three visits to Villa Park have resulted in them taking a pounding, but even with the optimism in the dressing room over Houllier's imminent arrival, the margin shouldn't be more than a goal or two

What will happen: 2-1

Blackburn v Fulham (3pm)

Mark Hughes takes on one of his many former clubs in the hope of continuing Fulham's unbeaten run (which sounds so much better than 'winless', now they've ended a run of three straight draws thanks to a late Moussa Dembele winner against Wolves).

What a player he is. Dembele had a big fan here before the brace against Wolves – now it's close to shrine status.

Good thing for Fulham, too, given they will be without Bobby Zamora until February. Damien Duff should recover in time to play, though, and Carlos Salcido, who is absolutely terrifying when he smiles, may make his debut at left-back.

What won’t happen: Zamora to watch a replay of his injury on his TV, he claims - so no Sky Sports News over the next few months for him then

What will happen: Draw

Everton v Newcastle (3pm, 5Live Radio)

It’s Sol Campbell's birthday on Saturday (it’s also Wolves' Kevin Doyle's – guess who's older). I'm sure Sol will celebrate with a giant cake.

The hulking, skulking, permanently sulking centre back played his third game for the reserves against Chelsea on Thursday, defending against the likes of Milan Lalkovic and Jacopo Sala (Chelsea won 3-2).

That Campbell is still not yet match-fit is pathetic. It's a sorry state of affairs, really, that a player who has so regularly screwed over clubs should make so little effort to be fit for his new one.

What won’t happen: Newcastle, who haven't won in the seven visits they've made to Goodison since David Moyes took over there, bring the noise and romp to victory

What will happen: 2-1

Spurs v Wolves (3pm, Absolute Radio)

"We're not dirty," drawls Mick McCarthy in his wonderful/horrible (delete according to taste) Yorkshire brogue. A red card and 13 yellows in two league games would suggest otherwise, but as McCarthy bizarrely pleads, "I've watched the game twice now, and my concern is there wasn't a bad tackle at Fulham."

Concern? Is that really the right word, Mick?

A wobbly Tottenham, seemingly playing alternate good and bad halves at the moment, may have their own concerns about playing the team who did an unlikely double over them last season, but a bigger worry is that Rafa van der Vaart, looking impressive already, is a doubt for this game with a calf injury.

An even bigger worry must be Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who managed to clear the ball backwards to concede a throw then leave a free header for Werder Bremen's first goal. It's extraordinary how the tube-loving, football-hating Cameroonian can be brilliant one moment, appalling the next, and it must make 'Arry wonder: is it worth losing Gareth Bale's ingenuity on the left-wing to put him at full-back for the extra security?

It's a debate that splits Spurs fans down the middle like an opposition attack when Assou-Ekotto has gone walkies again.

What won’t happen: Another Wolves away win, surely

What will happen: A draw instead

West Brom v Birmingham (3pm)

One of the many Midlands derbies this season presents the Baggies with a good chance to build on their ‘shock’ draw with Tottenham. The return of Graham Dorrans will boost their spirits.

So too will their impressive defensive record post-Chelsea (two goals conceded in four games, including matches against Spurs and Liverpool) and the fact that Birmingham are likely to be missing Jean Beausejour and Kevin Phillips, who is recovering from an injury he sustained 13 years ago. That leaves the Blues with Cameron when-is-he-going-to-come-good Jerome, who has had the most shots in the league this season without scoring a goal.

What won’t happen: Jerome gets off the mark

What will happen: Jerome adds to the shots tally, and West Brom earn a draw

Sunderland v Arsenal (5.30pm, ESPN & ESPN HD, TalkSPORT Radio)

Arsene Wenger's cranked up the dial on the whinge-o-meter this week, complaining steps should be taken to protect his players (cod liver oil might be a start).

Sam Allardyce is the man who has opposed the Frenchman's statement, saying, in as many words, "Balls to that."

More accurately, the Blackburn boss has accused Wenger of using the media to manipulate referees and, to the sound of cheers from the stalls and applause from anyone on the receiving end of a Patrick Vieira tackle, reminded Wenger that Arsenal were the worst culprits for fouling back in the day when they, y'know, won things.

Allardyce or Wenger...who to choose...this blog’s going with Big Sam, because he’s right.

Luckily for Wenger's wince glands, Lee Cattermole won't be playing in this game – he's suspended. A few statistics for you Cattermole fans out there:

22 – years of age
4 – Premier League goals
5 – Premier League red cards

And that's not to mention the fact that both his red cards in the three games he's started so far this season were due to double bookings, and both in the first half. So that's four yellow cards in less than 90 minutes of football. Well done.

What won’t happen: Cattermole, who has oddly conceded only five fouls for those four yellow cards, to be captain by the end of the season

What will happen: Arsenal dominate and run out clear winners


Manchester United v Liverpool (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, TalkSPORT Radio)

This is the big game of the weekend, and it's a big test for Roy Hodgson, whose Reds have made a stuttering start to the season.

On the plus side, they played a very good second half against Steaua Bucharest and this is the end of a nightmare opening handful of fixtures that's already seen them have to face Arsenal and Manchester City, and travel to St Andrews.

Perhaps top of their list of priorities will be to keep everyone injury-free – something Manchester United, already frustrated by a disciplined Rangers in midweek, wouldn't mind either following that horrific injury to Antonio Valencia. Good of The Sun to blow that up to A4 size and show it on the back page, by the way.

It was good of five, too, to provide a quiz teaser in their Europa League coverage in case it was a dull game, which they must have expected after Joe Cole scored in the first 30 seconds. Anything to distract from the horror prospect of Jim Rosenthal and Stan Collymore together in a studio.

What won’t happen: The Rosenthal and Collymore nightmares to go away any time soon.

What will happen: Both teams struggle to find rhythm, and it's a draw

Wigan v Manchester City (3pm, 5Live Radio)

The Latics’ home record against City is surprisingly good: won three, drawn two, scored 12. It would be one hell of an achievement if they managed to extend that unbeaten run.

It’s pretty pointless mentioning who City are missing through injury, as their squad is so big (you can see it from space, you know) that they will almost always have someone of similar talent to fill the gap. So with Balotelli, Kolarov and Michael Johnson out, Tevez, Lescott and Milner are all as assured of games as you can be at Manchester City.

What won’t happen: Any of Tevez, Lescott and Milner to play now

What will happen: Away win

Chelsea v Blackpool (4pm, Sky Sports 1 & HD1, 5Live Radio (second half only))

A groveling apology: last week this blog arbitrarily dismissed Matt Gilks, a man who almost retired from football not that long ago, as not being good enough for the Premier League.

Against Newcastle, he provided the best retaliation by playing a blinder. No hesitation here in admitting a bad, and lazy, call.

Now if you really want to impress us, Matt, keep a clean sheet here. At Stamford Bridge. Against a team averaging more than four goals a game. Go on. You can do it.

What won’t happen: Gilks to keep a clean sheet. Nothing personal, like

What will happen: Chances are Sky chose to air this fixture in hope of a 12-0 drubbing or suchlike, but Blackpool deserve their current standing of fourth. Still a home win to nil though. More to read...
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