This week sees the welcome return of the Premiership following a break for the 5th round of the FA cup.
As the home straight of the season draws ever near those precious Premier League points are more important than ever, will Bolton be able to edge their way out of the relegation zone or will Chelsea return to form and save their manager’s blushes? Which half of North London will enjoy the bragging rights come Monday morning?
Here’s my attempt to offer an answer to these questions, and the rest posed by this weekend’s fixtures with my predictions.
Chelsea v Bolton: I expect a strong reply to Tuesday’s European embarrassment from the blues meaning a long afternoon may be in-store for Owen Coyle’s men. Although an early Bolton breakthrough could lead some of Stamford Bridge’s residents to turn on AVB regardless of the amount of belief the owner has in his manager’s “vision”.
Newcastle v Wolves: It’s usually said that a change in manager leads to an immediate reaction from the players, but Wolves baffling decision to replace the experience of Mick McCarthy by giving his assistant Terry Connor his first stab at management is unlikely to galvanise the Premiership strugglers. I can only see Newcastle getting back on track after their mauling at the hands of Spurs, expect Ba to find the next more than once.
QPR v Fulham: This game sees Mark Hughes returning to the ground he left after a relatively successful solitary season, with his current side desperately in need of the three points and a run of form. While for Fulham rumours of dressing room unrest refuse to go away. The unhappiness of senior players at The Cottage has seen several key figures of Fulham’s success of recent years linked with moves away from the club. One player who did make the move away from Jol’s methods was Bobby Zamora and I can see him featuring prominantly in a hard fought and narrow QPR win.
West Brom v Sunderland: Both sides enter this game on a high after West Brom put five past local rivals Wolves in their last Premiership outings while the Martin O’Neil effect is in full swing up in the North-East. The superior quality of Sunderland should see the Mackems take three valuable away points here, Frazer Campbell will be eager to impress after his surprise England call-up earlier in the week.
Wigan v Aston Villa: Both sides enter this contest badly in need of a win; Wigan look relegation certainties on current form while the vocal disapproval of former Birmingham manager Mcleish continues to be an uncomfortable reality for the Scot. A draw could be on the cards here as both sides continue to struggle for goals.
Man City v Blackburn: This week has finally seen the resolution of the Samba speculation and the Defenders exit could be the final nail in the coffin for Blackburn’s survival hopes. The fragile nature of Steve Kean’s defence is likely to lead to once place only, The Championship. This should be a regulation home banker.
Arsenal v Tottenham: In a game being labelled as the most important North London derby in years a lot more than bragging rights awaits the winner. Tottenham enter the game after one of their worst ever performances under Redknapp in the dire nil-nil draw with Stevenage. While Arsenal edged closer to crisis point following a cup exit to Sunderland. The attacking nature of both sides should see an end to end game with free flowing and hopefully some goals to boot. A high scoring draw could be a reality.
Norwich v Man Utd: Paul Lambert’s men may have taken to the Premiership likes ducks to water and Carrow Road is rapidly earning the tittle of Fortress but it faces it’s toughest examination of its capability to be impenetrable on Sunday when the champions role into town. The indifferent performance of Sir Alex’s side on Thursday is likely to be greeted with the usually reaction. This could see Ruddy being forced to pick more than one ball out of the back of his net before the weekend is over.
Stoke v Swansea: This Sunday afternoon kick-off sees physical power clash with one of the Premiership’s finest exponents of the beautiful game. Swansea have not made the mistakes of previous footballing new comers, such as Blackpool, with height also a feature of the Swans in the form of Williams at the Back and Graham at front. While Stoke have continued to build on the Premiership experience a tiring trip to Valenica on Thursday could influence proceedings. However in this battle of opposing philosophies a draw is my expected outcome.
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