Premier League weekend preview: 21/10/11

Football, football, football…can’t we talk about something else for once? Well, no, actually – this is Football Burp after all, not Pottery Burp or Winter Gardening Burp. So shut up. No, you shut up. Nurse!

By which we mean, of course, here is the Big Burp Premier League Big Weekend Preview! We’re still working on a snappier title…

Premier League preview
Premier League trophy... Probably won't be moving far (Image courtesy of edwin. 11)

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Swansea City, 12:45

Last weekend’s 2-0 reversal at big (seriously big) local rivals West Bromwich Albion triggered bowel reactions amongst certain factions of the Molineux faithful, and consternation amongst others as their team’s thoroughly decent start to the season was well and truly buried by a fifth consecutive defeat. Big-money (not quite huge-money) signings Roger Johnson and Jamie O’Hara have stunk the proverbial gaff out of late and Wolves fans will be hoping that X, Y and Z happens. (Fill in the blanks with your own state-the-obvious guff – we’ll start you off with “that Mick McCarthy manages to instil some of the solidity that they showed back in August”, or something.)

Brendan Rogers’ Swansea lie 13th in the table after last weekend’s 3-1 defeat to Norwich City but will be ‘lifted’ by the imminent return to fitness of impressive young centre-back Steven Caulker, who is on a season-long loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Danny Graham is coming into the kind of form that should see him replace Wayne Rooney in England’s attack come Euro 2012 and, if nothing else, at least Swans fans will get to heckle Dorus De Vries, who has admitted to questioning his decision to leave the Liberty Stadium in favour of playing backup to Wayne Hennessey at Wolves.

Football Burp says: 2-2, with one of the sides to fight back from two goals down to claim what could be a massive (huge) point come season’s end.

Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion, 15:00

Alex McLeish’s mixed start to life as Villa manager continued with a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City last weekend but they lie 8th in the Premier League table, putting them within touching distance of our nation’s fair media actually giving a toss about them again. One much-called-for personnel change was sprung with the inclusion of young Ciaran Clark at the expense of the out-of-form James Collins but Emile Heskey, who is back in comedy vogue with this tremendous virtual tribute, is back to once again delight his manager with clearances from corners and frustrate supporters with headed flick-ons to Darren Bent so un-second-guessable (it’s a word now) that they might as well have a bit of a laugh about it.

Fresh from thrashing Wolves 2-0 last weekend, Roy ‘Psycho’ Hodgson and his bangin’ Baggies will travel to Villa Park with a lust for more local blood and the knowledge that they’re bloody well due to win there having not done so in the league since 1979. With Birmingham City in the Championship and Wolves still decidedly rubbish, the Albion have a real chance to push on and once again rival Villa as the Midlands’ number one side, and a win here would go a long way towards X, Y and Z journalistic clichés.

Football Burp says: 1-1 written all over it, with a late, bundled Heskey equaliser cancelling out a first-half screamer from, let’s say, Chris Brunt.

Bolton v Sunderland, 15:00

Having apparently lost something like thirty of their last twenty matches, Owen Coyle’s Trotters went some way towards exhibiting the spark and cutting edge they were showing this time last year with a huge, gargantuan 3-1 win at Wigan Athletic last weekend. New boys Nigel Reo-Coker, David N’Gog and Chris Eagles all got on the score sheet at the DW Stadium while some (many?) will be hoping that Reebok favourite Ricardo Gardner’s return to fitness will see him replace the workmanlike Paul Robinson at left-back. Meanwhile, Kevin Davies has admitted that his recent form hasn’t been good enough, although Martin Petrov has chosen to keep his counsel on the subject of ‘playing crap for ages’.

Sunderland, oh, Sunderland! What’reyaloik? Well, for starters, their languishing in 17th is tempered somewhat by a goal difference of exactly 0, which suggests that they should have one or two more points for their troubles. However, a resurfacing tide of opinion that Steve Bruce should be relieved of his duties, to be replaced perhaps by Martin O’Neill, is telling coming as it does from those who have to watch the Black Cats week in week out. Current charges against Bruce include patronising the fan base by talking down the club’s prospects, taking Seb Larsson off the pitch at Arsenal and bringing on strikers who then had no service as a result, mistaking Lee Cattermole for some kind of midfield general and not washing his hands after using a restaurant toilet. (We may have made that last one up.)

Football Burp says: Bolton, the marginally happier camp at the moment, to ‘sneak’ it. Um…2-1.

Newcastle v Wigan, 15:00

The Magpies’ unbeaten start to the season may have led to calls for Alan Pardew to replace Fabio Capello as England manager but, as the Toon Army know only too well, disaster is only one dressing room spat or Mike Ashley brainfart away. For now though, Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote are basically Vieira and Petit reincarnate, while Djemba Ba and Leon Best have the potential to be the next Efan Ekoku and Marcus Gayle if they can keep it up for another couple of months or so. With their proud side sitting in a Champions League spot and star Argentines (stargentines) Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini at various stages of committing their futures to the club, St James’ Park is a happy place at the moment – and there’s still the small matter of a fully-fit Hatem Ben Arfa to come. We await with baited breath to see how they will screw it all up this time.

What is there to say about Wigan that hasn’t been said already? Erm…well, they’re currently not bottom of the league, so that’s got to be something, right? Losing 3-1 at home to Bolton though doesn’t bode well for anyone, let alone for a side that presently seems so lacking in defence, midfield and attack. ‘Keeper’s not bad, though. Perhaps Maynor Figueroa will be restored to left-back after getting all tuckered out playing for Honduras, and Hugo Rodallega to the attack after his relatively impressive showing as a substitute last weekend, but you do wonder what exactly will keep Wigan afloat this season other than a ruddy good dose of good fortune. Still, Roberto Martinez seems like such a nice bloke that you have to hope he’ll take a top job soon, even if his sides continue to be all kinds of rubbish.

Football Burp says: 0-1 Wigan. Yeah, we’re crazy like that. But, like, so’s football, y’know?

Liverpool v Norwich, 17:30

If ever there was a match that should by rights see all of the television money going straight towards Kenny Dalglish’s next £20 million midfielder, then this is it. ‘Entitlement’ has always been a watchword of the Anfield faithful and now it seems to have spread to the boardroom, if their plans to systematically relieve smaller clubs of their lunch money are anything to go by, but at least things are going steadily on the pitch. Not ‘Second Coming of King Kenny, We’re Gonna Win the League!’ amazing, but steady. Walking penalty appeal Steven Gerrard is back though and looks likely to pick up a few more man of the match awards on the basis that “it’s good to see him back”.

Norwich boss Paul Lambert may be Coyle/Di Matteo du jour but the manner in which he’s guided the Canaries up from League One is pretty, pretty, pretty impressive. A bright start to the season sees them currently occupying 9th position but, as so many newly-promoted sides have shown in recent years, an effervescent opening few months ain’t much use if you then go on to lose your last twenty games, or some other such prolonged run of dismalness. It’s good to see a yellow-shirted side back in the top flight, though, and it was even better to see Jeremy Goss and Iwan Roberts on Football Focus or whatever it was recently when they were standing on the Carrow Road pitch reminiscing about how good Ian Crook was. Does anyone know how Ruel Fox’s restaurant is doing?

Football Burp says: 3-1 Liverpool, with that objectionable Freddie Mercury-looking one leading the Norwich backline a merry dance.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Arsenal v Stoke, 13:30

To say that Arsenal are becoming a tad dependant on Robin van Persie may be somewhat akin to saying that the idea of scrapping relegation is a tad completely insane, but moving into the top half of the table with last weekend’s 2-1 win over Sunderland should at least assuage some of the hysterical doom-mongering that was coming from some of the Emirates faithful. Laurent Koscielny is starting to look the part at centre-back but is likely to give way when Thomas Vermaelen finally learns to walk again, while in Wojciech ‘Copy/Paste’ Szczęsny the Gunners finally look to have unearthed a goalkeeper worthy of the name.

Very much Arsenal’s bogey side these days, Stoke have started strongly and could well end up taking advantage of the respective falls from grace of Everton and Aston Villa when it comes to challenging for them there Europa spots. 7th in the league and going well in Europe, these are heady times for Tony Pulis’ Potters and it will no doubt result in plenty of banal media comment about how they’ll ‘be hoping’ for this, that and the other. Oh, and Jon Walters is boss.

Football Burp says: 0-0 written all over it.

Fulham v Everton, 13:30

Last weekend’s late reversal at Stoke notwithstanding, it’s time to stop patronising Fulham and admire how far they’ve come as a club. This is the Cottagers’ eleventh consecutive season in the top flight and, in the last three years, they’ve reached the UEFA Cup final and managed to finish 7th (2008-09 under Roy Hodgson) and 8th (last season under Mark Hughes). A barnstorming 6-0 win over QPR seemed to indicate a continuation of this golden-age-of-sorts but, while losing at the Britannia is no disgrace, they should be expecting to dispose of the Toffees during their annual poor start, especially as they’ve such a good record at home to the Merseysiders. Three cheers for Fulham and the resurgent Andrew Johnson!

Last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge was Everton’s third on the spin, plunging them towards the foot of the table after two wins from their opening four games seemed to suggest that they’d put their desperate starts to seasons behind them. Bereft of the flair of Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar, David Moyes’ side are also badly lacking a cutting edge up front – it says something that Greek teenager Apostolos Vellios currently looks head and shoulders the best of their striking options – and are still finding clean sheets hard to come by with the Phil Jagielka/Sylvain Distin central defensive axis which looks so strong on paper. This season could be a slog unless Marouane Fellaini, Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley suddenly all get it together and become the best young midfield in the country.

Football Burp says: 1-0 Fulham, Andrew Johnson with the only goal of a drab affair.

Man Utd v Man City, 13:30

The Red Devils have not looked as invincible in recent weeks as their blistering start to the season suggested they could be, but in Wayne Rooney they have one of the most blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Man City sit two points clear at the top of the table after last weekend’s blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Football Burp says: Controversy at the final whistle as the referee awards both teams an 8-0 win.

Blackburn v Tottenham, 15:00

Last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Loftus Road wasn’t a bad result but it did little to help Rovers’ bottom-of-the-table-ness, which is now in danger of spiralling out of control. Sam Allardyce’s side might have been stultifying to watch but at least it was conducive to upper-mid-table finishes and thusly represented to build upon. In sacking him midway through last season and replacing him with the nearest bloke in sight, the Rao family managed to personify ‘cluelessness’ in a way that can only spell disaster for the Ewood Park club. Rumours that Walter Smith is set to come in on one of them Director of Football gigs just makes you feel sorry for this famous old club – if this happens then they may well end up with Steve Kean still as their manager and seven centre-backs in their starting lineup.

Having come within a few minutes of recording their fifth straight league win in last weekend’s 2-2 at Newcastle, Harry Redknapp’s Spurs have given themselves plenty of cause for optimism after their dismal opening showings against the frontrunners of Manchester. Jermain Defoe looks to be bang back in form, Kyle Walker is getting better every game, Scott Parker has brought his West Ham form into a lilywhite shirt, Younes Kaboul is turning in some tremendous defensive performances and Benoit Assou-Ekotto is rapidly becoming the most underrated player in the division. And, in Jake Livermore, they seem to have unearthed a rather talented young midfielder. Top four should be a realistic expectation at White Hart Lane this season.

Football Burp says: 1-0 Blackburn, Samba. Mad, aren’t we? A wild card an’ no mistake, guv.

QPR v Chelsea, 16:00

Despite some disappointing/catastrophic showings since the optimism-rousing performances against Newcastle and Wolves, Neil Warnock’s side contains some dangerous players and could give anyone a game on their day. Actually, come to think of it, is this true? Joey Barton’s still a mentalist who has some cheek to criticise the performances of Adel Taraabt when he’s hardly been Mr Inspiration himself, DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd are lower-table-to-Championship-level strikers, and Shaun Wright-Phillips has done nothing of note since the Cold War. Yep, remember where you heard it first: QPR to finish bottom of the league. Then you can come back and ridicule us when they go on to qualify for Europe.

Rarely has a side been so nailed-on to finish in a particular position as Chelsea are to finish 3rd this season. Basically, they’re good, but not that good. Ramires looks to have added goals to his game after grabbing another in last weekend’s straightforward 3-1 win over Everton, while Fernando Torres will probably go on a grand goal-scoring run at some point, but quite frankly a Pot Noodle could manage Chelsea to Champions League qualification this season.

Football Burp says: Pffft. 2-1 to Chelsea in fortunate circumstances.