What are the games on this weekend? Lets have a look at the fixtures...
Norwich vs. Aston Villa
Norwich will be buoyed by beating, and keeping a clean sheet against Arsenal last week and the belief and team spirit in that dressing room is definitely still there. You could say much less so for Aston Villa; they’ve only scored 6 goals from 8 games this season and their goalscoring concerns could be deepened should reports over Darren Bent’s rift with Paul Lambert hold any substance. Villa fans will really expect to win this game, which I think is more of a worry for them than anything else, there’s potential for the crowd to get on their backs if they don’t score an early goal, which could work in the Canaries' favour. I actually feel Norwich have got it in them to record away win and come back to haunt Lambert. 0-1.
Arsenal vs. QPR
This is a must-win game for Arsenal, to get back into the race for 4th. If they want to do so, they have to be more consistent and can only afford to put in performances like they did against Norwich once or twice in a season; it was a shocking display that not only lacked quality finishing, but also tenacity and seemingly the will to win. I’m sure Wenger will have dealt with the players accordingly though, and would back them to beat bottom-of-the-table QPR, who have conceded 17 goals from their first 8 games. The likes of them and Southampton simply can’t carry on defending simple balls into the box like they are and expect to stay in this league. 3-1 to the Gunners for this one.
Reading vs. Fulham
I’ve not had an easy time calling this one. Reading need their first win of the season at some stage and have home advantage, but you’d give Fulham a chance because of the quality and experience in their team. I suppose all of these factors probably negotiate themselves into a draw, Pogrebnyak will want to score a goal against his old club, and the likes of Kebe, Karacan and McAnuff should provide a bit of support for him, but when you’ve got the likes of Berbatov in your team, anything can happen. His deftness of touch and audacious vision will really link-up Fulham’s attacking play, so they should be able to get a goal against what is a pretty average Reading defence. Will say one each.
Stoke vs. Sunderland
Two draw specialists are playing each other... think I know how this might end. Stoke certainly need to put in a better defensive performance today than they did at Old Trafford last week. We all know how good Rooney, van Persie and Welbeck are but the hesitant mentality they had and the way they defended was untypical of them, as before that they had kept two successive clean sheets. Sunderland, with the likes of McClean, Johnson and Sessegnon in their team, look capable of creating chances for Steven Fletcher, so the Potters will need to tighten up. The Black Cats also showed a bit of spirit in the north-east derby last week to get a point, and I think they can do so again here. 1-1.
Wigan vs. West Ham
I think this is a winnable game for Wigan. West Ham won’t be playing under any pressure, because they are already 10pts away from the relegation zone, and that could alter the dynamics of the match in one of two ways. They’ll either play with a lot of freedom and confidence created by that winning mentality, or take their foot off their pedal a little bit, although you don’t get the impression Sam Allardyce is the kind of manager to let his players do that. Either way, Wigan will be fighting for a win and will be conscious of having to go to Tottenham and Liverpool in their next few games. This is definitely a better opportunity for the Latics to pick up points, and because di Santo and Kone seem to be striking a bit of a partnership, I’ll back them to pick up a 2-1 win.
Man City vs. Swansea
At the time of writing, City are about to play Ajax tonight, I would think Mancini will field a strong team in that one considering their position in the group. It’s all much of a muchness though really, because the Italian has four quality strikers at his disposal and Swansea getting 4pts from their last two is mainly down to them playing at home to distinctly mediocre teams. With the Swans defence not being particularly strong this year, I would expect a similar type of game to the opening day of last season when the Citizens won 4-0, shall say 3-0 this time.
Everton vs. Liverpool
I think underneath all the bitter rivalry, both teams would secretly be happy to come away from this match with a draw. Everton have got the home advantage and are well above the Reds in the table, which might feel strange to some of their fans who have seen so much of Liverpool’s successes over the last 30 years, I’m not sure they would feel quite right about being overly confident of a victory, as if it would be tempting fate. Liverpool, on the other hand, are starting to notice how much Everton are changing and becoming an as good, if not better club, and the 5pt gap in the table will mean Liverpool are possibly a bit scared of Everton taking over, and will want to show that the power shift isn’t an absolute one. For psychological reasons more than anything else, I think both teams are privately a bit scared of each other, so there could be an element of nerves and both teams settling for a draw, think this might finish goalless.
Newcastle vs. West Brom
I would fancy Newcastle to beat high-flying West Brom quite comfortably, in front of their home fans. Steve Clarke’s side have enjoyed a great start to the season, and could consider themselves unfortunate not to actually beat Man City, who they lost to in the end. It’s been brilliant so far, but you’ve got to question how long it can go on for, it’s rare for an early surprise package of the season team to stay in the top six until November, and I think this is where it ends. Newcastle, in Ba and Cisse, have got strikers who can turn a match completely in their favour with one shot at goal, they are so clinical, and it’s those kind of strikers that win you the points when you’re not playing well, but I think Newcastle will today and get a positive result to show for it. 2-0.
Southampton vs. Tottenham
If Southampton can manage a result on Sunday, it will be more down to home support, team work ethic and a little bit of luck than anything else, because this Tottenham team beat Southampton pretty much all over the park for quality, but that’s not always how football works. Rickie Lambert will be the Saint’s biggest goal threat, averaging a goal in two games, more impressively he’s sometimes come on as a substitute, and he adds so much more in terms of their build-up play. Ironically I think Jermain Defoe, who will play up front on his own, needs someone exactly like Lambert alongside him to do all the donkey work and get all the knock-downs so that Defoe is free to come alive in the box, which is what he does best. He’s not quite got the legs to close down the whole game and has a tendency to get isolated on his own up front. For the sake of being controversial, I’ll say Southampton can steal a win from this game. They’ve got quite a good home record and the fact that this is a bit of a rivalry (I think sparked when Glenn Hoddle left the Saints to go to Spurs in 2001) makes me want to go with my gut and Southampton can battle it out for a 2-1 win against the odds.
Chelsea vs. Man Utd
I’m going to be controversial again in my prediction, and say this will be a big win for Chelsea. The spine of Manchester United’s midfield and defence is so blatantly aging and losing stamina, Ferguson had the opportunity to invest another centre-half over the summer, yet found himself playing Michael Carrick in defence, and saying afterwards: "It’s okay, he’s not naturally a defender." You just think, "well sign a natural defender then!" All that money was invested in signing van Persie and Kagawa, the types of which United aren’t exactly lacking, and now apparently he's interested in forwards Rodriguez and Lewandowski! It has to be said, it was a rare very poor piece of priotising and planning from Alex Ferguson’s point of view. Chelsea will want to bounce back from a disappointing defeat in the Ukraine in which most of their first team featured, but they’ll have 5 days to prepare for this one which I think will be enough. They just look so much more energic going forward, I get an impression the pace and movement of their three attacking midfielders and Torres will run rings around Man United. I say this boldly and with a heavy heart: Chelsea 3 Manchester United 0.