EPL Weekend Preview: Potential Shakeups At Top And Bottom
Last weekend and the matches in midweek served up a tornado of emotions and great football to boot. From a sense of inevitability as Man United cut into Wigan time and again with clinical precision, to genuine surprise as Man City were held at home by Fulham and Arsenal managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory yet again versus Birmingham, and capped off by palpable shock as the referee gave decisions AGAINST Man United at Stamford Bridge to condemn them to their second League defeat of the season. I’ve been ordered to be neutral and unbiased in this preview, but I don’t think I’m off to the right start.
The early kickoff this weekend sees relegation battlers Carling Cup winners Birmingham take on West Bromwich Albion at St. Andrews in what might turn out to be a feisty encounter, as most Birmingham matches are. West Brom are fresh off a hard-earned point at Stoke and will need to take points from these matches against the teams around them. St. Andrews has been called a fortress many a times this season though, and the Blues have many cards, and a footballing giraffe called Zigic up their sleeve. One senses a home victory in this match. Unless the footballing gods decide to deal out some retribution after witnessing the blasphemy of Lee Bowyer win a medal, that is.
Moving on from medals to the opposite of medals, Arsenal take on Sunderland at the Emirates, hot on the heels of leaders Man United. The Gunners will want to take the chance of coming within one point of United, but Sunderland and their bevy of dangerous strikers are far from pushovers. Moreover, Arsenal have lost the on-fire Robin Van Persie for three weeks (closer to six apparently), so Chamakh or Bendtner have to find their shooting boots (both made a good start against Leyton Orient) soon if Arsenal are to maintain their title challenge. Sunderland for their part are on a mini free-fall having lost the last four games, and will want to stop the rot and push on for a place in Europe.
Speaking of teams pushing for Europe, Liverpool have been slowly and steadily rising up the table with disciplined performances, the odd Demba Ba disaster aside. Their opponents this weekend are Man United, still smarting from their controversial defeat to the Russian rouble boys and sans Vidic. Although Suarez will be licking his lips after looking at Smalling and O’Shea, one has to admit that the Red Devils have enough in their locker to win this if they click. But matches between these two teams tend to throw up the unexpected, so that’s what we should, er, expect. Another loss for United and the destiny of number nineteen might suddenly be out of their hands.
Moving from hands to elbows, Bolton Wanderers have come a long way from playing around elbow-king Davies and ninety minutes of Hail Mary passes. Owen Coyle has transformed them into a distinctly watchable outfit with some neat footballers like Holden, Elmander, Klasnic and Lee. They play an Aston Villa side firmly rooted in mid-table and with a surprisingly leaky defence this season. Expect Bolton to have much of the ball during the match and dictate the play, but as we’ve seen countless times, Darren Bent needs only half a chance to bundle it into the net.
One team who have had major problems bundling it into the net in any way is Fulham, who are third from bottom in the goals scored column. Even they will find it difficult to not score against Blackburn though, who have conceded a whopping 46 goals so far this season, most of them away from home. Although Fulham should be fancied to take home the three points, this is far from a nailed-on home win, as Blackburn still have some Allardyce-ness left in them and may niggle and tackle their way to a draw.
What IS a nailed-on home win is Manchester City’s clash with Wigan Athletic at Eastlands. The oil-spewing Arab machine already dropped two valuable points against Fulham last week and will be looking to give Martinez’s lumbering Latics a proper hiding. Wigan have had a poor season, scoring far too few, conceding far too many and are thus deservedly languishing at the foot of the table. Tevez and co. to romp this one unless an N’Zogbia inspired miracle takes place.
One would have thought a miracle was exactly what West Ham needed to get off the foot of the table, but Avram’s army have performed much better since the turn of the year, getting a few priceless away points and home wins against better opposition. Stoke might be above them in the table and above them in average height, but Scott Parker’s panache and Demba Ba’s drive might just see them through. Just don’t concede too many corners and hide Delap’s towel-boys to irritate him.
Mick McCarthy must be one irritated man. His Wolves team have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Man United and Man City this season and still have a red in front of their name when the League table is viewed. Although looking at Wolves’s form against top half teams, Champions League chasing Tottenham should be worried as they travel to Molineux. Although Spurs have got some gritty away results this season at places like Stoke and Blackburn, Wolves will more than match them for the ninety minutes. With Spurs lethal on the counter, this match could go either way.
Wrapping up the list of game this weekend is Newcastle hosting Everton at St. James Park. The barcodes have had a decent return to the top flight and have been particularly strong at home with quite a few hefty wins. The Toffees’ season hasn’t been sweet though, they’ve underachieved compared to previous years and have just been dumped out of the FA Cup by Reading. They’ve also lost Marouane Fellaini for the season with an ankle injury and with the highly energetic game that Newcastle play at home, it’s difficult to see an Everton victory in this one.
I’m not just saying this because people are supposed to say it in every preview, but this week might prove to be a pivotal one in the title race and relegation battle. Don’t miss it at any cost. Fight for the common room remote, kidnap your cable operator, fly to England, but be sure to watch.