Rants and musings from the magazine team
And so to the floodlights.
It's the only full midweek Premier League programme before Christmas, and these midweek sports specials - one for you older readers there - open a quickfire Premier League double-header. Half the sides will play two home games in a week, while the other 10 sets of fans face a double dose of motorway fun.
Contraflow curses aside, the pressure will really be on those underperforming sides playing at home twice. Like West Ham, who host newly-promoted duo West Brom and Blackpool within the space of four days.
With both the Baggies and Tangerines having turned in eye-catchingly good away performances so far and the Upton Park faithful not the most patient bunch, could the end be nigh for cuddly old uncle Avram Grant?
Stoke v BirminghamHold on to your unsightly baseball hats, Tony Pulis is off on one again...
Sure, the Stoke boss has every right to be miffed after the Potters were denied a clear goal/penalty after Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole handled a Kenwyne Jones header on/behind the goalline in Saturday’s match at the Stadium of Light, but there are gaping holes in his plan to get Premier League managers to vote on which referees are allowed to remain operating in the top flight the following season.
For starters, we doubt very much the Football League would be up for having the top flight’s cast-offs forced down the garbage chute with even more regularity than usual. Then there’s the matter of the integrity of the whole system. Imagine Fergie coming out before a ‘six-pointer’ towards the end of the season and stating “I haven’t decided which referees I’ll vote out of the Premier League yet. I hope the referee on Saturday has a good game.”
What won’t happen: This ‘Sky Sports contractual obligation special’ to be one of the games of the season.What will happen: Sky Sports to bill this ‘Sky Sports contractual obligation special’ as one of the games of the season. 0-0.
Tottenham v SunderlandSpurs will look to bounce back from their largely shambolic defeat at Bolton with a home win against Sunderland, who bounced back from their largely shambolic defeat at Newcastle with a home win against Stoke. So it can happen.
Darren Bent is out for Sunderland, meaning there’ll be no missed penalties, no hurled plastic bottles, and no goals for any Sunderland player other than Asamoah Gyan, given the two forwards are the only Sunderland players to net so far this term.
Spurs may or may not be without the Premier League's October Player of the Month Rafael van der Vaart, with Harry Redknapp yet to decide on what degree he is "daaahn to the bare bones'.
What won’t happen: Spurs to keep a clean sheet - they haven’t done that since the opening day against Roberto Mancini’s 4-6-0 Manchester City.What will happen: A Sunderland player other than Gyan or Bent to score for Sunderland, now we’ve pointed that out, but Spurs to edge it 2-1.
Aston Villa v BlackpoolIt’s been a funny old start to the season for Villa - four points off fifth place, but only three above the drop zone.
Their fairly poor league form (three points from the last five matches) has been masked by the tightness of the Premier League table, and it’s not often tightness masks stuff, as anybody who saw a certain member of the FFT posse in a skintight lycra St George Cross ‘morph suit’ during the World Cup will testify...
Blackpool may only be one point better off than Villa, but will be more than a little chuffed with their start. They’re realistically well over a third of the way to safety, with barely a quarter of the season gone.
They do need to work on their sharpness in front of goal, mind. An impressive 41 shots in their last two matches have produced an unimpressive five shots on target and four goals, two of which came against the nine men of West Brom.
What won’t happen: Marlon Harewood to play against his former club in a skintight lycra St George Cross ‘morph suit’.What will happen: Harewood and chums to put in another strong away showing. 1-1.
Chelsea v FulhamVia the popular medium of the backhanded compliment, Fulham have been described this season as ‘hard to beat’, having only lost twice in 11 league matches. However you could just as easily describe them as ‘easy to prevent from winning’, given they’ve also only won two matches.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti is expected to welcome back Michael Essien to his side following their defeat at Anfield in his absence, while Didier Drogba should also start, despite suffering malaria. Who’d have thought it, Didier Drogba is harder than Cheryl Cole...
What won’t happen: Didier Drogba and Cheryl Cole to sing a moving duet about malaria. Sadly.What will happen: A rare non-draw for Fulham as Chelsea bounce back. 2-1.
Everton v BoltonWhile everyone has been creaming themselves over the early-season form of the newly promoted sides, steady old Bolton have been steadily moving steadily into the upper echelons of the Premier League table, like a big steady... errrrm... train.
They’ll travel to Goodison full of confidence after a highly impressive win over ‘hungover’ Spurs on Saturday [that’s a Champions League hangover – FFT lawyer], but will be wary of their recent record on the Toffees’ patch. They’ve failed to score on their last four visits, losing each time. However, the last time they did win in Moyesville, it was a 4-0 gubbing. Swings and roundabouts, innit?
What won’t happen: Bolton to win 4-0.What will happen: Everton to pee on Bolton’s early-season chips with a narrow, hard-fought 2-1 win. And with only three points and three goals separating them from 16th-placed Blackburn, Bolton to drift back into midtable.
Manchester City v Manchester UnitedLook, everybody is going to be blathering on about this game between now and 8pm on Wednesday, and then most probably also from that point onwards to 3pm on Saturday, so you’ll have to forgive us for keeping this brief for fear of boring you all to tears.
City, United, Tevez, noisy neighbours, Denis Law, massive club, “this city is ours“, Wayne Rooney, no wait - not Wayne Rooney, “well we didn’t want him anyway”, “we took 10,000 to York”, “we took four billion to Barcelona”, some homemade banner that says something about something or other, Eric Cantona sat in some berk’s kitchen talking about the derby for no apparent reason, Curly Watts, Mick Hucknall, “Ryan Giggs was at City as a kid”, “Yeah, everybody knows that - they always mention it, it’s boring now”, “Fergie, sign him up”, “Fergie, sign him up”, ‘Welcome to Manchester", “quick, get some socks and red paint…”
What won’t happen: This match to be the be-all and end-all of the existence of mankind, or even football, as we know it.What will happen: Some football to be played in a way that will probably ultimately prove anti-climactic. 1-1.
Newcastle v BlackburnThere could be a touch of the after-the-Lord-Mayor’s-Shows about this match for Newcastle, having won so brilliantly at home to Sunderland and away to Arsenal in their last two matches.
Despite big wins against Villa and the Mackems, Newcastle haven’t always found playing at St James’ entirely enjoyable this season – they've got just one point from their other three home games, with Stoke, Wigan and Blackpool all scoring twice.
Blackburn’s strong defensive record (they’ve conceded fewer Premier League goals than Newcastle and the same number as Manchester United) suggests there’s a possibility of the home crowd being frustrated once more.
What won’t happen: Kevin Nolan or Andy Carroll to dash out and buy the News of the World in a hurry.What will happen: Blackburn to hold Chris Hughton’s side to a bore draw. 0-0.
West Ham v West BromIt’s the West derby – the biggest derby in English football (other than the East derby between Eastbourne Borough and East Grinstead Town, obviously) and the pressure is well and truly on Hammers boss Avram Grant.
Like fellow Premier League noobs Blackpool, West Brom are in the snug confines of mid-table - where just two points separate sixth and 14th place - and, like Blackpool, they’ll be more than happy with being well on the road to safety, which will still be their primary aim despite taking four points from away trips to Arsenal and Manchester United.
West Ham, meanwhile, would probably settle for four home points against West Brom and Blackpool (who they host on Saturday) for starters...
What won’t happen: West Ham to get four points against West Brom and BlackpoolWhat will happen: The locals to get (even more) restless. A 2-1 win for the visitors.
Wigan v LiverpoolLiverpool are back to their five-time-European-Cup-winning best!
Well, that may be overstating it a bit, but they at least look to be capable of winning football matches that aren’t handed to them on a plate, while Fernando Torres is finally starting to look a little something like his old self, even if he’s still a long way from hitting top gear.
Wigan, meanwhile, have been largely bobbins at home this season. Can you see where this is going?
What won’t happen: Liverpool fans not to get carried away.What will happen: Liverpool to continue their mini-revival with another win. 2-0.
Wolverhampton Wanderers v ArsenalWith the greatest of respect to Wolves, they’ll get nothing from this match if they try and get involved in a free-flowing pass-tacular football fun-fest. And Mick McCarthy is likely to recognise this, even if he struggles to recognise Juan Sebastian Veron.
The Gunners can ill afford to drop many, if any, points against the Premier League’s lesser lights following their second home defeat to a newly-promoted side this season against Newcastle on Sunday. But with Arsene Wenger stating Cesc Fabregas is still ‘restricted’ by the ongoing mental recovery from his recent injury problems, you sense they may struggle to avoid doing so.
What won’t happen: Arsene Wenger to leap up in celebration of a tackle, or to dismiss any meaty challenges on his teenie-tiny starlets as "just part of the game".What will happen: Karl Henry to be booked (at least) and Arsenal to be strong-armed out of a win. 1-1.
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