ESPN commentator Jon Champion on the Premier League
ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend's Premier League action. Watch live and exclusive coverage of Swansea City versus Manchester United live on ESPN from 4:30pm on Saturday
Saturday sees the meeting of the last two remaining unbeaten sides in the Premier League, as Newcastle United travel to Manchester City.
While it’s no surprise to see City flying high, it’s astonishing that Newcastle are still unbeaten at this stage of the season, but of course fantastic from their point of view.
Sadly for them, this will probably be the weekend where we see that record go, not least because two of their most influential players - Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye - are likely to be missing through injury.
It’s a great shame that they should be going into this, their biggest challenge so far, without such key ingredients in their team. They have been crucial to the Magpies' success, though the team's spirit has brought them a long way, and the organisation Alan Pardew has introduced has also been of great benefit.
One would imagine that Manchester City will just be too much for them to cope with, though there is perhaps a slight chance that City could be a touch rusty, with many of their stars strewn across the globe through international week.
This is the start of three games in a row for Newcastle against the top teams in the league, which will give us a much clearer indication of their true potential this season. My feeling still is that they’re probably a top eight side at best rather than a top four or top six side, but even that I think is a substantial improvement on the predictions most of us were making at the start of this season.
The one black mark of late would be the stadium re-naming farce. It
just saddens me that the name of such a historic venue can be cheapened
in this way by a transient owner.
Next time I commentate on
them I certainly have no intention of calling it the Sports Direct
Arena, it has always been and will always be St James’ Park.
Saturday also sees two meetings of newly promoted sides and Premier League giants. Firstly, Norwich host Arsenal in what will be a really good football match, because both sides like to play. Norwich are in the top half, and although they may not stay they, they certainly seemed better equipped than many had expected. Arsenal are gradually finding their feet and finding a way of playing again, which is not unlike the way they played when they had really good players rather than just some tolerably good players which is what they’ve got at the moment. Robin van Persie’s got them out of jail a few times this season, and of course it’s vital to their long-term future that he stays. The Gunners probably have enough to account for Norwich this weekend, and I might not have said that two months ago.
Then, in the later kick-off, Swansea play host to Manchester United in the first live televised Premier League game from Wales. I was digging back through the records and Manchester United have never won at Swansea. They’ve made eight visits, but Swansea have actually got a very respectable record. Alan Curtis, the assistant manager who’ll be on the bench alongside Brendan Rodgers on Saturday, scored the last time that Swansea beat Manchester United nearly thirty years ago, with a shot that dribbled through the legs of Gary Bailey, I was watching the YouTube clip only this week.It’ll be a tough one for Manchester United. Swansea have been very strong at home, conceding just the one goal. Goalkeeper Michel Vorm has been a star performer, but I would think Manchester United, with the place they are mentally at the moment, should emerge from South Wales with three points.
Sunday will see a trip to Chelsea for a game that Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish actually does want his club's fans to turn up to, as opposed to the Carling Cup quarter-final that follows ten days afterwards that he’s asked fans not to attend because he’s unhappy with the scheduling of the game. It’s a game that’ll bring back memories for Dalglish because he scored the goal as player-manager that won the title for Liverpool at Stamford Bridge back in 1986. It’s a good test for Liverpool as well and indeed for Chelsea. The Blues could be in an interesting position now that Guus Hiddink is back in the work market, having left his job with Turkey. I would have thought that Andre Villas-Boas will just be looking over his shoulder a little bit.Liverpool may not have entirely convinced us that they’re a top four side, but I think they’re good enough to trouble Chelsea. However my feeling is that Chelsea are the stronger of these two sides and that Liverpool will do well to get anything out of this game.
These are frustrating times for Everton and David Moyes. Ten points from ten games. Just a point above the bottom three. I don’t think anyone sees them staying as low as that in the Premier League table, but it will be a worry. I hear murmurs Wolves boss Mick McCarthy needs some results fairly quickly, as Steve Morgan the Wolves owner is supposedly getting a little impatient. Wolves had a good result last time out so maybe they’ll be in better shape now, but Saturday’s trip to Goodison Park may be a bit too tricky for them.
Stoke will be very glad to be hosting Queens Park Rangers having not had a Europa League game three days beforehand, because that seems to have detracted from their league form. QPR played really well against Manchester City in their last game, but I think QPR at home at QPR away are two very different sides. They can be formidable at home. I’m not sure they’re going to get that many points on their travels so I would think that Stoke start as favourites this weekend.
Sunderland have another of those managers needing some results fairly sharpish in Steve Bruce. While Fulham seem overwhelmed by the fixtures that are coming their way in the various competitions, they’ve got a relatively small squad so both of them are a long way down the Premier League table than one would imagine that they would feel that they should be.Fulham I see as sort of a twelfth, thirteenth place sort of a team, while Sunderland should definitely be in the top half given the amount of money they’ve spent, but it’s the same old problem that we refer to week in week out - they haven’t got a goalscorer who’s going to get goals consistently. Having said that, if they are going to have a comfortable season rather than an agonising one, Fulham at home is the sort of game that they really have to win.
West Brom are another inconsistent side, while Saturday’s opponents Bolton have struggled to get out of first gear having had such a retched start to the season. Owen Coyle is another manager who’ll need a few more good results this side of Christmas to keep himself in a job. Bolton have just put Kevin Davis back into the side and whilst that may seem to be a case of going back to the future, he is their talisman, he does know what he’s doing, defenders are concerned by his very presence which creates more room for his teammates. West Brom at the Hawthorns is always going to be a tough game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this one ends all square.
Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers are both adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, five and four points away from the safety respectively. It’s interesting that these two seem to be two of the more secure managers. It seems that Dave Whelan is going to stick with Roberto Martinez come what may, while Steve Kean’s position seems to be cemented at Blackburn. Despite that, it’s difficult to see where either of these sides are going to get sufficient points to get out of trouble. I can see their meeting on Saturday being a horrible game to watch. The pitch at Wigan is never the best for playing football, anyway, which hinders them because they try and play it nicely. I think it’s, it may be relatively early season but it’s one of those horrible occasions.
The weekend’s action ends at White Hart Lane, where Harry Redknapp will hopefully be back on the touchline for Tottenham as they entertain Aston Villa. This should be a good game because Tottenham at home are a force to be reckoned with. Aston Villa are a fairly obdurate unit under Alex McLeish, there’s no thrills to them but I think Tottenham will have a real go. I’d be surprised if it’s anything other than a home win. Aston Villa currently look like mere inhabitants of mid-table without any real European aspirations; they’re not going to be in trouble, but they’re not going to set anyone’s pulse racing during the course of the season. That makes them ideal cannon fodder for Tottenham if they’re at their best.
Jon Champion is a football commentator on ESPN, broadcaster of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League and more. For more information visit espn.co.uk/tv
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