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Premier League Week 3 Previews and Predictions: Balotelli and Chelsea Bus Debut

Daniel TilukFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

Premier League Week 3 Previews and Predictions: Balotelli and Chelsea Bus Debut

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    This prestigious league and fledgeling season have improved bounds since our last encounter.

    Mario Balotelli has returned, four sides: Chelsea, Swansea City, Tottenham and Manchester City have extended their 100-percent records and despite spending £59.7 million on Angel Di Maria, Manchester United are in what seems to be early turmoil.

    Strange? Mysterious? Shocking?

    Nope, just English football in late August.

    This week should see three noteworthy debuts, Chelsea traveling to Merseyside taking on Romelu Lukaku and Samuel Eto'o while Tottenham—coming off the back of the season's largest win—host a hungry Liverpool side keen to right their ship.

    As most football enthusiasts will tell you, predictions are essentially impossible. If you could predict the future, there seems little point watching the games. That said, we all like to test our knowledge and clairvoyant abilities on occasion, so you have stumbled on the right place should you be into these sort of mental exercises.

    Over the Premier League's 380-game schedule, spanning 38 rounds and 281 days, Bleacher Report is going to be your crystal ball—looking over the sublime landscape of top-flight English football and providing answers, whether win, lose or draw.

Comments Section: Who Ya Got? // Week 2 Review

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    What fun are predictions if you do them alone?

    Throughout the 2014-15 Premier League season, the comments section will take on the writer.

    Put your picks in the comments, then vote for who you think has the best predictions. The reader with the most upvotes will be pitted against yours truly, and the scores will be calculated into our running table.

     

    The Week 2 Time Machine

     

    Prediction Table

    B/R Prediction Table Through Wk 2 @danieltiluk—15 pts Comments Section—13 pts The CS was represented by Aaron Moniz last week.

    — EPL Predictions (@EPLPredictions_) August 25, 2014

     

    How Does the Scoring Work?

    Wrong prediction: zero points

    Correct prediction: one point

    Correct prediction and exact score: three points

     

    For Your Copy-and-Pasting Pleasures

    AUG 30 BUR vs. MU NEW vs. CRY WHU vs. SOU QPR vs. SUN SWA vs. WBA MC vs. STK EVE vs. CHE AUG 31 AVL vs. HUL TOT vs. LIV LEI vs. ARS

    — EPL Predictions (@EPLPredictions_) August 25, 2014

Burnley vs. Manchester United

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 12:45 BST (7:45 a.m EST)

    WhereTurf Moor, Burnley, Lancashire, England

    Burnley have not been graciously welcomed to the Premier League, and one might forecast the Clarets' torrid introduction will continue Saturday afternoon; then again, nothing has exactly gone to form when Manchester United have been plugged into the equation thus far.

    Just one point separates the newcomers from the perennial title contenders.

    After hosting Chelsea and travelling to Swansea City, Burnley's lack of points is not too surprising; Manchester having just one point after playing the Swans and Sunderland, however, is rather staggering considering the investments made this summer.

    The Red Devils reintroduced Robin van Persie to the starting XI last week and new signings Marcos Rojo and Angel Di Maria may get their taste of the EPL in Lancashire.

    Should Van Gaal's side lose this game, England will turn riotous but—on its face—three points look to be safely within Manchester's grasp, United notching the all-important first goal being unequivocally imperative.

     

    Prediction: Burnley 0-2 Manchester United

    Players to Watch: Danny Ings, Phil Jones

Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace

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    Tom Dulat/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    WhereSt. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

    Could things have started out any worse for Crystal Palace?

    Losing Tony Pulis just days before the season started, Tim Sherwood and Malky Mackay rejecting the post then compounded by starting pointless after two fixtures; hopefully the appointment of veteran manager Neil Warnock will ease tensions and calm early stuttering.

    Tumultuous times in Selhurst Park, no doubt.

    Despite stability, Newcastle have taken just one point from two matches against Manchester City and Aston Villa. Playing out a yawn-inducing draw at Villa Park in Week 2, one might envision the Magpies stepping onto St. James' Park with more vigour.

    The Eagles were comprehensively beaten by West Ham United last week; suggesting Palace are on track for points seems unwise, but new managers tend to inject motivation into struggling clubs. Look for the away side to be dogged, competitive and even worthy of a point, but Newcastle to edge the contest.

     

    Prediction: Newcastle United 1-0 Crystal Palace

    Players to Watch: Emmanuel Riviere, Mile Jedinak

West Ham United vs. Southampton

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Boleyn Ground, London, England

    Goals from Stewart Downing, Carlton Cole and Mauro Zarate earned West Ham United their first win of the season last week. Returning to their east London home, the Hammers face Ronald Koeman's Southampton.

    The losses sustained by the Saints this summer were rabbit punches, but what feels crucial at this junction is retaining the services of Morgan Schneiderlin; the French midfielder staying would signal Southampton's intent to make something of this season. Their supporters deserve, at the very least, a competitive product—especially considering the sacrifices made in the off-season.

    Sam Allardyce has been much maligned of late, but could West Ham's dominate showing in Week 2 be enough to get Hammers' supporters onside?

    Should this prediction hold, "not likely" is your answer.

    This feels a game where each side will want three points, but both are somehow incapable of finding them. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of a draw.

     

    Prediction: West Ham United 0-0 Southampton

    Players to Watch: Mark Noble, Jose Fonte

Swansea City vs. West Bromwich Albion

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    Tom Dulat/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales

    Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham: All clubs one might have guessed to start with six points, but Swansea City? Garry Monk has Swansea in the Champions League?

    OK, premature sure, but what if these results hold and UCL music is being blasted from the Liberty Stadium next year? It would be the most unlikely of stories, and for good reason, so we shall leave the Champions League music and flying pigs in the future and get to Week 3.

    West Bromwich Albion are level on points with Everton—not even after two matches was that considered a possibility. The Baggies have played surprisingly well and added American-heart crusher Silvestre Varela and Ivorian-dream crusher Georgios Samaras to Alan Irvine's ranks.

    Their first introduction to English football, however, will not be in England, but in Wales.

    Probably bathing in confidence, Swansea seem poised to remain at high altitude until mid September.

     

    Prediction: Swansea City 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

    Players to Watch: Wilfried Bony, Silvestre Varela

Queens Park Rangers vs. Sunderland

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Loftus Road, London, England

    Can things be bleak already?

    Queens Park Rangers look terribly unprepared for life above the Championship.

    If the old saying is correct, and 40 points equals safety, then playing for draws might be the Rs best hope of survival. Pinching the odd win here and there, but never leaving empty handed vs. comparable sides is vital to their survival. It will not be pretty, attractive or even watchable but QPR should park every double-decker bus available and pray.

    Well aware of the Hoops plight is Sunderland, who have taken two points from their opening games and are playing QPR in the perfect moment. Gustavo Poyet should send his team out with confidence to neutralise the west London crowd and register three points

    That said, it took the Black Cats nine matches to eclipse two points in 2013-14, doing so in three fixtures 12 months on may signal brighter days for Sunderland.

     

    Prediction: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Sunderland

    Players to Watch: Joey Barton, Lee Cattermole

Manchester City vs. Stoke City

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England

    In the immortal words of Brian Clough: "It only takes a second to score a goal." It took Sergio Aguero Clough's second, plus 22 more, to get his name on the scoresheet vs. Liverpool on Monday.

    Should the Argentine be capable of playing 90 minutes vs. Stoke City, Manchester City supporters would gladly accept the addition, but Manuel Pellegrini should not rush in returning the deadly centre-forward.

    Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic have been outstanding after two games; what luxury for City's Chilean manager to have Alvaro Negredo as his fourth-choice striker.

    Stoke City meanwhile have scored just one goal thus far, and travelling to the unforgiving Etihad may already accept winning is pushing the limits of reason. It is pick your poison for Mark Hughes this weekend: Attack and be slaughtered or defend and be tortured.

    The Potters nominating option No. 2 seems the more likely scenario.

     

    Prediction: Manchester City 3-0 Stoke City

    Players to Watch: Vincent Kompany, Bojan Krkic

Everton vs. Chelsea

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    Paul Thomas/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 30 August, 17:30 BST (12:30 p.m. EST)

    Where: Goodison Park, Liverpool, England

    At least three past and present Chelsea strikers will be available for selection Saturday. Everton signed Romelu Lukaku for £28 million in July and added former Blues striker Samuel Eto'o on Tuesday.

    Post Lukaku, Chelsea have remained busy: Selling Demba Ba and—via BBC Sport—are reportedly in talks with AC Milan over Fernando Torres. Meanwhile, The Sun's Antony Kastrinakis (subscription required) has reported Diego Costa has picked up a hamstring injury, possibly leaving Didier Drogba as Jose Mourinho's primary striking option.

    While centre-forwards drive storylines, dropping four points from winning positions will be a source of frustration for Roberto Martinez. Everton will be vigilant to the final whistle but, despite their apparent striking woes, Chelsea remain a juggernaut.

    Anticipate Mourinho's defence to be miserly and given a boost from midfield—as Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle and others take advantage of an Everton side prepared to "play football."

     

    Prediction: Everton 0-2 Chelsea

    Players to Watch: Romelu Lukaku, Branislav Ivanovic

    Chelsea Bus Watch: The time has come! Having lost at Goodison last season, Mourinho will not want to repeat 2013's exploits. Chelsea's bus will be adroitly deployed during the first half of this weekend's game—no shame in attempting to stifle one of the Premier League's best offensive sides.

Aston Villa vs. Hull City

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    WhenSunday 31 August, 13:30 BST (8:30 a.m. EST)

    Where: Villa Park, Birmingham, England

    With half the Premier League still unbeaten Aston Villa had a 50-percent chance, but considering Christian Benteke is yet to feature, earning four points from two fixtures becomes all-the-more impressive.

    The Villains could have used their Belgian talisman in the Capital One Cup, as losing 1-0 to Leyton Orient has done the club's morale no favours, but the energies which can now be devoted to fitness and improving their league standing may be a blessing in disguise.

    Hull City have slightly bigger issues than the Capital One Cup, as their European hopes depend on them beating KSC Lokeren tonight. Steve Bruce, already at a rest disadvantage, may find his team sluggish on Sunday after Europa League responsibilities.

    Look for one swift move—capped by either Andreas Weimann, Charles N'Zogbia or Gabriel Agbonlahor—to catch the leggy Tigers, sealing three points in Paul Lambert's favour.

     

    Prediction: Aston Villa 1-0 Hull City

    Players to Watch: Andreas Weimann, Allan McGregor

Must-Watch Match of Week 3: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    WhenSunday 31 August, 13:30 BST (8:30 a.m. EST)

    Where: White Hart Lane, London, England

    The scoreline from last year's corresponding fixtures saw Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham beaten 5-0 by a rampant Liverpool. Luis Suarez & Co. effectively sacked the Portuguese manager and began the renaissance which now sees Spurs atop the Premier League table after a fortnight.

    In somewhat reversed fortunes, Tottenham dismantled QPR 4-0 in Week 2, while Liverpool were strong armed by Manchester City 3-1 on Monday.

    Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers both prefer high-octane performances, and just the sort should be seen at White Hart Lane.

    A player seldom known for energetic outings—rather more languid, nonchalant ones—is Mario Balotelli. The Italian international has made his return to England and is sure to confound any and everyone; how Super Mario's new manager elects to play him and Daniel Sturridge remains the biggest mystery surrounding the transfer.

    We shall hopefully get our first look Sunday afternoon. Set your alarms America!

     

    Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Liverpool

    Players to Watch: Eric Dier, Mario Balotelli

Leicester City vs. Arsenal

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    WhenSunday 31 August, 16:00 BST (11:00 a.m. EST)

    Where: King Power Stadium, Leicester, England

    After qualifying for the Champions League's group stage, Arsenal's official Twitter account unleashed the following:

    .@_OlivierGiroud_ has undergone surgery on his left tibia. Full details here: http://t.co/TwzHXc7Jez pic.twitter.com/0SnwbIcGJd

    — Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) August 27, 2014

    Olivier Giroud, Arsene Wenger's first-choice striker, has been ruled out for "approximately four months;" it appears even when the north Londoners win, grey clouds invariably damper their sunshine.

    Speculation, via The Daily Express, suggests gargantuan free agent Nikola Zigic, known for his time at Birmingham City, could be the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player Wenger elects to sign. In any event, tasked with holding down the fort Sunday vs. Leicester City will be Alexis Sanchez and Yaya Sanogo.

    The Foxes have acquitted themselves well two weeks into their EPL foray. Taking one point from Everton and keeping a respectable score line at Stamford Bridge, one envisions more of the same hosting Arsenal.

    When Leicester's schedule eases expect them to compile their fair share of available points—it just seems unlikely vs. Arsenal.

     

    Prediction: Leicester City 1-2 Arsenal

    Players to Watch: Wes Morgan, Mesut Ozil

     

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