Previewing the EPL's Weekend Action
After last weekend's entertaining start, the Premier League is off with a bang. Out of 10 matches, we only saw one draw and had a generous amount of goals across the board.
With a total of 34 goals in these 10 matches, there was a lot of good football played and some intelligent and industrious performances from many sides. There were a couple of surprises as well.
Looking to the weekend's fixtures, we can expect to, again, see some of the players and teams who will count this season really step up.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Hull City
Both of these teams would have been satisfied with the last weekend and both teams will be in a confident mood come kick-off time. Though each won by the odd goal, their performances were strong enough to warrant their victories.
Blackburn look to be a much sterner test than Fulham were for the Premiership new boys. Roque Santa Cruz will again be important for Blackburn, along with David Dunn. And for Hull City, Geovanni will face a test as to how consistent he can be from match to match.
Blackburn may be too strong for Hull at their home ground though, and I think if we see anything other than a Blackburn victory it will be a surprise.
Liverpool vs. Middlesbrough
Both of these teams were winners as well in last weekend's action, though Middlesbrough not only faced the more fancied opposition, they scored two goals to Liverpool's one. They were at home though, and for the first away trip of the season, they have drawn a tough one, a Liverpool team that has more expectation to perform than perhaps at any time in the last 20 years.
Liverpool will be trying to prove to the rest of the league that they are a genuine contender. The ambition of Gareth Southgate's Middlesbrough squad cannot be discounted, as they have a quality side with some fine footballers.
They were too good for Spurs last week, and by all accounts, they should give Liverpool a good test in the first Anfield outing in this new season. A tough one to pick a clear favourite for, I would say Liverpool or a draw, as I cannot see Boro heading home with all three points.
Newcastle United vs. Bolton Wanderers
Newcastle United were unlucky not to steal the match from right under the noses of Manchester United last weekend, as Obafemi could not repeat his opening-goal header near the end, and a lot of people would say they deserved the match on the basis of their performance and the Manchester side's complacency.
Bolton were also impressive against a Stoke side that looked out of its league, in truth, and were convincing winners. I think that Newcastle, at St. James, under Keegan, will be a far different proposition than it was at times last season.
Wanderers will have their work cut out for them in trying to get a result, but that does not mean they could not spring a surprise. For Newcastle, Martins looks purposeful and the team looks to be in good spirits. But will Elmander and Co. spoil the picnic?
Home advantage could be the deciding factor here, unless Bolton can score early.
Stoke City vs. Aston Villa
Stoke look to their first home game of the season, with what looks to be a tough assignment. Villa dispatched Manchester City more convincingly than the 4-2 score line suggests.
Villa is strong, with Young and Agbonlahor looking sharp last week. Stoke, however, are not in the league because they don't know how to win at home. Villa were woefully inconsistent at times last season, and this is a prime opportunity for that to come back and haunt them.
Stoke have nothing to lose so early in the season, and it would be great to see Pulis really try to give O'Neill and his boys a real run for their money.
Villa should be too strong though, and anything other than the three points going back to Birmingham would be a surprise.
Tottenham vs. Sunderland
With last week's loss, the Spurs will be feeling the pressure. Ramos has assembled a side that should play some decent football this season, but they have yet to do so. Kept scoreless last week, besides a goal they didn't score, they need to win this game to ease any fears the club will be having about its competency this season.
Sunderland were perhaps unlucky not to come away with a bore draw against last week's opponents, and would have, but for a clinical strike near the end of the match.
Keane has already shown he can stir his team to a big performance, and they should prove worthy opponents for a Tottenham side that has yet to gel. I see a draw on the cards here, unless Bentley or someone takes the game by the scruff for Tottenham in the first half.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Everton
Albion may have been outplayed at times last week, but they did recover well from an early setback to give Arsenal a bit of a scare near the end of the match. This self-belief will be crucial if they have a realistic chance of staying up this season.
Everton arrive having lost in injury time at home on the opening day of the season and will be wanting to erase the memory of that with a strong performance at the Hawthorns.
With Yakubu firing up Everton, looking good at times last week, I would say the Liverpudlians will be in good spirits, but they face a WBA side that did create some clear chances last week and could have stolen a point in the second half due to Arsenal's inability follow through their advantage.
Everton are no Arsenal though, and WBA know this. They will be pumped up for this one and Mowbray and Miller and Co. are capable of taking a big scalp here early on in the piece. I'm going to say WBA might sneak this.
Fulham vs. Arsenal
Fulham were disappointing last week, in that they did not convert early pressure that could have led to them dominating from start to finish in Hull. But after they conceded, they were realistically outplayed for most of the match.
Arsenal scored early but were guilty of not having the killer instinct they seem to have lacked for a few seasons now. There was a sense that they would runaway with last week's game after the third minute opener, but it never happened. If not for some alert goalkeeping and defending they almost shard the points.
Unluckily for Fulham, they are still missing Andrew Johnson though, so they could lack firepower unless Zamora steps up. Hodgson will have very much taken that in to account and will no doubt have some plan to upset Arsenal and Wenger.
Fulham have the players to win games like this and will get some results this season. Arsenal will need to get into their stride early again or they could be in for a frustrating day, looking at last week.
It will be in a game like this that the inability to finish an opponent could cost them the title. If Arsenal play, though, they should win comfortably. Despite some promising passages last week, Fulham were guilty of not building momentum. Momentum will be a big factor here, and Arsenal should have enough to walk out winners here.
Wigan Athletic vs. Chelsea
This could be a great match. Chelsea were miles ahead of a sorry looking Portsmouth side last week and lead the table thanks to four goals on opening day. Wigan do possess a competent side though and will as always be a tough side to get points from.
Chelsea look already to be a different prospect to last year's team though. They now look to be a team that will dismantle opponents at times this season and out of the big boys, they will be the ones who are feeling the biggest.
Wigan and Steve Bruce are no easy match though, despite going two down early last week, they fought till the final whistle and were, in truth, unlucky not to snatch a point. Look forward to a match that should prove entertaining, with the Londoners leaving with all three points.
Manchester City vs. West Ham
Mark Hughes will expect no less than a victory from his side this weekend after last week's comprehensive defeat at Villa. The apparent unrest at City will not help, but they still have a very good side that should put on a better display than last week.
West Ham were opening-day winners, but in the end, were lucky to get all three points. Ashton is looking very sharp though after two in 10 minutes last week. This will be an interesting matchup with Manchester City having far more to lose, which could give them the extra energy they will need to defeat a competent West Ham side.
West Ham have had some good games at another Manchester ground in recent times and certainly have the talent to take it out. Unless Hughes has worked miracles during the week, I see West Ham winning this one...just.
Portsmouth vs. Manchester United
Both of these teams need to show their fans that they can play good football this season. Portsmouth look to be missing Muntari and may lose it in the middle of the park again this week. United looked a little gun-shy last week and were obviously missing something.
Portsmouth's Harry Redknapp will be wanting to spoil his old friend Sir Alex's day though, and he will believe that he can do it, as he always does. United will need someone to step up this week and spark them into life. They were flat last week and out of them and Chelsea, it was clear who looks to be in better form.
Form-wise you would expect the Manchester side to take it. I will, however, commit prediction suicide and say Portsmouth by a goal.
Some intriguing matches ahead in what looks to be another weekend of good football. Maybe a couple of surprises in store and no doubt, after last week, a few goals. Teams will be running out of excuses as to why they are not clicking after the weekend. This will give rise to some really hard-fought fixtures and some great results.
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