Crystal Palace vs. West Ham
Tony Pulis lost his first game in charge of Crystal Palace on Saturday, a vital clash at relegation rivals Norwich. And, unless the Eagles take maximum points from West Ham and Cardiff, they can kiss goodbye their chances of survival. West Ham, meanwhile, clinched an important 3-0 win over Fulham which will ease the pressure on manager Sam Allardyce. It is no coincidence that they scored two goals late on with Carlton Cole substituted on as a main striker, because Kevin Nolan often struggles to play up front on his own. West Ham’s attacking players are much better making runs off a target man, and for now Carlton Cole looks as though he can take up that role. 0-1.
Arsenal vs. Hull
Gabriel People, including myself, are now starting to accept Arsenal as genuine title contenders. They are looking stronger than they have ever done since the Invincibles season ten years ago, and are playing with confidence at the moment. Cardiff, who have taken points from City and United and are normally a force at home, were swept aside by Arsenal’s rampant fluidity of movement, and any side four points clear at this stage must be taken seriously. These are strange times for Hull. Their fans are very divided in terms of attitudes towards the owner, Assem Allam, due to the name change to Hull City Tigers. It makes the atmosphere at the KC seemingly quiet and frosty, rather than full of excitement about the team’s progress, which is a shame because Steve Bruce has done a great job. After their shock 3-1 win over Liverpool, Hull are now up to tenth and seven points above the relegation zone, which is a very healthy position. Still, it should be a routine job for Arsenal. 2-0.
Liverpool vs. Norwich
Liverpool went down to a 3-1 defeat at Hull on Sunday, with some very poor defending, particularly from Martin Skrtel. That result highlighted a weakness in Liverpool’s challenge for the top four, in that they are too reliant on a star performance from Luis Suarez to win games, and they are going to have more difficulties with Daniel Sturridge having picked up a long-term injury. Norwich’s important 1-0 win over Crystal Palace takes them to four points clear of relegation danger, as Gary Hooper netted his first league goal from open play this season, after his £5 million move from Celtic. Liverpool to bounce back from their defeat at Hull with a narrow win. 2-1.
Man Utd vs. Everton
David Moyes faces his old club Everton for the first time, since being appointed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Old Trafford. Knowing that Manchester United are unbeaten in twelve matches, you would have thought that the Scotsman would be quite relaxed about facing his old colleagues. Five of those twelve games were draws though and United are just eighth in the table, ironically, below Everton. The Toffees are certainly competing with the elite under Moyes’s replacement, Roberto Martinez. They are only outside the Champions League places on goal difference, and recorded a handsome 4-0 win over Stoke on Saturday, which saw them keep a fourth clean sheet in five matches. If you take Vidic, Carrick, Rooney and Van Persie out of Manchester United, they are not a Champions League calibre side. Carrick is out, while Vidic and Van Persie are having fitness problems at the moment, so there is an opportunity for Everton to take a point. 1-1.
Southampton vs. Aston Villa
Southampton lost 3-1 at Chelsea on Sunday. Their only goal, or even shot on target, came from an individual error by Chelsea and Southampton might start to slip down the table now. A concern for Pochettino will be that first choice goalkeeper Artur Boruc is now going to be out weeks due to a hand injury. Aston Villa looked poor in their performance against Sunderland on Saturday, with Benteke not having scored now for six games. The one positive from that match will be that it saw them keep a third clean sheet in four matches, and the Villains are starting to look solid at the back. Southampton’s momentum has been halted by back-to-back defeats against the top teams, and this might just be Wednesday’s shock result. 0-1.
Stoke vs. Cardiff
Stoke went down to a 4-0 defeat at Everton last time out. The goals did not necessarily come from quality play from Everton, more individual mistakes, and that is what will be the disappointment for Mark Hughes. Cardiff suffered big defeat themselves, losing 3-0 at home to Arsenal, which might have come as a slight surprise, because Cardiff are normally very difficult to beat at home. On the road Malky Mackay’s side have taken just five points, so the onus will be more on Stoke to win. Both teams are likely to be in a relegation battle towards the end of the season, and the concern for the two managers will be that neither side has a reliable goalscorer as of yet. 1-1.
Sunderland vs. Chelsea
Sunderland got a reasonable point at Aston Villa on Saturday, despite having had chances to win. Now though, they are tasked with staying in the battle to avoid relegation at home against two of the top London clubs, Chelsea and Tottenham. Their main problem is clearly scoring goals, having netted just three times in their last six games. As for Chelsea, when Mourinho changed to two strikers against Southampton it made a massive difference. With only two attacking midfielders, there was more space for Ramires to run from deep, and Demba Ba took his chance to impress. With Arsenal four points ahead at the top, Chelsea cannot afford any slip-ups here. 0-2.
Swansea vs. Newcastle
Since losing 3-0 at Man City, Swansea are hardly in a better position, or worse for that matter. Every team that has gone to the Etihad so far has been on the receiving end of a heavy defeat, so there is no shame for the Swans. There is certainly no shame for Newcastle, who have now won their last four matches after a 2-1 victory over West Brom on Saturday, they are now up to fifth. They have been performing well in the time that Hatem Ben Arfa has been put on the bench by Alan Pardew. Ben Arfa is arguably Newcastle’s most talented player on the ball, and when he comes back into form the Magpies will be looking like a very strong team. 1-1.
Fulham vs. Tottenham
This is Rene Meulensteen’s first match in charge of Fulham, but it is difficult to say how he will fare. In terms of behaviour and manner, he seems very much in the Martin Jol mould and having been Jol’s assistant, it is difficult to see the appointment injecting new energy into the team. Meulensteen was known as a great coach at Man United, but it remains to be seen whether he can cut it as a manager, which will require a slightly different set of skills. The visitors for his first game in charge are an out of form Tottenham team who have not won in four matches, putting Andre Villas-Boas’s job in peril. However, three of those four teams are currently in the top six, and the other is champions Manchester United, with whom they drew 2-2 on Sunday. Spurs need to get back to winning ways, and they now face back-to-back away games against two of the current bottom three. They must take at least four points from those games. 1-2.
West Brom vs. Man City
West Brom lost 2-1 at Newcastle on Saturday. They did not do enough in the final third in that match, with just one shot on target. Although they only went down to a wonder-strike from Sissoko, the Baggies would have been quite lucky to have escaped St. James with a point. After yet another rampant home display against Swansea, Manchester City have yet another opportunity to correct their woeful away form this season. Samir Nasri put in an excellent performance against the Swans and is flourishing behind Aguero and Negredo, and surely it is only a matter of time before City’s luck on the road changes. Surely? 0-2.
This has been a big week for managers in the Championship. Tony Mowbray’s recent departure from Middlesbrough has been followed up by the dismissals of David Flitcroft and Dave Jones at Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday respectively, while Owen Coyle’s job at Wigan is reportedly on the line. Is there any manager up north who is safe? For those of us not involved in the pressures of football management, it’s advent calenders at the ready as we begin our run up to Christmas with another round of games. Sean Dyche will see his Burnley side host his old club, out of form Watford, Sheffield Wednesday begin life without Dave Jones when they take on table-toppers Leicester, while QPR are hoping to move back into the top two when they play newly-promoted Bournemouth. Here is our preview to Tuesday night’s action.
Birmingham vs. Doncaster
Both teams will be boosted by Saturday’s result. Birmingham got a win at Barnsley, and although the 3-0 scoreline flattered them somewhat in terms of possession, defensively they looked very sound and stopped Barnsley penetrating. Doncaster picked up a win against promotion-chasers QPR, thanks to a late header from fullback Paul Quinn. But it is away from home where Doncaster have struggled. They have taken only one point from their last four matches on the road, and that was away to bottom of the table Barnsley. In those games, they only scored one goal, and that was in a 4-1 defeat. These teams have not had many draws this season, with just the seven between them, but this match could see them add to the collection. 1-1.
Brighton vs. Barnsley
Brighton could consider themselves fortunate to get a point at Bournemouth on Saturday, but generally speaking they are in excellent form, having won three consecutive games beforehand. Ashley Barnes scored a fiercely-struck goal, a shot which took confidence to hit on the turn, and he has now scored three goals in his last three matches. Despite having a lot of the ball, Barnsley struggled to create anything in their 3-0 home defeat to Birmingham on Saturday. The board has now taken the decision to sack manager David Flitcroft, which seems harsh considering he is liked by the players, and it is little thanks for the job he did keeping them up last season. Any manager who comes into the club will have difficulties keeping them up now, and this is a match Brighton will expect to win. 2-0.
Burnley vs. Watford
After Burnley’s 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield, Sean Dyche seemed to draw mainly on the referee’s decisions when commenting. Although Huddersfield’s penalty was wrongly-awarded, that skims over the fact that they were on top of Burnley for most of the match, and Dyche’s side were a little too content to defend from deep. Burnley only started attacking when they were 2-0 down, and by then it was too late. Dyche faces the club he used to play for and manage Watford, a team who are completely out of form at the moment. They suffered a fourth consecutive home defeat on Saturday, 3-0 at home to Yeovil Town. After that kind of result, the temptation for the owners, the Pozzo family, would be to sack Zola and bring a new manager in. The problem is, Zola has the ability to speak Italian which is an advantage with their current squad, a lot of players having spent a long time at Udinese. Appointing someone else would likely lead to a big turnover of players and coaching staff, because it is difficult to see an English manager succeeding with their current squad. Watford may put in an improved performance, and can take a point. 1-1.
Ipswich vs. Blackburn
A solid defensive display from Ipswich at Charlton brought them all three points, with goalkeeper Dean Gerken having made a number of impressive saves. Although the Tractor Boys started off with very reliable home form, winning four of their first five, recently they have gone off the boil at Portman Road. They have only picked up one point from their last three in East Anglia, and have picked up most of their points lately on the road. Blackburn got a 1-0 win over Leeds last week and are starting to look quite solid defensively, having kept three clean sheets from their previous four matches. These are two teams who are unlikely to finish higher, or lower, than midtable this season and a draw is the safe bet. 1-1.
Millwall vs. Nottm Forest
Millwall’s defending at Leicester was as poor as any Championship defending I have seen so far this season. For each of the goals, there was no organisation and the whole defence was panicking. According to the report, Millwall gave away 31 shots for Leicester, which tells it’s own story. However, Millwall have not lost at home since mid-September, as Blackpool, Burnley and QPR have all left the Den having dropped points. Forest went down to a 3-2 home defeat to Reading on Friday, and now they have taken just four points from their last five games. They have had so many big injuries to established first teamers, and as a side out of form, they are going to struggle without their key men. This could be a high-scoring draw. 2-2.
QPR vs. Bournemouth
QPR were consigned to a late defeat at Doncaster on Saturday. Despite having had most of possession, they only managed to get one shot on target. In terms of their promotion push they could do with being more ruthless in front of goal, because their next opponents Bournemouth, have scored three more goals than them this season. Eddie Howe’s side got a reasonable point at home to Brighton on Saturday, and it looked like a very high-tempo, attacking performance from Bournemouth. It would have been difficult to guess that winger Matt Richie was making his first start since April, because he had an exceptional game, scoring from a free-kick but he was at the centre of all Bournemouth’s build-up play, and his return should boost the team. The Cherries will put in an energetic performance, but QPR have only dropped two points at home this season, and they need to return to winning ways. 2-1.
Sheff Wed vs. Leicester
Sheffield Wednesday have sacked Dave Jones following their 2-0 defeat at Blackpool, but at the time of writing, they have not yet appointed a new manager. There is only two days between now and their next match, so the Wednesday board might appoint assistant manager Paul Wilkinson take charge of this match and appoint someone new for the Forest game on the 7th. Leicester mauled over Millwall on Saturday to go three points clear at the top of the Championship. Two goals will undoubtedly boost the confidence of Jamie Vardy, who had not scored for a month, but his pace alongside David Nugent, who is an established goalscorer, could be a strong partnership for Leicester. In truth, the league table means nothing in the Championship and Wednesday might just come out fighting. 1-1.
Yeovil vs. Blackpool
Yeovil got a remarkable 3-0 win at Watford on Saturday, but this might just be one of the kind of bizarre results that this Championship league produces from time to time, rather than a sign of progression from Yeovil. Just over a month ago, Yeovil beat Nottingham Forest 3-1, before losing their next three matches. It would be premature to get too excited about that result. Blackpool continue to compete in the upper reaches of the Championship. They eased to a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, which was in fact their first win by more than one goal since the opening day of the season. It tells you what a good job their defence has done in grinding out wins under pressure, and they have now kept eight clean sheets. If there is one team in the Championship you’re likely to add to your collection of clean sheets against, it is Yeovil Town. Despite their win on Saturday, they remain the league’s lowest-scoring team, so Blackpool must be fancied to grind out the win. 0-1.
Bolton vs. Huddersfield
Jermaine Beckford had a shocker of a game against Middlesbrough. He skied an early chance, before missing a penalty late on, which was uncharacteristic of Beckford who has been in otherwise strong form recently. Huddersfield got an excellent win over Burnley last week, with top marksman James Vaughan netting for the first time since October 1st. It was a very strong performance, although there was an element of luck about both goals. Norwood’s long range shot was dealt with poorly by the Burnley keeper, and the penalty should not have been given. Bolton have only lost twice at home this season, while Huddersfield have won back-to-back games impressively, so a draw is on the cards. 1-1.
Reading vs. Charlton
Reading recorded a vital 3-2 win at Nottingham Forest last Friday, to leap-frog their opponents and climb back into the play-off places. After looking like a side struggling for form just a few days ago, they are now in a decent position, with this being the first of three very winnable home games between now and Christmas. Charlton were slightly unlucky in their home defeat to Ipswich, having had a lot of the ball, but they were not ruthless enough in attack. It has been Charlton’s problem since the start of the season that they don’t score enough goals, so it will be crucial that they can keep fit Yann Kermorgant. Reading will be buoyed by their win at Forest, and can get a comfortable victory. 2-0.
Derby vs. Middlesbrough
Derby clinched an excellent 3-1 win at Wigan on Sunday, and the sceptics of the appointment of Steve McClaren have certainly been proved wrong thus far. Under Nigel Clough, Derby picked up eleven points from nine matches. Under McClaren, they gained sixteen from seven, so he has has clearly been a breath of fresh air at Pride Park. Middlesbrough will be hoping Aitor Karanka’s arrival will have the same effect. They clinched a first win under the ex-Real Madrid assistant manageer on Saturday, and although Bolton missed a penalty late on, that victory should boost confidence. Whenever a new manager comes in it is always important that the first few results go well, because it can just lift the team. Derby are playing very well at the moment and if they can maintain their current form, they might just be a dark horse for the automatic promotion race. 2-1.
Leeds vs. Wigan
Leeds went down to a 1-0 loss at Blackburn last week. They did not create enough, and Brian McDermott will be hoping that was an ‘off day’ for their attackers, because the form of Ross McCormack is crucial to their promotion chances. Wigan went down to a 3-1 home defeat to Derby on Sunday and, with Wigan fourteenth, that puts Owen Coyle’s job under threat, although you would hope the Latics board stand by him. Wigan are only six points off the play-offs, there are a number of teams only above them by one point, and the team has had to compete on a congested schedule, with Europa League matches often on in midweek. The teams are relatively evenly matched so this might finish all square, although neither side will be too happy with that outcome. 1-1.