The Premier League is a welcome sight this weekend after a slow week of transfer news (outside of Redknapp, Remy, M’Vila and QPR) and some pretty straight-forward FA Cup 3rd round replays. The biggest shock of the week was Southampton’s comeback draw against Chelsea (who led 2-0 at half-time). The result further defined Chelsea’s “Jekyll and Hyde” season as well as catapulted Southampton farther outside of the relegation zone. This weekend treats us to some match-ups between teams close together in the table, close together in the relegation battle and of course, another “Super Sunday” between sides who are all vying for a Champion’s League spot. With that being said, let’s get to some previews.
Liverpool come into this match still atop the Premier League in terms of possession, but now share that distinction with Manchester City. They host a Norwich team who have lost four matches on the bounce and looked extremely lackluster and incompetent against a sorry Newcastle side on Saturday.
Liverpool’s lack of a dangerous lethal edge has hurt them all season. They have yet to beat a top-half side and the other four teams in the top five of possession sit in 6th or higher. This is a great chance for them to display their meshed passing game with a goal scoring side they’ve exposed rarely this season.
How many goals will be scored in this one? According to whoscored.com, Fulham away games have averaged 2.5 goals per game this season. That is not a reassuring stat for the Cottagers’ fans as they take on the reigning champions in Manchester.
City can most certainly score the goals but will be wary of that aforementioned statistic as well. Fulham are somewhat of a goal threat, though not as much as Manchester City. City’s leaky defense could make this one quite an entertaining match.
Surprisingly this is actually a relegation six-pointer. If Newcastle fail to win this match at home and Aston Villa and Wigan both win, Newcastle will fall to 18th place. After being snubbed by “transfer savior” Loic Remy this week and with talk about other players leaving, Newcastle need to show some spine that has been seldom displayed this year.
Reading rose like a phoenix from the ashes and came back to beat West Brom 3-2 last weekend after trailing 2-0 for most of the match. Newcastle will certainly be wary of this. Reading have been atrociously bad this season but the comeback in the last fifteen minutes of the match last weekend hinted that there might be some fight in this team afterall.
Stoke cross the border into Wales to play an extremely dangerous opponent in Swansea. Swansea have the pieces to pick apart Stoke’s usually defensive side. Neither side has won more than one match in their last six so this match is big for both clubs. Swansea’s talisman Michu hasn’t scored in a Premier League match yet in 2013. Stoke might play for a draw in this one after losing 4-0 at home against Chelsea last weekend but with Swansea in 9th and the Potters in 10th, this match has a lot on the line and could open up.
That bubble solution from their fans might be spilling all over West Ham, as they’ve sunk to 11th place and have lost 4 of their last 6 matches after finishing 2012 in the top-half. They’ve brought in Arsenal’s carelessly coiffed Moroccan Maroune Chamakh on loan who should give them a different look up from but Big Sam needs to get something going. And who better to do it against than the Premier League’s worst team so far?
Hold your horses though, people. QPR are being lauded for some “astute” transfer dealings and also for the fact that Harry Redknapp somehow managed to squeeze two wins and a draw out of this side since he took over. Loic Remy should be available to face West Ham but, as I wrote earlier this week, I don’t think that he is the be-all, end-all answer to their issues. This is a disjointed side who ‘Arry has gotten to play together somewhat but have still managed to lose three in a row between their only two wins this season.
Some weeks I wonder why I try to preview all of the matches in a given weekend. Usually that sentiment is sparked by a fixture like this. What can you say about this one? The “Wigan always come good in the second half” narrative is being somewhat sullied by their awful play so far this year. They’re the smallest team in the top flight and are easily bossed around. On the other hand, Sunderland have very rarely looked like a team to do the bossing this season.
Sunderland have been playing more positively and scoring more goals since their early season quest toward relegation. Everyone seems to be wondering when they will revert back to form. They assuredly have the right opponents in this one to get a good result but one can never discount that magic wand of Roberto Martinez’s coming out to spark Wigan to life.
This is another one that I’d rather say nothing about. Who knows what either side will do? West Brom looked like Europa League candidates early on but failed to shut down Reading with a two goal lead last week. Aston Villa looked like they were getting out of the relegation scrap somewhat only to be completely pulverized.
This almost seems like a match in which both teams will play for a draw save for one man, Romelu Lukaku. The Chelsea loan star and Didier Drogba comparison pairs a physical style with a wonderful goal scoring record. He scored twice in the loss against Reading and has been the Baggies’ main man all season. Another repeat performance from him could be the difference maker.
Jekyll, meet Hyde. Hyde, meet Jekyll. Two of the biggest names in the Premier League have had two of the most baffling seasons. Arsenal will be surprised that the booing most likely won’t be directed at them coming into Stamford Bridge, a privilege the Chelsea faithful reserve for their own manager. Things won’t be so cool for the Blues after they shipped a two goal lead and drew with Southampton on Wednesday.
Arsenal seem to have Liverpool-itis this season. They’ve played wonderful football this season but have failed to turn that into dominating performances a majority of the time. Arsenal will need a stand-out performance from their front line to get a result in this one and will have to be wary of Chelsea’s newly acquired Senegalese talisman Demba Ba.
I’m tired of talking about how bad Manchester United’s defense is. They’ve scored the most goals in the league and let in the most goals out of the teams in European positions this year. That only leads us to one man, Robin van Persie. The Dutchman turned in a stupendous performance on Sunday against Liverpool. He scored a great goal on a hard cross and even his misses looked superb. This top-four match-up with Spurs looks like a game he could be the deciding factor in.
But wait a tick! Tottenham gave Manchester United their first loss of the 2012/2013 campaign and looked damn good doing it. They beat them 4-2 at Old Trafford, running relentlessly at Manchester United, out-pacing old and usually sluggish team. A repeat performance at the Lane would go a long way in solidifying their Champion’s League status for next year. Tottenham will have to guard against those late strikes that seems to sink Manchester United opponents this season. It’s a tall order though, considering their biggest fault this year has been their inability to shut the door at the end of matches.