A Prattling Premier League Preview – Weekend of 5/5/2012

As you can see I’ve timed this new feature superbly with it being the penultimate weekend of the season. In spite of that, here’s my slapdash take on this week’s Premier League fixtures:

Arsenal 3-1 Norwich

Definite home win. Norwich have basically decided it’s holiday time and after surpassing the magic number of 40 points, they’ve gone and lost their last three league games by an aggregate score of 11-1. They even lost to Blackburn AND failed to score against them (just the third team all year to do that).

However Arsenal are in a strange run of form, scoring just twice in their last three games and picking up just two points at Stoke and at home to Chelsea. Even the mighty Robin Van Persie seems a little jaded as the season comes to a close.

That said, if there’s one thing to galvanise a Dutchman it’s an award. Basking in the adulation of his peers and perhaps more importantly, the football writers, I fully expect Van Persie to lead Wenger’s side to a comfortable home victory.

Newcastle 1-2 Man City

The biggest game of the weekend sees Roberto Mancini’s side head across to the north-east and face Newcastle – surely team of the season. Alan Pardew’s side have already defeated Manchester United and Liverpool at St James Park (sorry, the Sports Direct Arena), as well as claiming a point from Arsenal and Tottenham.

Now, is Papiss Cisse the greatest finisher of my lifetime? At the moment – yes, quite considerably. Is he lucky? Yes, that too. His 13 goals in 12 games should strike fear into the hearts of all things sky blue but City seem made of sterner stuff this year. Captain Kompany looked incredibly focused immediately after the club’s win over Manchester United and I reckon this could be the man capable of stopping Papiss.

I just can’t see City passing up yet another chance to claim a maiden Premier League title. This will be a narrow away win.

Aston Villa 1-3 Tottenham

It’s hard to find crumbs of comfort for Alex McLeish – Aston Villa’s lame duck manager. It looks as though the Midlands club will survive relegation by default as QPR, Wigan and Bolton will have to find four points from six. Throw in a mischievous clubbing incident, some liberal fines and a team that have won just twice in 17 games and you have a problem.

That problem will likely be exacerbated by Harry Redknapp’s team on Sunday. They’ve rediscovered some semblance of the form that at one point made the north Londoners a foregone conclusion for a Champions League place. A flowing 4-1 win over Bolton on Wednesday, a team I view as having a better starting eleven than Villa, should provide enough support to predict an away win.

Bolton 1-1 WBA

A tricky fixture to call as we just don’t know how the Baggies will respond to the imminent departure of their boss Roy Hodgson. I’m going to throw it out there that they’ll want to sign off in style as a form of ‘thank you’ to a manager who has turned the perennial yo-yo club into a mid-table outfit.

Bolton had a brief period of 15 minutes against Spurs where they looked to have the courage and fight to battle against the increasingly magnetic pull of the Premier League trapdoor. I suspect they’ll be better against West Brom and at least keep it tighter at the back – they’ve only conceded once in four games at home…

Fulham 3-0 Sunderland

Pyjamas on, lights out. That’s the impression I get with these two teams. Both have had positive years – Fulham’s first with Martin Jol in charge must be deemed a success and only the uncharacteristic 4-0 humping by Everton prevented the Cottagers from pushing on for a 7th place finish (thought it is still an outside possibility).

Meanwhile an iffy start by the Black Cats, which led to the sacking of Steve Bruce, was arrested by Martin O’Neill. But without a win in six, they look perfectly content with their mid-table finish.

I doubt O’Neill will allow his side to head to a game and not put up a decent fight but a relaxed side under Jol should dominate this fixture.

QPR 2-1 Stoke

The hosts are teetering. They’re on the brink, but are just propped up by Bolton who have a much more inferior goal difference. The importance of the games at Loftus Road was something hugely emphasised on Mark Hughes’ arrival and to be fair his team have consistently delivered, beating the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea. The problem has been their away form – six consecutive losses.

But we won’t worry about that right now – it’s all about dealing with Stoke. Deputy sling-shotter Ryan Shotton hasn’t been nearly as effective as his mentor Rory Delap – hence the Irishman’s return against Everton. I do wonder if the narrow space between touchline and stand will cause him a problem?

Stoke are another side content with their campaign and should QPR match the commitment forever expected of a Tony Pulis outfit, I predict a massively important home win.

Wolves 2-2 Everton

Has Terry Connor burst into tears yet? Not quite actually and that’s largely down to the stirring comeback in Wales that saw Wolves snatch a point off the Swans. TC hasn’t had much fun in Mick’s hot-seat but it was pleasing to see him get a touch of fortune and even break out a smile. The pressure is off and this is the final game at home before the Championship calendar hangs in the offices of Molineux.

Finishing a season in vastly better form than they began it, we have David Moyes’ Toffees. Yes, once again, the late season rally from Everton has kept their season nicely entertaining. This year it’s particularly enthralling if you’re of a Merseyside persuasion as the battle for 7th – possibly the least talked about battle in a Premier League campaign – is actually interesting. Everton lead by three points over Dalglish’s Reds and although it ultimately will mean very little with Liverpool winning at least one trophy, it’s important to Evertonians. So a win here? No actually.

Man Utd 4-1 Swansea

Ah, the other Manchester club. A routine home victory? An ‘easy’ fixture as Roberto Mancini put it? I beg to differ. I think the Swans will give United a real test. I don’t think they’ll win, or even draw, but it will be a lot tougher than Mancini predicts.

United will need to be thinking about goal difference and on paper this is a great chance to spank a few hundred goals past one of those rubbish promoted sides. Thing is, they need the ball and little Joe Allen quite likes it himself. In amazingly contradictory shocker, I predict Swansea to dominate possession but United to win by three.

Blackburn 1-3 Wigan

The biggest battle at the bottom of the table this weekend and it is simply a must-win game for the home side. In fact, if Steve Kean’s side lose, they’d need a miracle in other results not only this weekend but on the final weekend too. So it’s a good job, he prepared his side correctly – playing a scarcely believable 5-4-1 away at Tottenham in a form of damage limitation. In his technical area last week Kean showed the body language of a man that has finally accepted that he’ll simply never be accepted. It’s hard to watch but ‘team Kean’ may finally be put to rest.

By who? Well those plucky Barcelona boys up in Wigan. Possibly playing the best football the league has seen this season, the Latics have done what they do best by springing into life a month before what seemed like certain relegation. Unconventional to the very end – who else plays a 3-4-3? – Roberto Martinez’s charges are playing their way from relegation. Oh yes, in a middle finger to the supporters of battling, long-ball survival football, Wigan are just passing the life out of anyone who dares step to them. Away win.

Liverpool 2-0 Chelsea

In one of those unfortunate fixture computer calamities, Liverpool and Chelsea meet again just four days after they duel at Wembley for the FA Cup. Given that this will be the last game of this round of fixtures, I’ll draw some quick conclusions from my predictions.

Chelsea will no longer be able to catch Spurs in the league and so everything becomes tailored towards the Champions League final. That means an immediate rest for anyone who played in the extra time win over Liverpool on Saturday – especially fatigued match-winner Fernando Torres – ooof what a story that was!

Liverpool are four points behind Everton and with just a League Cup to show for this year, must hunt their rivals down. Full strength team including a ludicrously petulant Luis Suarez. He may get sent-off but he got a goal and an assist before he did.

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