Premier League Preview: Week 4

Man Utd v Crystal Palace

The transfer window is shut, and David Moyes has managed to bring one of two Everton targets to his new home.  Response to United’s efforts in the window has ranged from the angry to the muted. A tight defeat at Liverpool has rightly not been seen as crisis, but Crystal Palace at home sets very different expectations.  Kagawa scored for Japan mid-week and Nani has signed a new 5 year deal showcasing the quality and depth of resources at Moyes’ disposal. The shadow of Fergie will remain for at least a season, but this week should provide an opportunity to confirm its business as usual at Old Trafford.

All these comments sadly disregard Crystal Palace, who despite their decent performances so far this season, including a 3-1 win against Sunderland, will likely be out of their depth here and with the motivational Holloway relegated to the stands for his criticism of Mark Clattenberg I expect a win for the favourites.

Aston Villa v Newcastle

For those of you who like an accumulator bet, I would suggest this is a match to ignore as I think it is too close to call.  Newcastle fans remain in a state of healthy pessimism driven by a certain J. Kinnear, but 4 points from a possible 9 and three clean sheets in a row suggest there is room for cautious hope.  With Cabaye’s future resolved and Ben Arfa continuing to show flashes of attacking flair there is reason to suggest the result at Morcambe was more instructive than the performance for the Magpies.

Chief amongst the Geordie’s worries this weekend though is the impressive Benteke who has continued last season’s devastating form and will be a threat to a Newcastle defence whose clean-sheets have had a touch of fortune about them at times. Villa fans will no doubt be expecting a result at home following a tough opening fixture list.  I expect a close game and a draw may be on the cards.

Fulham v West Brom

Roy Hodgson has had his critics over the past week but he will have his admirers at both Fulham and West Brom where his approach brought a good measure of success.  Since his departure neither team has markedly improved, West Brom’s early season form last year was more than off-set by their end of season slump which seems to have carried over into the opening matches this year.

Fulham are back at home following a defeat in the North East and will hope to notch a first home win of the season whilst West Brom need to rediscover the teeth in their attack which has been unsettled so far.  New signing Victor Anichebe will want to big an instant impact.

Hull City v Cardiff City 

The battle of the re-brands.  There is a popular chant at Hull that refers to Grimsby and the supremacy of tigers over fish, but perhaps the bluebirds can fair somewhat better. Last season these two fought out a 2-2 draw in the last game of the season as they both gained automatic promotion to the Premier League, and there is likely to be little to separate them four months on.

Steve Bruce has made a few astute signings in Livermore, Huddlestone and Graham and with home advantage, I expect their Premier League experience to make the difference on Saturday.

Stoke City v Man City

Stoke are currently riding high, 3 wins in a row including a league cup victory and murmurings of a more positive style of play see them sitting 6th in the table with the same points tally as this week’s opponents, but a vastly inferior goal difference.

Mark Hughes may still feel he has a point to prove about his treatment at City and they have recruited a familiar face to City fans in Stephen Ireland who could change a game on his own when the mood takes him. But this is not the proverbial cold wet Tuesday night, it’s primetime on a Saturday and even with an international hang-over the blue half of Manchester should have more than enough.  There is no such thing as a sure thing, but if I were a Stoke fan the manner of the defeat rather than the result itself would be my focus.

Sunderland v Arsenal

Paulo Di Canio willingly played the part of pantomime villain this week at Steve Harper’s Newcastle testimonial and by many accounts retains much of the skill he had at his playing peak, but it is back to the day job with a thump.  Shorn of the captain O’Shea and lacking in form following a promising pre-season, the Italian’s squad building methods have been coming under scrutiny after some tough talking to the press about his own players shortcomings.  Press-coverage counts for very little though once the whistle blows at 3pm and the fitness intensive approach taken by Di Canio may well have the capacity to unsettle Arsenal if they don’t start well.

If the derby win last season is anything to go by, a high-profile game may be the added motivation that works for the Black Cats and with Ozil capturing the bulk of the column inches as the transfer window closed a lot of eyes will be on the Stadium of Light.  This could be a good game, but if I were forced to make a call I think the German will act as a lightning rod for Arsenal and we may be watching the start of a very strong challenge from the Gunners this season.

Tottenham v Norwich

I may be the only one to see it, but there strikes me as being a real similarity between the two managers in charge at White Hart Lane on Saturday, and for all of Chris Hughton’s strengths, my worry for him is that AVB represents Hughton-plus.  There is potentially a lot to like about both of these teams in terms of attacking potential and approach to the business of football, but Tottenham look like they are a few steps ahead in size and quality and I expect it to tell this week.

This is the toughest of the Canaries next four fixtures and I think they will get better luck in the matches to come. For Spurs fans the potential for the new recruits to start to gel and the team to move up through the gears should be very exciting.

Everton v Chelsea

High hopes vs high expectations; I’m not sure Roberto Martinez has shaken off the plucky underdog mentality he carried at Wigan and while Evertonians might have high hopes these have not extended into high expectations for a game like this.

This is a problem which Mourinho is unlikely to suffer from, self-belief being a quality he appears to have in spades.  Some of Chelsea’s new signings looked superfluous and Jose’s biggest problem may be keeping a myriad of attacking options happy through a season, but that is a problem for later in the year.  I expect an away win.

Southampton v West Ham

I would be very surprised if there is more than one goal here.  West Ham are set up to be tough to beat and Southampton don’t appear to have sufficient quality to break clear of an organised side.  I think you could flip a coin for a one-nil win either way and expect Big Sam to point out that this is a “tough place to come”.  Both sides will have one eye on a steady points tally and survival so I would be surprised if this is a good game for a neutral.

Swansea v Liverpool

In contrast to the Southampton game I do expect some goals in Wales.  Liverpool should look to let loose the shackles after the tense affair against Man Utd and Swansea have a justified reputation for attacking football which pre-dates Brian Laudrup’s time in the dugout.

Can Liverpool and Sturridge manage four from four and keep up the early running? Swansea will have a lot to say about that, but if Liverpool can get a result away from home their Champions League credentials at the very least have to be taken seriously, even at this early stage.

The Swans have a tough week with an away game in Valencia to look forward to on Thursday, but their fans can take heart that the ticket prices are amongst the most competitive in the league and they can expect to see plenty of good football over the season with this match hopefully proving a strong example.  I predict an entertaining draw.

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