Premier League Predictions: The Final Weekend

Rooney Aguero

Rooney and Aguero will be hoping to score the crucial goals in the title deciding games this Sunday

 

Chelsea 3-0 Blackburn

In the grand scheme of things this game means very little as Chelsea are resigned to relying on a Champions League final win to secure Champions League qualification and Blackburn are already relegated after their loss to Wigan in the week.

The game will however provide both managers with a chance to prove why they deserve to keep their jobs. Di Matteo has done a fantastic job with Chelsea since he took over but the success he has delivered to the Blues in the Champions League and the FA Cup hasn’t quite been replicated in the league. His opposite number, Steve Kean, would be well advised to wear a tin hat as he sits in the dug out at the weekend as his own fans are sure to give him yet another rollocking off the back of their slump to certain relegation. I think Di Matteo will sign off in style at the Bridge and hopefully in doing so might convince Abramovic that he is right for the job.

Everton 1-1 Newcastle

Newcastle’s loss to City last weekend has probably ruled them out of grabbing a Champions League spot but that should do nothing to dampen the praise that Alan Pardew and his men have been rightfully receiving for their efforts this campaign. I think that they will struggle to break down David Moyes’ Everton who could live to regret not defeating the likes of already relegated Wolves as they may just miss out on finishing higher than bitter rivals Liverpool. I think this will be a really close game and I wouldn’t be surprised if star January signings Nikica Jelavic and Papiss Demba Cisse score a goal apiece in a score-draw.

Man City 2-1 QPR

Surely the pick of the games on the final Sunday of the season! City must win to secure the title (bar a cricket score at the Stadium of Light where United take on Sunderland) and QPR must draw to guarantee survival (bar another cricket score at the Britannia where Bolton travel to Stoke).

I think City will come out all guns blazing, for want of a better cliche, and will create plenty of chances but I wouldn’t be surprised if the nerves get to them a little on the day and they miss a few gilt-edged chances en-route to a victory by perhaps a smaller margin than should be the case.

I think QPR must try and score because I can’t see them shutting out City at the Etihad. If they can produce a similarly uncompromising and forward thinking performance as they managed earlier this season at home to the champions-elect then maybe, just maybe, they can make this one of the most memorable final days of all time. I reckon City will go a couple ahead within the first hour but that QPR will get one back and send some jitters around the Etihad.

Norwich 1-1 Aston Villa

I can’t see this game setting the world alight and now that Villa are effectively safe from the drop there is actually very little riding on it.

Norwich have had a fantastic season and deserve an enormous amount of praise as I am one of many who though their squad was way too lightweight for them to survive let alone find themselves in mid-table come the end of the season. On the other hand I thought that Villa would have done a lot better than they have this campaign but in fairness to their manager Alex McLeish they have had a rotten season on the injury’s front. This game could even prove to be a scoreless bore-draw.

Stoke 2-2 Bolton Wanderers

I think Bolton will push the home side all the way in this one as they try desperately to avoid the drop but I think their efforts will eventually prove to be futile.

I am surprised to see them struggling so low in the table but they have got themselves stuck in a rut and now I think they will go down. For the sake of the fans and in fact the club as a whole I truly hope they don’t get relegated as they have had an awful lot to deal with this year given the stress and mental torment caused by the Fabrice Muamba’s heart-breaking (no pun intended) collapse against Spurs. I also think that the loss of Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-Yong to injury has been fatal to their hopes of Premier League survival as they were both very impressive throughout last season.

This game will give the likes of Peter Crouch the opportunity to prove that they are worth a place in England’s squad for the Euros and I expect to see his name on the scoresheet in a score-draw.

Sunderland 1-3 Manchester United

United need to win to have any hope of leap-frogging rivals Manchester City on the final day of this year’s title race and I think they will get one against a Sunderland side who appear to be playing just for pride.

Sunderland won’t simply bow down and they do have players that can harm United but I think the stakes are too high for Manchester United to fluff their lines so I can see it being a decent win for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men as they hope for a slip-up at the Etihad Stadium.

Sir Alex will hope for a couple of early goals in order to try and send a message of intent and to try and send a wave of nervousness and tension back home to Manchester where the worries of the City fans could translate into impatience and panic on the field.

Swansea 1-2 Liverpool

Swansea have had an amazing season and their manager Brendan Rogers must surely have attracted the interest of some higher powers at some of the Premier League’s more established clubs. The way he has encouraged Swansea to play ‘real’ passing football and made it a successful match-winning strategy is truly admirable and I think he would make for a fantastic replacement to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal at some point in the future.

Liverpool’s league campaign has been dreadful but their emphatic win over Chelsea in midweek will have instilled them with confidence and I expect them to win this game and finish one point ahead of rivals Everton in the race to be the highest placed club on Merseyside. Watch out for Andy Carroll in this one as he aims to continue his half decent form and push for a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad.

Tottenham 3-1 Fulham

Tottenham have struggled over the past three months but have shown major signs of a revival in their past couple of games as their Champions League hopes have got back on track. They may now need Chelsea to miss out in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich but that is certainly better than not having any hope at all which would be the case if they dropped out of the top four.

Fulham have done very well to have a chance of reaching what could yet be a record points tally for them in the Premier League after a tough start to the season but I think they will lose out to Spurs who have a far greater prize to play for on the final day. If Bale and Lennon find their marauding best as they have done in the last couple of games then Spurs should win.

West Brom 1-2 Arsenal

West Brom have had a very good campaign en-route to further establishing themselves as a Premier League club and departing boss Roy Hodgson must be praised highly for his role in their development…oh wait, he already has…

However, I think the Baggies will lose out in a game which is of far greater importance to their opponents Arsenal who will be keen to finish third and avoid the uncertainty of potentially missing out on the Champions League if Chelsea were to beat Bayern in the Champions League final.

Without the brilliance of Robin Van Persie I think Arsenal would have finished outside of the top five this season but I expect him to score yet again in this crucial final game of the season. If they do secure a Champions League place then it is vital they hold onto their captain as the prospect of him partnering new recruit Lukas Podolski up-front next season is pretty tasty.

Wigan 2-0 Wolves

The visitors to the DW this weekend, Wolves, have endured a pretty torrid season and they might be glad to get this last game out of the way as they plan for life back in the Championship.

Their opponents on the final day, Wigan, might have feared that this weekend would also mark the day that they dropped back out of English football’s top flight given the precariousness of their league position a couple of months ago but manager Roberto Martinez has worked wonders.

Neither side has too much to play for given Wigan’s guaranteed survival and Wolves’ certain departure from Premier League football but I expect Wigan to keep their staggering run of form going with a comfortable win. Martinez might actually want to use this game as something of a scouting mission as Wolves do have a couple of very decent players on their books such as Matt Jarvis and they could be within budget for Wigan over the summer as they try to build on their season of flirting with relegation.

 

 

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Relegation Watch: ‘Big Mick’ Perishes as Steve Kean battles on

Having succumbed to a horrific 5-1 derby defeat at the weekend, Wolves have decided to part company with Mick McCarthy after a stay of five and a half years.

McCarthy was left apologetic in his last public appearance as Wolves boss

McCarthy’s period of charge at Molineux has on the whole been a positive one for the football club given that they were a Championship club when he joined, but ultimately a lack of Premier League progress is what has cost the former Republic of Ireland manager his job.

It took ‘Big Mick’ three years to drag Wolves through what initially seemed as if it would be a difficult period for the club and up into the Premier League and though it seemed they had established themselves in the top flight over the past couple of campaigns, this season has proven very tough.

It is often very easy for the directors of a football club to apportion the blame for a lack of progress on the manager, but this move to dismiss McCarthy can’t exactly be described as a ‘knee-jerk reaction’. It may have come in the wake of a humiliating performance and defeat at the hands of one of their fierce rivals but really this decision had been in the offing for some time.

After two successive seasons of survival upon their return to top flight football Wolves, under McCarthy’s tutelage, invested strongly in the most recent summer transfer window in a move to try and move the club forward from persistent scrapes with relegation.

Birmingham stalwart Roger Johnson was brought in  for a sizeable £7 million despite rumoured interest from far more glamorous clubs and the future of Jamie O’Hara was secured in the wake of a very promising loan spell at the club. These two signings were seen as the move that could make-or-break McCarthy’s future at the club and so it has proved.

O’Hara has struggled with form and fitness in his quest to replicate his significant contribution whilst on loan from Tottenham and Johnson ,who was brought in and immediately made captain of the club by McCarthy, has too struggled to match up to the lofty reputation that preceded his arrival from rivals Birmingham City.

While these introductions have failed to settle, established forces from within the Wolves squad have also struggled to find their best. Stars from previous campaigns such as Kevin Doyle and Matt Jarvis have been short of any level of consistency and Doyle in particular has been bereft of his best form throughout the campaign. Such difficulties have led to Wolves failure to move on from being a club entangled in relegation worry and McCarthy’s struggles to cope with his squads stuttering form have eventually led to his removal.

Meanwhile, the season’s most maligned Premier League manager Steve Kean continued on his unlikely rescue mission by guiding Blackburn to a crucial 3-2 home win in their relegation ‘six-pointer’ against fellow strugglers QPR.

Kean's faith in Yakubu and his own managerial ability is paying off for now

This most recent victory was most timely and it elevated Blackburn to a slightly rosier position outside of the ‘relegation zone’. Wolves, formerly managed by McCarthy of course, were the team that slipped into the dreaded drop-zone in place of Keane’s resilient Blackburn who continue to owe an awful lot to Yakubu who scored again on his continuing, to this point, season-long run of goalscoring form. Once again ‘Yak’ scored a vital goal in a huge win for the club, the sort of conquest that might see them overcome all the odds to reach their end-goal of survival come May.

This victory of vital significance in their relegation battle provided the perfect response to their 7-1 hammering against Arsenal just a week earlier and was further proof of Steve Kean’s unrelenting determination to defy his numerous and volatile critics that have been baying for his blood over the past few months. If Blackburn and Yakubu in particular, continue to pull results out of the bag in this tricky mid-season period then they may well just do enough for the club to stay in the league and for their manager Steve Kean to avoid the same fate as Mick McCarthy at Wolves.

Could the January transfer window offer United and Chelsea a lifeline as they are found wanting on NYE

Having managed to finally catch up with their local rivals in the race for the Premier League title, Manchester United yesterday committed the cardinal sin of throwing away cheap points at home. The fact that their opponents Blackburn Rovers were best priced at around 28/1 to win the game says it all really, and there is no doubt that the now 70 year-old Sir Alex Ferguson will be fuming at his sides miserable display.

One very minor consolation for Sir Alex and the United fans will be that their former main title challengers Chelsea also fell to a miserable home defeat to end 2011. The performances of both sides were equally disappointing and given their superiority over the past few seasons it was alarming to see their major weaknesses laid bare.

 

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AVB is praying for a turn up in Chelsea's fortunes

 

If they weren’t already intending to spend this month then these performances were indicative of a dire need for both sides to do so. Chelsea it seemed were always likely to go shopping this January due to various planned departures and an ongoing battle for consistency, but Manchester United’s need for signings was being made less obvious by some very encouraging recent performances.

Back-to-back 5-0 wins and a run of 8 wins in 9 league games had seemingly quelled the need for drastic transfer movements this month, but their ongoing injury crisis was for the first time yesterday truly exposed. Michael Carrick looked uncertain at centre back, their scraped together centre midfield partnership of Park and Rafael looked horribly lacking in every department, and David De Gea’s woes continued in goal. Couple these shortcomings with the recent dip from stand-in captain Patrice Evra and one of Nani’s notorious off-days and it is clear to see why United succumbed to defeat. Put simply; they were there for the taking and Blackburn knew it.

Chelsea’s performance was similarly shoddy and highlighted some fairly comparable shortcomings to United. They too were looking disorganised at the back, weak and creatively lacking in midfield and short of goals and confidence in attack.

Admittedly the performances of United and Chelsea yesterday were uncharacteristic, but the worry for Chelsea in particular will be the increasing frequency of such flat displays.

For United, this showing will rank fairly closely up there with their humiliating 6-1 thumping at home to City, but it was only their second defeat of the season so it is hardly panic stations just yet. Nevertheless, they are looking uncharacteristically lacking in depth at the moment and they might just need a couple more high-class performers if they are to keep up with the blue side of Manchester over the remainder of this season.

Below is my breakdown of potential signings and departures for both clubs this transfer window and how it could affect the look of their line-ups.

Manchester United:

Potential Outs: Darron Gibson, Federico Macheda (loan)

What they need: Desperately need a centre back, could do with two midfielders (one in the holding role and another more creative option)

Rumoured Signings: Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric, Daniele De Rossi, Mats Hummels, Mario Goetze, Eden Hazard, Jack Rodwell

Recommended Signings: Gary Cahill (worth a pop if Chelsea haven’t yet made it an entirely done deal), Daniele De Rossi, Mario Goetze

What the team could look like with those signings: (4-1-3-2)

David De Gea

Patrice Evra

Phil Jones

Gary Cahill/Rio Ferdinand

Chris Smalling

Luis Nani

Daniele De Rossi

Mario Goetze

Ashley Young/Antonio Valencia

Wayne Rooney

Javier Hernandez/Danny Wellbeck/Dimitar Berbatov

Chelsea:

Potential Outs: Endless… Nicolas Anelka (confirmed), Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Fernando Torres, Salomon Kalou, Frank Lampard, Paulo Ferreira, Alex, Romelu Lukaku (loan), Josh McEachran (loan)

What they need: Arguably a goalkeeper if Petr Cech continues to slip up, a central defender, a right back, a box-to-box midfielder (Frank Lampard with a new set of legs), and at least one striker (if not three!)

Rumoured Signings: Hulk, Gonzalo Higuain, Kaka, Luka Modric, Alvaro Perreira, Gary Cahill, Jack Rodwell

Recommended signings: Gonzalo Higuain (£25m), Neymar (£40m), Mario Goetze (£20m), Jack Rodwell (£10-15m), Gary Cahill (£6m), Gregory Van Der Wiel (£15m)

What their team could look like after these suggested signings and the potentially huge amount of departures: (4-1-2-1-2)

Petr Cech

Gregory Van Der Wiel

John Terry

Gary Cahill

Ashley Cole

Oriol Romeu

Jack Rodwell

Ramires/Raul Meireles

Mario Goetze

Daniel Sturridge

Gonzalo Higuain/Neymar

Newcastle Black-Out Whilst Rovers Send ‘Big Sam’ packing

Waving Goodbye

This past week has seen the unfortunate axing of two English managers from England’s premier division. First Chris Hughton of Newcastle was sacked in shocking fashion only then for ‘Big Sam’ Allardyce to be dumped by the new owners of Blackburn Rovers. Both managers have steered their respective previous employers to Premier League mid-table security having taken the helms in far more adverse circumstances.

Allardyce, rather a stalwart of Premiership football, has taken Blackburn from relegation certainties to mid-table security in his relatively short stay at the club. This turnaround in fortunes is all the more admirable given the shoestring budget afforded to ‘Big Sam’ amongst the inflated mega-money climate that has dominated the transfer markets of recent seasons. While the likes of Manchester City have had the financial scope for spending well into the eight-figure territory on big-money flops, Allardyce’s ‘big’ signings have come at a tenth of the price. However, one would argue as much improvement has been evident in his stay at the club as there has been at Eastlands since their rise to financial prominence. If management is meant to be a ‘results business’ then Allardyce should still be in the hot-seat.

The likes of Sir Alex Ferguson have come to Allardyce’s support labelling the decision “absolutely ridiculous”, meanwhile, the whole footballing community are mourning the departure of Hughton. The toon faithful have for so long yearned for the sort of stability Bobby Robson provided them with only for it once again to be snatched away from them. Football management is renowned for it’s ruthless nature, however, Ashley’s actions have gone beyond this into the realms of insanity.

You're fired!

Hughton’s managerial experience has come under the microscope of the owners at St.James’ Park and though experience is indeed thin on the ground as a a manager his record is outstanding. He has led Newcastle to promotion from the Championship and up into the heady heights of mid-table status in the Premier League in a tenure that has sadly lasted just eighteen months, also, he boasts a convincing win percentage of over fifty percent. Does past experience really matter when he has brought nothing other than success to the club? His reign has seen a title win and the notable Premier League wins of 1-0 away to arsenal and 5-1 at home to fierce rivals Sunderland, clearly this just isn’t good enough for owner Mike Ashley.

Another bone of contention in the Hughton saga surrounds the issue of race. Having guided the club back to the top flight he became only the second black English manager ever to lead a Premiership outfit. The first, Paul Ince, endured a torrid time as Allardyce’s predecessor at Ewood Park sacked within a few months with his side rooted to the foot of the table. Though the eventual outcome of his reign was marred with failure the very fact that he had been appointed was celebrated as a ground breaking moment for the black community within the game. Ince has this week spoken out in support of Hughton who he believed had done “a remarkable job in such a short space of time.” Quite right too.

Rarely has there been such collective uproar in response to the axe-wielding of football’s money men as we have witnessed this week. Where now can aspiring young members of the black community gain inspiration if their role models are being so negligently treated? Reckless decisions like these can impact upon the hopes and dreams of so many and are taken far too lightly.

Festive spirit is in short supply it seems, however, it is clear that Sam Allardyce and Chris Hughton have left behind a legacy with each club and the fans will forever look fondly upon these two fine English managers.