Wigan v Chelsea – Sat. 5.15pm Sky Sports 1
After the summer and the departure of some familiar faces, Chelsea picked up exactly where they left off €“ buggering teams that probably shouldn’t be in the league. The fixtures fairy has been pretty kind to them and they’ll get a chance to boost their goal difference against a Wigan side who last season had the worst goal difference of any team in the league – and that includes a Portsmouth team that were planning their exits from the club from about October last year. Admittedly Chris Kirkland didn’t help the defensive cause much last week against Blackpool, but that’s kind of like leaving John Terry alone with your girlfriend – what exactly did you think was going to happen? Martinez would probably like to drop him, but had to let the viable alternative, Vladimir Stojkovic return to Sporting Lisbon and is left with the 64 year old Mike Pollit as his other option between the sticks.
Newcastle v Aston Villa – Sun. 1.30pm ESPN
Aston Villa made light of losing ‘managerial messiah’, Martin O’Neill to record a convincing opening day win over West Ham. O’Neill is gone and the club hasn’t crumbled to a pile of rocks. That would seem to undermine the theory that the Aston Villa squad was made up of a group of lemmings who were wandering around aimlessly and occasionally falling off cliffs before he arrived in Birmingham. Maybe doom isn’t impending after all. And on the topic of being over-rated, that brings us to James Milner. On the face of it, getting £26 million and Stephen Ireland would seem to be the type of transaction that should alert those involved in the financial regulation business. There’s no doubt Milner has quality, but enough to justify that price tag? You often hear the line ‘he does the kind of work you don't really notice’ in reference to Milner. That may be true, but equally he may not do the type of work worth noticing and certainly not the type of work worth in excess of £30 million.
With Premier League football returning to the Whatever Naming Rights They've Flogged At St. James Park, there'll be an even more enthusiastic atmosphere at the game. Just how more exposed beer bellies will help the team is unclear, but at the very least it should inspire a more energetic performance than the one they gave at Old Trafford. It may not be enough to actually win the game, but with Villa making adjustments for the departure of Milner a draw isn’t out of the question.
Fulham v Man Utd – Sun. 4pm Sky Sports 1
Aside from his ability to unearth such gems as Eric Djemba-Djemba and to bend the fabric of time to suit the needs of his team at that precise moment in time, one hallmark of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Old Trafford has been his skill for having the right player in the right position at the right time. Where the rest of the world sees Wayne Rooney continuing to trap the ball with all the success Wile E Coyote has in trying to trap the roadrunner, Fergie sees opportunity. It was masterful thinking to stick Rooney’s sledgehammer feet up front against Newcastle. Sure, sometimes his failure to control the ball will see it ricochet off to a defender, but from time to time, it’ll fall into the path of a more competent team-mate who'll slot it into the net as happened for the crucial 2nd goal.
Fergie goes up against Mark Hughes, one of the few former United players who refuses to bow down and worship before his teacher. That shoehorned and gratuitous insult leads neatly on to our Money-Back Special for this match. We’re calling it Hughes The Man? €“ a clever play on the question I like to ask when I meet lesbian couples. If Ellen DeGeneres can find a sex toy that gives exactly the same sensation as what a man can offer, we’ll refund losing correct score €¦. sorry, wrong promotion. If Fulham beat United, Hughes will be the man [kind of like a white Shaft I’m imagining] because we’ll be refunding all losing 1st/last goalscorer, correct score and scorecast singles on the match.
Man City v Liverpool – Mon. 8pm Sky Sports 1
After all that, it's more ludicrously overhyped Monday Night Football. The Sky Sports promotional campaign which largely revolves around the premise “Wow, isn’t it great that Monday Night Football is back? It's been so long. You must have really missed it for all these years” is admirable for its sheer blind doggedness. Kind of like those people who still worry about falling off the edge of the earth or believe Michael Barrymore will one day return to primetime television. In the face of such gushing enthusiasm it feels almost rude to point out that although legally different, Setanta’s ‘Football On A Monday Night’ and more recently, ESPN’s ‘Monday Evening Soccer Match’ regularly satisfied our rabid thirst for Premier League football at the start of the week.
This Manic Monday Man City take on Liverpool and the growing sense that Roberto Mancini is hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the growing disquiet within his swelling ranks. City fans may not be overly concerned with losing Shay Given as long as Joe Hart continues the form he showed against Spurs, but alternative view is that on Saturday we witnessed the high point of his career and it’s now all downhill until the point he screws up for England and becomes ‘Joe Hart, another one of those goalies we thought was going to be good, but isn't’. Pepe Reina throwing the ball into his own net pooped the party for Roy Hodgson against Arsenal, but there were some encouraging signs for Liverpool €“ most encouraging being players not frightened to turn to ash by crossing over into the opponent’s half. City have the talent, but already Roy Hodgson has brought organisation to Liverpool and that should be good enough for another draw that no-one truly wants.
The Money-Back Special for this one is called Carlos The Jackal and it means if this match results in the immediate liberation of Palestine, we'll refund all losing 1st/last goalscorer, correct score and scorecast singles on the match. Either that or if Carlos Tevez scores the last goal of the match – whichever is more likely.
Dismissively Brief Summary Of Everything Else
West Brom v Sunderland €“ Sat. 3pm
West Brom can’t be as bad as that every week. Sunderland can't play against Stephen Carr every week. A draw.
Everton v Wolves €“ Sat. 3pm
A crap goalie and crap fashion sense did in Everton last week. The jitters may not be gone for this game. Wolves looked good against Stoke. A uncomfortable yet triumphant afternoon for Toffees. Everton win, but get no ‘best dressed awards’.
Arsenal v Blackpool €“ Sat. 3pm
I remember another newly promoted team that played in orange, had a manager with a questionable grasp of sanity and made a great start to the season a couple of years back. That didn't end so well, but it was amusing while it lasted. After weeks of doing nothing in the transfer market, there were hints that Ian Holloway stumbled upon a couple of gems against Wigan. But then again, it was against Wigan. Arsenal aren't quite at the races yet and are vulnerable, but will still win this. Sluggish Gunner’s win.
West Ham v Bolton €“ Sat. 3pm
They've a decent squad at West Ham. Well, decent may be the wrong word, but at the very least a squad that should be better than being extremely lucky to come away from Villa Park with just a 3-0 drubbing. Bolton should remember if God wanted football to be played on the ground, he wouldn't have invented flailing elbows. A reversion to the more robust style could see them take a point. Draw.
Birmingham v Blackburn €“ Sat. 3pm
These teams got bashed with opposite ends of the luck stick last week and if Lady Luck keeps her big nose out, Birmingham should claim all 3 points. Brummie win.
Stoke v Tottenham €“ Sat. 3pm
Spurs got cut to shreds by some slick passing against Young Boys during the week, but they won't face much of that here. It did however showcase some defensive frailties and Stoke are well capable of exploiting those. Stoke win.
Wigan v Chelsea – Sat. 5.15pm Sky Sports 1