Liverpool travel to Stamford Bridge Sunday to face a Chelsea side adamant to put the loss to Wigan behind them and reclaim the top spot in the league.
CHELSEA’S immaculate start to the season finally ended last Saturday with an uncharacteristic display at Wigan, which subsequently lost them top spot and reignited the chasing pack. The speculation that six clubs will battle it out for the Champions League places doesn’t look so improbable when you take a quick glance at the current league table. With Chelsea welcoming Liverpool Sunday, the rest of the contenders have a chance to stake their claims.
I doubt that after one bad performance Ancelotti will hit the panic buttons. When Man United lost at Burnley, it seemed to galvanise them on to bigger and better things. Chelsea will want revenge after Benitez’s Reds broke their long unbeaten home record last term and will fancy their chances against a more attacking Liverpool than of old.
Liverpool look shaky from set plays, and Chelsea players are some of the biggest in the game. Carragher is now the wrong side of 30 and looking more vulnerable than ever. If his side is to take anything from the game, then he must rouse his back four to stop the brute force of Drogba and his powerful teammates.
Benitez will only play one up front and hope to nullify the Blues’ midfield. A large question mark still hangs over Lucas and Mascherano, very doubtful due to injury, and I can see Chelsea bossing the midfield. Should Chelsea cut the supply line to Gerrard and Torres, then apart from a piece of magic from a Red, I can see the Stamford Bridge faithful going home jubilant.
Liverpool are top scorers in the division, but all their high tallies have come against weak sides, mainly at home. Their two big tests against Spurs and Villa ended in defeats. Drogba v Torres could be the subheading for this game, but for me, Drogba will end up victorious just because he’s surrounded by superior players.
Sir Alex always seems to have that winning formula. Struggling against Stoke last week, he brought on the ever-green Giggs to transform a United midfield missing a cutting edge. With the luxury of a gigantic squad full of internationals to choose from, it shouldn’t really matter who he picks to play at home against Sunderland.
Steve Bruce’s troops look like a side that shouldn’t worry about the drop, but likewise shouldn’t contemplate European competitions. Bent has proved to be a great acquisition, but it’s unlikely he’ll see much of the ball. Shocks do happen, but from start to finish, this should be a footballing lesson, and the gulf in class should be apparent.
Arsene Wenger must still be puzzled by football as he closes in on his 60th birthday. Arsenal played great at Old Trafford and lost, and were outplayed by Fulham last Saturday and came away with three points. At home to Blackburn Sunday, the game shouldn’t come down to fortune but rather skill. Blackburn under Allardyce don’t come up short on grit and determination, but apart from the impressive Dunn, they seem a very ordinary side.
The Emirates is an expansive pitch giving Arsenal all the room to play through their less athletic and less skilful opponents. There should be plenty of goals with Fabregas, Van Persie and Arshavin all set to shine in a home victory.
Tottenham travel north to Bolton on the back of a resounding victory over Burnley. Spurs came up short against Chelsea and Man United but apart from those two defeats, they have looked impressive. Spurs are geared towards all-out attack by their boss Redknapp, which usually guarantees an entertaining match.
Bolton’s players will tower over their smaller opponents, with Kevin Davis likely to pose a significant threat. Spurs’ centre-back pairing will be crucial because of the absent King and Woodgate. With two contrasting styles on show, will the impish Spurs be able to play around their larger adversary? Spurs have never come away with three points at the Reebok Stadium, and despite the promise of goals, it might be the time to sit on the fence.
At the other end of the table, Portsmouth fans must be close to raising the white flag, having already suffered enough punishment for one campaign. They travel to Wolves low on confidence and belief, and still looking for their first point of the season. Wolves will be around the relegation zone all season but have to be expecting another precious victory to boost their hopes of survival.
West Ham, despite a little pre-season optimism, have found themselves already engulfed in the dog-fight to stay in the top flight. You can’t see them keeping many clean sheets, so Zola should feel happy that Fulham, who seem to be firing blanks, visit Upton Park. I fear this game could be one to avoid, but since it’s a London derby and both teams have had poor starts to the season, it might just be the surprise package of the round.
The Monday night game sees European hopefuls Aston Villa take on high flying Man City. Villa under Martin O’Neil need to find some consistency if they are to improve on last season. They’ve already won at Anfield, but last week they were beaten by Blackburn.
Villa will have to improve, as City will come into this game firing on all cylinders. Bellamy and Tevez have already clicked and should trouble a Villa defence, which is short on pace. Dunne will have a point to prove against his former employers, and the game should be played at a high tempo, riddled with errors.
Agbonlahor is in sparkling goal-scoring form and should trouble City’s new-look defence. City appear the better outfit but with the game being played at Villa Park, I fancy this one to be a draw, which won’t suit either side.