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Classic rivals do battle Sunday


Chelsea’s Didier Drogba will look to continue his impressive start to the season up front against league newcomers Blackpool. AFP

Aston Villa’s match tomorrow against Bolton will see their newly appointed manager Gerard Houllier make his Premier League return. AFP

Stoke City v West Ham United
Saturday September 18 - 6:45pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-1
Key players: Kenwyne Jones & Scott Parker

West Ham meet Stoke in the early kick off, desperate to get their season off and running.
Last week, the Hammers suffered their fourth straight league defeat with another calamitous defensive performance. West Ham’s confidence is in tatters and Avram Grant will need to add some steel to his side.
Scott Parker and Matthew Upson must lead by example but surely Charlton Cole must get his shooting boots on if they are going to get their first points of the campaign.
Stoke’s dramatic late winner on Monday night brought wild celebrations at the Britannia Stadium. Kenwyne Jones will again be a menace and if his team mates continue to match their boisterous home crowd’s energy, Stoke should pick up another three points.

Blackburn Rovers v Fulham
Saturday September 18 - 9pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players: El-Hadji Diouf & Brede Hangeland

Fulham travel north to Blackburn in arguably Saturday’s least glamorous tie.
Blackburn dug deep last week to get a draw against Manchester City, but they’ll have to go on the offensive against a resolute Mark Hughes side.
El-Hadji Diouf has had a cracking start to the season and the mercurial talisman will have to be at his best to open up Fulham. Zamora will be a huge loss for the Cottagers, but with Hangeland and Aaron Hughes organizing the back four, Mark Hughes should take a hard fought point away from Ewood Park.

Aston Villa v Bolton Wanders
Saturday September 18 - 9pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-0
Key players: Gabriel Agbonlahor & Lee Chung-Yong

Aston Villa look to continue their impressive home form against Bolton Wanders.
Gerrard Houllier’s heart must have sunk after watching his new team concede a last minute goal on Monday night. Aston Villa will have a much easier ride against Bolton, however, as their playmakers should have more time on the ball. Downing, Agbonlahor and Ashley Young have class to burn and they should terrorise Bolton’s back four.
Elmander and Kevin Davies’ aerial dominance should be nullified by Villa’s giant centre backs, so Lee Chung-Yong will be their key man, although it’s unlikely he’ll get enough of the ball to prevent Houllier’s first win in charge.

West Brom v Birmingham City
Saturday September 18 - 9pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players: Chris Brunt & Cameron Jerome

West Brom host Birmingham in the first Brummy derby of the season. West Brom played well in the second half against Tottenham last week, and they need to match that high tempo if they want to push themselves up the table. Midfielder Chris Brunt has a classy left foot, and he’ll attempt to produce the goods and help the Baggies strikers find the back of the net.
Birmingham don’t seem to know how to lose, and their never-say-die attitude keeps frustrating many a side. Cameron Jerome outshone Fernando Torres last Sunday and if he could find a finishing touch, the Blues could get more than a point.

Everton v Newcastle
Saturday September 18 - 9pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-1
Key players: Mikel Arteta & Kevin Nolan

Everton entertain Newcastle at Goodison still buzzing from their spectacular comeback against Manchester United.
Newcastle’s confidence would have been shattered by their defeat at home to Blackpool, and the Toon Army will demand a response. Newcastle don’t have the pace to trouble Everton, so expect crosses launched onto Andy Carroll’s head and Kevin Nolan trying to pick up the knockdowns.
Arteta and Pienaar should run the show for the Toffees and, despite the fact David Moyes needs to find a genuine goalscorer, Tim Cahill and the rest of an energetic midfield should have enough to take all the points.

Tottenham v Wolves
Saturday September 18 - 9pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-1
Key players: Gareth Bale & Marcus Hahnemann

Tottenham face Wolves at home, keen to get back to winning ways and climb up the table.
Harry Redknapp’s Spurs have failed to score a league goal at home this season, and despite Defoe’s absence and doubts over Modric’s and Van der Vaat’s fitness, Tottenham are still clear favourites.
Welsh Wizard Gareth Bale will take centre stage and his moments of magic should expose the gulf in quality between the two sides.
Mick McCarthy’s Wolves are certainly no mugs and they won’t roll over easily. If Wolves are to pull off an upset, then veteran Jody Craddock and goalkeeper Hahnemann must defend for their lives and hope that lady luck shines upon them.

Sunderland v Arsenal
Saturday September 18 - 11:30pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players: Jordan Henderson & Cesc Fabregas

Arsenal travel to Sunderland in the pick of the Saturday fixtures.
Asamoah Gyan’s Premier League career was kicked off with a stunning goal at Wigan, and his partnership with Darren Bent will trouble the Gunners. Local hero Jordan Henderson epitomises the Black Cats’ spirit and if the midfielder can continue his fine form, his side have half a chance.
Arsene Wenger doesn’t need to be told that this is the sort of fixture that has cost Arsenal dear in recent campaigns. The Gunners look like they’ve improved this season but unless the likes of Fabregas or Arshavin produce some individual class, I fear they’ll have to settle for a draw.

Manchester United v Liverpool

Sunday September 19 - 7:30pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-0
Key players: Wayne Rooney & Jose Reina

Sunday is kicked off by what is classically touted as the biggest match of the season; Man United hosting Liverpool.
Liverpool’s performance last week was disappointing and short of inspiration. With their superstars seemingly off the pace, they could be in danger of a hiding at Old Trafford. Just like in the Birmingham match their best hope of glory could depend on the form of Reina in goal.
Sir Alex would have been frustrated on Tuesday night as the Red Devils failed to penetrate a resolute Glasgow Rangers. He’ll expect United to raise the tempo against their bitter rivals and lay siege on Reina’s goal. Rooney might have underperformed for United this season but this could be the match when he finally makes headlines on the back pages.

Wigan v Manchester City
Sunday September 19 - 9pm
Dring’s prediction: 0-2
Key players: Emmerson Boyce & Carlos Tevez

Man City, desperate for a victory, travel a few miles down the road to visit Wigan.
Wigan fans know they’re in for a tough season, but they’ve started to pick up points and they’d love to turn over their richer neighbours. They might have to park the bus in this match, and the likes of Emmerson Boyce will have to put their bodies on the line.
City will dominate possession and as long as they keep their concentration, they shouldn’t have too many concerns. Tevez’s movement should pull the Wigan defenders all over the park and leave enough space for Mancini’s five man midfield to find plenty of openings.

Chelsea v Blackpool
Sunday September 19 - 10pm
Dring’s prediction: 4-0
Key players: Didier Drogba & Matthew Gilks

Blackpool head to play the champions at Stamford Bridge with nothing to lose.
Blackpool certainly had the rub of the green away at Newcastle, last week but one would think they’d need a miracle if they want a repeat result. Charlie Adam is unlikely to see much of the ball and the Tangerines keeper Matthew Gilks is going to have to play out of his skin.
Even without Frank Lampard, Chelsea seem invincible at present. Ancelotti is a happy man and come the end of the ninety minutes, nothing should have changed. Didier Drogba should run riot in a comfortably victory.



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