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Leaders take on the champions

chris_dring

Sunderland v Bolton
Saturday December 18 - 7:45pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players:  Danny Welbeck & Johan Elmander

Bolton travel to Sunderland to kick off a cracking round of Premiership fixtures.
Bolton have a never-say-die attitude and they’ll need it in trying to break Sunderland’s unbeaten home record. Johan Elmander can’t stop scoring on the road and he’ll need to find the back of the net as I can’t see the Wanderers keeping a clean sheet.
Sunderland should be favourites for this match but with centre-backs Bramble and Turner still out injured, this tie could go either way. The Blacks Cats pulled off a fantastic deal in bringing Danny Welbeck in on loan from Manchester United, and the young striker will be Steve Bruce’s star man once again.

Birmingham v Newcastle
Saturday December 18 – 10pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players:  Craig Gardner & Andy Carroll

Struggling Birmingham City welcome Newcastle United to St Andrews.
Alan Pardew’s Newcastle career got off to a flyer last week and as long as he can keep the dressing room under control, the Toon Army look in good shape. Andy Carroll is still scoring for fun and he’ll be a right handful for the Birmingham back four.
Birmingham lack imagination and their industry is not enough. With Alexander Hleb still crocked, it’s difficult to see how they’ll score more than one goal in a game. Craig Gardner will have to run the midfield in his absence and Alex McLeish will have to hope that Newcastle have an off day.

Blackburn v West Ham
Saturday December 18 – 10pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-1
Key players:  Mame Diouf & Scott Parker

Blackburn v West Ham places two teams in turmoil up against each other.
The Hammers are rock bottom of the table and unless they can start picking up points quickly, they’ll face a precarious future. All the players must stand up and be counted and follow the lead of Scott Parker, who’s having an outstanding season.
After Monday’s shock sacking of Rovers boss Sam Allardyce, all the players should be highly motivated and ready to impress whoever steps into the hot seat. Against Bolton last Sunday they lacked a cutting edge and if Rovers are to deepen West Ham’s troubles they’ll need Mame Diouf to keep finding the back of the net.

Wigan Athletic v Aston Villa
Saturday December 18 – 10pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players:  Hugo Rodellaga & Ashley Young

Relegation threatened Wigan take on a stuttering Aston Villa side.
Wigan seem to lack any real belief and if they are going to turnover Villa, they’ll need to be more consistent. At least Roberto Martinez can call upon Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega, whose return to the side should produce more goals.
Villa might have won last week but their performance was still below par. Despite Gerard Houllier’s team’s poor showing lately they’ll still fancy this match against an ordinary Latics side. Ashley Young’s role will be pivotal as the England forward will be play in the hole, orchestrating Villa’s attacks.

Arsenal v Stoke City
Saturday December 18 – 10pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-0
Key players:  Cesc Fabregas & Asmir Begovic

Arsenal host Stoke City seeking to reclaim the Premiership summit.
The Gunners know Stoke won’t make it easy and they’ll also know they are going to be vulnerable from set plays. With Cesc Fabregas back from injury, Arsenal should monopolise possession and limit Stoke’s threat.
Stoke had been on a decent run but they were halted last week by Blackpool. They spurned plenty of chances in front of goal and looked sloppy at the back. If they are to pull off the shock of the weekend, then Asmir Begovic is going to have to have the game of his life between the sticks.

Liverpool v Fulham
Sunday December 19 - 12:30am
Dring’s prediction: 2-0
Key players:  Fernando Torres & Andrew Johnson

Fulham head to Liverpool only out of the relegation zone by way of goal difference.
If Fulham don’t starting turning draws into wins soon, they’ll most likely be axing their boss Mark Hughes. A lack of goals is their Achilles heel, and they’ll need Andrew Johnson to rediscover his finishing touch if they don’t want to leave Anfield empty handed.
Liverpool continue to drop points on the road, but at Anfield they are looking ominous. They should have too much in the tank for the Cottagers, and Roy Hodgson will hope Fernando Torres can finally return to his majestic best after some disappointing performances.

West Brom v Wolves
Sunday December 19 – 7pm
Dring’s prediction: 2-1
Key players:  Chris Brunt & Sylvan Ebanks-Blake

Wolves make the short hop across the West Midlands to take on West Brom at the Hawthorns.
Mick McCarthy’s Wolves should be full of confidence after last week’s win, but a crippling injury list and no away wins all season should make this match an uphill task. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was outstanding against Birmingham last week and he’ll look to be the derby hero once more.
West Brom are looking comfortable in mid-table and they’ll be firm favourites for this match. With Peter Odemwingie a major doubt, midfielders Chris Brunt and Somen Tchoyi will be the Baggies main men and they should lead West Brom to victory.

Blackpool v Tottenham
Sunday December 19 - 8:30pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-3
Key players:  Luke Varney & Jermain Defoe

Blackpool entertain Tottenham looking to continue their remarkable campaign.
There are no superlatives left to describe Blackpool’s debut season in the Premier League and Ian Holloway will demand his Tangerines continue to attack. With Charlie Adam suspended, Luke Varney will have to take on his captain’s mantle.
Tottenham can’t keep a clean sheet for love nor money, and Harry Redknapp will send his team out all guns blazing. This game should be the most open tie of the weekend with Spurs taking home the points through their superior firepower. Jermain Defoe should be Tottenham’s fox in the box.

Chelsea v Manchester United
Sunday December 19 – 11pm
Dring’s prediction: 1-1
Key players:  Frank Lampard & Darren Fletcher

Top dogs Manchester United visit the champions in this weekend’s heavyweight tussle.
United are gradually taking a strangle hold of the league and if they do want to wrestle the title back off Chelsea, a win would do wonders for them. I expect Sir Alex to play a five-man midfield to match up to Chelsea, with Darren Fletcher being the crucial component because of his boundless energy.
Chelsea will take great heart from their comeback against Spurs last Sunday and they know three points are essential to catch up with United. Frank Lampard is set for his first start in three months and his inclusion could just tip the game towards Chelsea.

Manchester City v Everton
Tuesday December 21 – 3am
Dring’s prediction: 1-0
Key players:  David Silva &
Tim Cahill

The Monday night game sees a stuttering Everton head to Manchester City.
Everton should have won last week, but yet again, they failed to find the back of the net. David Moyes must be sick of having to rely on Tim Cahill for goals while his strikers shoot blanks.
As long as City can put the Carlos Tevez saga on hold, they should have too much class for a dogged Everton. I doubt this game will be a high scoring affair and City will need the creativity of David Silva to open up Toffee’s stubborn defence.

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