Saturday, December 25, 2010

English Premier League: Boxing Day Preview

This Sunday is one of the biggest of the year for soccer fans around the world. Boxing Day features 9 fixtures in the English Premier League, with three games televised on Fox Soccer Channel for those in the United States viewing pleasure. Here's what to look for:
  • Fulham-West Ham: The first game and also probably the least anticipated fixture of the day is Fulham facing West Ham. This game sees the Cottagers as the 17th team face West Ham as the 20th. Fulham has only 2 wins this season, and looks to get their 3rd. They're led by former Furman player Clint Dempsey who has 5 goals in Premier League play. Dempsey seems like the only spark of hope this year for Fulham as they try to stay in the top flight of English soccer. West Ham should get a huge boost from their returning keeper Robert Green who missed their last game against Blackburn. As relegation seems almost a certainty for West Ham, the manager, Avram Grant, is fighting for his job. West Ham have not gained a point on the road this season, and I'm not seeing them getting any here, Fulham wins.
  • Blackburn-Stoke: With departure of manager Sam Allardyce, and appointing of new interim manager Steve Kean, Blackburn definitely has had a busy couple of weeks. The team has suffered some crippling injuries; centre-back Phil Jones will be missing from the team until May with a knee-ligament injury, and club captain, Chris Samba, is out with an ankle injury. Stoke City, unlike Blackburn, have kept most of their  team fit, only missing striker Mamade Sidibe. With such a healthy team, Tony Pulis is looking to have at worst a point from this fixture. It will probably be a sloppy game, and I see it ending in a draw.
  • Blackpool-Liverpool: Blackpool is plagued with injuries, but nothing new. Starting goalkeeper Matt Gilks is still missing with a knee injury, and leading goal scorer Marlon Harewood is out with hamstring injury. Blackpool is looking to pull a league double on Liverpool for the first time since 1947. Liverpool is getting key players, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard back from injuries. This is Liverpool's first visit to Blackpool in 30 years, but I'm still seeing them pulling out a win with comeback performances from Torres and Gerrard.
  • Bolton-West Brom: With former Clemson player Stuart Holden likely in the starting eleven, Bolton is trying to continue their impressive home form. Bolton is second in the league in home points, behind only Manchester United. Their line-up should be unchanged from their last match, with Joey O'Brien, Sean Davis, Ricardo Gardner, and Jlloyd Samuel are still out with injuries. West Brom on the other hand, has won only 2 of their last 25 away matches in the EPL. They have a key injury to Jonas Olsson with an achilles injury. I see Bolton cruising to victory and keeping their outstanding home form.
  • Everton-Birmingham: Everton is coming off a big 2-1 win against Manchester City and hopes to continue winning after seven straight matches ending in a loss or draw before the Manchester City game. U.S. International Tim Howard is in great form and played an amazing game against City. Striker Victor Anichebe is serving a one game suspension after a red card against Manchester City. Birmingham's main injury is James Mcfadden, who is out with a knee injury. Birmingham couldn't muster a shot on target in their last game against Everton, so the advantage has to go to Everton.
  • Manchester United-Sunderland: The Red Devils are in first in the EPL, but an interesting note; In the last 18 Premier League seasons, the team leading on Christmas day has only gone on to win the title seven times. Sunderland always give Man U a fight, and United needed a last minute equalizer last year to bring it to a 2-2 draw at home. Michael Owen is fit to return for Manchester United at striker and though I don't see him in the starting eleven, an appearance is likely. Danny Welbeck, on loan to Sunderland from Manchester United, is ineligible to play which would give the starting slot to Asamoah Gyan who has scored 5 goals in 13 appearances for Sunderland. I think for Sunderland could suprise some people, but Manchester will win out of pure talent level.
  • Newcastle-Manchester City: Newcastle has not played a game since their 3-1 win over Liverpool. Striker Shola Ameobi is set to miss out with a hamstring injury, but defender Sol Campbell has shaken off a bit of illness over the last couple of days. Manchester City is coming off a loss against Everton, which was a missed chance, considering that a win would have given them the lead in the Premier League table. Kolo Toure is out do to a late sending off against Everton. I'm expecting Micah Richards or Jerome Boateng to replace him in the center of the defense. Two evenly matched teams will end up level in this match.
  • Wolverhampton-Wigan: This is the match up of the 18th and the 19th teams in the English Premier League. Injury plagued Wolverhampton, are still without Karl Henry, Joey Craddock, and Adlene Guedioura until late January. They have won their last two home games and gave West Brom all they wanted in an away fixture for Wolverhampton. Wigan is ahead of Wolverhampton in the table, but behind in having a good amount of players to choose from. They are missing Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas with suspensions, and James McCarthy, Victor Moses, and Franco di Santo due to injury. A draw is the most likely outcome.
  • Aston Villa-Tottenham: Aston Villa has had good news with the return of midfielders Stiliyan Petrov and Fabian Delph to first team training, but they will most likely not appear in this game. Villa has a lack of injuries, but they have been plagued by losing on Boxing Day. They have won only once in their last nine fixtures on the same date. Tottenham will welcome back star Rafael van der Vaart, as well as Jermain Jenas, and Younes Kaboul.Tottenham is on a good run with a draw with Chelsea and a win against Arsenal. With Aston Villa having a tradition of losing on Boxing Day, I'll have to pick Tottenham.

So again here are my picks. (Winners in bold)
Fulham vs. West Ham
Blackburn vs. Stoke (Draw)
Blackpool vs. Liverpool
Bolton vs. West Brom
Everton vs. Birmingham
Manchester United vs. Sunderland
Newcastle vs. Manchester City (Draw)
Wolverhampton vs. Wigan (Draw)
Aston Villa vs. Tottenham

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