Everton v Sunderland
You have to feel sorry for a season ticket holder at Sunderland right now. They might be able to boast having the second best defence in the Premier League (conceding only more than Arsenal), but they have also have the weakest attack, with a mere 6 goals in their opening 9. Therefore it is difficult to see the floodgates opening this weekend against Everton. The reason behind Sunderland’s lacklustre form however is not so easy to point out, due to the fact that they host players such as Stephane Sessegnon, Adam Johnson, Sebastian Larsson, and Steven Fletcher (who has 5 of Sunderland’s 6). They will get going eventually, but an away tie at Everton will not be the best venue at which to practice. The hosts lie in fourth after an impressive start to the season, with particular credit being given to Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines, as well as new signing Kevin Mirallas. They could be bound for pastures new this year, with European football next season in sight.
Reading v Norwich
This is another big game at the wrong end of the table. Norwich sit 5 points clear of relegation after a victory at home over Stoke last weekend. Reading themselves drew 1-1 with QPR, a scoreline which could easily be reproduced here; however, if either team has enough confidence and quality to steal the 3 points it would likely be the boys in yellow. I would edge towards 1-1 or a 1-2 away win.
Norwich haven’t secured an away victory as of yet this season, and Reading haven’t won at home. This leads to it being unfamiliar territory in a game that both sets of fans will expect to be competitive and winnable. I personally believe Norwich have a stronger side, with the last 3 results being 2 wins and a draw, including one over Arsenal. 7 points from 3 has seen confidence and League position rise and I would have to say that they shouldn’t lose at Reading.
VERDICT: DRAW / NORWICH WIN
Southampton v Swansea
Bottom of the table Southampton face a Swansea team finding themselves in mid-table after a mixed run of games. This is a game Southampton ought to win if they are to stay in touch with the pack above them. They’ve shown glimpses of promise this year, beating Aston Villa 4-1 and coming close to both Manchester teams. However, 4 points from 10 games just isn’t good enough. Nigel Adkins has had a huge show of faith from the fans recently but another home defeat may be too much to keep them content.
Swansea will be optimistic after last weekend’s result, a 1-1 draw with leaders Chelsea, and an 88th minute equaliser from Pablo Hernandez. This was deserved and brought a valuable point. However, the Swans’ away form has not been ideal; 3 defeats in 4 games suggests they aren’t the most successful of travellers and this could be in the back of the players’ minds. I think it would be unlikely for them to be outplayed and lose the fixture, but they may find Southampton just a little too passionate and determined to get the 3 points.
Both teams would be content with a draw and this could mean the game fizzles out quite early on. On the flip side, both teams could see this as a winnable game and so in reality it is one of the toughest games to call this weekend.
Stoke v Queens Park Rangers
Another team struggling of late and with an under-fire manager is QPR and Mark Hughes. Still looking for their first win, they travel to draw masters Stoke, who have shared the points on 6 out of 10 occasions this season. Stoke are unbeaten at home, but with 1 win and 3 draws they find themselves in 15th and desperately close to the relegation zone. This is therefore a huge game for both sides – a QPR victory would give them their first win of the season and perhaps get their season underway, whereas Stoke will see this as a must-win game if their season is to be defined by success. The result of this game is therefore huge, with neither team really able to lose, but a draw wouldn’t be a disaster and so would have to be favoured again.
Wigan v West Brom
What Roberto Martinez does with Wigan year-on-year seems like a magic trick. For almost three years it has appeared that arguably the weakest squad in the Premier League have grinded out the results to come out on top in the relegation fight. Whereas this used to be the fate of West Brom, the Baggies have now established themselves as a serious Premier League side. Steve Clarke’s managerial career has begun with a dream start, with West Brom finding themselves in fifth place after 10 games. Their style of play suggests that they may be broken down at some point, with teams beginning to get the upper hand, but they can prove they are worth more than mid-table obscurity by winning this game.
VERDICT: WEST BROM
Newcastle v West Ham
Newcastle’s start compared to last year has been a little subdued, finding themselves 8 points worse off than at this point 12 months ago. However, to emulate last season would always be a major ask for Newcastle, especially with the effects of the Europa League taking their toll. Performances in the Premier League have been credible of late and this could be the beginning of an attractive run.
West Ham captain Kevin Nolan returns to the club with which he spent many happy years and earned the great respect of the fans. His current club’s most recent away result was a defeat to Wigan, where they should have come away with something, but more recently they earned a goalless draw with the champions, suggesting they are more than capable of holding their own at the back. That is what will be needed against Newcastle’s front six, and could be cause for a close encounter here.
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