Ubha: EPL Predictions, Week 2

Posted by Ravi Ubha

 

The opening weekend of the Premier League season produced several surprises. Manchester United lost while Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool all failed to bag three points. Chelsea eased past Wigan, then moved atop the standings by taking advantage of a midweek game, beating Reading 4-2.

What will Week 2 give us? Here’s a look at all 10 games, with predictions.

Liverpool vs. Manchester City

The knee injury suffered by Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero isn’t as bad as first thought, but the Argentine won’t be playing at Anfield Sunday. It should be a relief for Liverpool’s defense, which will be missing the suspended Daniel Agger.

But the Reds, in Brendan Rodgers’ league debut at Anfield, will be wary of Aguero’s countryman, Carlos Tevez. A leaner-looking Tevez, who presumably has his mind on football nowadays instead of golf, delivered a productive, energetic shift against Southampton last week.

Liverpool’s strike force isn’t as deep. Luis Suarez needs help and the Uruguayan has to become more clinical in front of the goal. But in spite of Liverpool’s underwhelming home record in 2011-2012, City’s most recent win at Anfield came nine years ago.

Prediction: 1-1

Manchester United vs. Fulham

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson complained that Robin van Persie didn’t receive any service during his cameo against Everton on Monday. More space will be on offer against Fulham at Old Trafford, and all eyes will be on Ferguson’s team sheet to see if van Persie makes his first United start alongside Wayne Rooney.

Also worth monitoring is the composition of United’s back four. Michael Carrick lined up in the center of defense in an emergency role against Everton and was outmuscled on Marouane Fellaini’s headed winner.

“I need to call (Steve) Bruce and (Gary) Pallister,” Ferguson was quoted as saying, in jest, on United’s website.

Fulham is notoriously poor away from home and has lost nine in a row at Old Trafford, not even scoring in the past five. However, the Cottagers narrowly fell 1-0 in March and were denied a late penalty when Carrick brought down Danny Murphy in the box.

Prediction: 2-0 United win

Chelsea vs. Newcastle

Newcastle is faced with an even quicker turnaround than Liverpool after playing Thursday in the Europa League, visiting Chelsea in Saturday’s late kickoff.

Magpies manager Alan Pardew unsurprisingly put the league ahead of Europe, making nine changes in Greece from the squad that beat Tottenham 2-1 a week ago. Striker Papiss Cisse and midfielder Jonas Gutierrez were the two survivors, and neither went the full 90 minutes.

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard has played only two league games in England, but already he is being talked about as the newcomer of the season. He’ll no doubt receive special attention from Newcastle.

Prediction: 1-1

Stoke vs. Arsenal

This fixture will be known forever for Ryan Shawcross’ horror tackle on Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey in 2010. Two years ago was also the lone time since Stoke returned to the top division that Arsenal has won at noisy Britannia Stadium.

The Gunners, after losing van Persie and Alex Song (and Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri before them) are a team in transition and they fired blanks at home against Sunderland to undo all of new arrival Santi Cazorla’s nifty work.

Laurent Koscielny’s calf injury hands Per Mertesacker a second consecutive start in the middle of the defense. Mertesacker flopped last season, but his 6-foot-6 frame will come in handy against Stoke’s balls into the box.

Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny, shaky at Euro 2012, will need to hold firm.

Prediction: 2-1 Stoke

Tottenham vs. West Bromwich Albion

What, exactly, is Andre Villas-Boas doing to Tottenham’s defense? Having lost Ledley King to retirement, Tottenham sold Sebastien Bassong to Norwich and is strangely keen on dumping the popular Michael Dawson.

While the fit-again Dawson lacks pace and elegance, he’s nonetheless effective and a credit to any side. If Dawson goes, Tottenham’s center back options rest with Jan Vertonghen, Younes Kaboul (prone to an error or two), William Gallas (who turned 35 last week) and the inexperienced Steven Caulker.

At least Spurs completed the signing of Emmanuel Adebayor, adding a much needed striker to accompany Jermain Defoe.

West Brom won’t benefit from a wonder strike, red card and two penalties this week.

Prediction: 3-1 Tottenham

Aston Villa vs. Everton

The last time Everton won its first two games in the Premier League was 19 years ago, when a 2-0 victory at Southampton was followed by a 1-0 result against Manchester City.

The Toffees will still be on a high after upsetting Manchester United – when midfielder Fellaini ran the show – but manager David Moyes is the type to make sure they’ll be fully focused on Villa in a less glamorous fixture.

Under new manager Paul Lambert, Villa was neat and tidy against West Ham in its opener, yet was unable to create clear-cut opportunities for talismanic striker Darren Bent.

Prediction: 2-0 Everton

Sunderland vs. Reading

Newly promoted teams can’t afford to drop points the way Reading has in its opening two games. On both occasions, keeper Adam Federici was the guilty party. Federici’s latest gaffe came when he let Gary Cahill’s long-range effort get past him, the catalyst in Chelsea’s comeback 4-2 win. Reading could have been on six points instead of one.

Reading boss Brian McDermott says he’ll stick with Federici for the game at Sunderland, a smart piece of man management, given Federici’s performance last season.

Sunderland unexpectedly earned a point at Arsenal to start the season and spirits were raised further when the Black Cats' persistence landed Wolves striker Steven Fletcher this week.

Prediction: 2-0 Sunderland

Southampton vs. Wigan

The newly promoted Saints were the impressive losers in Week 1, giving City a fright. Don’t let City’s overwhelming superiority in possession fool you: Southampton stuck to its attacking ethos, far from parking the bus.

Rickie Lambert, last season’s leading scorer in the Championship, netted when he came off the bench, but he’ll be in the starting lineup against a Wigan side devoid of winger Victor Moses. He’s on his way to Stamford Bridge to pad an already glittering young midfield as Wigan loses another talent.

The Latics and manager Roberto Martinez traditionally start the season slow, while Moses’ departure is a major downer.

Prediction: 3-1 Southampton

Norwich vs. QPR

Norwich and QPR saw enough last week to know changes were needed to their respective back fours. There was no waiting for an improvement. Being thumped 5-0 – QPR by Swansea and Norwich by Fulham – will do that.

The Canaries thus swooped for Bassong and signed Javier Garrido on loan from Lazio; meanwhile, QPR is reportedly close to landing Ricardo Carvalho, who knows West London well, and has been heavily linked with Dawson.

Football what it is, would anyone be surprised at a nil-nil? That score would settle both managers and give the teams something to build on. But it won’t happen.

Prediction: 2-2

Swansea vs. West Ham

The pretty against the not-so pretty in Saturday’s early kickoff. In case you were puzzled, Swansea is the former.

Losing Rodgers and midfielder Joe Allen didn’t affect Swansea at QPR, with attacking midfielder Michu scoring twice and putting in a man-of-the-match display. How many fantasy teams is the Spaniard in this week?

But remember: The game turned on Robert Green’s mistake in goal, and QPR had several chances to equalize shortly thereafter.

West Ham won’t be as open as QPR, and seeing Swansea dominate possession won’t bother the Hammers. Last week Aston Villa had 66 percent of the ball – but West Ham won.

Prediction: 1-1

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