Looking ahead to this weekend’s games…
By Nigel Brown
Charton v Manchester City
Kick Off: 12:45 Saturday April 2 at the Valley.
Charlton will be looking to avoid history repeaing itself and ensure they don’t enter their traditional end of season slump in form. They have encouraging team news with Radostin Kishichev fit after playing for Bulgaria this week, the utility man has missed the last two games for Charlton. Consistent performer Talal El Karkouri is absent as he begins a three match ban, however this does open the door for either Chris Perry or Jonathan Fortune to take his place. If Charlton win and results go their way, they could go level with Bolton Wanderers in sixth position.
Manchester City caretaker boss Stuart Pearce has pledged this week that Shaun Wright-Phillips is staying in the summer and the board claim they have no plans to sell the promising youngster.
Pearce is looking for his first win in his second game in charge of the blues. He will continue with youngster Nedum Onouha ahead of Danny Mills, but Pearce did take time out in the week to praise Mills’ attitude at being left out. Steve Mcmanaman who has uttered whispers of possible retirement at the end of the season is out with a calf injury and Ben Thatcher is ruled out with a hamstring injury. A win for Manchester City at the Valley could propel them into the top half of the table.
Charlton (from): Kiely, Young, Hreidarsson, Perry, Fortune, Fish, Holland, Konchesky, Murphy, Rommedahl, Thomas, Bartlett, Kishishev, Andersen, Euell, Johansson, Jeffers, Hughes, Lisbie.
Man City (from): James, Weaver, Mills, Onouha, Dunne, Distin, Sommeil, Jordan, Croft, Reyna, Flood, Barton, Sibierski, Musampa, Fowler, Macken, B Wright-Phillips.
With both teams coming off the back of losses in their last games, there is the distinct possibility that this game could end in a draw. Stuart Pearce was unlucky to lose at Tottenham and Alan Curbishely will have his team wound up after their demolition at the hands of Robert Earnshaw and West Bromwich Albion.
The Brown Verdict: 0-0
Arsenal v Norwich
Kick off: 15:00 Saturday April 2 at Highbury.
Arsenal will be without the creative Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp who is out through injury, while Valencia bound midfielder Edu is missing because of a hamstring injury. There are also doubts about Thierry Henry who has a calf injury and Sol Campbell who is still struggling with his ankle. Good news for Arsene Wenger is that Robert Pires has recovered from flu and Gilberto could return for the first time since mid September. Arsenal have the chance to go above Manchester United if the red devils fail to beat Blackburn and it will be interesting to see if Arsenal can repeat their performance at Carrow Road, when they won 4-1.
On loan Arsenal player David Bentley has not recovered in time to play against the club that employs him, while Jim Brennan and former Charlton player Mathias Svensson return for the canaries. It looks dismal at the botton for the canaries, and although they have played some good football this season they have lacked a killer bite through out the side. A win would not take them off the bottom, but it would be a great scalp and a little cup final for the Norwich faithful if they could turn over the champions.
Arsenal (from): Lehmann, Almunia, Cole, Lauren, Eboue, Ljungberg, Reyes, Gilberto, Van Persie, Fabregas, Flamini, Pires, Cygan, Clichy, Toure, Vieira, Henry, Campbell.
This game could be a massacre from Norwich’s point of view or in could be a frustrating day for Arsenal in front of goal, especially with Thierry Henry not fully fit. Insticts tell me though that Norwich just cannot match up to a scarred Arsenal side looking to restore their pride, my prediction is a wounded canary returning to east Anglia.
The Brown Verdict: 4-0
Birmingham City v Tottenham
Kick off: 15:00 Saturday April 2 at St. Andrews.
Brimingham entertain Spurs hoping to build on an impressive derby win last time out. The mood is good in the camp, Emile Heskey gaining a recall to the England sdquad, the troublesome Jermaine Pennant out of prison and close to sealing a permanent deal to St Andrews and key player Mathew Upson on the verge of a new contract signing. Former Spurs player Stephen Clemence is the only doubt for Birmingham, Darren Anderton another former Tottenham man will be hoping for a start against his old club.
Pedro Mendes is definitely unavailable with a broken toe, also Atouba is doubtful. Freddy Kanoute haas made it back safely to London is available for selection after the traumatic scenes in Mali, while Sean Davis looks set for a place on the bench. Spurs are chasing a Uefa Cup place and every game until the end of the season is important for them. Midfielder Michael Brown has been in superb form of late, he is one of my personal players of the season. When he plays well, Spurs play well.
Tottenham Hotspur from: Robinson, Cerny, Kelly, Pamarot, Gardner, King, Naybet, Edman, Atouba, Davies, Davis, Ziegler, Brown, Carrick, Defoe, Keane, Kanoute, Mido.
Birmingham City from: Squad not announced.
Birmingham have the fourth best defensive record at home in the premiership, Tottenham will them difficult to break down, but there are plenty of players around who can score goals, Walter Pandiani is a huge threat for Birmingham city, likewise Jermaine Defoe, who has 21 goals to his name this season.
The Brown Verdict: 1-1
Crystal Palace v Middlesbrough
Kick off: 15:00 Saturday April 2 at Selhurst Park.
As we head into the last eight games of the season, for relegation battlers every game is a cup final. Palace have serious injury problems and doubts, especially defensively. Ian Dowie’s self proclaimed player of the seasom Emerson Boyce is out for the rest of the season and Danny Butterfield and Sorondo are also doubts. Italian striker striker Nicola Ventola is also absent, as well as ex-Arsenal front man Tommy Black. The great news is Andy Johnson has recovered from his foot injury. The goal scoring sensation is key to Dowie’s plans of staying up. Also Vassilas Lakis, the Greek international returns from injury.
Middlesbrough have been able to curb their injury plighted squad with the return of three major stars, Ray Parlour, Mark Viduka and George Boateng. There are fresh injury worries however to Mcmahon, Parnaby and Job. Middlesbrough will be looking to get their European push back on course. After the press built them up to be possible challengers for the fourth Champions League spot, they tailed off under injury problems and poor winter form. But there is the definite option of a top six if they can finish the last eight games of the season on a good run of form.
Crystal Palace (from): Kiraly, Hall, Sorondo, Granville, Routledge, Borrowdale, Leigertwood, Hughes, Soares, Johnson, Speroni, Freedman, Torghelle, Kolkka, Andrews, Powell, Riihilahti, Popovic, Hudson.
Middlesbrough (from): Schwarzer, Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Queudrue, Parlour, Boateng, Zenden, Downing, Viduka, Hasselbaink, Nemeth, Jones, Cooper, Doriva, Graham.
Crystal Palace need the points but they will also be cautious not to drop points as Southampton entertain league leaders Chelsea. Middlesbrough need one more win to register their fiftieth under boss Steve Mclaren, it would be a fitting way to start an unbeaten run tilll the end of the season, then ending in European qualification. Palce have performed well at home though, holding Manchester United and Arsenal and beating Tottenham Hotspur, there is a good chance they can turn over an out of form Boro side.
The Brown Verdict: 2-0
Liverpool v Bolton Wanderers
Kick Off: 15:00 Saturday April 2 at Anfield.
Liverpool are missing Milan Baros who starts a three match ban, Dietmar Hamann is missing also, Rafa Benitez is hoping to have Warnock, Traore and Luis Garcia all match fit by Saturday. Benitez has been stressing to the Liverpool players that they should not think about the Juventus game coming up but concentrate on the Bolton affair. Games against Bolton are always a physical battle and on their day, the Trotters can beat any side. Fernando Morientes could make a surprise comeback, possibly just from the substitutes bench. England u – 21 star John Welsh scored a scorcher in mid week and got rave reviews from critics, he may be involved in the Bolton game, especially with the injury to Hamann.
Unfortunately for the neutral El hadji Diouf is banned from the game; it would have been very interesting to see the volatile temperament of the Senagalese forward back at Anfield. Nicky Hunt was doubtful but is now fit. Bolton are sixth in the table and a win could take them nearer to challenging for the fourth champions league spot, Sam Allardice said in mid week, “Champions League qualification is worth £5m, £10m, maybe more. I would take a Champions League spot. It’s our chance to establish ourselves as a Premiership club for the next ten years.”
Liverpool (from): Dudek, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Traore, Warnock, Nunez, Luis Garcia, Gerrard, Biscan, Riise, Smicer, Morientes, Carson, Le Tallec, Potter, Welsh.
Bolton (from): Jaaskelainen, Hunt, Ben Haim, N’Gotty, Gardner, Hierro, Giannakopoulos, Speed, Nolan, Okocha, Pedersen, Davies, Vaz Te, Campo, Poole, Jaidi, Candela, Fadiga.
Liverpool have had a lot of players away on international duty and Bolton have had only a few, it with Liverpool possibly distracted by thoughts of Juventus, this could be the tonic for an upset.
The Brown Verdict: 0-2
Manchester United v Blackburn Rovers
Kick Off: 15:00 Saturday April 2 at Old Trafford
Manchester United have three casualties for the game at the weekend, Gabriel Heinze has not returned in time from Argentina and Saha and Fletcher are not ready to return. Rio Ferdinand is fit though after being substituted from the England game on Wednesday. Manchester United have Arsenal firmly on their tales, so second spot is still up for grabs. Historically Blackburn have been somewhat of a bogey team for Ferguson’s men, with Mark Hughes returning to Old Trafford where he was loved and idolised.
Blackburn Rovers have more or less a full squad apart from hitman Paul Dickov is doubtful, the Scotsman will be gunning to take to the field and do his old club Arsenal a favour at the weekend.
Man Utd (from): Howard, Carroll, Ricardo, G Neville, Brown, Ferdinand, Silvestre, Heinze, O’Shea, Fortune, Ronaldo, Scholes, Keane, Kleberson, Miller, Giggs, Van Nistelrooy, Rooney, Smith.
Blackburn are still fighting a relegation battle, especially with the good form of Palace and West Brom, and Mark Hughes will have the boys willing and ready to fight for the points at Old Trafford.
The Brown Verdict: 0-1
Newcastle v Aston Villa
Kick Off: 15:00 Saturday April 2 at St James Park
Celestine Babayaro, Titus Bramble and Shola Ameobi are all out of the game at the weekend. Shay Given and Patrick Kluivert both look set to return. The game comes after the news that Alan Shearer has extended his stay at Newcastle until the end of the next season and will also take up a coaching role. If results do not go to plan Graeme Souness may regret the day he ever made Shearer a coach at Newcastle as it puts him one step closer to the manager’s job.
Aston Villa have no injury worries, out of form striker Juan Pablo Angel is back, and Mark Delaney returns. Speculation this week centered around whether Nolly Solano would quit Villa in the summer, but he says he is committed, although he will probably be on the bench on Saturday having travelled back from World Cup duty in Peru only two days ago.
Newcastle (from): Given, Harper, Carr, Hughes, Babayaro, Boumsong, O’Brien, Taylor, Dyer, Robert, Faye, Bowyer, Butt, Jenas, Milner, Ambrose, N’Zogbia, Shearer, Kluivert.
Aston Villa (from): Sorensen, de la Cruz, Laursen, Mellberg, Samuel, Solano, Davis, Hendrie, Berson, Barry, L Moore, Vassell, Cole, Hitzlsperger, Postma, Ridgewell, Delaney, Angel.
Newcastle are playing well at the moment and will also be rested from a week training in Dubai. Aston Villa have hit a slump in form due to a lack of quality in squad depth, they simply do not have the quality or numbers to challenge for European football or honours.
The Brown Verdict: 2-0
Southampton v Chelsea
Kick Off: 17:15 Saturday April 2 at St Marys.
The in-form Southampton side have nothing to fear, they are in great form especially with the regenerated Peter Crouch in attack. This week Harry Redknapp was calling for him to be given an England chance. Henri Cmara returns to partner Crouch in attack and also club captain Lundekvam returns after international duty with Norway.
The big news for Chelsea is the loss of Arjen Robben in mid week, and it has now also emerged that Paulo Ferreira will miss the game and possibly the rest of the season. It does mean however that Joe Cole will take Robben’s place.
Southampton (from): Niemi; Telfer, Lundekvam, Jakobsson, Bernard, Delap, Quashie, Redknapp, Le Saux, Camara, Crouch, Phillips, Davenport, Higginbotham, A Svensson, McCann, Nilsson, Smith.
Chelsea (from): Cech, Cudicini, Johnson, Carvalho, Terry, Gallas, Huth, Parker, Makelele, Lampard, Tiago, Smertin, Jarosik, Duff, Gudjohnsen, Drogba, Cole.
Every football pundit previewing this game gives Southampton no chance at all. People should have more faith in the experience of Redknapp. Chelsea will have a physical battle on their hands, it may not suit them.
The Brown Verdict: 1-0
Fulham v Portsmouth
Kick Off: 13:30 Sunday April 3 at Craven Cottage.
Fulham are missing Papa Bouba Diop and manager Chris Coleman has also recalled American striker Brian Mcbride to the squad.
The big news for Portsmouth is that Gary O’Neil has recovered from 27 stitches in a head wound and Linvoy Primus will replace Andy Griffin at Right back.
Fulham (from): Van der Sar, Bocanegra, Goma, Knight, Rosenior, Malbranque, Jensen, Clark, Cole, Boa Morte, Volz, Legwinski, John, Radzinski, McBride, Crossley.
Portsmouth (from): Ashdown, Primus, de Zeeuw, Stefanovic, Taylor, Stone, Cisse, Skopelitis, Berger, LuaLua, Yakubu, Chalkias, Hughes, O’Neil, Kamara, Fuller, Mezague, Rodic, Hislop.
This is the biggest game of the Premiership weekend – whoever loses this game is drawn right into the thick of the relegation battle. It’s a game which is difficult to prepare for, luckily there are few inuries, it should be a cracker for the neutral. Both sides are inseparable, neither deserve to go down. Portsmouth have dipped in form considerably in the last month, striker Yakuba looks to have packed his bags for the summer as well. The edge might slightly be with west Londoners.
The Brown Verdict: 4-3
West Brom v Everton
Kick Off: 16:05 Sunday April 3 at the Hawthorns.
Robert Earnshaw is knocking on the door for a starting place in Bryan Robson’s side after his hatrick at Charlton. Other good news for Robbo is Tomas Gaardsoe has recovered from a groin injury.
James Mcfadden faces a late fitness test for Everton and Spanish ace Mikel Arteta is back in contention for a starting role.
West Brom (from): Hoult, Albrechtsen, Purse, Gaardsoe, Moore, Clement, Robinson, Gera, Scimeca, Wallwork, Chaplow, Richardson, Greening, Campbell, Earnshaw, Kanu, Horsfield, Koumas, Kuszczak.
Everton (from): Martyn, Hibbert, Weir, Stubbs, Pistone, Watson, Yobo, Osman, Cahill, Carsley, Kilbane, Arteta, Beattie, Ferguson, Bent, Wright, Naysmith, McFadden, Plessis.
A huge game for both sides. A slip by Everton could cost them their Champions League place, and a loss for relegation-threatened West Brom could be fatal if other results go against them. Every game is so important for both these sides until the end of the season, as they are both under so much pressure. West Brom have showed a distinct improvement under Bryan Robson, with Kieran Richardson in superb form Everton are dipping slightly in form, but they are still stubborn enough to pick up points.
The Brown Verdict: 1-1