Weekend Predictions: 16th August

van gaal

Louis Van Gaal

Here are my thoughts ahead of this week’s round of matches in the Premier League, Championship, League One and League Two. To see all my match predictions, go to the table at the bottom.

Premier League
Saturday lunchtime marks what, at least Manchester United fans hope, will be the start of a new era at Old Trafford. Louis Van Gaal will have his first competitive match in charge, but with much doubt surrounding the squad at his disposal.

The signings the club have made this summer are not exactly high-profile, and they are not ones that will strike fear into other title contenders. One of them, Luke Shaw, is already out for a month. Ander Herrera is still relatively young and unproven, yet the unconvincing nature of this Manchester United squad, or moreover, midfield, means he’s under pressure to perform straight away.

Javier Hernandez is a striker who may flourish under the new boss. He was possibly not big enough to be looked at favourably under David Moyes, but he is an excellent option to have on the counter-attack, a system which Van Gaal’s Holland perfected at the World Cup. With Robin Van Persie away and Danny Welbeck a fitness doubt, Chicharito may be given a chance to shine.

Lest we forget that there will be another team on the pitch on Saturday, Swansea City, who it’s fair to say, may not be given much attention in the pre-match punditry. Ironically, they have played Manchester United in Alex Ferguson’s final home game, David Moyes’s first league game, and now Van Gaal’s first game too. The Swans haven’t been able to rain on United’s parade in the past, and will struggle to do so here.

 

Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino

Although just the first match of the season, it seems this London derby has come at the right time for Tottenham, and very much the wrong time for West Ham. The Hammers board have made it clear that they want to see more entertaining football, in order to appease the fans, but it seems unlikely that Sam Allardyce will change his long ball approach. One might assume that the club would not have signed Mauro Zarate, a quick but small and weedy player, purely on Allardyce’s judgement.

Andy Carroll is yet again injured, so too new signing Enner Valencia, meaning Carlton Cole may start as the main striker. Ravel Morrison is unlikely to feature, partly due to an impending court case, and West Ham have a number of other players out through injury too. Although Tottenham have 3 of their Belgian World Cup squad members out, due to a delayed holiday, they have enjoyed a positive pre-season under their new boss.

A Pochettino side will always press high up the pitch, while Sam Allardyce’s teams typically defend deep, so theoretically, Tottenham will be on top for much of this match. Spurs do possess some talented players, most notably as Erik Lamela, who have taken their time to become accustomed to the pace of the English game. With internal tensions at West Ham, Tottenham have an opportunity to get off to the perfect start to life under Pochettino, and they could win this by 2 or 3 goals.

The Championship

grabbanBefore last week’s first round of matches, some believed that the 3 relegated clubs will dominate the Championship. It sums up this league’s unpredictability then, that those teams picked up just 1 point between them on the opening day, each of them putting in a disappointing performance.

Norwich were very poor against Wolves. They played with a deep defensive line which, with the attacking energy of forwards Nathan Redmond and Lewis Grabban, might have been part of a counter-attacking ploy. Instead, when the Canaries got the ball, they often looked slow, lifeless and seemed to run out of ideas.

Manager Neil Adams should be worried about the weekend’s match against Watford. The Hornets underperformed last season, but each of the goals they scored against Bolton was down to impressive, quick-thinking counter-attacks. In fact, they were not dissimilar to the type of goals they scored in the season under Gianfranco Zola, when they reached the play-off final.

In that sense, playing away from home, against a team that’s already under a degree of pressure, will suit Watford perfectly. If last week’s levels of performance are repeated by both teams, Watford will come away from Carrow Road with another 3 points.

 

Like Norwich, Fulham failed to perform last week, in the Championship’s late kick-off. They might have had 66% possession, yet so much of that seemed to be in their own half. As evidenced on Who Scored from the player positions tab, Ipswich pressed very high up the pitch, and this young Fulham midfield struggled to cope with the physicality and high-intensity of their game. The experienced player they did have, Scott Parker, touched the ball 94 times, and it was his coolness on the ball that allowed Fulham to keep possession. To have created many chances with the ball, however, they needed players in midfield with more physical prowess, and perhaps confidence.

Fulham have been looking to transform an old squad into a young one, and so have their next opponents, Millwall. Ian Holloway named 6 academy graduates on the bench in the Capital One Cup win over Wycombe on Tuesday, when last season, he was working with the oldest squad in the Championship. Millwall favoured a long ball game last season, but it will please Holloway that a lot of their goals and chances against Leeds last week came about from positive, entertaining football. However, Millwall may not press Fulham with the same ferocity as Ipswich did, partly because they are playing away from home. Fulham’s talented crop will be given a bit more time and space in midfield, and they should have enough to win.

syers

David Syers

League One
It’s been a mixed week for Scunthorpe United. They got a 1-0 win away to Championship side Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday, which may serve to boost confidence, but it’s also worth remembering that Blackburn made 10 changes for that match. Until the hour mark, when the hosts started to bring on their first teamers, Scunthorpe may as well have been playing Blackburn’s reserve side.

The Iron have had some bad news, in the form of a long-term injury to David Syers. The midfielder played an important part in their promotion last season, chipping in with 10 goals. Scunthorpe’s other main midfield options are Neal Bishop and Sean McAllister who, although sturdy and dependable, are not going to offer much in attack. Russ Wilcox will hope he will be given the chance to sign a creative midfielder in the next few days.

Saturday’s visitors to Glanford Park will be Preston North End, who snatched a dramatic equalizer last week. In truth, it would be unwise to read too much into the fact that they only managed a draw against Notts County. They managed to hit 10 shots on target, and simply fell victim to an excellent performance from the opposition goalkeeper, Roy Carroll. And, a 2-0 cup win away to Rochdale on Tuesday, with striker Joe Garner being the only first teamer not to start, will build confidence. Preston to take the win here.

If one thing has become clear from Oldham’s first two games, it’s that they need experienced defender Adam Lockwood back fit. Their impressive defensive record in the final weeks last season was partly down to him having settled into the team, and it’s unfortunate for the Latics that he picked up an injury this summer. In their 3-0 defeat to Middlesbrough,  there seemed to be a slight lack of cohesion and organization in the way they closed the shots down, particularly with the final 2 goals. Although, 0 attempts on target against Boro also points towards a need for getting Jonathan Forte back in the side, after he netted an impressive brace on the opening day.

Leyton Orient have had problems at the back too. Captain Nathan Clarke was a stand-out performer from central defence last season, but has been at fault for more than one of the goals Orient conceded, and there are question marks over Elliott Omozusi at right-back. The one positive for Orient is that they have held onto winger Dean Cox this summer, and he has played a key role in some of the goals they’ve scored. Both Oldham and Leyton Orient have looked vulnerable defensively in the first week of the new season, and the key to this match will be who can eradicate their problems quickly.

League Two

Akins - now with Burton

Akins – now with Burton

It is rare to find a football fan who has seen 12 goals in a single match, but this can now be said of Dagenham & Redbridge and Brentford supporters. A 6-6 draw for the Daggers ended in penalty shoot-out defeat, in one of the most remarkable games in League Cup history. Defender Scott Doe scored a comical own goal at 3-1, which would have been a memorable incident in any other game. Wayne Burnett’s side can be proud of how they came from behind 3 times against a team 2 divisions above, but as the simple stat of 9 goals conceded in 2 games will suggest, they must improve at the back.

Dagenham & Redbridge make the trip to Burton Albion, another team who produced a midweek shock, albeit in different circumstances. The Brewers beat Championship side Wigan Athletic 2-1, Dominic Knowles and Stuart Beavon scoring goals as they came back from 1-0 down. Although Wigan made plenty of changes, unlike the aforementioned Blackburn, they do have one of the most complete squads in the Championship. They were still able to field a team which had picked up 168 full international caps between them, thus making Burton’s victory an impressive one. Lucas Akins signed for Gary Rowett’s side from Stevenage this summer. The inside forward has caught the eye in pre-season, and after scoring the winning goal at Oxford he could be one to watch this season. Burton are a more organized, physical side than Dagenham, and they will be expected to win here.

 

Hartlepool conceded 6 goals at Port Vale on Tuesday, in the Capital One Cup. The concerning thing from their point of view, is that they did not change their defence at all. It was the same keeper and back-line that started in the defeat to Stevenage on Saturday Even in that match, their opponents were able to create a lot of shooting opportunities, and Hartlepool were reliant on a string of excellent saves from Scott Flinders to remain in the game. New signing Stuart Parnaby, who has been given a midfield role after the departure of Simon Walton, missed the trip to Port Vale due to a foot injury. The extent to which they lost that match without him, suggests he could become an important player this season.

Hartlepool face Bury, another team who need to address things defensively. In their Capital One Cup extra-time defeat to Bolton, they played with real positivity, particularly in the first half, and pushed men forward in a way that is uncharacteristic of a League Two side at a Championship club. However, they did struggle at the back when put under pressure, and this was also evident against Cheltenham last Saturday. They had 58% possession in that match, yet their opponents created just as many goalscoring opportunities. David Flitcroft clearly wants to get Bury playing on the front foot, but his players will also need to be able to defend as a team when required, and withstand long spells of pressure. If they can do that, they will go up, because they have plenty of attacking quality. Given Hartlepool’s struggles, that quality should be enough for the Shakers to secure a first win of the season.

Fixture Prediction
Premier League
Man Utd vs. Swansea Home win
Leicester vs. Everton Away win
QPR vs. Hull Draw
Stoke vs. Aston Villa Home win
West Brom vs. Sunderland Away win
West Ham vs. Tottenham Away win
Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace Home win
Liverpool vs. Southampton Home win
Newcastle vs. Man City Draw
Burnley vs. Chelsea Away win
The Championship
Leeds vs. Middlesbrough Away win
Birmingham vs. Brighton Away win
Blackpool vs. Blackburn Away win
Bolton vs. Nottm Forest Away win
Bournemouth vs. Brentford Home win
Cardiff vs. Huddersfield Home win
Charlton vs. Wigan Draw
Fulham vs. Millwall Home win
Norwich vs. Watford Away win
Reading vs. Ipswich Draw
Rotherham vs. Wolves Away win
Sheff Wed vs. Derby Draw
League One
Bristol City vs. Colchester Home win
Chesterfield vs. Rochdale Home win
Coventry vs. Sheff Utd Away win
Crawley vs. Swindon Away win
Crewe vs. Barnsley Draw
Doncaster vs. Port Vale Home win
Gillingham vs. Yeovil Home win
Notts Co vs. Fleetwood Draw
Oldham vs. Leyton Orient Draw
Peterborough vs. MK Dons Away win
Scunthorpe vs. Preston Away win
Walsall vs. Bradford Away win
League Two
Burton vs. Dag & Red Home win
Cheltenham vs. Accrington Draw
Hartlepool vs. Bury Away win
Luton vs. AFC Wimbledon Home win
Mansfield vs. Oxford Draw
Morecambe vs. Newport Home win
Plymouth vs. Exeter Home win
Portsmouth vs. Cambridge Home win
Shrewsbury vs. Tranmere Home win
Southend vs. Stevenage Draw
Wycombe vs. Carlisle Home win
York vs. Northampton Draw
Last week 17 correct/37 predicted
Total Prediction Accuracy 46%