Goal.com Predicts: Newcastle 1-1 Chelsea, Wigan Athletic 1-3 Arsenal, Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United

Our reporters can see Andre Villas-Boas' men stumbling on Tyneside, but expect the champions to bounce back from their embarrassing League Cup exit with a win in the Midlands
Christmas is just around the corner and the fixtures are coming thick and fast, with a week of League Cup and Europa League action for nine top-flight sides now out of the way and the Premier League back in focus.

It was a midweek to forget for Manchester United after they crashed out to Championship side Crystal Palace, and they have a tough test away to Aston Villa, who have only lost once at home so far this season.

Chelsea also suffered defeat in the last 16 of the League Cup after going out at home to Liverpool and they will kick the weekend off with a trip to the Sports Direct Arena, where they're set to come up against a formidable Newcastle outfit still buoyant after securing an impressive point at Old Trafford last weekend.

Saturday afternoon will also see league leaders Manchester City face Norwich, Steve Kean's struggling Blackburn play host to Swansea and Arsenal travelling to Wigan looking to keep pace with the other Champions League chasers.

QPR welcome West Brom and Bolton are set for a trip down to White Hart Lane looking to top off a tough few days for Tottenham, who lost to PAOK on Thursday.

Everton look to continue their recent resurgence when they host Stoke, while Sunderland will try to put a positive spin on a turbulent week after the departure of manager Steve Bruce on Wednesday when they face Wolves at Molineux.

Liverpool then return to Craven Cottage on Monday evening after hammering Fulham there last season, however, Kenny Dalglish's men reeling following the news that midfielder Lucas is out for the rest of the campaign.

So it's set to be another hectic three days of Premier League action, here are our reporters' predictions ahead of the action...

Newcastle United


It is doubtful that there will be a dry eye in the house when these two teams meet as Newcastle honour tragic Gary Speed but there can be no room for sentiment for flagging Chelsea.

The pressure on Blues manager Andre Villas-Boas will intensify if he oversees a fifth Premier League defeat of the season on Tyneside, where Newcastle are starting to look as though they could challenge Chelsea for a Champions League spot.

When Villas-Boas arrived in England from Porto he had a reputation as one of the sharpest young brains in European football but in Newcastle counterpart Alan Pardew he faces a manager who will relish their touchline duel.

With Fernando Torres surely demoted due to his disappointing display against Liverpool, Didier Drogba will almost certainly get a chance to torment the Newcastle defence just like he did in the Uefa Cup during his Marseille days when Speed was the Magpies’ midfield lynchpin.

Blackburn Rovers
Swansea City


Fresh from "forfeiting" a place in the League Cup with defeat to Cardiff City, Steve Kean faces another opportunity to try and silence – if only for a little while – the Ewood Park faithful that continue to call for his head.

Kean can take solace from the fact Brendan Rodgers' Swansea City are the only team in the Premier League that have an away record worse than Rovers', having taken only two points this season.

A result is imperative if Kean is to continue to miraculously hold off the circling vultures that surround his every movement.

For Rodgers' merry men, a win could see them head into the top half of the league and the manager spring towards cult status. The two bosses on Saturday couldn't be further apart and one more bad result - new contract or not for Kean - could see Rovers looking for a new one.

Manchester City
  Norwich City


The last time Norwich travelled to Manchester City, in November 2004, Willow Flood was on the scoresheet for the hosts in a 1-1 draw.

On Saturday, the Canaries will face a completely different prospect as Paul Lambert's side line up against the star-studded Premier League leaders, who have been in imperious form at the Etihad Stadium this season.

The underrated Norwich supporters always make for a noisy and colourful affair at away games but I don't expect too many fireworks on the pitch from the visitors.

City have shown this season that they are able to break down teams that park the bus and an early goal will be crucial in setting them on their way to three points that would, for at least a few hours, put Roberto Mancini's side eight points clear of Manchester United.

West Brom


Neil Warnock's side always look prone to conceding goals, while their Jekyll & Hyde form this season makes them difficult to predict.

West Brom, meanwhile, appear to have got over the worst of their poor start but defensively, mistakes continue to creep into a usually robust Roy Hodgson set-up.

Neither side has been able to enjoy a strong run of results heading into this encounter, and QPR's poor record at the back, which is the worst out of all Premier League teams above the relegation zone, should account for an abundance of goals at Loftus Road.

But in terms of three points, West Brom have failed to inspire on their travels this season and QPR have enough depth in their squad to make this another tricky trip for Hodgson's men.

Tottenham Hotspur
Bolton Wanderers

JOE DOYLE says...

Tottenham have been in fabulous form domestically though they face a struggle in Europe after defeat in their last game against PAOK Salonika. While that may be a big blow to Harry Redknapp’s Europa League aspirations, I do think they’ll bounce straight back against Owen Coyle’s Bolton.

The Wanderers have lost a Premier League record 10 of their opening 13 games, though they were given one hell of a fixture list to contend with at the start of the season.

They are languishing in the bottom three and will need to start getting points on the board quickly, but I don’t see that happening at White Hart Lane, with Spurs' strikers set to give the defence a torrid time.

 Wigan Athletic


Franco Di Santo’s last minute winner against Sunderland last time out will have lifted spirits at the DW Stadium, however, Roberto Martinez’s side haven’t recorded back-to-back victories in their last 13 attempts, so they will need a mammoth performance if they are to get anything out of this game.

Arsenal have had mixed fortunes on their travels this season: they have lost three of their six games and conceded 18 goals. However, the Gunners find themselves unbeaten in their last six league games, and despite a draw against Fulham they will be confident at Wigan, where they have failed to win in their last two games.

I am expecting goals in this game, and the man I am really looking forward to seeing is the in-form Robin van Persie, who will be confident as he scored a hat-trick the last time the two sides met.

Aston Villa
  Manchester United

JOEL LAMY says...

When Alex McLeish took over the Aston Villa job, his staunchest supporter was Sir Alex Ferguson. Now Sir Alex comes face-to-face once again with his former Aberdeen defender, looking to bounce back from disappointing results in three competitions over the last week and a half.

Saturday marks the return of Ashley Young to Villa Park since his summer move to Old Trafford. Once compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo by Martin O’Neill, Young was this week called a "modern day great for Villa" by Stephen Warnock. It will be interesting to see if the home fans feel the same, but the battle between Young and Alan Hutton could be key in this match.

United are renowned for their ability to bounce back from setbacks and grind out wins. They did both at Goodison Park following their defeat to Manchester City and I expect the same at Villa Park as well.

   Stoke City

ED MALYON says...

Just one point separates these two sides as they meet at Goodison on Sunday afternoon. Stoke’s record following European games has been much talked about and this is a tough game for them to contend with in the wake of a difficult game against Dynamo Kiev on Thursday night.

Peter Crouch, Jonathan Walters and Ryan Shawcross were all rested from the start for that game, and will be expected to feature from the beginning at Everton. The hosts may be tempted to start Apostolos Vellios following his recent burst of goals, and he is now the Toffees’ leading scorer. The Greek forward has three goals from nine shots this season, whereas Louis Saha has one from 30 and the usually dangerous Tim Cahill hasn't hit the net from 19.

It should be a tight, physical affair with both these sides equipped for a battle but smattered with some quality. The Blues’ home advantage and freshness may just give them the edge in this one.


SAM BISBY says...

Sunderland finally ran out of patience this week with manger Steve Bruce after just over two years in the job.

Bruce had just a 30 per cent win rate with the Black Cats and a solitary win at home this season didn't do him any favours. Now they play a Wolves side that are desperate to lift themselves clear of the clutches of the drop zone, and a win for the hosts on Sunday would help them rise above the north east outfit, who sit one place above them on the same 11 points.

It could be a matter of fight or flight for Sunderland at the weekend and it will be interesting to see how they react to Bruce’s sacking, but either way the game isn’t likely to promise an attractive 90 minutes of football, as both sides scrap to steer clear of the bottom three.



Wearing my optimist's hat, I am looking forward to seeing a cracker between a team whose home form was once their rock and visitors who play with elan and style on the road.

Craven Cottage was the scene of arguably Liverpool's most complete display in Kenny Dalglish's second coming, a 5-1 annihilation of Fulham last season, decorated with a hat-trick by west London specialist Maxi Rodriguez.

Liverpool have played some of their best football with four diddy men in the attacking positions.

But the injury to Lucas Leiva has robbed Dalglish of the player who makes it all tick. Can rookie Jay Spearing be an adequate replacement? Or will Jordan Henderson be given the chance to build on his encouraging display in the League Cup quarter-final?

Should Liverpool make another splash by the Thames, it could be a memorable evening.

5 CORRECT            1 PERFECT            4 WRONG

A mixed week for our reporters with just over half of the results predicted correctly. However, many congratulations to Wayne Veysey who backed Arsenal and Fulham to draw 1-1 at the Emirates to make it three perfect predictions in a row. Well done Wayne on a brilliant hat-trick.

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