EPL - First Match Of The Year 2011 Preview

English Premier League takes advantage of its 'No Winter Break', only game in town status by scheduling fixture after fixture. Yes, they're playing again! The Boxing Day deluge seeps into mid-week. Followed by weekend fixtures and another round starting next Tuesday, some clubs are playing four matches in 10 days. Flood the market!

This weekend there is no top-of-the-table clash or 'big-game' but the closest thing the league has to offer is Blackpool's visit to Manchester City. The Tangerines are only two points off a (potential) Europe spot, and given the other teams in the Top Five face clubs that sit 14th or worse, the first weekend of the new year could give us more consolidation than competition.

West Bromwich Albion versus Manchester United, The Hawthorns (West Bromwich), Saturday, 12:45 GMT - At first blush this doesn't look like a great match: first against 14th. Then you remember Manchester United's away record, 1-7-0, and you ask way Brom can't do better than Birmingham City, who got a point from United mid-week. Combine that with two teams committed to playing progressive football, though memories of Tuesday and the threat of losing top to City make United a good bet for their second road win.

Manchester City versus Blackpool, City of Manchester Stadium (Manchester), Saturday, 15:00 GMT - The weekend match with the most quality, per the table, is also the least balanced, per the pocketbook. While the personification of Paul Tompkins' Transfer Price Index would let out a guttural roar, we would ask "Why not?" Every time we've written off Blackpool, thinking their carriage set to turn back into a pumpkin, they do something like become the first team to win at Sunderland this season. And every time we're ready to anoint City as the next Chelsea, they do something like lose to Everton. I'm not saying Ian Holloway's got another trick in his bag. I'm just saying you can get 11/1 on the Tangerines to win.

Sunderland versus Blackburn Rovers, Stadium of Light (Sunderland), Saturday, 15:00 GMT - Sunderland's last five matches: 1-0, 0-0, 1-0, 0-2, 0-2, shutout twice in their last three home fixtures. Combine that with a Blackburn side that's shed Sam Allardyce but not his football and you have a recipe for a mid-morning nap, particularly with Sunderland joining Bolton in a return-to-Earth phase.

Tottenham Hotspur versus Fulham, White Hart Lane (London), Saturday, 15:00 GMT - Spurs had an early season tendency to fall behind, and if they do so on Saturday, we'll be in for a dire match. Nothing like and hour of Danny Murphy dropping deep only to play a square ball to Simon Davies. Thankfully, Spurs seem to be over their early season benevolence, and with Fulham having only one away win thus far this season, a confident Tottenham should be a winning Tottenham.

Stoke City versus Everton, Britannia Stadium (Stoke-on-Trent), Saturday, 15:00 GMT - While Stoke and Everton are two of the more robust teams in the league, they aren't afraid to go at an opponent. The match will be physical, direct, but also ambitious, with some speculating a collision between the heads of Robert Huth and Marouane Fellaini could spark another 'Big Bang' story.

Liverpool versus Bolton Wanderers, Anfield Park (Liverpool), Saturday, 15:00 GMT - If Wolves and Blackpool and Northampton can win at Anfield, surely Bolton can, right? And if they do, that's four losses in five for Liverpool, including two at home. While the Reds' style of play may make for a surprisingly drab Bolton match, the drama of Liverpool on the brink will make this match bearable.

West Ham United versus Wolverhampton Wanderers, Upton Park (London), Saturday, 15:00 GMT - It's a six-pointer! Just like every other match, but since both these teams are in the drop zone, this becomes a Six Pointer. Folklore, ladies and gentlemen, but quizzical idioms aside, this should still be a great match. West Ham midfielder Scott Parker has already equated this with a must-win, but with Wolves having just taken three at Anfield ... nevermind. That doesn't mean anything. Regardless, this game will have the open, slug-it-out quality of a good Championship match, something that we don't see enough in the watch-your-backside world of Premier League football.

Birmingham City versus Arsenal, St. Andrews' Stadium (Birmingham), Saturday, 17:30 GMT - Behold the power of Alex McLeish's downtrodden tactics. The Scot can take Arsenal and make them depressing. The worst team to watch in all four major European leagues, Brum won't look at Wigan's Wednesday success and say "we should pressure Arsenal's back line!" No. McLeish will be more philosophical and say "pressure is relative. If they come to us, distance is still eliminated." I'm sure Hume would be proud.

Chelsea versus Aston Villa, Stamford Bridge (London), Sunday, 13:00 GMT - Chelsea limp through an opening 45 only to have some shining (if irregular) moments of clarity in the second half. On Wednesday, it was Michael Essien bulling through Bolton's permissive midfield, eventually forcing a through ball to Didier Drogba, leading to Florent Malouda's goal. Chelsea should have an easier time of it against Villa and its ball-and-chain dragging them to the bottom of the league, but they'll still being the iffy. This game would turn things around for The Blues.

Wigan Athletic versus Newcastle United, DW Stadium (Wigan), Sunday, 16:00 GMT - Wigan is not only out of the drop, they're two teams above it thanks to a four match unbeaten streak. In their draw against Arsenal on Wednesday, you could see the formula that will trouble Newcastle. Hyperactivity from Hugo Rodallega and the other attackers could make the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor inept on the ball, and without a true creative presence in the middle to make the Latics play for their overzealous nature, Wigan could be mid-table by Monday.

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