Sports

EPL Weekly Preview: Manchester United, Chelsea, West Brom and More

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Right about a month into the 2011-12 Premier League season and it already feels like an escalating arms race between Manchester City and Manchester United. After four games played the two Manchester clubs have scored 33 goals. The other 18 clubs have 61 between them.

Wayne Rooney alone is out-scoring everybody but City, while Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko have more goals each -- six -- than everybody but Chelsea and Bolton.

Granted, it's a small sample size and maybe a early season trend when a) teams are still settling and b) the weather is nice.

There's still a feeling though, if you want to keep pace you'll have to score. The Manchester clubs feature strikers named: Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck, Aguero, Tevez, Dzeko and Balotelli, who'd all arguably be the first choice forward at all but a handful of the other clubs. Compare that to teams like Everton, Sunderland, Fulham, Wigan, QPR, Swansea, Norwich City and Newcastle United who don't exactly have a forward they can tie their faith in on a weekly basis. The dictonomy is startling, though not so much when you realize that the Manchester clubs can seemingly print money, whereas these other teams are searching for value picks to lead their lines, be it as in tandem with another player in a 4-4-2 or a alone centrally in the 4-3-3, which more clubs seem to want to attempt playing.

Somewhere in the middle of all this are Chelsea and Liverpool. The two clubs have options and have spent loads of cash on their attacking players in the last nine months, yet it's fallen to Andre Villas-Boas and Kenny Dalglish to find an XI that works and produces goals on a consistent basis.

Chelsea is interesting. If you selected them in the upcoming "FIFA 12" chances are you'd set your starting lineup to include both Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba since both have the best "overall" rating. (Forget about Nic Anelka, nobody wants to use him -- even in video game form.) In reality, Drogba is out with a concussion and Torres simply can't find a scoring touch -- though the addition of countryman Juan Mata might change that.

If you're paying attention, you'd certainly want to find a place for Daniel Sturridge over the other two players, despite his lesser name value.

Yet, even in his sterling form, can Villas-Boas turn to the rising talent as the man to help the Blues maintain the pace of not one, but two score-sheet stuffing rivals?

Liverpool, with Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll with help from Dirk Kuyt should have enough firepower to run with the big boys at the top of the table. The Reds have looked great in spurts, but not consistent enough as the new additions in the midfield Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam don't seem fully on the same page. Maybe this isn't an issue if Stewart Downing is a little less wasteful on the wings. Long-term Liverpool should be okay, you'd think.

Don't want to dwell too much on Arsenal, as the team is stuck in a major transition. As it stands, Robin van Persie is going to need help from across the field -- think Theo Walcott -- if the Gunners have any semblance of running with the top dogs until May.

Maybe this is dumbing it down too much or way to basic, but it seems if you're going to make any noise for a long period of time this season you're going to have to score.

And score a lot.

Saturday:

One thought, Premier League organizers: Why not keep some semblance of a regular television schedule. This weekend there isn't a late Saturday game, last week there was a Monday game. Granted, midweek European matches and Cup games effect this, but the randomness gets a little annoying.

* Blackburn v. Arsenal -- (Live, 7:30 a.m., ESPN2) There was a time, back when Mark Hughes was in charge, Ewood Park was a tough place to play -- probably due to the hidden land mines buried by Robbie Savage. Perhaps that's not the best joke to make considering the potentially nasty fan protest by Rovers' fans over Steve Kean and to a lesser extent, Venkys. Plus the club has only won one of its last nine at home. There is a semblance of talent at the club, but without someone to motivate them, what do the players care if the club is relegated? They get paid anyway, or can force a transfer. So in that regard, Arsenal -- for a change -- aren't the club in the biggest disarray when it takes the field for the first time in EPL play in 2011-12. It's finding a way to get three points here, why Arsene Wenger rolled the dice to acquire Mikel Arteta on Deadline Day. Spaniard can still boss games like this. ... Blackburn 0, Arsenal 2

* Everton v. Wigan Athletic -- This is one of the few times Everton can't play the, "We Don't Have Any Money" card. Everton has better players across the board than Wigan. Go out and get a win and forget the excuses. That said, if it ever that simple for the Toffees at home in September? ... Everton 1, Wigan Athletic 0

* Wolves v. QPR -- (Live, FSC+, 10 a.m.) Interesting comparison here. When Wolves was promoted after winning the Championship in 2008/09 it didn't buy big. Ronald Zubar, Kevin Doyle and Nenad Milijas were the only noteworthy additions by Mick McCarthy. The club struggled, but staved off relegation. Slowly but surely, the club has added to its core -- Roger Johnson, Stephen Fletcher, Jamie O'Hara. QPR, on the other hand, made the worrying move of adding a lot of new players in August after winning the Championship. Joey Barton, for all his personal problems, is a quality player. It's the Premier League re-treads like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gibbondon, Luke Moore and Kieron Dyer that would make you pause. At least Wolves added a proven scorer up top -- Doyle -- while QPR settled on a personal favorite of mine -- DJ Campbell -- who's season last year with Blackpool was probably a bit of a fluke. ... Wolves 2, QPR 1

* Bolton v. Norwich City -- Somewhat of a litmus test for Bolton, which beat QPR and then lost to Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United -- allowing 12 goals in the process. Beating a promoted team at home isn't great shakes, but failing to beat them would be a major red flag. ... Bolton 2, Norwich City 0

* Aston Villa v. Newcastle United -- (Live, FSC, 10 a.m.) Credit Alex McLeish, for this at least, he's revived the career of Stylian Petrov. The Bulgarian seemed on his way out when Gerard Houllier added Jean Makoun and Michael Bradley last January. Instead, the Villa captain is a vital cog in the middle of the field, like he was when Martin O'Neill first took over the club. If Newcastle had a player half as consistent as Darren Bent, it might be a team to be feared. Instead every week Alan Pardew has to hope he finds something from Leon Best, Shola Ameobi, etc. ... Aston Villa 1, Newcastle United 0

* Swansea City v. West Brom -- If Swansea can't find a way to score against West Brom -- even if its defense is a little steadier than last season -- the Swans might not score all season. ... Swansea City 1, West Brom 1

Sunday

* Sunderland v. Stoke City -- Sunderland wish they were Stoke City. No reason, that's not a backhanded compliment. Style in contrasts here between the managers in the transfer market, and overall. Steve Bruce has during his time at the Stadium of Light, taken the "Throw Shit at the Wall" approach. So far, not much has stuck, aside from the club's proclivity to have player sent off for reckless tackles. Sunderland, as we know, isn't Real Madrid, so this scattershot approach tends to leave you with a disjointed, uneven team stoked with mediocrity. Stoke, unfancied as they are, at least are plugging in players who fit their system. ... Sunderland 0, Stoke City 2

* Tottenham v. Liverpool -- (Live, FSC+, 8:30 a.m.) Hard to predict this game. Harry Redknapp all but pulled down his pants and took a dump on the Europa League playing a midfield consisting of: Falque, Carroll, Kane, Towsend and (sit down) Gio Dos Santos! Take that, Michel Platini! Back to the Prem, Spurs seem a little brighter after a win at Wolves. Last week Spurs played both Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe. It doesn't leave a spot for Rafael van der Vaart. Are Spurs about to find out, like Real Madrid, Hamburg and Ajax, despite all the good things he brings to the table, the Dutchman doesn't really have a position? Still don't know what to expect from Liverpool. Lots of moving parts, lots of fun ... results? Reds could still use some defensive cover, though they're putting stock in Seb Coates long term. Should be a fun game. ... Spurs 1, Liverpool 2

* Fulham v. Manchester City -- Good luck Fulham. Hopefully Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko get hurt taking pictures next to the Michael Jackson statue. ... Fulham 0, Manchester City 2

* Manchester United v. Chelsea -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) If it were up to Andre Villas-Boas, this game would come a month later, not the fifth weekend of the season. Chelsea -- for the first time I recall -- started vs. Bayer Leverkausen in the Champions League without John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. We know the big Ivorian is out, so this game will have a different feel. Chelsea, if given time, could develop into a deadly attacking force behind Juan Mata, Daniel Sturridge and Raul Meireles, with Fernando Torres' output a bonus. In a way, it could mirror, the young, fast, free-flowing game Manchester United has displayed four games into the young season. This is a match United can't afford a mistake from David de Gea and it'll be interesting to see if the Red Devils are as a good as they appear playing against a strong defense that isn't inherently afraid of Wayne Rooney et al. ... Manchester United 2, Chelsea 1

Last round: 6-4
Season: 24-15