Due to some circumstances beyond my control -- jury duty actually -- so instead of rushing out an intro essay or some random thoughts, all you're getting today are Friday EPL picks. Sorry. Try to live with it.
Round 11 EPL Picks:
* Bolton v. Tottenham -- (Live, ESPN2, 8:45 a.m.) In the wake of Spurs' 3-1 win over Inter Milan in the Champions League, Bolton have decided to lay down and spend 90 minutes bowing down and praising Gareth Bale -- think Wayne's World, "We're not worthy."
Okay, that's an exaggeration, a slight one. Less of an exaggeration is this match seems like a classic letdown scenario for Tottenham, which has struggled for consistent goal scoring in League action. Imagine, Spurs fans, if Peter Crouch figures out a way to do something other than draw and commit fouls, or if Aaron Lennon can provide a consistent counterweight to Bale on the right?
Bolton? With Kevin Davies and Johan Ellmander both in form they could do some damage on set plays -- I'm looking in your direction Stuart Holden. No sure on the other end Bolton's got the midfield chops to handle Spurs talented players. ... Bolton 1, Tottenham 1
* Sunderland v. Stoke City -- Maybe this match sparks one of these clubs, who've through 10 matches had eminently forgettable seasons. Oddly enough Sunderland is two points ahead of Stoke, albeit with one less win and four less losses. In fact, Sunderland's 2-6-2 mark is the mode of the 20-team league, with Fulham and Bolton sharing the mediocre mark. ... Sunderland 1, Stoke City 0
* Manchester United v. Wolves -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) It's all coming up Milhouse for Sir Alex Ferguson. He keeps Rooney. Chicharito and Bebe are scoring goals. Manchester City is dealing with a Carlos Tevez-induced headache, whilst looking up at United -- which still hasn't been beaten in League play -- in the table. As per usual, it's good to be the king.
For all the good will building within Old Trafford, it's not going to be easy vs. Wolves, which has played tough in a loss at Chelsea then beat City last week. There's not a lot of excitement in Wolves team, but the squad is playing hard. Without Nani, somebody else is going to need to be the hero for United. Hard to see Wolves scoring in this match, unless United's defense loses its focus. ... Manchester United 2, Wolves 0
* Fulham v. Aston Villa -- (Live, FSC Plus, 11 a.m.) If Fulham ever gets all its players healthy at once, it could be a more fearsome club than it was last season since Mark Hughes has given it a more attack-first edge than Roy Hodgson. On an unrelated note, during a session of "FIFA" online my friend Jared and I began speculating on who the best headers of the ball are on the world right now. Clint Dempsey is near the top of that list, at least in England.
Fun fact for Aston Villa, the club nearly went the entire month of October without scoring a goal. If not for an early, first-half strike vs. Tottenham on Oct. 2, Villa would've went scoreless. It's a collective team failure. Gabby Agbonlahor (fighting injuries) hasn't scored. Ashley Young has but one. John Carew has been the most invisible 6-foot-3 player on the planet. Even the defenders -- Richard Dunne, James Collins and Carlos Cuellar -- have to share some of the blame, failing to finish off any set pieces.And now, injury to insult -- Emile Heskey is out. Without a true relegation zone collation yet, Villa might find itself fighting against the drop after Christmas. ... Fulham 2, Aston Villa 0
* Blackpool v. Everton -- For Blackpool's red-hot (or neon orange) start and Everton's woeful beginning, the teams after 10 games are level on points. I'm officially pumped for this game for the potential showdown of unheralded strikers with enormous neck tattoos -- D.J. Campbell and Jermaine Beckford. It's doubtful Beckford starts for Everton, with Yakubu trying to convince people he's not washed up. ... Blackpool 1, Everton 2
* Blackburn Rovers v. Wigan Athletic -- Yeah ... let's just move on. ... Blackburn 2, Wigan 1
* Birmingham City v. West Ham United -- Birmingham City are proof that sometimes additions can be subtractions, as Alex McLeish tinkers with the formula that was so successful during the club's first season back in the Prem last year. Haven't watched a ton of the Brum this year, but it seems this club is searching for some kind of identity. With Ben Foster in goal and a solid defense of Stephen Carr, Scott Dann, Roger Johnson and Liam Ridgewell it should be able to build from the back, as the rest of the team is an unsettled mess.
As for West Ham, it could get late early at Upton Park. After this match, Avram Grant's team hosts West Brom and Blackpool before a trip to Anfield and is then back home against Wigan. If West Ham doesn't get at least six points from those matches it's going to be harder to rally the troops. ... Birmingham City 1, West Ham 1
* Arsenal v. Newcastle United -- (Live, FSC Plus, 8:30 a.m.) This has to be a goal fest, right? Neither team exactly flourishes on the defensive fronts. Think of this as a 1980s Western Conference NBA game with Andy Caroll playing the Tom Chambers role of tall white guy with goofy hair. (Try to stop that dunk. Try to!)
One thing to consider is that Kevin Nolan has evolved into a much more attack-oriented, forward first midfielder than a guy that's going to be able to break up the one-touch passing lanes of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song, Samir Nasri, etc. Not sure who does that role for the Magpies and how they keep Arsenal out of possession. Perhaps Joey Barton sets aside his virtual insanity and shows the world that lo and behold, he's actually a talented player.
Arsenal, which at times looks like it wants to pass the ball into the net, needs to be decisive since Newcastle should be able to find some spaces to exploit on either the counter or on set pieces. Too bad Hatem Ben Arfa got "De-Jonged" since this is the type of game he could have flourished in. No doubt Arsene Wenger sent flowers to his hospital bed. ... Arsenal 4, Newcastle United 2
* West Bromich Albion v. Manchester City -- Guessing the amount of money Mario Balotelli spends on shaving patterns in the side of his head likely trumps West Brom's entire wage bill. Okay, not really, but you get the point. It is delightful, isn't it, that for all of Manchester City's spending the club is only two points behind than unheralded West Brom.
Once again City will be without "Charles" Tevez, so with almost two weeks to prepare -- including that humbling 3-1 Europa League loss to Lech Poznan -- will Roberto Mancini devise a plan that works? He seems unsure how to effectively use David Silva, rotating him from a flank player to a central attacker. And the deployment of the little Spaniard is the least of his worries, as three straight losses immediately equals crisis in the fun land of world football.
Is it unrealistic for City to panicking of wondering if Mancini is right man for the job? You do have to wonder how he's spent in the hundreds of millions of dollars range and remains reliant on one man -- Tevez. Even the "X-Files" put together a few solid episodes after David Duchovny left the show. (Thanks to my friend Scott for the comparison.)
Perhaps Mancini's biggest failing is creating a sense of purpose. Who are City playing for? Are they simply a band of mercenaries? To win do they need to morph into a band of brothers? Are the players happy to receive their pay packets every couple weeks, regardless of results.
However you want to look at it, the building of this City would-be superpower is fascinating. As it stands, City is slowly approaching falling off the cliff and being mentioned in the same sentence as Daniel Snyder's Washington Redskins.
West Brom are unbeaten at home and seem to have a little mojo working at the Hawthornes. In this one, like my Italian manager named di Matteo. ... West Brom 2, Manchester City 1
* Liverpool v. Chelsea -- (Live, FSC, 11 a.m.) For the first time in a long time, for me at least, this match doesn't feel overly familiar or tedious. There was a while when it seemed like these two clubs were playing every other weekend.
Going into this match at Anfield, there are some -- pardon the pun -- red flags for visiting Chelsea. Flourent Malouda is out. Frank Lampard likely misses too. The Blues are cruising along, barely breaking a sweat, but getting all three points nonetheless. Steven Gerrard became Superman again, with his second-half hat trick vs. Napoli on Thursday.
Plus, doesn't it seem like Liverpool are due some kind of a shock result like this?
For all the warning signs, the biggest for me remains on the Reds' touchline -- Roy Hodgson. Does he have faith to go for this match or work up a game plan to unlock the Blues? You know what Carlo Ancelotti is going to do and Soloman Kalou and Yuri Zhirov should slot right into the mix for Chelsea. Plus pitted against the tough-tackling and ball-winning skills of Mikel Obi John Obi Mikel (sic) and Michael Essien, Liverpool is going to wish Javier Mascherano were still around.
If you're a Liverpool supporter you can hang your hat on Fernando Torres or Steven Gerrard's ability to make a play. Me, I'll take Ashley Cole running a circle around Paul Konchesky up the sideline or Didier Drogba once again asserting himself as the Premier League's No. 1 alpha dog. ... Liverpool 0, Chelsea 1
Last round: 6-4