I have to be honest, I'm not feeling much in a ranting mood today. A mid-week full of Carling Cup matches doesn't provide a lot of fodder for a good rant. So, in the interest of keeping it brief (for once) I'll move directly to the schedule analysis which, I know, tends to go a little long anyway.
The Home Teams
Chelsea vs. Swansea - I'm still not "all in" on Chelsea being a realistic participant in the title race this season. I believe it will be at least a season before the changes we saw this past summer come to fruition and you get the sense that there's still at least one more critical addition to be made. Swansea, on the other hand, have proven that a great keeper and a flair for keeping possession can keep you in games and nick you some points. Despite all of that, don't over-think this one. Chelsea will win at home and despite Swansea's attacking outburst last weekend, I would be shocked if Chelsea didn't register a clean sheet. Verdict: Advantage Chelsea Defenders.
City vs. Everton - I think we are all assuming that City will win and score multiple goals in doing so. For me, the question about City will be two-fold. The first, and ever-present, question is who will start at forward and we'll get to that tomorrow to the extent that we can. The second question that is more relevant to this analysis is whether they will keep a clean sheet. I haven't seen any news on the status of Nigel de Jong's return but until we know he's back and at full fitness, I'd be wary of sinking too much into the City defense, even at home. Without his cover for the back four and, quite frankly, the intimidation factor that his history of reckless violence provides, City will likely be vulnerable to giving up more goals than we've come to expect. We saw the first evidence of this last weekend at Fulham and I will remain dubious about further clean sheets until NdJ is back. Verdict: Advantage City Attackers.
QPR vs. Villa - Don't let the 6th place spot in the table fool you, Gabby Agbonlahor aside, Villa look all out of sorts so far this season. DBent has been average. N'Zogbia has been mostly invisible and back to looking frustrated and petulant. The defense has been OK but overall it appears that Villa are taking a step backward to looking a lot like the Birmingham side of last season which is a shame since they have better attacking talent than that team did. You just get the feeling that Alex McLeish could conspire to make Barcelona's attacking force look mediocre. With QPR seeming to be reinvigorated by their attacking reinforcements, I expect something on the order of a 2-1 home win with the possibility of a 2-2 draw with Gabby and DBent being clinical [note: DBent is a doubt with a groin injury.] while QPR dominates the ball and the attacking fantasy phantom points. Verdict: Advantage QPR Attackers.
Liverpool vs. Wolves - This is a hard one to get your head around, isn't it? If you take away last weekend's home loss to QPR, Wolves have been having an excellent season so far and we'd all be pretty high on their season-to-date. Conversely, if we re-evaluate Liverpool's victory at the Emirates as being due more to Arsenal's collapse than Liverpool being two goals better than our memory of Arsenal teams of seasons past and we throw in an amazing gap in central midfield due to
Arsenal vs. Bolton - On paper, this should be an easy one but until Arsenal prove otherwise, we can't think of them as the big team of yester-year (or even the first 5 months of last year). We have to assume that they will concede at least one goal and that the combination of Kevin Davies (a problem on set pieces) and N'gog (speed on counters) will give Arsenal fits that belie their modest talents. What we can assume on the positive side is that even if the defense is a bit of a shambles, Arsenal's attacking players will rack up some phantom (or real) points as they did last weekend at Rovers. Verdict: Advantage Arsenal Attackers.
The Away Bets
Manchester United @ Stoke - Stoke were unlucky to concede some soft goals to Sunderland last weekend. They won't be considered as unlucky when they concede a bunch to United this weekend. I'm guessing there will be a home goal but 3-1 or 4-1 seems a likely outcome the way United are playing. Verdict: Advantage United Attackers.
Spurs @ Wigan - Spurs seem to be on to something with the improved spine of Parker, a rededicated Modric, and K2 and I'm really excited to see how it looks with VdV in place of Defoe (who I still don't trust or think much of). Wigan conversely have been poor with their solid-seeming home record being due more to the fact that they've only played two newly promoted teams rather than them creating a fortress in the northwest. Always hard to predict an away clean sheet, especially when the defenders in question are the ones on Spurs roster but I do expect a comfortable 2-1 or 3-1 win. Verdict: Advantage Spurs Attackers.
I'll be back later with player picks in part 2.