The Return Of The English Premiership

So after an agonising two month, sorry two week, break (just feels like two months) due to the Euro 2008 qualifiers, the Premier League is back with a bang this weekend and there are some really interesting fixtures to look forward to.

For me one of those really interesting games will be at Fratton Park where the current premiership leaders Liverpool travel to take on Portsmouth. The start made by Rafa Benítez’s team this season seems to be starting to win over even the staunchest sceptics, but Portsmouth at Fratton Park are a formidable opponent for even genuine title contenders. However, to be genuine contenders for the title this season this is exactly the sort of game Liverpool have to win and I will be extremely interested to see how this one turns out today.

Can Liverpool’s Fernando Torres keep scoring the goals to lead the Merseysiders to their 19th League Title?

Two of the other title contenders, Arsenal and Man Ute are also in early action today. Man Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who was apparently attacked by a drunk in London’s Euston train station during the week, will be welcoming back head-butter Cristiano Ronaldo following his 3 match suspension. Utd look like they have missed him out on the wing as Utd travel to Liverpool’s neighbours Everton. Everton are themselves playing well so far this season but Utd have a very good record at Goodison and somehow I don’t see any reason for that to change today. and it will be a relief to call on the services of the Portuguese wide man, ahead of a tough trip to in-form Everton at Goodison Park.

Meanwhile Arsenal have a small task of the North London derby to deal with as they travel the short distance to White Hart Lane, I get the feeling it could be “White Hot Lane” this afternoon! All eyes will be on under pressure Spurs boss Martin Jol. He spent heavily in the summer and Tottenham were many people’s favourites for a really good year. However, after only a few games Jol has been the subject of intense speculation, ridiculous really! But what better way to kick-start your season than putting one over on your nearest rivals who, as usual, have made an excellent start.

Those three games, for some inexplicable reason all all early starts. No hold on. Sorry I’m being stupid, nothing other than money is the reason. God, what happened to every game kicking-off at 3pm on a Saturday?

So all that means that just four games kick-off at the proper 3pm. For me the pick of the crop would be at Upton Park, where, after his transfer from Liverpool, an electric Craig Bellamy will look to replicate his scintillating international form against another rejuvenated side, Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough. Bellamy was a big disappointment for me in his one season at Anfield, however, obviously not as big a disappointment as he was to Benítez! My advice, don’t go to a karaoke bar with Bellamy, especially if he takes a golf club with him!

Up in the north-east, the Stadium of Light plays host to a couple of teams that could struggle this season as Sunderland welcome Reading. Reading had such a good first season but the second one was always going to prove more difficult and Steve Coppell and his men are starting to find that out. Roy Keane’s men knew it was going to be hard, so they can’t be surprised so far and it’s only going to get harder for them too.

Meanwhile, Wigan under their new manager Chris Hutchings, welcome Lawrie Sanchez’s Fulham to the JJB Stadium. Hutchings will be looking to get Wigan’s bright start back on track following a defeat against Newcastle last time out. Fulham are another one of those teams that are going to struggle this year for me!

There is another clash of two sides that would have wanted to get off to better starts at St Andrews where Birmingham and Steve Bruce will be going all out to claim all three points against Sammy Lee’s Bolton who, it has to be said, are still trying to get over the departure of Big Sam to Newcastle. Although I feel Bolton have enough class players to be out of trouble come the end of the season.

The final 3pm kick-off throws up a real juicy encounter as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea host Mark Hughes’ Blackburn side that look capable of mounting another serious push for Europe this season. Hughes really is growing into an excellent manager and this Blackburn team are starting to look pretty good. If I were going for an surprise away win today, this would be it. I just have one of those sneaky feelings, you know the sort!

So all that just leaves one game top be played on Sunday. And the venue is Eastlands or the City of Manchester Stadium. Whatever it’s called, it is now the home of Manchester City. Anyone know what Maine Road is now? Probably a supermarket car park or “luxury executive apartments”. God help us! Anyway, City host another one of those growing teams in Aston Villa. I always thought Martin O’Neil was a good manager and I think he has really started to find his feet in the Premiership again.

Both these side for me look more than capable of causing the odd upset during this season, as I’m sure Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho will testify to, so this will be very interesting to see which one of these two comes out on top.

All in all, an excellent line-up of Premiership fixtures to get the ball rolling again. Sorry, pun was intended