Welcome to "High Fives" the personal column of our ace Director of Football "Magic Mike".
Other than being handicapped by being a Bolton Wonderers fanatic, Magic Mike's football credentials are outstanding and impeccable. We've heard rumours on more than one occasion that a potential purchaser of at least one former Premier League side has promised him the Director of Football position there, just as soon as the acquisition can be completed.
As the saying goes "Most football teams are temperamental. That's 90% temper and 10% mental" (Doug Plank) and Magic Mike's canny inside knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of players and teams, combined with a passion for getting it right is what you need to make an impact in this game. It also means you're going to have to be at your best to out do him.
The Management - Score Five
And now over to Magic Mike...
previous predictions - Round 31.... Round 30.... FA Cup - Last Quarter Final.... Round 29.... FA Cup 6th Round and late 5th Round game!
Manchester United vs Everton at Wembley. A North-West battle for a place in the next month’s final. The FA Cup is all David Moyes’ side has left to play for and this should ensure a blood and thunder encounter against a Manchester United team who are aiming to become the first club to lift the domestic treble. Everton have disposed of Liverpool and Villa to reach the semi and Alex Ferguson knows his side will have to improve on recent performances to beat the Everton threat. Magic expects a tight game with Everton just edging it.
Magic predicts: Manchester United 0 - Everton 1
Arsenal vs Chelsea at Wembley. An all London affair which, like the first semi-final, promises to be a close encounter. Arsenal have Cesc Fabregas back in the side and are scoring plenty of goals. Arsenal will play their usual passing game and will be encouraged to have seen Chelsea’s usually tight defence concede 7 goals in the their last 2 games against Bolton and Liverpool. Despite conceding those goals though, Chelsea did successfully come through both games and Guus Hiddink’s side will be full of confidence going into the game.
Magic predicts: Arsenal 2 - Chelsea 1
Aston Villa vs West Ham United at Villa Park. Stumbling Villa are looking for their first win in 8 games as they try to fend off Everton for a 5th place Premier League finish. Villa fought back froma 3-1 deficit against The Toffees last Sunday and could have Martin Laursen back in the side to bolster their defence that has leaked 15 goals in the last 5 games.
West Ham also have Europe in their sights but allowed Fulham to close the deficit to 1 point for the 7th and last European spot after narrowly losing 1-0 at White Hart Lane last Saturday. West Ham have a similar difficult run-in as Fulham so the race for 7th spot could go down to the final game of the season.
Magic predicts: Aston Villa 3 - West Ham United 0
Middlesbrough vs Fulham at The Riverside. Middlesbrough had to win their game last week against Hull to keep their survival hopes alive and will be under the same pressure for a win against The Cottagers. Despite last week’s win Boro are still in 19th place, but if they can repeat last week’s performance they could lift themselves out of the relegation places.
Roy Hodgson’s Fulham scored another impressive win at Manchester City to boost their hopes of a European place that seemed so unlikely at the start of the season. Clint Dempsey and Danny Murphy have been in inspired form this season and Fulham will be confident they can register their third away win of the season to keep up the pressure on West Ham for 7th place.
Magic predicts: Middlesbrough 1 - Fulham 1
Portsmouth vs Bolton Wanderers at Fratton Park. Portsmouth are still in the thick of the relegation battle after failing to beat the doomed West Brom at home last Saturday. Including today’s game, 4 of their remaining 6 fixtures are against teams in the bottom 8, so a better than evens record in those games should be enough to secure Premier League football at Fratton Park next season.
Gary Megson’s men battled back from a 4 goal deficit against Chelsea, scoring 3 goals in 8 minutes to almost earn themselves an unlikely point. The Trotters need another 3 points to reach the magic 40 point mark for the season which would almost certainly ensure Premiership football next season. Matt Taylor and Kevin Davies have been in fine form for Bolton, and Taylor in particular will be keen to impress against his former club.
Magic predicts: Portsmouth 1 - Bolton Wanderers 1
Stoke City vs Blackburn Rovers at The Britannia Stadium. A massive game for both teams. Stoke’s home form continues to impress and with 11 points from the last 6 league Tony Pullis’s men are on the verge of safety. A late Andy Carroll strike for Newcastle last Saturday denied Stoke a win at home last Saturday but a win today should all but secure Premier League football at The Britannia next season.
Blackburn faced a Liverpool backlash last Saturday going down by 4 goals and Sam Allardyce’s men could be sucked right back into the midst of the relegation battle if they fail to pick up something from this game.
A 6 pointer with both teams going full out for a win.
Magic predicts: Stoke City 2 - Blackburn Rovers 1
Sunderland vs Hull City at The Stadium of Light. Sunderland sank further into relegation trouble with the narrow 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United.That’s just 2 points from the last 7 games for Sunderland and after looking relatively safe they are now deep in the relegation mix. Including this game they do face 4 teams in the bottom eight so safety is still in their own hands.
This is a big game for Hull as 3 out of their remaining 6 fixtures are against teams in the top 5 so it would seem their fate will be decided by their remaining matches against 3 teams, Sunderland, Bolton and Stoke who are still in relegation trouble. Phil Brown’s side will need be looking at securing a minimum of 4 points from these 3 fixtures otherwise Hull may find themselves relegated despite what was a fine start to the season.
Magic predicts: Sunderland 1 - Hull City 0
Manchester City vs West Bromwich Albion at The City of Manchester Stadium. Mark Hughes’ future looks uncertain at Manchester City, following defeat in the UEFA Cup followed by the home league defeat to Fulham. City’s chances of European qualification look unlikely and it remains to be seen whether Hughes will be handed the reins for next season after a disappointing term.
West Brom managed a creditable draw last week at Portsmouth but The Baggies are running out of games to mount a serious survival bid at this stage and are set to return to the Chamionship next season. Tony Mowbray’s men will be playing for pride in the remaining games.
Magic predicts: Manchester City 2 - West Bromwich Albion 1
Tottenham Hotspur vs Newcastle United at White Hart Lane. Tottenham are still in the hunt for a Europa Cup place following the victory against West Ham last week that left Harry Redknapp’s side just 3 points adrift of The Hammers. Qualification for Europe next season would be a tremendous achievement for a side that was bottom of the table after 9 games.
Newcastle fought back to earn themselves a vital point at The Britannia Stadium last Saturday but Alan Shearer’s side still has it all to do to avoid relegation. A visit to White Hart Lane is never easy and with Spurs chasing a European place and in good form at the moment, a much needed victory for the Magpies looks unlikely.
Magic predicts: Tottenham Hotspur 1 - Newcastle United 0
The first midweek game features Liverpool vs Arsenal at Anfield. Livepool quickly have to recover from the disappointment of losing the Champions League quarter- final against Chelsea, in what a pulsating 2nd leg, to continue to carry the fight to Manchester United for the Premier League title. Fernando Torres is coming into form late in the season and Stephen Gerrard should also return to the side after injury. Nothing less than a win will suffice for Rafa Benitez’s men.
2 months ago it looked to be a largely disappointing season for Arsenal; out of Premier League contention and outsiders for a Champions League spot. The Gunners though have won their last 5 league games and progressed to the semi-final of the FA Cup as well as favourites for a Champions League semi-final berth. Club captain Cesc Fabregas has returned from injury and impressed in his 2 games so far. Arsenal cannot win the league and are virtually certain of the 4th spot in the league following Aston Villa’s collapse in their last 7 games. Arsenal can relax going into this one and that is when they can be at their most dangerous.
Magic predicts: Liverpool 2 - Arsenal 0
Chelsea vs Everton at Stamford Bridge Both Chelsea and Everton are coming into this game after FA Cup semi-finals and it could see some changes in their regular starting line-ups if players are rested. Chelsea have the more pressing need to win this game as Guus Hiddink’s side have still not given up the chase for the league title. After Everton’s draw with Aston Villa last Sunday both David Moyes and Martin O’Neill conceded that they cannot now catch Arsenal in 4th place with games running out. Everton will still be playing for pride but Chelsea will have more determination to win the game.
Magic predicts: Chelsea 2 - Everton 1
Manchester United vs Portsmouth at Old Trafford. Sir Alex’s men have stuttered in recent weeks and face a Portsmouth side who are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table. United’s squad strength has been tested in recent weeks and this game coming on the back of a Champions league quarter final and FA Cup semi-final could pose a stern test.
Portsmouth are still in the thick of the relegation battle despite only 1 defeat in their last 6 games. The problem is that with 4 draws in that same sequence they have been unable to pull comfortably clear of the drop zone A visit to Old Trafford is always a daunting task but arguably with the fixture congestion that United are facing as they close in on a 5 trophy haul for the season, this could be the best time for Portsmouth to get a result.
Magic predicts: Manchester United 1 - Portsmouth 0