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 33+ FA Cup Semis.... Round 32.... Round 31.... Round 30.... FA Cup - Last Quarter Final
Bolton Wanderers vs Aston Villa at The Reebok Stadium. On the back of two away defeats by the odd goal, the Trotters are still looking for another 3 points that will almost certainly guarantee top flight football at The Reebok Stadium next season. A home game against an out-of-form Villa represents a golden opportunity to end any lingering doubts.
Martin O’Neill’s Villa's win-less sequence was extended to eight games in what has been a dramatic tail-off in form. Just over two months ago Villa looked destined for Champions League qualification, but are now struggling to hold onto 5th spot under Everton’s challenge. Villa’s form can be directly linked to the absence of club captain Martin Laursen, who had originally been scheduled to return from injury in early April but who has now been ruled out to the end of the season.
Magic predicts: Bolton Wanderers 1 - Aston Villa 1
Everton vs Manchester City at Goodison Park. Since last Saturday Everton fans have been celebrating winning their FA Cup semi-final and booking a first FA Cup final appearance for 19 years. Now the Toffees return to league action looking to overhaul Aston Villa for 5th spot in the league. Everton beat City in the earlier league meeting at Eastlands and will be looking for a similar outcome from this game.
Manchester City kept their chance of playing in Europe next season alive last Sunday, but now face a stern test on the road. With just eight points collected in away games this season, City will have to show more resolve against an Everton side that has 5th place in their sights,
Magic predicts: Everton 2 - Manchester City 0
Fulham vs Stoke City at Craven Cottage. Fulham are still pursuing a European place just one point behind 7th place West Ham and will be looking for their 10th league win at The Cottage.
Stoke look to have secured their Premier League status for next season with a 1-0 victory over Blackburn last Saturday. Liam Lawrence’s strike took The Potters to 39 points for the season and the pressure is now off for the remaining 5 games of the season. Based on Fulham’s home and Stoke’s away records Fulham will be hot favourites to take all 3 points.
Magic predicts: Fulham 2 - Stoke City 0
Hull City vs Liverpool at The Kingston Communications Stadium. The Tiger’s post Christmas form has being nothing short of a disaster. They now have five games left to save their skins, but with the remaining fixtures including this week's visitors Liverpool, Manchester United and Aston Villa, Hull’s chance of reaching the magic 40 points look to be fast dissipating.
Liverpool will be looking for all 3 points in their pursuit of Manchester United as the Premier league is now The Reds' last chance of silverware this season. A draw is of little use to them and although Phil Brown would, I believe, gladly settle for a point, his side badly need a 3 point haul from at least 1 of their remaining 5 games to survive.
Magic predicts: Hull City 0 - Liverpool 2
West Bromwich Albion vs Sunderland at The Hawthorns. West Brom are already resigned to their fate following last Sunday’s defeat at Manchester City. They would now need to win all their remaining five games to survive, which just isn’t going to happen. Tony Mowbray’s side will be still playing for pride and contracts, and would like to sign off their Premiership campaign by giving something for their fans to cheer.
Sunderland scored a vital win over Hull last Saturday in the critical relegation battle which eased their relegation fears. One more victory this week could be enough to secure their survival and confirm West Brom’s relegation.
Magic predicts: West Bromwich Albion 1 - Sunderland 0
West Ham United vs Chelsea at Upton Park. Gianfranco Zola and his assistant Steve Clarke entertain their former employers Chelsea in what promises to be an entertaining London derby. West Ham under Zola have played some fine football this season and Zola will be looking to end Chelsea’s Chamionship challenge.
Guus Hiddink’s side booked their FA Cup final place beating Arsenal and now turn their attention to the league. To have any chance of winning the league, Chelsea would need to win all five of their remaining games and hope that both Manchester United and Liverpool slip up.
Magic predicts: West Ham United 1 - Chelsea 2
The late Saturday kick-off sees Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. Sir Alex played some of his promising young players in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Everton. This time it's more likely that he will play a full strength side as nothing less than 3 points will suffice from this game. With United’s title rivals, Liverpool and Chelsea, in action earlier, United will know exactly what they need to do to maintain their lead.
Tottenham are still in the hunt for a European place following last week’s victory over Newcastle. This game is one that Spurs wouldn’t be expecting to win but, as they are now safe, they will be in relaxed mood and able to give it their best shot. Harry Redknapp will be also out for revenge following the Carling Cup final defeat at Wembley two months ago.
Magic predicts: Manchester United 1 - Tottenham Hotspur 0
Arsenal vs Middlesbrough at The Emirates Stadium. Following last Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea, Arsenal’s last chance of silverware this season is the Champions League. Although The Gunners look safe in 4th place in the Premier League, they will be looking to entertain their fans in the remaining league games. With Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott back in the side after injury, Arsenal’s goals/games ratio has increased dramatically.
Middlesbrough are deep in relegation trouble and a visit to The Emirates wouldn’t be on the top of Gareth Southgate’s list in the pursuit of points. With Manchester United and Aston Villa also included in Boro’s remaining fixtures, an escape route is looking more and more unlikely and with a goals tally of only 34 for the season, the lowest in the Premier League. It’s difficult to see where goals to save Borough's season will come from.
Magic predicts: Arsenal 2 - Middlesbrough 0
Blackburn Rovers vs Wigan Athletic at Ewood Park. A Lancashire derby with Sam Allardyce’s side still deep in the relegation mix. They have three home matches remaining including this one and will be looking for a haul of 6 points or more from these games to see them safe.
Wigan still have European aspirations, Steve Bruce’s side were out of action last weekend due to their scheduled opponents, Manchester United, being involved in an FA Cup semi-final and will be be looking to return to form after sustaining two heavy defeats in their last two games against Everton and Arsenal.
Magic predicts: Blackburn Rovers 1 - Wigan Athletic 1
Round 34 is completed with the Monday night fixture Newcastle United vs Portsmouth at St James Park. Alan Shearer is still looking for his first win and this is a game that Newcastle have to win following their latest away defeat to Tottenham. With just 30 points so far, The Magpies are 4 points adrift of safety and will need at least 3 wins from their remaining 5 matches to survive.
Portsmouth are almost safe following last week’s home victory against Bolton. Another win would take Pompey to the 40 points mark. A victory at Newcastle would virtually guarantee their safety and put Newcastle on the brink of Championship football next season.
Magic predicts: Newcastle United 1 - Portsmouth 0