Premier League 2012, Week 21 Preview And Fixtures: Top Sides Hope To Thwart Opportunity For Everyone To Laugh At Them For A Week

Manchester City Manager Roberto Mancini looks on prior to the Carling Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some weeks, the Premier League's big guns face tough challenges that help to separate the Champions from the also-rans. Other weeks they play Wigan, Bolton and Wolves. (This is one of the other weeks.)

Good to have that FA Cup business out of the way for a bit; now we can get back to the Premier League, where the gaps in talent are just as big but the money involved is universally appalling!

Saturday January 14th

Aston Villa vs. Everton

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); Villa Park

In this edition of a "I Swear We Were Big Clubs Once" Cup, all of America holds its breath as Landon Donovan breathes the same air as Alan Hutton.

Pick: Draw, 1-1

Blackburn Rovers vs. Fulham

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); Ewood Park

Blackburn stunned the Premier League on New Year's Eve with an away win, and suddenly people began wondering whether Steve Kean's Rovers had turned a corner and were close to putting their relegation worries behind them.

Nope.

Pick: Fulham, 2-1

Chelsea vs. Sunderland

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); Stamford Bridge

Sunderland are certainly enjoying the new manager bump, no? Since Martin O'Neill has been on the sidelines, the Black Cats have taken 13 of 18 points - outscoring their opponents 11-6 - and rocketed up the table. They've done it against some pretty good teams as well, their only loss coming in a close fought contest at White Hart Lane and one of their wins a vintage MON upset at the Etihad. Things haven't gone quite so smoothly for Andre Villas-Boas, but that's an old story that's not interesting any more since he probably won't be getting sacked and we can't call it a CRISIS! with a straight face.

Personally, I find the difference in the fashion sense of the managers to be the most interesting thing about this match; AVB oozes cosmopolitan, continental cool with his exquisitely tailored suits, perfectly mussed hair and stubble that is eternally three days old while MON is a grown man who wears pajamas.

Pick: Sunderland, 2-1

Liverpool vs. Stoke City

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); Anfield

People will care about this game because it has Liverpool in it, but the reality is were this exact same Reds team Fulham (just for an example) no one would shut up about how awful and boring this game were going to be. Liverpool is Liverpool, and in a lot of ways they're headed in a good direction, but they are currently less fun to watch than Stoke (Stoke!) and unless you are in some way emotionally invested this game is probably going to be awful.

Pick: Liverpool, 1-0

Manchester United vs. Bolton

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); Old Trafford

United have their problems, but they're still capable of putting up some ridiculous numbers. Against a Bolton defense that would serve as an adequate substitute for a colander should you need to drain some pasta (why would you need to drain pasta on a football pitch?)

You can really look at this one of two ways; United have lost two straight league games! Bolton can take advantage while they're down and knick something here!Or, alternatively; United have lost two straight league games! They're going to be pissed. Bolton is doomed.

:(

Pick: United, 4-1

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); White Hart Lane

There's really no way around it; if Manchester United are still title contenders, Spurs are title contenders. They're also loads of fun to watch, a team that was in the bottom half of the table five years ago, and proof that clubs can compete with the Premier League oligarchy without fortuitous buyout.

I know they're not the most popular club amongst neutrals, but time to hop on the bandwagon y'all; they're the lesser of six evils.

Pick: Spurs, 3-1

West Bromwich Albion vs. Norwich City

15:00 GMT (10:00 AM ET); The Hawthrorns

Indicative of the current crunch in the middle of the Premier League table, 15th place West Brom could catch 9th place Norwich City (in points at least) with a win in this game. The definition is a lot clearer at the very top and very bottom, but once again the rest of the league is jam-packed into a big, huge pile of (relative) mediocrity. Good news for newly-promoted sides like Norwich, not so good news for a side trying to become a permanent top-flight presence like West Brom.

Pick: Draw, 2-2

Sunday January 15th

Newcastle United vs. Queens Park Rangers

12:30 GMT (8:30 AM ET); Sports Direct Arena

After a very promising start, things have gone to hell in a handbasket for QPR. Just a point above the drop zone, Joey Barton making noises about wanting to leave, Neil Warnock sacked, Mark Hughes in. The newly promoted London side will be hoping to get a bump similar to that enjoyed by Sunderland, but Newcastle (despite a major dip from their early-season form) is a tough way for Hughes to start his tenure.

Pick: Newcastle, 2-1

Swansea City vs. Arsenal

17:00 GMT (11:00 AM ET); Liberty Stadium

Is it possible for both teams to have 65% of the possession?

Pick: Arsenal, 2-1

Monday January 16th

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City

20:00 GMT (3:00 PM ET); DW Stadium

Given how many times they've done it before, I fully expect Roberto Martinez's Latics to turn things around and manage yet another escape from the relegation zone. But I do not expect it to happen this week. Poor, poor Latics.

Pick: City, 3-0

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