Saturday 12th March
12.45 Norwich v Manchester City
In 1919, Edwin Hubble (he of the telescope ‘fame’) would begin a brilliant career at the Carnegie Institution’s Mount Wilson Observatory and remained there the rest of his working days.
Difficult though it may be for us to believe at this remove, at the time, the prevailing view was that the Milky Way galaxy in which we find ourselves was the entirety of the universe. At Mount Wilson, Hubble was one of the first to observe and prove that there were galaxies far beyond our own, thus forever widening the margins of human imagination and knowledge.
His later work in relation to the redshift of galaxies began to suggest that the universe was not only expanding but was in fact accelerating. This work compelled Einstein himself to correct his so-called ‘biggest blunder’ as such a consideration had occurred to him whilst he worked out his general theory of relativity and, as he assumed it to be a mistake on his part, he had introduced a mathematical fudge to square things.
And so, from a single decade earlier when the common consensus held that the whole of the universe was our very own Milky Way, we now knew that the observable universe was unimaginably bigger and older than anything we had previously imagined.
From these incredible realisations came some cosmically grave truths. The speed of the expanding universe will, at some point in the distance, overtake the speed of light. It is then that we shall start to see familiar constellations begin to disappear from view. No more shall we gaze upon Orion’s Belt and think back to the ancient Egyptians and the pyramids they built in honour of their cosmological guides*. The romance of a witching hour amble on wild and remote ways with the heavenly blanket of stars above to caress and guide you will be gone. In the end, there will be nothing but our sun, if it hasn’t already died of sheer loneliness. The night sky will be pitch black and we will be alone.
Those thoughts bring more cheer to this column’s cracking mind than some of the matches on show this weekend and probably most especially this one. What could we possibly tell you that you don’t already know? Norwich have taken four points from a possible thirty since the start of the year and look set for the knacker’s yard, which, in this column’s eyes, is a shame as they have two of Ireland’s best players in the shape of Brady and Hoolohan in their ranks but them’s the breaks.
Manchester City have spent more in the last seven years than the entire GDP of Somaliland, Tuvalu, Chad, Suriname and likely many other countries around the world. Last week they got spanked by Liverpool in an abysmal show of disinterest. True, they still have the CL and Pep Guardiola will be joining in the summer but this column feels more excitement about the eventual incineration of this planet and the erasing of every bit of history that we have ever known than anything this team might be arsed doing. Shock horror, City should win. Best price for the seemingly inevitable is 8/13 from those thoroughly honourable men in PaddyPower. Those with a sunnier disposition might look at Norwich for an unlikely home win at 11/2 from BetVictor.
* Some poetic license involved as this column is fully aware that Orion’s belt will no longer hold its position as we see it now that far into the future.
15.00 Bournemouth v Swansea
Some days you just want to throw your hat at it even before you’ve even taken said hat down from its appropriate stand. What would warrant such an extreme reaction? The hat has done nothing untoward and in fact might be of great use should the heavens outside open up. It might be that you have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed in the morning but as most people are aware, that usually means you’ve done nothing other than stub your toes and headbutted the wall. In that case, it might well be a good idea to wear the hat just to cover up any bruising.
But learning that a match between 14th placed Bournemouth and 16th placed Swansea is taking place in the afternoon… Well, that puts a whole different spin upon it. The more eagle-eyed and intuitive among you may have picked up on the odd negative vibe or two but we will plead for your patience and understanding. Sometimes all you need is a spark and some dry tinder to encourage a flame but what are you hoping to warm?
In truth, there is some joy to be found in Bournemouth’s maiden PL season. Like Burnley last year, they knew they were underdogs coming in but looked to make the most of it. Whilst Burnley were content to be dogged and parsimonious, safe in the knowledge that the money banked would be of benefit in the medium to long term, Bournemouth have decided to be more proactive and positive in outlook. At times they have faltered with both players and manager looking out of their depth but just take a look at them now, 11 points above the relegation zone and closer to 7th than they are to 18th.
Swansea, too, have some reason to bask in a photon-infused glow. They have picked up fourteen points since the turn of the year with six of those coming in their last pair of outings. Although they sit two places below the Swans in the league, they have secured a nine point cushion between them and 18th placed Norwich. The placid prince of fire and ice, Gylfi Gudjohnsen, has been scoring goals on a regular basis of late and is the jewel in their crown of their play. Allowing for their struggles this season, they were incredibly impressive last season with largely the same team so it is difficult to countenance them being in any real danger of relegation this season.
It would be unlike Bournemouth to settle for a draw coming into this match but it is similarly difficult to imagine either team managing to steamroll the other, they are evenly matched in a lot of areas and both are coming into this on the back of some good form. This column has a hunch that a draw is the likeliest outcome. MarathonBet have the best and weirdest price for that outcome with 53/21 on offer there.
Sunday 13th March
16.00 Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur
There once was a very naughty creature called the Minotaur who lived in the centre of a cleverly constructed maze. He was the offspring of some strange maneuverings between woman and beast; such a union was hardly conducive to a balanced demeanor on the part of the Minotaur and so, to satisfy its weird moods, every few years about 14 young boys and girls were shipped out from Athens with promises of a summer camp only to be dumped in the maze and get eaten by the thing. That’s a serious lack of parenting skills.
The Villains of Aston, at this point in their long and illustrious history, aren’t too dissimilar to those deceived young Athenians. In order to appease the hubris and negligence which has been displayed over the years by the powers that be, most weeks the players are thrown into a maze from which there is no escape, where their honour and hopes for survival are cruelly lashed and torn. Be it home or away, they are the space where hope goes to die.
Spurs need this match like a parasite needs a host – a flabby, moribund creature from which it can extract some much-needed sustenance and grow fat with renewed confidence. Somewhat surprisingly, Spurs rested a large number of senior players in their match away to Borussia Dortmund in their Europa League first leg loss. It had seemed that they might actively pursue both that competition and the league but the boss man has obviously decided that their priorities lie with the latter. They are all in.
Villa’s record of late has been noteworthy for the fact that theirs is not the worst form in the league over the last five games (that honour belongs to Palace and Norwich respectively, ironically the only teams Villa have managed to beat this calendar year) but in terms of reaching out for anything to hold on to, that there is a cactus. Spurs have wobbled lately with a draw and two losses in their last three games but it’s difficult to envisage anything other than them eviscerating this poor, doomed Aston Villa side. Best price for the heavy favourites to win is 8/15 from ToteSport and a host of others.