With the Premier League returning after the international break, we take a closer look at the games in Matchday Five.
Currently 1st in the Premier League, Everton have been one of the best teams to watch in the league so far this season. Saturday’s Merseyside derby is the most keenly anticipated derby for quite a while. A win against their city rivals would send a direct message their excellent start to the season is not flash in the pan.
Losing 7-2 to Aston Villa was a massive blow to the aura of invincibility Liverpool had in the league. Furthermore, losing Alisson for at least the next month means relying on Adrián, who played poorly at Villa Park.
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The return of Sadio Mané and Thiago Alcântara from COVID-19 is timely for manager Jürgen Klopp seeing Naby Keïta tested positive for COVID-19 while on international duty for Guinea. A win at Goodison Park will be the perfect remedy after their heavy defeat to Aston Villa.
Prediction – Everton 2-2 Liverpool
A flurry of goals at Goodison Park
Chelsea got back to winning ways by comfortably beating Crystal Palace prior to the international break. Yet Édouard Mendy’s thigh injury while on duty with Senegal means Frank Lampard could be forced to play Kepa Arrizabalaga or Willy Caballero.
Nevertheless, such worries are balanced with the impending debut of Hakim Ziyech, keenly anticipated by Chelsea fans that hope he can replicate his scintillating form for Ajax. The return of Christian Pulisic is a major boost for Lampard, as the American was in brilliant form before his injury in the FA Cup final.
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Southampton came into the international break in good form with back to back clean sheet league wins. Chelsea represent a tough test, but Southampton will take solace in what happened last season when they stunned Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with a 2-0 win on the 26th December 2019.
Danny Ings was a substitute in that game and the England international will represent a threat against what is a vulnerable Chelsea defence. Whoever scores first at Stamford Bridge could decide the game.
Prediction – Chelsea 2-1 Southampton
Southampton to push Chelsea very hard
It is rare for a Pep Guardiola side to go without a win in two league games, though alarm bells may not be ringing, there is cause for concern at their vulnerability in defence.
Errors are creeping into Manchester City’s game – conceding penalties against Leicester City and Ederson’s error that led to Leeds’ equaliser. Despite the reinforcements in defence, it is intriguing if Guardiola deploys a high defensive line against the Gunners, especially after what happened in the FA Cup semi final last season.
Manchester City will also be sweating on Kevin De Bruyne’s fitness as he is doubtful after missing Belgium’s game against England in midweek. As for Arsenal, the mood is one of real positivity after a successful transfer window culminated in the deadline day signing of Thomas Partey from Atlético Madrid.
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The Ghanaian brings such dynamism in his anticipation to break up opposition play, before quickly transitioning into offense with his passing. Liverpool saw in the Champions League last season just how effective Partey can be.
Mikel Arteta will feel the loss of Kieran Tierney (self-isolating despite intense lobbying from Arsenal), as it means they will likely deploy three centre backs, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Bukayo Saka at left wing back.
Prediction – Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal
Arsenal to miss Tierney’s absence.
Newcastle have started the season quite well, with seven points from 12 a decent haul, especially with goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka forecasted to be out injured until December. .
Callum Wilson has proven an inspired signing with the striker netting four out of their six league goals. There was further good news for Newcastle as Allan Saint-Maximin signed a contract extension until 2026. The Magpies will hope the good news continues against Manchester United – a team they beat last season in Newcastle. They will hope that history repeats itself.
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Manchester United were one of the biggest disappointments from the transfer window. Acquiring Edinson Cavani, Alex Telles, Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo on deadline day were not the buys they were hoping for (excluding Telles) when linked with Jadon Sancho in August and September.
The 6-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur should have spurred the club to make moves in the market to sort out their weaknesses. Failing to acquire Ole Gunner Solskjær’s main targets only served to anger fans. A win at Newcastle, albeit without the suspended Anthony Martial, will smooth the cracks.
Prediction – Newcastle United 1-1 Manchester United
The pressure deepens for Solskjær.
Sheffield United’s manager Chris Wilder had good reason to feel aggrieved after his side’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal. David Luiz should have seen a red card for a shirt tug on Oliver Burke that denied him a goalscoring opportunity – the same type of decision that led to John Egan seeing red at Aston Villa.
Luck seemingly is not on the Blades’ side, as they languish second from bottom with zero points. Despite conceding just 6 goals, they have scored just once. Signing Rhian Brewster from Liverpool is a good move after impressing on loan at Swansea City in the Championship last season.
Photo: Sheffield United
Fulham sit at the bottom of the table yet have finally brought in defensive reinforcements in Joachim Andersen, Tosin Adarabioyo and return of Terence Kongolo. They’ll certainly be a upgrade on a defence that has already conceded 11 goals in the league after four games.
Being pointless after four games was not how Fulham wanted to start the season. The Cottagers need to get some points on the board or face the likelihood of relegation before the year is out.
Prediction – Sheffield United 2-1 Fulham.
The Blades to get their first league win
Crystal Palace headed into the international break smarting from a heavy 4-0 defeat to Chelsea. Though fans are still not in attendance, the M23 derby against Brighton will be a full blooded affair.
It could mean Roy Hodgson might decide to be slightly open and utilise Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze, Michi Batshuayi and Andros Townsend in a more attacking game plan to take the game to Brighton. Fortune does favours the bold.
As for Brighton, the Seagulls hope to bounce back from a 4-2 defeat at Everton two weeks ago with a win on Sunday. There were glimpses of what the Seagulls are capable of – Neal Maupay continuing his good start to the season by scoring four goals in as many league games.
Manager Graham Potter might use their 2-0 win at Newcastle three weeks earlier as a template against Palace. Strike early, utilise the full backs and negate the opponent’s ability to create opportunities. Tariq Lamptey and Leandro Trossard can be spark for Brighton to gain bragging rights at Selhurst Park.
Prediction – Crystal Palace 2-1 Brighton
Palace to gain bragging rights in South London
Spurs head into Sunday’s game with great confidence after tearing Manchester United apart. The way Spurs’ front three tore their opponents to bits was impressive. One notable performance was Pierre-Emile Højbjerg whose passing from midfield was incisive, like his assist for Serge Aurier.
The only drawback is José Mourinho’s concern at England manager Gareth Southgate playing Harry Kane against Denmark in midweek, even though Southgate said he had muscle fatigue. With Kane prone to long term injury layoffs in past seasons, you can see why Mourinho is worried.
After losing 2-1 at Arsenal last month, I wrote of my worries for West Ham ahead of a tough fixture list, with some observers worrying their first points wouldn’t come until November. Such worries have proved unfounded, as West Ham upset the form book with impressive back to back wins against Wolves and Leicester City.
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Beating such strong opposition means facing Spurs isn’t as imposing as it might have been at the start of the season. The return of manager David Moyes to the touchline after testing COVID-19 is also welcome.
Prediction – Tottenham 1-0 West Ham
Tottenham to get the three points
Defeat to West Ham was a timely dose of reality to Leicester City. Brendan Rodgers rightly lambasted their performance, calling his side’s performance poor and rueing the absence of Dennis Praet and James Maddison.
As a result, the international break has come at a good time for the Foxes to recharge their batteries and focus on getting back to winning ways. Reinforcements in Wesley Fofana and Cengiz Ünder provide competition and options in defence alongside their attack.
When coming off such a outstanding win like Aston Villa’s 7-2 thrashing of the league champions, the international break is good timing for manager Dean Smith to reflect and importantly build on such a display.
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The players will want to prove their win against Liverpool wasn’t a fluke but the start of something special like the glory days of Martin O’Neill when Villa competed for European football. A win against Leicester might make the past a possible reality.
Prediction – Leicester City 2-0 Aston Villa
Leicester City to go back to winning ways.
Many journalists and observers expected West Brom to struggle, with one point out of 12 proof of why the Baggies are favourites for relegation. However, that point gained against Chelsea showed they shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
Impressive individual displays from Callum Robinson, Grady Diagrana and Mathieus Pereira show the Baggies have creativity within them to trouble teams. Yet it is the defence that has let them down and must improve in a crucial game at The Hawthorns.
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The solace for West Brom is they have a point to their name – for Burnley they have none whatsoever. Repeatedly over the last month I have spoken of the Tykes’ lack of recruitment and injury worries being a source of concern.
Both issues have at least been addressed with Dale Stephens bought from Brighton for less than £1 million and Ben Gibson on loan from Norwich bringing depth to a thin squad. Having players like Johann Berg Gudmundsson possibly return from injury will help manager Sean Dyche. Burnley need a win for their next two league games are at home to Tottenham and Chelsea.
Prediction – West Brom 2-1 Burnley
The Baggies’ creative outlets to be the difference.
Leeds put down a significant marker by holding Manchester City to a draw two weeks ago. Marcelo Bielsa and his players showed they are not in the Premier League just to survive but to take the game to their opponents.
With the international break over, Leeds will try to lay down another marker against Wolves. It should be a interesting tactical battle and one where attacking football will take precedent. Seven points from an available 12 shows that for the moment their philosophy under Bielsa is working.
Victory against Fulham before the international break was a much needed tonic for Wolves after the debacle at West Ham. Two wins and two draws from four games is a middling start for Nuno Espírito Santo and his players.
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Dropping points against teams in the bottom half has been their Achilles’ heel in the last two seasons they have been in the Premier League and has stopped Wolves from achieving their lofty ambitions. Concentration is the key for Wolves when facing Leeds on Monday night or they face a daunting night at Elland Road.
Prediction – Leeds United 2-1 Wolves
Leeds’ attacking corps to silence Wolves
By: Yousef Teclab
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tony McArdle – Everton FC / Simon Stacpoole – Offside