Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend
Barry Glendenning, Sachin Nakrani and Simon Burnton on 20 October 2017
1) Upbeat Watford can pick at Chelsea’s frailties
After Watford’s victory over Arsenal, and Troy Deeney’s typically forthright reaction to it, the big question as we approach this game concerns the condition of Chelsea’s cojones. Defeat at Crystal Palace last week certainly brought them into doubt, and they followed that by, in Antonio Conte’s words, “totally losing our style of football” in the draw against Roma on Wednesday, when the Italian side battled back from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 and Chelsea “were never in control of the game”. It appears at the moment that, in comparison with last season, Chelsea are somewhat cojone-light. Add to that the injuries affecting Conte’s squad and the wild optimism coursing through Watford’s and this starts to look like a potentially troublesome home fixture for the champions, who will surely be hoping that, having come off the bench to transform the game against Arsenal, Deeney is only a substitute again on Saturday. This is only the second time these teams have ever met in the month of October, the first having ended in a 3-2 away win for Watford in 1984. SB
2) Another City goal feast for Match of the Day viewers?
Burnley have conceded only six league goals this season, a defensive record that is likely to be seriously tested at the Etihad – after all, 25% of Manchester City’s opponents have conceded at least as many in that game alone. The visitors will hope that their day goes better than their trip to City on this weekend in 1925, when, to quote the Guardian’s match report, “the weakness and stupid tactics of their defenders would have lost the game for any side, particularly against such fleet raiders and accurate marksmen as the City forwards”. That match finished 8-3 in City’s favour, an unusual tally rendered even more remarkable by the fact that in their next game, against Sheffield United two days later, City lost by precisely the same scoreline. As they continue to bury opponents under an avalanche of goals, City are without doubt the team everyone wants to watch at the moment, which makes it odd that we are so infrequently getting the chance to do so. This will be the fourth time in five league games that they have kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday, when matches cannot be broadcast live in the UK. They are one of only four teams yet to play a league fixture on a Sunday. City’s first four league games, before they really started purring, were all televised, but only one of their next seven has been or will be. This is, to be clear, an observation rather than a complaint, and they are certainly keeping Match of the Day interesting. SB
3) Big decisions for Wagner as United come to town
Huddersfield were soundly thrashed by Tottenham in their first major test at home against one of the big six and they’ll get a chance to show what, if anything, they learned from that humbling when Manchester United come to town. José Mourinho was roundly criticised for the negative manner in which he set out his stall at Anfield last weekend but will not be as cautious against comparative minnows. With so much smoke currently being blown up the nether regions of his opposite number at Manchester City, personal pride may dictate he demands a statement performance from players who ought to relish playing with the handbrake off after being shackled last weekend. “If you play too high you leave them space in behind, if you play too deep you give them too many opportunities to cross and they are strong in the box as well,” said the Huddersfield manager, David Wagner, before the match against Spurs and he’ll face a similar dilemma here. Huddersfield have failed to score in their past four matches and Wagner will be hoping their record signing, Steve Mounié, will be available after missing five games with a heel problem. The 23-year-old scored twice on his debut against Crystal Palace and has been sorely missed. His return will give us some idea of just how well equipped Wagner’s side are to stay in the top flight. What Huddersfield have shown so far has been occasionally impressive, but will not be enough to keep them up. BG
4) Another demonstration of Leicester City player power?
The transformation in the performances of Leicester’s players following the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri last season was little short of remarkable, so it will be fascinating to see how the occupants of the dressing room react to the sacking of the Italian’s successor when Leicester visit Swansea. Craig Shakespeare was, by most accounts, very popular and the cabal of senior players who were – correctly or incorrectly – blamed for downing tools and getting Ranieri sacked remains largely intact. The righteous indignation with which various Leicester players greeted even the merest suggestion that they might not have been giving their all for the Italian was little short of comical and their reaction to the forced departure of a man they all liked could shed a little more light on who exactly it is that wields the power at Leicester. BG
5) Heat to become unbearable for Koeman in the Meltdown Derby
Welcome to the Meltdown Derby. Two teams, going head to head, knowing defeat will lead to a chunk of their support base unleashing fury across social media, radio phone-ins and good old-fashioned pub tables. In Arsenal’s case it will also lead to some of their fans shouting loudly and angrily to a bloke called Robbie outside Goodison Park, yet ultimately it will mean nothing – Arsène Wenger is going nowhere. That is something that cannot be said of Ronald Koeman. Despite the Dutchman insisting he has the full support of Everton’s major shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, and chairman, Bill Kenwright, there is only so long he can survive while results and performances continue to underwhelm. Following Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to Lyon in the Europa League, the Merseysiders have won just two out of 12 games in all competitions and, in general, operated with little obvious tactical plan and collective belief. Some Everton fans (when not attempting to punch opposition players) have called for the former Holland defender to be sacked and that demand will only intensify should they lose again at the weekend. Lose heavily and it may prove impossible for Moshiri and Kenwright to ignore the ‘fume’. SN
6) A repeat performance from rejuvenated Palace?
After last weekend’s shock triumph over Chelsea, Crystal Palace will almost certainly travel to Newcastle United feeling little short of invincible, with the weight of the world lifted from their shoulders. Their win over Chelsea was no fluke and they were still on the front foot as the match approached its final knockings, although it should be noted the reigning champions were missing key players and played with uncharacteristic atrociousness. As if the return of Wilfried Zaha was not heartwarming enough for Roy Hodgson, the new lease of life his reintegration to the Palace first team appeared to give Andros Townsend was another cause for celebration. The duo wreaked havoc with their direct running at the Chelsea defence and the Newcastle manager, Rafael Benítez, will need to formulate a plan to stop them doing the same to his rearguard. As well as the action on the pitch, Newcastle fans at St James’s Park will no doubt be keeping their eyes peeled for prospective new owners. BG
7) Liverpool still have goalscoring problems to remedy
The last thing that should be said about a team that have just won 7-0 is that they have a problem scoring goals – but Liverpool have a problem scoring goals. It wasn’t evident during their hammering of Maribor on Tuesday, but in general it has been this season. Jürgen Klopp’s side have created plenty of chances but taken only a small percentage, seen most starkly in their back to back 1-1 draws with Spartak Moscow and Newcastle United, which was then followed by that dullest of stalemates with Manchester United, when Liverpool struggled badly to carve open stubbornly defensive opponents. This has led to a debate regarding whether or not Klopp needs to recalibrate his attacking lineup, specifically moving Roberto Firmino out of a false No9 position in order to bring in a genuine No9. The manager is unlikely to do so for this match given that Firmino scored twice against Maribor, and it will be intriguing to see if the player can build on that display against Tottenham at Wembley. There is also an onus on others in red to contribute, particularly the midfielders – Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum have scored only three times between them this campaign. SN
8) More goals from Gabbiadini?
The battle between 10th-placed West Bromwich Albion and 11th-placed Southampton is almost certainly the one they’re all talking about. Early indications suggest these two teams are neither good enough to trouble the top six nor bad enough to flirt with the bottom three. This match between hosts who find it difficult to score and visitors notorious for their parsimonious defence looks a good bet to receive bottom billing on Match of the Day. Against Leicester on Monday, West Brom conceded a late equaliser for the third time this season in the Premier League, a state of affairs that infuriated Tony Pulis. The West Brom manager bemoaned his team’s lack of a killer instinct and inability to “pick teams off”. Having failed to score in eight of their previous nine Premier League home games, Southampton got two against Newcastle last weekend. Manolo Gabbiadini scored both, more than he’d managed in his 15 previous Premier League appearances. West Brom will need to be on their guard against a notoriously streaky striker who has endured similarly barren spells punctuated throughout his career by nine goals in seven games, three in three twice, four in five and eight in 13. Anyone still bothering to update their fantasy football teams could do worse than select the Italian. BG
9) Bournemouth at risk of stoking a backlash
Having played the roles of largely innocent bystanders in the face of one of the most accomplished Premier League performances ever seen last weekend, the manner in which Stoke react to their mauling at the hands of Manchester City will be intriguing. They were the first team to score twice against City this season, but Stoke’s confidence must still have been dented by their utter helplessness in the face of such a mesmerising attacking performance. They are at least unlikely to ship seven against a struggling Bournemouth side that have yet to win a point on the road this season. Eddie Howe’s team will hope to stick a couple of boots into a team whose heads are down, but could instead find themselves on the end of a furious backlash. BG
10) Bilic relying on a Hernández revival
With Andy Carroll suspended for Friday night’s visit of Brighton and Diafra Sakho suffering from back pain, Slaven Bilic will desperately be hoping Javier Hernández shakes off a hamstring injury to spearhead West Ham’s attack. Hernández has struggled since scoring twice in the Hammers’ 3-2 defeat at Southampton on 19 August, with only one goal in his past nine showings – also coming in a 3-2 defeat, against Tottenham. Exactly a year ago the Mexican striker began a 16-match goalless streak for Bayer Leverkusen, ending in late January; right now his under-pressure manager cannot afford something similar and needs Hernández to spark into life at the London Stadium. LO
• This article has been amended. It previously said Diafra Sakho would be likely to start for West Ham against Brighton. He is ruled out with a back injury.