It's a new set of fixtures, all free to Sky and BT customers, so let's get right into it!
Game of the week
Chelsea vs Tottenham Hotspur: Stamford Bridge, Sunday, 16.30 (Sky Sports)
The master versus the apprentice, part three. And this is the biggest one yet!
Jose Mourinho is embarking on a remarkable personal recovery from the adversity that he was left in after his time as Manchester United manager. The Portuguese had lost the dressing room at Old Trafford, leaving the club in the middle of the table with a tattered reputation. But his more pragmatic style of play is starting to work at Tottenham Hotspur as he seeks to build a steely resilience into his players.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has been a revelation since his move from Southampton. The midfielder is a no-nonsense operator in-front of the back four, sweeping up danger and playing the ball forward. One might say he is N’Golo Kante on a budget! He has been a vital cog in Mourinho’s wheel and his understated contributions have often been the catalyst for goals that Tottenham have scored at the other end.
Frank Lampard was backed heavily in the summer with over £200-million splashed out on new arrivals. It was taking the Blues a while to get into their stride because many new signings weren’t initially ready and those that were needed time to settle. Now that they have a full group to choose from, however, we are beginning to see glimpses of this squad’s incredible potential.
This game will be like chess. Unlike Pep Guardiola, Lampard isn’t tethered to a particular philosophy. We have already seen him tinker with formations and playing style in order to try and win points. Such tactical tinkering is straight out of the Mourinho playbook. Both managers will be keen to outdo the other but, with such intricacies on display, it could well end in a stalemate.
Crystal Palace vs Newcastle United: Selhurst Park, 20.00 (Amazon Prime)
Crystal Palace looked very short of ideas against Burnley without their talisman, Wilfried Zaha, who was self isolating after testing positive for coronavirus. Eberechi Eze, the big-money summer signing, was Palace’s main inspiration at Turf Moor. Eze is a super talent and he looked like he had the Burnley defenders on strings at times, but he lacked Zaha’s ruthless edge in the final third. Roy Hodgson will be desperate to welcome Zaha back.
Newcastle United, similarly, have looked devoid of ideas in attack. Steve Bruce makes no apologies for his focus on defensive structure but even his defence has looked vulnerable of late. Chelsea won 2-0 last weekend but they could have scored five or six. Like Hodgson with Zaha, Bruce will be praying that Callum Wilson is now available after missing the Chelsea match with a small injury.
Early signs suggest that both Zaha and Wilson could be available for the Friday night match. That will mean so much to two teams that are desperately short on goal-getters. You never know, there might be some goals in this one!
Brighton & Hove Albion vs Liverpool: AMEX Stadium, 12.30 (BT Sport)
Last week, we witnessed a Brighton & Hove Albion performance that delivered three points! You have to go back to the second match of the season, a 3-0 demolition of Newcastle, to recapture that feeling. The general consensus had been that Graham Potter’s players were playing good football and that luck simply hadn’t been on their side. What their win against Aston Villa did illustrate was the importance of going ahead in matches; the Seagulls, like most teams, are far more effective when they aren’t chasing a match.
The way Liverpool dismantled in-form Leicester City was very impressive; the Champions were without several key players but they adapted to the situation and comfortably won the match. Nobody should underestimate the mentality and character of this Liverpool group. That stems from Jurgen Klopp. The German demands 110% from everybody on the field and his position at the centre of the club creates a culture. Klopp is a wonderful tactician but he also creates a never-say-die mindset and the importance of that cannot be understated. That being said, a 2-0 midweek defeat to Atalanta will have somewhat dampened the optimism.
The suspended Tariq Lamptey is a huge loss for Brighton. His bursts forward from right-wing-back have caused problems to so many teams this season. Without Lamptey, the hosts lack that unpredictability in attack. They will hope to build on the Villa victory but striking a blow on Liverpool will be very tough, especially with Mohammed Salah set to return to the fold.
Manchester City vs Burnley: Etihad Stadium, 15.00 (BT Sport)
This fixture always finishes 5-0 or at least it seems to!
Manchester City seem to be struggling to maintain their intensity amid this manic schedule. Defensively, they look much more assured but they are lacking zip in attack. Their 100 point team often deployed an attack of Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane. Now, Aguero is often on the sidelines, Sane has left and Sterling is struggling for form. Guardiola needs an attacking three, like Liverpool, who play consistently well.
Burnley recorded their first victory of the season against Crystal Palace and it was badly needed. The Clarets had been improving their defensive resolve before the second international break but they looked rather toothless up-front. Jay Rodriguez’s return to the starting eleven helped to make the Burnley attack that little bit more dynamic; it gave Chris Wood more to work with and the New Zealand international looked like a different player.
City love facing Sean Dyche’s team at the Etihad. Burnley struggle because they sit deep with virtually no pace to counter with. Guardiola’s team can play with a defensive-line that basically sits halfway up the field and that means they can slowly wear Burnley down with territorial possession. They aren’t scoring as many as they usually do so getting five goals might just be out of reach this time.
Everton vs Leeds United: Goodison Park, 17.30 (Sky Sports)
This is the low-key best game of the weekend!
Everton battled hard to a 3-2 victory at Fulham to secure a first win in five matches. It was a match that was symptomatic of their silky attacking football and their less convincing back-line. It does seem to be the case that Dominic Calvert-Lewin will manage to find the net at some point so, as an opposition, you have to be prepared to attack the Toffees.
How Leeds United didn’t win against Arsenal is anybody’s guess. Patrick Bamford missed a number of chances and Bernd Leno pulled off some excellent saves. Marcelo Bielsa had been criticised in some quarters for being too attacking but their middle-of-the-road league position begs to differ with those doubters. Just enjoy it! There will be ups and there will be downs but at least you will be entertained.
Honestly, this scoreline could be anything. What is worth mentioning is that both teams do have some top players at the bottom end of the pitch. The reason they look shaky at the back is because both Carlo Ancelotti and Bielsa set-up to attack first.
West Bromwich Albion vs Sheffield United: The Hawthorns, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
In alternative news, this is also the biggest game of the weekend! Quite simply, both of these teams are in must-win territory, particularly Sheffield United.
The Blades are not in a good place. They are losing matches that are in the balance on too many occasions. Games at home to Fulham, Leeds and West Ham United are presentable opportunities to get points on the board. A return of one point from nine is simply not good enough. Their performances against some of the bigger teams, particularly Liverpool and Arsenal, have been admirable, but they need to use that as impetus to pick up points in the easier fixtures. Unfortunately for them, they haven’t been able to do that.
West Bromwich Albion, like their opponents, are also winless in the league. There have been similar patterns in Albion’s season to those of Sheffield United. Slaven Bilic has done well to get his team competing after a worryingly sluggish opening day defeat to Leicester. At that point, some were saying that the writing was already on the wall but the Baggies have bounced back. They have given good accounts of themselves in most matches, taking a point from Chelsea and giving a few scares to the likes of Tottenham and Manchester United.
This is a clash between two honest teams that are lacking a punch. They have heart, character and desire but they do not seem to have a knockout blow. Both teams will approach this with the view of having to take the game to the other because it feels as though it's entering the last chance saloon. How ironic would it be if the league’s two winless teams shared the spoils in this clash?
Southampton vs Manchester United: St Mary’s, 14.00 (Sky Sports)
Southampton are on a wonderful run of form: unbeaten since their heavy loss in the second gameweek to Tottenham. Since then, Ralph Hasenhuttl has seen his side grow tremendously. Even without the talismanic Danny Ings, the Saints breezed past Newcastle United before holding Wolverhampton Wanderers to a point at Molineux. They have rediscovered their mojo and the high-intensity game is back to its best.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have been delighted to finally shake the curse of Old Trafford off his back. This season, United hadn’t won a Premier League match on home soil and they made hard work of it against West Brom. But they got the job done. This match could be much more suited to the Red Devils, however, as Southampton will try to take the game to them. Such an approach will leave more spaces in behind for the in-form Bruno Fernandes to take advantage of. The Portuguese star has five goals in his last three matches, including a double in midweek against Istanbul Basaksehir.
Southampton don’t have a particularly watertight defence and their attacking style could well be their undoing. It all depends on how sharp their opponents are. Che Adams will certainly fancy his chances against United’s questionable defensive pairing but, if the visitors play on the counter, they should have some joy.
Arsenal vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Emirates Stadium, 19.15 (Sky Sports)
Arsenal started so promisingly but that early season momentum has quickly evaporated. Mikel Arteta has taken on an incredibly difficult challenge for his first managerial position. His work on the defensive structure of the team has been very noticeable but, unfortunately, those efforts seem to have affected Arsenal’s attacking efforts. The creativity for the attackers is lacking but the efforts of the forward players have also left a lot to be desired. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang has disappeared after signing his big-money deal.
Wolves are ticking along nicely, particularly in light of their energy-sapping endeavours in the 2019-20 season. They also switched to a back-four for the first time in the Premier League under Nuno Espirito Santo after an injury to Connor Coady. Nonetheless, the formation switch upset their rhythm and they fought hard in their 1-1 draw against Southampton.
This game will be enticing for the visitors. Wolves enjoy being the underdog, relishing the opportunity to soak up pressure and pick off their opponents on the counter-attack. But Arsenal showed some excellent resilience after Pepe’s dismissal against Leeds, holding out for a well earned point.
Leicester City vs Fulham: King Power Stadium, 17.30 (Sky Sports)
Leicester came crashing back down to earth with a humbling defeat to Liverpool. The talk after the match was how well Liverpool had managed their injury crisis but that was a little ignorant to Leicester’s situation. Brendan Rodgers has had to adopt a more passive and counter-attacking game to compensate for the ridiculous injury list that he has been having to deal with. The game at Anfield was just a reminder that they aren’t walking on water.
Fulham showed great character in their defeats to Everton and West Ham. They could have picked up a point in both matches. It’s a collective effort. Defensively, they need to sharpen up and, offensively, they need to be more clinical when opportunities come their way. Scoring penalties would be a good start! You can’t expect to pick up many points if you continually miss from 12-yards; that’s three missed penalties out of three.
This game will be tough for Leicester. Fulham will sit in and they have proven that they can pass it out from the back in an effective manner. They are no longer the proverbial whipping boys. It’s these ty[e of games that are less appealing to Jamie Vardy because spaces in behind will be limited. However, the likes of Harvey Barnes and James Maddison are capable of unlocking those seemingly closed doors.
West Ham United vs Aston Villa: Olympic Stadium, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
West Ham are a team on the up. What’s particularly impressive is how they have transitioned from battling performances against the so-called bigger teams to professional displays against bottom-half outfits. The Hammers have pulled off some impressive results over recent years but their mentality was often in question against teams in and around them. David Moyes has instilled a level of integrity into his players. If you can perform against Tottenham then why can’t you perform against Sheffield United?
Aston Villa are an exciting yoyo. For a non-European outfit, they have an embarrassment of riches in attack but an early injury to Ross Barkley was particularly damaging against Brighton. Jack Grealish’s performance levels dropped and Villa collectively looked as though they had lost a major cog in their attacking wheel.
This could be a game decided by discipline and Moyes is instilling that into his group of players. This season, their consistency levels have been excellent after a shaky start. Villa has more thrills than West Ham but they don’t seem to have that same level of discipline.