Newcastle’s training ground had become subject to an increase in Covid-19 cases and, as a result, the Friday night clash was postponed. The Premier League probably expected something like this to happen but they will be pleasantly surprised that it has taken so long. Quite how they are going to reschedule this game is anybody’s guess; thank goodness neither team has European commitments of any kind!
It's also worth mentioning that tier 2 areas will now be allowed to welcome approximately 2000 fans to stadiums. This is the first time that supporters will be allowed to attend league matches since March. It's not perfect but it is a stepping stone.
Game of the week
Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Sunday 16.30 (Sky Sports)
A North London derby with 2000 fans back to welcome the home team into it!
Joe Rodon was solid against Chelsea on his Premier League debut. The Welshman was preferred to £40-million man Davinson Sanchez and, on the evidence of Tottenham’s sloppy 3-3 draw against LASK in the Europa League, Jose Mourinho was proven right. Rodon might be young but he was solid and diligent in his work. Sanchez, by contrast, was ran ragged on Thursday night and his clumsy performances show no sign of slowing down.
In the other camp, Mikel Arteta is in a difficult place. This will be a strong early test for his managerial credentials. Arteta had a difficult task when he took over at Arsenal but he arrived with minimal expectancy. The Spaniard has since built a rod for his own back, winning two trophies before the start of this current season. Expectations were rather high.
Unfortunately, Arsenal have spiralled dramatically downwards. The structure, that had been protecting the defence, has become less convincing as the season has gone on. Home defeats to Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers have angered supporters who had expected the Gunners to build upon Arteta’s work in the previous season.
Anybody expecting Spurs to run away with this is probably not following the two teams closely enough. Arsenal should be relishing this game because nothing is expected of them. They can sit deep, be compact, and hope that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is able to find some space in behind.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Tottenham are a well oiled machine under Mourinho. Harry Kane or Son Heung-min only need one chance. They have world-class efficiency in-front of goal. It will be a close encounter but one team is simply more efficient with chances when they come their way.
Burnley vs Everton: Turf Moor, 12.30 (BT Sport)
Man City at the Etihad has been Burnley's nightmare fixture for a number of years. The Blues have beaten Burnley by a score of 5-0 in their last four clashes in Manchester, 20-0 over the four games! Now, Sean Dyche can focus his efforts on more winnable fixtures.
Everton have collapsed after their outstanding start to the season. Injuries are mounting up once again and they will be without Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne. The two full-backs stretch opponents with their width and James Rodriguez picking out their advanced runs; he has been the architect for many pre-assists. Without the forward-thinking duo, Everton are much less dynamic going forward.
Burnley will believe they can get something out of this. Everton are a little depleted, at the moment, and it feels like James or bust in terms of creativity. However, Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a predatory marksman and he doesn’t need a second invitation.
Manchester City vs Fulham: Etihad Stadium, 15.00 (BT Sport)
Pep Guardiola would have been delighted to see his players demolish Burnley. That result had been coming. City battered Olympiakos in midweek but could only get the one goal; their play deserved four or five. Against FC Porto, City also created a number of openings but, in that match, they couldn't make them count. Guardiola had heavily rotated his players and their lack of ruthlessness in the final third will have left him frustrated.
Scott Parker deserves tremendous credit for progressing this team forward. At the start of the season, many feared that they would become the season’s whipping boys. But Fulham have now improved defensively and they have been playing some good football. Aleksandr Mitrovic has been in and out of the side because the Londoners seem to shift the ball better when he isn’t on the field. Leaving your main goalscorer on the bench is a risky decision but it paid dividends with their surprising win against Leicester City.
Alphonse Areola has been an excellent loan signing for Fulham. The keeper has kept them in a number of matches over the course of this season. He has Champions League experience and has previously been on the books at Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain. Areola will not keep City out permanently but he could keep the score down.
West Ham United vs Manchester United: Olympic Stadium, 17.30 (Sky Sports)
David Moyes is low-key doing an outstanding job at West Ham United. The controversial sale of Grady Diangana created anger in the dressing room and some people were tipping that toxicity to send the Hammers into a relegation battle. Nonetheless, they were fortunate to be on the right end of some controversial VAR calls against Aston Villa, last Monday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also deserves a lot of credit for his calm and composed management. Every time Manchester United lose, Solskjaer gets the blame. Every time they win, the players are given the credit. People are trying to force Mauricio Pochettino into the Old Trafford hot seat at every opportunity. But, with every passing week, that move is looking less and less inevitable. The pitchforks were out once again after the Red Devils slipped to a 3-1 loss against Paris Saint Germain.
West Ham have a defensive resilience. They had racked up back-to-back clean sheets before conceding to Villa. United, therefore, might find this to be a tougher match than the open affair at Southampton. The hosts will deploy a deep-block and look to play on the counter.
Chelsea vs Leeds United: Stamford Bridge, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
Chelsea will be hoping that their 0-0 draw against Tottenham is the catalyst for another strong run of form. Earlier in the season, their stalemate against Man United provided the foundations for a run of six consecutive victories.
In midweek, Olivier Giroud scored all of the goals in a 4-0 victory over Sevilla and the Frenchman is now eyeing up a starting position for the main eleven.
Leeds United are the most exciting team to watch in the division. They don’t have the budget of the big boys but they play like they are one of them. That invariably leads to some heavy defeats but it is also yielding victories in a number of games. Marcelo Bielsa works his players into the ground but his methods unlock their potential.
This is the perfect game for Chelsea. Their attacking players could run riot against an opponent that never looks to sit on the back foot. There are so many reasons to love being a Leeds fan right now, however, and a heavy defeat here and there will not deter that positivity.
West Bromwich Albion vs Crystal Palace: The Hawthorns, 12.00 (Sky Sports)
West Bromwich Albion finally got their first league win of the season against Sheffield United but it was anything but convincing. The Baggies were indebted to the spectacular efforts of their goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone, alongside some terribly wayward finishing from their opponents. They won’t care, of course, but it was a reminder of the uphill challenge that they face in this division.
Palace have been horrendous without the talismanic Wilfried Zaha. He has missed their previous two matches against Newcastle and Burnley, both of which finished in defeat. Zaha carries Roy Hodgson’s attack and he has clinical efficiency in the final third. The Eagles are a team that likes to sit back and hold onto a lead so they have really struggled in Zaha’s absence.
There is a tremendous amount of character in Slaven Bilic’s team and they are having to work incredibly hard to compete. However, one cannot underestimate the power of that first victory. They are facing an opponent that is struggling to create opportunities. Nonetheless, the expected return of Zaha will inspire a toothless attack.
Sheffield United vs Leicester City: Bramall Lane, 14.15 (Sky Sports)
It has been an amazing reversal of fortunes for Sheffield United. Last season, Chris Wilder amazed the top division with his progressive take on the back-three. Now, his team are in free fall and absolutely nothing is going to plan. They have played well in matches and have narrowly lost a number of games but you can't simply keep being unlucky. Sooner or later, you realise are issues ingrained into the fabric.
Leicester are being hit with a dose of reality. They were exceeding expectations with a patchy squad but the wheels have fallen off recently. A comprehensive defeat to Liverpool was followed by a disappointing loss against Fulham. Brendan Rodgers is setting up to sit back and play on the counter. Ideally, their opponents will be the progressive team.
The hosts need to win and it is easy to see them trying to keep hold of the ball and take the game to the visitors. Again, that will probably play into Leicester’s hands.
Liverpool vs Wolverhampton Wanderers: Anfield, 19.15 (Amazon Prime Video)
Liverpool are into the next stage of the Champions League and they are sitting as joint leaders of the Premier League. Despite this, Jurgen Klopp has been a little tetchy, having a heated argument with BT Sport’s Des Kelly after their 1-1 draw against Brighton & Hove Albion. The German has a tendency to get frustrated when things don’t go his way and he has been publicly critical of tight television scheduling and the decision not to implement the five substitutes rule.
Wolves’ victory over Arsenal was soured by the horrific injury to Raul Jimenez. Jimenez was Nuno Espirito Santo’s key-man in attack but the Mexican has fractured his skull, putting his career in serious doubt. It will, however, give an opportunity to young Fabio Silva. The big-money summer signing will be licking his lips if he makes his first Premier League start at Anfield.
Liverpool are still in the midst of their injury crisis but they are trundling along quite nicely. Alisson Becker might be out but Caoimhin Kelleher will be walking on water after his excellent Champions League performance in the midweek win over Ajax. Their collective efforts are largely doing the business. They haven’t been overly convincing, only winning once in their past three matches, but they have tremendous character and strength within their ranks.
Brighton & Hove Albion vs Southampton: AMEX Stadium, 20.00 (Sky Sports)
Brighton have managed to tighten up at the back and add more ruthlessness in attack and it looks like Graham Potter is turning around the gloomy ship. Good football wasn’t reaping the necessary rewards but, now, his players are showing a bit more maturity. They are also getting a little bit more luck, benefitting from two late VAR decisions in their previous two matches.
Southampton were riding a momentous wave until their defeat to Man United. They hadn’t lost in the league since the loss to Spurs in the second match of the season. However, they shouldn’t be too concerned. They competed well against their expensively assembled opponents and were unlucky to lose the game at the death.
This South Coast derby isn’t as bitter as some people have suggested but it will be a closely fought encounter. The hosts are finding their feet and they will gleefully welcome Tariq Lamptey back into the side after his suspension. The visitors are still putting in good performances, despite the injury to Danny Ings, and will back themselves to build up a level of momentum once again.