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Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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·9-min read
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1) Pep’s got to know when to hold ‘em

Thomas Tuchel has masterminded three wins out of three against Pep Guardiola since his arrival in England. Another at Stamford Bridge on Saturday will give Chelsea a six-point cushion over the reigning champions after as many Premier League games. Guardiola was roundly criticised following City’s Champions League final defeat for not picking a holding midfielder, despite having lost the FA Cup semi-final between the two sides with both Rodri and Fernandinho in his starting lineup, then a subsequent Premier League match with just the Spaniard shielding his defence. In a fixture where it seems Guardiola can’t seem to do right for doing wrong in terms of team selection, we can only ponder if and how he might “overthink” his tactics for this crunch game. BG

  • Chelsea v Manchester City, Saturday 12.30pm (all times BST)

2) Bees’ strike duo to sting Liverpool

Brentford prepare for their first meeting with one of the Premier League’s elite and, having put plenty of credit in the bank with eight points from five games, they have earned the right to a proper go at Liverpool. Entertainment seems guaranteed and both defences will be gainfully occupied. Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah have begun this season with purpose, even by their high standards. With 24 and 22 attempts at goal respectively, the pair have comfortably outshot anyone else in the division and scored seven between them. Although Brentford’s Ivan Toney and Bryan Mbuemo have not let fly as often, they will present a handful themselves. The Bees’ frontmen have not allowed opponents much rest so far and after they combined to down Wolves last week, Thomas Frank felt moved to compare them with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. That particular combination gave Liverpool plenty to fear back in the day: now their would-be modern equivalents have a chance to take the next scalp in Brentford’s remarkable rise. NA

  • Brentford v Liverpool, Saturday 5.30pm

3) New Dean of discipline for Ronaldo

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been left fuming by the reluctance of referees to award at least three penalties to Manchester United in their past two games, decisions which have prompted cries of conspiracy from the many tinfoil hat-wearers among Manchester United’s support. Rio Ferdinand even went so far as to suggest that Martin Atkinson had denied United two spot-kicks for fouls on Cristiano Ronaldo against West Ham last Sunday because he didn’t want to be seen to be “pandering to him … because of his ego, stature and status”. Quite apart from the fact that West Ham were denied what seemed an obvious penalty in the same game for an Aaron Wan-Bissaka foul on Tomas Soucek, it seems implausible that Premier League referees would engage in deliberate acts of potential career sabotage just to annoy a particularly high-profile star. Although if you had to back any official to do so, it would be Ronaldo’s fellow preening narcissist, Mike Dean. All the more reason, then, to make popcorn before settling down to United’s appointment with Aston Villa on Saturday, when the Wirral man will be in charge. BG

  • Manchester United v Aston Villa, Saturday 12.30pm

Cristiano Ronaldo despairs after being denied a penalty against West Ham
Cristiano Ronaldo despairs after being denied a penalty against West Ham. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

4) A shift in north London’s power balance?

How is the much-charted north London power balance working out this season? It appears too close to call: Tottenham look to have squandered their chance to move over the horizon so nowadays, both they and Arsenal must content themselves with hanging from the coattails of the top four. The two sides face off at the Emirates on Sunday in contrasting streaks of form. Mikel Arteta’s side have just about steadied the ship after an appalling start, while Spurs fans wonder whether their bright beginning under Nuno Espírito Santo was deceptive. For Arsenal, this is an opportunity to show that their manager’s new-look blend can convince against higher-grade opposition than Norwich and Burnley. Arteta had no compunction about calling this their “biggest game of the season” so far. If they step up to the plate then it might just suggest the needle is moving back in their favour at last. NA

  • Arsenal v Tottenham, Sunday 4.30pm

5) Rice and Phillips united by loyalty

It seemed strange during the summer that Declan Rice wasn’t openly courted by more high-profile Premier League outfits than the one he currently plays for, while the apparent lack of interest in Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips was little short of baffling. Given the excellent performances of both players for their respective teams and England last season, they could have been forgiven for emulating the petulance of a certain international teammate and agitating for lucrative moves elsewhere. While both players are likely to be the subject of interest next summer, the Premier League is all the better for their apparent contentment with their respective lots in life. While the north London derby may have top TV billing this weekend, Leeds v West Ham looks a more entertaining game – due in no small part to the presence of Rice and Phillips on the pitch. BG

  • Leeds v West Ham, Saturday 3pm

6) Cornet class wins Clarets fans over

Maxwel Cornet’s first four appearances of the season have all come in different competitions (Ligue 1, World Cup qualifying, the Premier League and Carabao Cup), a run that will surely end on Saturday whether or not he makes his first league start since moving to Burnley last month. He was outstanding in Tuesday’s Cup win over Rochdale, with five shots (three on target) and an assist, though fans should try to control their excitement – the last time he had three or more shots on target was April 2019, and the last time he had both three or more shots on target and an assist was in September 2016. Sean Dyche is pleased at the growing excitement Cornet has engendered, however. “It’s advantageous when the crowd likes a player early, it allows them to bring that freedom to their game … that early connection is important to help him settle in his life on and off the pitch,” he said. SB

  • Leicester v Burnley, Saturday 3pm

7) Saints and Wolves look over their shoulders

Southampton’s achievement in holding Manchester City at the Etihad deserved plaudits, not least because the same fixture had seen them ship five goals in March. There is a credible argument that their winless start to the season has been far better than it looks on paper. Everton dismissed them sharply enough on the opening day, there was no shame whatsoever in draws against Manchester United, West Ham and Newcastle before they met the champions. But Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side do need a win and Wolves should be ideal fodder. Bruno Lage’s side try to entertain but are yet to settle down and sit a place below the Saints in 16th. Both these clubs have at different times been poster boys for what mid-sized outfits can achieve in the top flight; both have, since then, found it hard to keep putting pressure on the leading lights. The immediate challenge is not to turn that plateauing into something worse: Sunday would be the ideal time to dispel any concerns about a skirmish around the relegation zone. NA

  • Southampton v Wolves, Sunday 2pm

8) Farke to stick with a back three?

Daniel Farke is not really one for tactical flexibility. Under the German, Norwich play slight variants of 4-3-3, full stop, end of sentence. Last season he did not start a single game with a different setup. But against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup they tried a back three, and the result was a much-improved performance – for all that it still ended in defeat. “We had more control of the centre,” Farke said. “We had enough players behind the ball and once we lost the ball we always pressured. The setup I think worked quite well.” They may well keep the shape here, and there seems a good chance that Rafael Benítez, who played with a back three in Everton’s last home game and could be without his left-back after Lucas Digne’s injury-enforced substitution against QPR in midweek, could match them. SB

  • Everton v Norwich, Saturday 3pm

Norwich line up with a three-man defence against Liverpool in midweek
Norwich lined up with a three-man defence against Liverpool in midweek. Photograph: Jed Leicester/Shutterstock

9) Numbers don’t add up for Newcastle

Newcastle are one of five teams still in search of a win after five league games. Only once in the last 20 years have so many teams still been winless after five matches. Over the last two decades the highest number of teams still in search of a win after six games is four (last season). Even Derby in 2007-08, on their way to a record-smashing season-end 11 points, won their sixth game (against Newcastle). It’s too early to draw conclusions, of course, but it certainly suggests there is an unusual number of underwhelming sides. The really concerning thing for Steve Bruce’s side is that their opponents haven’t even been very good – only one (Manchester United) are in the top seven, and two are winless (Southampton and Leeds). Of the teams still seeking a first victory, their fixtures have been the least daunting by a considerable margin, yet they still rankhighest for expected goals against. As for Watford, last week’s win over Norwich was psychologically as much as statistically important. SB

  • Watford v Newcastle, Saturday 3pm

10) Vieira faces big call up front

When Odsonne Éduoard replaced Christian Benteke in the 84th minute of Crystal Palace’s win over Tottenham and scored two quickfire goals, it looked as if the Belgian striker might be consigned to the fringes of Palace’s squad. Benteke is hardly prolific, having chipped in with a reasonable 10 goals for Palace last season – four more than in his previous three campaigns at Selhurst Park combined. Somewhat surprisingly, Patrick Vieira elected to stick with him for Palace’s defeat at Liverpool, where he cut a forlorn figure at his former stomping ground before being replaced again. Despite their excellent start to the season, Brighton continue to look vulnerable at set pieces, so Vieira has a big decision to make at Selhurst Park on Monday night. Does he trust in Benteke’s aerial prowess, or start the new signing who seems more likely to score goals this season? BG

  • Crystal Palace v Brighton, Monday 8pm

Pos

Team

P

GD

Pts

1

Chelsea

5

11

13

2

Liverpool

5

11

13

3

Man Utd

5

9

13

4

Brighton

5

3

12

5

Man City

5

10

10

6

Everton

5

3

10

7

Tottenham Hotspur

5

-3

9

8

West Ham

5

4

8

9

Brentford

5

3

8

10

Aston Villa

5

1

7

11

Watford

5

-2

6

12

Leicester

5

-3

6

13

Arsenal

5

-7

6

14

Crystal Palace

5

-3

5

15

Southampton

5

-2

4

16

Wolverhampton

5

-3

3

17

Leeds

5

-7

3

18

Newcastle

5

-7

2

19

Burnley

5

-6

1

20

Norwich

5

-12

0

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