Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend
This article titled “Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend” was written by Jacob Steinberg, Barry Glendenning and Paul Doyle, for theguardian.com on Friday 2nd November 2018 00.01 UTC
1) An acid test for Arsenal
After the Unai Emery era opened with defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea, it was hard not to wonder if Arsenal were going to endure another uncertain season. Yet a kind run of fixtures has allowed confidence to grow and Arsenal’s players are gaining a strong understanding of Emery’s demands. They are unbeaten in all competitions since losing to Chelsea on 18 August and find themselves four points off the top of the table, with optimism flowing thanks to the goals of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Lucas Torreira’s snappy contributions in midfield. But just how good are they? More excitable supporters will say Emery is constructing a title challenge, whereas the more discerning will accept a top-four finish should be the target for this evolving side. Either way, Saturday’s visit from Liverpool should offer a clearer indication of Arsenal’s level. For all the positives, Emery is yet to solve the problem of his side’s slow starts and the Spaniard’s unconvincing defence will surely be pushed to the limit by Liverpool’s front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. JS
2) Lukaku to be left out again?
It did not feel like a coincidence that Manchester United were able to produce one of their better performances this season after leaving Romelu Lukaku on the bench against Everton. The point is not that Lukaku has no positives: his goalscoring record for club and country speaks for itself and he has destroyed plenty of Premier League defences. But the goals have dried up and that has shifted the spotlight on to other aspects of his game, leading to accusations that the Belgian’s movement is too obvious and his touch too inconsistent. Even José Mourinho, a Lukaku loyalist, decided it was time for a change against Everton. Mourinho has always liked his teams to have a target man but United had more fluidity with the speedy and slippery Marcus Rashford in a central role. While Rashford might not be as reliable a goalscorer as Lukaku, he has a better relationship with the increasingly impressive Anthony Martial and deserves another chance. JS
3) A difficult afternoon in Cardiff
Leicester City travel to Cardiff for their first match since the death of their owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, and four others following a helicopter crash outside their the King Power Stadium last Saturday. A minute’s silence will be observed before what is likely to be a strange game for Leicester’s players, most of whom seem to have forged an extremely close bond with the Thai businessman, whose benevolence and vision led to the wildly implausible scenario of them winning the Premier League two years ago. While Leicester’s players will hope to mark their friend’s passing with a good performance, the result will be of little or no consequence for them as they work through the grieving process. It will be a difficult afternoon for Cardiff too. BG
4) Can Nuno cook up a Saturday night fever for Spurs?
Saturday night matches are a new wheeze for the Premier League this season but floodlit games at Molineux have been stirring passions since the 1950s, when Wolves, innovative on and off the pitch, staged famous victories against Spartak Moscow and a South African XI before declaring themselves de facto world champions by beating Honved Budapest, who had several of the ‘Magical Magyars’ that twice led England on a merry dance. So Saturday’s match against Tottenham follows a glorious tradition. Not that Nuno Espírito Santo will be thinking about that – instead he’ll be hoping to see improvement on more recent history, specifically in the finishing of a side who have undermined otherwise good displays by finding the net with only nine of their 145 shots in the Premier League so far. Last week at Brighton Nuno changed his starting lineup for the first time this season, replacing Diogo Jota with Adama Traoré, who did not seize his chance. Traoré and the player on the opposite side, Helder Costa, have bulked up since last season but not yet shown a sharper edge. This weekend the manager must be tempted to make even more changes in the advanced positions, with Ivan Cavaleiro a prime candidate to come in. PD
5) Palace to pull no punches at the Bridge
Just over a year ago, Crystal Palace pulled off the most unlikely of shocks against Chelsea at Selhurst Park. Still reeling from consecutive gubbings at the hands of both Manchester clubs and without a league point or even a goal after seven league games, Roy Hodgson’s men rallied to beat the league champions and belatedly kick-start their season. The catalyst for their victory was, needless to say, Wilfried Zaha, who had returned from injury to make his first appearance since the opening day. Taking on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is a different proposition. While their reliance on Zaha remains, they will arrive in far better shape than last season, buoyed following last weekend’s combative draw – in a game they should probably have won – with Arsenal. Considering they have scored five Premier League goals on the road compared to just two at home this season, they have every right to fancy their chances of putting Chelsea to the sword. BG
6) Which Saint will make Guardiola’s blood boil this time round?
It is almost a year since Pep Guardiola took grievous exception to an inhibited display by Nathan Redmond at Manchester City. “He commented on my qualities as a young English player and how he wanted me to attack his team more during the game in a similar way to last season,” Redmond subsequently explained. Since Pep’s talk Redmond has scored one goal in 34 matches for Southampton, for whom no one else is netting regularly. Mark Hughes’ side have failed to score at all in their last three matches and the prospects of them doing so at the Etihad on Sunday are bleak. If the impotent visitors are to come away with even a point against hosts for whom Kevin De Bruyne could start, then they will need Guardiola to be annoyed by a different Englishman this time – Southampton’s impressive goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. PD
7) Hart out to prove a point against West Ham
Groans formed the soundtrack for most of Joe Hart’s unhappy year at West Ham. The goalkeeper was so jittery last season that even his good work ended up receiving sarcastic cheers from West Ham’s fans, though the biggest price Hart paid for his poor form was failing to make England’s World Cup squad. His snub by Gareth Southgate hurt more than any terrace mockery and he is bound to have a point to prove against his former side, with Burnley’s return to the London Stadium set to revive memories of the crowd trouble that marred this fixture last season. Hart wore West Ham’s colours on that torrid March afternoon and he was at fault for Burnley’s second goal, presenting Chris Wood with a tap-in as chaos reigned in the stands. That error was not an isolated aberration and he would end up losing the No 1 spot to Adrian. Yet Hart has shown signs of regaining his former powers since leaving for Burnley and will relish the chance to silence his critics. JS
8) Newcastle to remain winless
Still looking for their first win of what has been been a disastrous season thus far, Newcastle look unlikely to get it when they host a Watford side that have rediscovered their mojo after a brief speed-wobble. Roberto Pereyra has been in fine form for the Hornets and has already equalled his goal tally of last season, scoring five (including a couple of absolute crackers) from seven shots on target. The Argentinian winger’s scintillating form is likely to have provided Newcastle right-back DeAndre Yedlin with plenty of unappetising food for thought and it will be intriguing to see how Rafael Benítez attempts to contain him. Having robustly defended his manager’s negative tactics earlier this season, Newcastle winger Matt Ritchie is likely to find himself on defensive duties of a different kind as he and Yedlin double up in an attempt to put a stop to Pereyra’s gallop. BG
9) Gomes can show in-form Brighton what they are missing
Brighton travel to Goodison Park on the back of three straight wins in which they have kept clean sheets. But Chris Hughton would rather they showed more attacking ability and did not have to rely so much on the excellence of Mat Ryan, Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk. Unfortunately for Hughton, injury will deprive him of Pascal Gross and Davy Pröpper again this weekend. So if Brighton are to create, they will need the talented Solly March to improve his decision making. That is not a complaint that could be directed at André Gomes, the canny schemer who has enhanced Everton’s midfield in his two appearances to date. With the Portuguese pulling strings behind Gylfi Sigurdsson, Bernard and Richarlison, Brighton’s defenders should be in for another busy afternoon. PD
10) Huddersfield to stop firing blanks
After exceeding expectations last season, it seems Huddersfield’s lack of quality has caught up with them. David Wagner’s excellent management carried them over the line in their first year in the Premier League, but reality is starting to bite. The explanation is not so much second-season syndrome, more that they were always out of their depth and have run out of ways of answering the difficult questions teams face at this level. Wagner must be wondering where to start because while the league’s bottom side defended appallingly in last weekend’s hammering by Watford, their struggles are compounded by their toothless attack. Huddersfield have managed four goals in 10 games. Even Fulham, who have been shipping goals for fun, will fancy their chances of earning a clean sheet in Yorkshire. Time for Laurent Depoitre and Steve Mounié to stop firing blanks – or for Aaron Mooy to find the back of the net for the first time since December 2017. JS
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