Written by Rhys Paul
Premier League football returns this weekend following the international break and it does so with several matches that could be very close. All twenty teams have points on the board, but six teams are still searching for their first win of the campaign. It is generally at this stage when supporters and players can start to become uneasy if their side continues to struggle. Crystal Palace will look to register their first win against newly promoted Middlesbrough, whilst Bournemouth will view West Brom as a winnable game at home. Watford’s tough start to the season continues as they travel away to a West Ham side revitalised by players returning from injury. Stoke and Southampton are arguably the best of those six teams, but they face an uphill struggle to get their first win as they go up against the North London sides, Tottenham and Arsenal respectively.
At the other end of the table, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United are the only three teams still boasting a perfect record, but that will all change this weekend as the two Manchester sides go head-to-head in arguably the biggest game of the season so far. Swansea host Chelsea in the only Sunday kick-off of the weekend and fourth-placed Everton are away to Sunderland (another winless side) on Monday. There is another exciting contest in the shape of Liverpool versus Leicester. Both sides have a respectable four points, yet they will be eager to launch themselves higher up the table as soon as possible. Elsewhere, Burnley host Hull in the battle of the two promoted teams and both will be confident of securing the three points following strong starts.
Of those ten matches, here are the three you should pay particularly close attention to:
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Manchester United vs. Manchester City (Saturday, 12.30pm – Sky Sports 1)
The Manchester derby is always a special occasion. This season, it appears to be even bigger than before and that is not just in terms of price (it is expected to be the most expensive in terms of talent on the pitch). Both Manchester sides appear to be on the up following disappointing campaigns last season and this has been reflected with their record of three wins out of three. There is also the continuation of the Mourinho-Guardiola rivalry which adds a subplot to an already enticing encounter. Nevertheless, this will naturally be both sides biggest challenge to date.
There will be a wealth of star names on display with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kevin De Bruyne, David De Gea and Ilkay Gundogan all likely to feature. Sergio Aguero is absent from that list following his three-game suspension and that could play a significant role in the result. Kelechi Iheanacho will lead City’s line and there is the possibility that the game could come down to which youngster has the biggest impact if Marcus Rashford does feature for United. Henrikh Mkhitaryan could be the Red Devil’s biggest absentee, whilst City could hand debuts to Gundogan, Leroy Sane and Claudio Bravo. Wayne Rooney has a fantastic scoring record against City and the fact United didn’t concede as they claimed four points from their rivals last season suggests they could be the favourites heading into the contest.
Both teams are in form and neither a City nor United win would be surprising. They are two strong sides and Aguero’s suspension might just tip the balance in United’s favour. As shown against West Ham, the team is capable of scoring goals for themselves, but there is no denying how big a loss a player of Aguero’s quality is in such a big game.
Prediction: United win (2-1)
credit Ronnie Macdonald
Stoke City vs. Tottenham (Saturday, 3pm)
Stoke find themselves bottom of the table. Obviously it’s only three games into the new season and should therefore not be a cause for panic, but Mark Hughes would have hoped to have more than just the solitary point on the board. That draw came against Middlesbrough on the opening day – a fixture which Stoke are more than capable of winning. In their defence, they have had difficult games against Man City at home and they were narrowly beaten 1-0 away to Everton. It hardly gets any easier with Tottenham the visitors on Saturday.
It hasn’t exactly been plain-sailing for Spurs either. Having been Leicester’s closest rivals for the title last season, they struggled for large portions against Everton and Liverpool before savalging a draw with better second-half performances. Their indifferent form from the end of last season appears to have carried on into the new season with Harry Kane and Dele Alli notably struggling. They will still be favourites, but an away trip to the Britannia still has the potential to be a banana skin even if it is no longer the fortress it once was.
Wilfried Bony is in line for his debut and the Potters will hope he improves their fortunes in front of goal. Xherdan Shaqiri looks likely to miss out for the third successive game, but the squad is still capable of pushing an out-of-sorts Spurs who could welcome back Hugo Lloris. Barring the 4-0 defeat to the visitors in April, Stoke have a decent record against Spurs and they could take more points if they play to their potential. Two teams who haven’t hit their stride yet look set to share the points.
Prediction: Draw (1-1)
Liverpool vs. Leicester City (Saturday, 5.30pm – SNF Sky Sports 1)
Four points apiece represents a solid start to the season for both Liverpool and Leicester. The latter responded to the surprising defeat to Hull by working hard for a draw and a win against Arsenal and Swansea respectively. In many ways, Liverpool’s start to the season has followed a similar trend. An entertaining 4-3 win against Arsenal on the opening day was followed by a surprising defeat to another one of the newly promoted teams – in the shape of Burnley – and they responded with a draw against a Tottenham side who they largely outplayed.
Claudio Ranieri may have backed Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title currently being defended by Leicester, but it seems too soon to expect such a challenge. Even so, Jurgen Klopp can take Liverpool far and they will be looking to challenge for the top four. Leicester will probably take each game as it comes and, at this stage, it is still difficult to predict how their season will shape out. They will still aim to keep up with the top sides in the division and, as such, both them and Liverpool will be looking to propel themselves up the table by stringing together a series of wins – beginning this Saturday against one another.
Amazingly, this is Liverpool’s first home game of the season following work on the main stand and the Anfield faithful will hope to unveil the stand with a win. Islam Slimani will surely feature for the Champions, but it is still Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez who remain the visitor’s key men. Kasper Schmeichel is rumoured to have made a recovery, but Emre Can has been ruled out for the home side and Ragnar Klavan is likely to join him on the sidelines. It should be an open game with both teams pressing for the win and it is difficult to see one team running out as a clear winner.
Prediction: Liverpool win (2-1)
Are these the 3 most interesting clashes of the Premier League Weekend? Let us know in the comments below!
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