Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

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Liverpool’s problems could worsen in the derby, Ranieri returns to the Bridge and Newcastle fans plan a walk-in protest

Ben Fisher, Paul Doyle and John Brewin– The Guardian

1) Everton could pounce for first Anfield win this century

Maybe the table never lies but it sure can mislead. Perhaps Liverpool are the second-best team in the Premier League at the moment but that does not mean they are very good. So far in the league they have been unbeaten and unconvincing. The main problem is their midfield, which lacks ingenuity and suffers from waning dynamism. Jürgen Klopp has not overhauled it swiftly enough, though at least he has started Xherdan Shaqiri in the last two leagues games to bring more inventiveness. But he deployed Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gigi Wijnaldum for Wednesday’s lame Champions League defeat in Paris. Henderson is suspended for Sunday’s Merseyside derby so there’s no need for him to be dropped. But there’s a good case for sidelining Wijnaldum and even Milner to go with a midfield trio of Shaqiri, Naby Keïta and Fabinho. That would partly be an expression of faith in the ability of the last two to produce their best form, which has so far eluded them in the early, stop-start days of their careers at Liverpool. Everton, meanwhile, are looking increasingly formidable. If Idrissa Gueye and André Gomes run midfield, as they may well do, then Everton could win at Anfield for the first time this century. PD

2) Will Emery deem Spurs too physical for Özil?

Spurs have already beaten Chelsea, West Ham, Fulham and Crystal Palace this season so victory over Arsenal on Sunday would make them the unofficial champions of London. Mauricio Pochettino’s side go into the game on the back of a tough Champions League match against Inter Milan, whereas Arsenal’s first team have had a week to prepare. But Christian Eriksen, at least, did not over-exert himself against Inter, having been left on the bench until the 70th minute. If the Dane seems certain to return to Spurs’ starting lineup on Sunday, it will be interesting to see whether Mesut Özil is included in Arsenal’s. Unai Emery has deployed the German wisely this season so that Özil has tended to influence matches when he has played. But if the manager did not think the player would have been able to cope with the “intensity and physicality” of Bournemouth last weekend, it’s difficult to see how he would expect him to thrive against a Spurs who go to the Emirates in ominous form. PD

 

3) Ranieri returns to the Bridge as a friendly foe

Claudio Ranieri and André Schürrle face the club that first brought the Fulham manager and German forward to London. Ranieri’s Chelsea regime straddled the austerity of the dying embers of the Ken Bates regime and the lottery win of Roman Abramovich initial spending spree. The Italian, who replaced one of his former Blues players in Slavisa Jokanovic, is still popular with Chelsea fans despite now working for their closest geographical rivals and later winning the Premier League with Leicester. He was the first to experience the brutality of an ownership that has sacked eight permanent managers since he was offed in 2004. A decade on, Schürrlefell victim of the club’s stockpiling of talent. Last week, he was a scorer in last week’s 3-2 defeat of Southampton that began Ranieri’s tenure with three pointsbut still betrayed the huge defensive problems the new manager must cure. JB

 

 

4) Bournemouth next to face City challenge

Eddie Howe has already acknowledged the task of taking on Manchester City in their own back yard, but his Bournemouth side should take heart from their encounters with the teams above them. They may have lost their last three, but they have not been turned over – far from it – by teams in the top seven. They gave Manchester United a serious fright, drew at home to Everton, conceded late goals at Chelsea and made Arsenal work in defeat last time out. Under Howe in the Premier League, they have earned historic wins over Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and United. But other than last August, when Raheem Sterling clinched victory at the death, City are arguably the only team Bournemouth have yet to truly trouble (in their six top-flight meetings, the aggregate scored reads: Manchester City 21-2 Bournemouth). Howe and his players will be determined to change that. BF

 

5) A walk-in protest from Newcastle fans

Three league wins in a row has lifted the Geordie gloom enveloping a Newcastle team that had seemed destined for real struggle; Monday’s win at Burnley leapfrogged them two points and a place above West Ham. That is testament to the continuing ability of Rafa Benítez to wring results from an underpowered squad. The blame for that falls squarely on the broad shoulders of owner Mike Ashley, and fans will be issuing their latest reminder of dissatisfaction with a novel idea for a protest. Rather than boycott the West Ham game, the activist Magpie Group has organised an “11th minute walk-in” to St James’ Park on Saturday, that number signifying the years Ashley has been holding the pursestrings. The aim is to get the tycoon to splash out in January, with fans requested to “have an extra pint before going to the match”, a sacrifice that does not appear particularly onerous. JB

6) The last hurrah for Hughes with Saints?

How much longer has Mark Hughes got? Southampton wish to give Hughes time to turn things round but a solitary league win, at a Zaha-less Crystal Palace in September, is telling. This campaign is already eerily reminiscent of last season’s woes and Saints must avoid giving Hughes – who has won three of his 21 league games in charge – too long, a mistake they made by not sacking Mauricio Pellegrino until March. Hughes was impressed by what he felt was an exciting, vibrant performance in defeat at Leicester and suggested he needed to put his energies into some of his younger players, starting at home to Manchester United on Saturday. Danny Ings could return but Michael Obafemi, who made his Republic of Ireland debut this month, was preferred to Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini on Tuesday, while Yan Valery, the young French defender made his debut. “Maybe that’s the way we need to go,” said Hughes. BF

7) Another Cardiff v Wolves classic?

Neil Warnock turns 70 on Saturday and, even after five decades in the game, he knows victory over Wolves on Friday night would be the sweetest present possible. “It would be perfect,” Warnock said. Nobody suggested Cardiff would roll over, but few gave them a fighting chance of survival. In fact, as far as the form table is concerned, Wolves are in the relegation zone and Cardiff 13th, after two wins from their past five games. The Wolves bubble has not completely burst, but they are not scoring enough to hurt teams. The last time these two met, you could not have wished for more drama, with Cardiff missing two stoppage-time penalties, before Warnock repeatedly told Nuno Espírito Santo, trying to belatedly shake hands, to “fuck off”. All of that, though, the managers say, has been long forgotten. “We met up at the LMA [awards],” Warnock said. “He’s a big bloke and he gave me a squeeze. I think it was a nice one. I’ve always liked Wolves.” BF

 

8) Watford target Success at Leicester

Isaac Success and Kelechi Iheanacho have been pegged as two of the most exciting young forwards around since they formed a partnership that fired Nigeria to the semi-finals of the U-17 World Cup in 2013. Still only 22, neither has yet fulfilled their potential but Iheanacho has generally looked closer to doing so even if he has not developed his game as much as hoped since his move to Leicester. But now Success looks ready to make up for lost time. Finally free of injuries and seemingly more focused, Success has excelled when he has played for Watford this term, convincing the club to secure him to a new contract this week. He is a skilful, clever and destructive runner andmakes things happen nearly every time he gets the ball. After being omitted from the starting lineup for last week’s defeat by Liverpool, Success made a strong impression as a substitute and should return to the first XI at Leicester, where he is likely to make more of an impact than Iheanacho. PD

9) Palace and Burnley looking down

The sight of Joe Hart with the ball in centre midfield in the closing seconds of their defeat to Newcastle on Monday betrayed Burnley’s desperation. This was panic stations even if the Lancashire club should be used to defeat. That 4-0 victory over Bournemouth on 22 September looks like one of the season’s freak results, and is one of just two wins all season. Failing to beat Crystal Palace would mean they would face Liverpool on Wednesday staring down the barrel of two months without a win. Sean Dyche has admitted “questions will be asked” of him and his team. The main issue is the slackening of the intensity that achieved so much last season. Not that Palace are in much better nick; last week’s draw at Manchester United was one of just two points gained since September. Selhurst Park hosts something akin to a race to the bottom. JB

 

 

10) Brighton need returns from big buys

 

As Glenn Murray continues to do the business for Brighton, his form only exacerbates Chris Hughton’s failure to truly improve his squad. A £60m summer splurge after healthy investment last year has yet to bear fruit. That might be a compliment to the old guard, the likes of Murray, Anthony Knockaert, Beram Kayal and Bruno, but others must step up their game if Brighton are to prosper. Strikers Florin Andone and Jürgen Locadia, signed for a combined £20m, are yet to find the net this season, while Yves Bissouma, a £15m arrival in July has too often looked overwhelmed. Worse still, they are yet to see the real Alireza Jahanbakhsh, their £17m record signing. At least Hughton has recognised as much. “I think it would be fair to say they haven’t hit the levels required yet,” said the Brighton manager, who takes his team to Huddersfield. BF

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Man City 13 35 35
2 Liverpool 13 21 33
3 Tottenham Hotspur 13 12 30
4 Chelsea 13 17 28
5 Arsenal 13 12 27
6 Everton 13 5 22
7 Man Utd 13 -1 21
8 AFC Bournemouth 13 4 20
9 Watford 13 0 20
10 Leicester 13 1 18
11 Wolverhampton 13 -3 16
12 Brighton 13 -5 15
13 Newcastle 13 -5 12
14 West Ham 13 -8 12
15 Huddersfield 13 -14 10
16 Crystal Palace 13 -9 9
17 Burnley 13 -14 9
18 Southampton 13 -14 8
19 Cardiff 13 -15 8
20 Fulham 13 -19 8

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