Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend


Axel Tuanzebe should start, Everton’s and Aston Villa’s credentials will be tested and Rhian Brewster returns to Anfield

Barry Glendenning, Paul Doyle and Nick Ames –  The  Guardian

Clockwise from top left: Manchester United defender Axel Tuanzebe, Fernandinho is consoled by Pep Guardiola, Fulham winger Ademola Lookman, Brighton recruit Danny Welbeck and Sheffield United striker Rhian Brewster. Composite: Getty Images, Shutterstock, PA, Sportimage, Paul Hazlewood/@OfficialBHAFC

1) Fernandinho injury could be a positive for Pep

Following their last-ditch heroics against Tottenham, West Ham host Manchester City and in this white-knuckle rollercoaster ride of a season not even the combined forces of Mystic Meg, Nostradamus and Sally Morgan could boldly predict what might happen. City came from behind to beat Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday but their win was far from convincing. The Portuguese side carved open the City defence on several occasions, while Ederson was lucky to survive an uncharacteristic howler. Already without Kevin De Bruyne, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus, City were dealt a further blow with the news Fernandinho will be sidelined for four to six weeks. While undeniably valuable to their cause, the Brazilian may not be quite the loss Guardiola fears – the season before last, City averaged 2.7 points per top flight game in which he played, compared with 2.0 in those in which he didn’t. Last season, with Fernandinhooften covering in City’s now-replenished central defence, they earned more points in the eight games without him (2.4 per game) than in matches he played in (2.13). BG

2) Tuanzebe deserves to start after Paris heroics

Manchester United’s home record in the league this season is ridiculous: played two, lost two, conceded nine. And although Chelsea were remarkably coy in the Champions League, Timo Werner suggested last weekend that he is starting to find his feet – at least when played in the right position – so Chelsea travel with confidence of adding to United’s Old Trafford woes. But United, too, have cause for cheer thanks to their performance on Tuesday at PSG. Most encouragingly, Axel Tuanzebe performed superbly in central defence and, after helping to shut down Kylian Mbappé and Neymar, he deserves to start his first league game in more than a year. PD

3) Aubameyang front and centre against Leicester?

It may have been from point-blank range, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winner at Rapid Vienna was a timely reminder of what happens when arguably the Premier League’s best forward gets into the box. Aubameyang has often played a left-sided role under Mikel Arteta and nobody can deny he has made it work to often devastating effect. But in recent weeks he has looked peripheral out wide, rarely getting into the positions from which he is so lethal. Arsenal have good centre-forwards in Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah but there are question marks around their suitability to lead the line over a season. Given the riches Arsenal possess out wide, with Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pépé both pushing, there seems little need for Aubameyang to hold the fort on the flank. Should Arteta take on Leicester with an attack that will put Aubameyang right at the heart of Arsenal’s threat? NA

4) Brewster back at Anfield with blunt Blades

Liverpool host Sheffield United as they try to adapt to life without Virgil van Dijk and could scarcely have handpicked more suitable opponents than Sheffield United, who have scored twice in their first five Premier League games. The bluntest team in the top flight, the Blades have injury woes of their own to contend with. Chris Wilder insists Jürgen Klopp’s loss of his defensive cornerstone is small beer compared with his task of having to plan without John Fleck, Jack O’Connell and Lys Mousset. Contrary to claims from the punditocracy that opponents have “figured out” his team, Wilder insists: “The system is fine, the players just need to play better.” Having made his debut off the bench against Fulham last week, record signing Rhian Brewster could make a fairytale full debut against his former club at Anfield, for a club in dire need of more goals. BG

5) Everton face a challenge of their strength in depth

Everton face a stern early test of their title credentials, such as they may be at this stage, at Southampton and will not be helped by James Rodríguez’s injury-induced absence. The Colombian has played a huge part in their flying start and appears to feel at home; he will be missed and with Richarlison suspended too, Everton’s supporting cast will have to step up. Alex Iwobi is a candidate to come in and Carlo Ancelotti praised him this week as “a player who works hard … with his quality he can help the team be better in certain situations”. Bernard is another possible replacement and it will be instructive to see whether either player can rise to the standards their teammates have set so far. Should they shine on Sunday, it will suggest Everton have the depth to become more than a fleeting fascination. NA

  • Southampton v Everton – Sunday 2pm GMT

6) Villa have chance to claim historic top spot

Nineteen years have passed since Aston Villa last topped the Premier League but they can lay that statistic to rest on Friday evening. Last season it took them 14 games to hit 15 points; victory over Leeds would get them to that mark in just five matches, and give them a cushion on which to make a genuine push for Europe. This could be the best game of the weekend: Leeds fell short of their swashbuckling selves on Monday when they ran out of steam against Wolves, but Marcelo Bielsa knows no other way than going for the jugular. His players will have to find a way past Emiliano Martínez, who has been imperious since joining from Arsenal and was once linked with a move to Elland Road. Villa, who look solid at the back and have an attacking midfield lineup to rival most, may soon have to be taken very seriously. NA


7) Fulham are far from dead and buried

Few Premier League sides have had their chances of survival written off as early in a campaign as Fulham, but while their prospects looked bleak following the concession of 10 goals in their opening three games, they finally have a point on the board, a comparatively stout defence and a major reason to be optimistic. On loan from RB Leipzig, Ademola Lookman capped a fine full debut for Fulham with a splendid solo goal that suggests talk of their inevitable demise may have been greatly exaggerated. Were it not for his teammate Aleksandar Mitrovic’s freakishly bad day at the office, Fulham would almost certainly have taken all three points against Sheffield United. Home games against sides such as Crystal Palace are exactly the kind Scott Parker’s side need to start winning, but they can approach Saturday’s match with the kind of confidence they have previously been lacking. BG

  • Fulham v Crystal Palace – Saturday, 3pm BST


8) Traoré to return against lightweight Magpies

Newcastle have been curiously pesky visitors to Molineux, where they have not suffered a defeat since 2003. Four of their last six meetings have ended 1-1, while the other two brought narrow victories for the visitors. Narrow victories are what Wolves have been specialising in recently, with 1-0 wins against Fulham and Leeds an acceptable way for Nuno Espírito Santo’s team to respond to last month’s alarming 4-0 defeat at West Ham. Adama Traoré has not started since then but there must be a temptation to pick him for Sunday’s clash. Newcastle’s open defence have allowed opponents more shots than any other team so far, and the whole world is demanding a showdown between Traoré and Allan Saint-Maximin. PD

9) Is Welbeck really the man to get Brighton firing?

Consigned to the wilderness of the Monday teatime slot and in the UK available to viewers only for a £14.95 pay-per-view fee, Brighton’s match against West Brom is the Premier League equivalent of that philosophical conundrum regarding the sound made by trees falling when there’s nobody there. A mighty oak in the heart of Brighton’s defence, Lewis Dunk will be absent as he serves the first instalment of a three-match ban following his dismissal against Crystal Palace last weekend, with either Dan Burn or Joel Veltman likely to get the nod in Graham Potter’s favoured back three. New signing Danny Welbeck could start on the bench for the hosts following his release from Watford and, for all the attractiveness of their buildup play, Brighton remain in need of a clinical, dead-eyed assassin up front. With just 44 goals in 224 career Premier League appearances, the 29-year-old seems unlikely to fit the bill. BG

  • Brighton v West Brom – Monday, 5.30pm GMT

10) Spurs could capitalise on rivals’ injuries

Here is an XI that could rattle anyone in the Premier League: Alisson Becker; Ricardo Pereira, Virgil van Dijk, Aymeric Laporte, Jonny Castro; Kevin De Bruyne, Wilfried Ndidi, Kalvin Phillips, John Fleck; Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus. The problem is, of course, that all of those players are injured. Many more key performers are going to be sidelined in this strange and frantic season. The title is up for grabs. Chances are, the eventual winners will suffer fewer ruinous injuries than others and will ram home their advantage when at full strength. It could be Spurs, so long as they do not mess up again the way they did against West Ham last weekend. They must get that out of their system fast, starting by winning at Burnley on Monday. PD

  • Burnley v Tottenham – Monday, 8pm GMT



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