Virgil van Dijk will be needed at Watford, Chelsea face a test of their title credentials and Andy Carroll could make his return
1) Van Dijk too good to be rested by Liverpool
Troy Deeney, looking to get back into Watford’s starting lineup against Liverpool, may regret the candour that makes him such an engaging interviewee. For how can Javi Gracia pick him when the striker admitted in September: “I hate going up against [Virgil van Dijk]. He’s too big, too strong, too quick, too good on the ball, loves fighting, a good head of hair?” Van Dijk will go into Saturday’s game on the back of a particularly satisfying international break, capped by a spectacular goal for his country against Germany. His commanding presence should ensure Liverpool avoid being bullied the way they were during last season’s 3-3 draw, when their defence panicked every time Watford came at them. Jürgen Klopp might be tempted to rest one or two key players on Saturday before Wednesday’s high-stakes Champions League duel in Paris but he cannot afford to omit Van Dijk. Another player who excelled for his national side, Xherdan Shaqiri, is close to indispensable too – he has become Liverpool’s most creative midfielder. PD
2) Chelsea’s title hopes tested at Wembley
As if trying to beat Manchester City home and away isn’t a tall enough order, any Premier League sides harbouring serious title aspirations also need to avoid dropping points to each other. Manchester United finished best of the rest last season, 19 points off the pace after dropping 11 of them to other top-six sides. Of last season’s top five also-rans, Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United have already lost to City this time around, while Liverpool managed a commendable draw. Chelsea don’t face the champions until early December, but come up against Spurs at Wembley in this weekend’s glamour game. The season is still relatively young and a trip to Wembley is obviously daunting, but with the champions in such imperious form this match already has the whiff of “must-win” about it, if Maurizio Sarri’s team are to prove capable of halting another serene title procession by City. BG
3) Fred to put United on the front foot?
Many of Manchester United’s best performances in the last year or so under José Mourinho have come when they have played as if not managed by him, which is to say when they have had to chase games with a degree of abandon. Recent come-from-behind victories are good examples, as was the 3-2 win when they last met Crystal Palace. Their display on Saturday needs to be more like that, and certainly nothing like the meek demonstration they put on for the Manchester derby. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic played so poorly in that match that dropping them this weekend is practically mandatory, so Saturday could be the right time to give Fred another opportunity to recapture the form that made United buy him for £52m, and show he has adapted to the physical demands of the Premier League. PD
4) Cardiff in the pass-and-move groove
Cardiff City go to Everton high on the hog after a victory over Brighton that featured a goal scored from the kind of sublime 16-pass move you really don’t expect to see from a team managed by Neil Warnock. More readily associated with the kind of route one football that served them so well in winning promotion, Cardiff have slowly evolved this season, with goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and his defenders given more licence to play the ball out from the back and get between the lines when it suits them. Warnock’s trust in his players to spray the ball across the deck while maintaining possession is increasingly evident and paid off in scintillating style against Brighton. While Cardiff are unlikely to score too many more goals like that, their quiet progress suggests they may not be the relegation certainties most thought. BG
5) A tricky run of games begins for Bournemouth
For Bournemouth to sit sixth at this stage of the season is impressive but their rise has been assisted by a forgiving fixture list. So far they have played only one of the five teams above them and three of the top eight, while facing seven of the league’s bottom eight sides. They have taken 14 points from games against teams they played last season, the same number they took from the equivalent fixtures in 2017-18. But the fixture gods are about to turn on them: their next four matches include Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool – although they will also complete the bottom-eight set against Huddersfield. Before the end of the year they will also play Chelsea (in the Carabao Cupquarter-finals), Tottenham and Manchester United. While they are very likely to remain in the top half, failing to match the home win over Arsenal in January will see them drop below the level that saw them finish 12th last term. SB
6) Carroll to make a rare West Ham appearance?
West Ham supporters could be treated to a rare sighting of Andy Carroll when their side entertain Manchester City. The injury-prone striker was last seen muddying his spats against Manchester United in May before undergoing ankle surgery in the summer, but is expected to be among the substitutes on Saturday. Recurring ankle problems restricted Carroll to 18 appearances last season, in which he scored just three goals. With his contract due to expire in the summer, the 29-year-old needs a break from the physio room to have any hope of earning a new one. The omens don’t look great – in a little over six years at West Ham, the Geordie Jesus has been sidelined for 27 different spells and has made only 114 Premier League appearances with a return of 33 goals. As Plan Bs go, he is effective but as unlucky as he is expensive. The patience of his employers must be wearing thin. BG
7) Ranieri to turn up the heat on Hughes?
If things go according to plan for the hosts at Craven Cottage, then Claudio Ranieri’s first match as Fulham manager might just be Mark Hughes’ last in charge of Southampton. Ranieri’s mission is clear: to haul Fulham to safety by making them more solid. They are likely to play very differently to Slavisa Jokanovic’s freewheeling losers. Southampton have failed to score in five of their last eight league matches and if Fulham succeed in shutting them out after just a few drills from Ranieri, then criticism of Hughes, who has won three of 20 league matches since his appointment in March, is sure to intensify. PD
8) Wolves on the hunt against a patched-up defence
Last season, Zanka played every Premier League minute for Huddersfield. He was booked six times in total, and only twice before Christmas. This year, he missed the 6-1 thrashing at Manchester City with a minor injury, and has been taking bookings like a Michelin-starred restaurant. From the start of September there was a run of four in five games, and another against West Ham means he is suspended for this match. Chris Löwe, who like Zanka has started 11 of the team’s 12 league games so far, is injured, and the Terriers will be forced to bring an unfamiliar defence to Molineux. With David Wagner flitting between four- and five-man back-lines, their defensive shape is scarcely more predictable than the personnel. Wolves might consider Huddersfield’s rearguard ripe for pillaging. SB
9) More home comforts for Brighton?
Defeats at Everton and Cardiff mean Brighton, who had the worst away record in the league last season, find themselves in the familiar position of hoping their home form will offset bad results on the road. Their chances of victory on Saturday will increase significantly if Pascal Gross is fit enough to return. His absence with an ankle injury has deprived Chris Hughton’s team of creativity so far this season, with Solly March unable to fill the gap. There is also the possibility of the fit-again Florin Andone making his long-awaited home debut off the bench. The Romanian striker could reduce the dependency on Glenn Murray for goals, though Murray will be particularly eager to score given that his penalty miss spurred Leicester on to victory at the Amex last season. PD
10) Benítez bids to keep climbing at Burnley
The Monday night fixture is a feat of scheduling that transforms Newcastle’s shortest away trip into far more of a nuisance than it needs to be for travelling fans. Back-to-back victories have moved Newcastle out of the drop zone and they face a reasonably kind run of fixtures, with five games against bottom-half teams between now and their Boxing Day visit to Anfield. “I think the international break is bad for us, but at the same time it gives us time to recover and spend time with our families,” said Rafael Benítez. “We can come back with more energy and if we can get another couple of good results, I’ve always said November and December will be so important for us.” A lot done, more to do for Benítez, whose team now face a Burnley side that has also got just two league wins to its name. It is unlikely to be a game for the purists, but its importance cannot be overstated for either side. BG
- Burnley v Newcastle, Monday 8pm GMT