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Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Premier League


1) Leicester and Arsenal in battle for fifth

Back-to-back league wins over Manchester United and Brentford suggest Leicester City have hit their stride after a shaky enough start to the season and Brendan Rodgers’s side are likely to provide a stern test for an Arsenal team that has also improved but were perhaps overpraised for their most recent league win against a surprisingly meek Aston Villa. Saturday’s early kick-off should provide a stern test of what currently passes for both teams’ mettle. Locked together on 14 points, a win for either will send them fifth for a few hours at least. They would constitute dizzy heights at the 10-game mark when the league table is generally accepted to be taking shape, not least for an Arsenal side that began the current campaign with three straight defeats. BG

2) Maguire, not Lindelöf, must make way for Varane

A 5-0 home pounding from your fiercest rivals isn’t the most obvious route to inner peace, but for Ole Gunnar Solskjær there is solace in the certainty that things can’t get any worse. Consequently, he may as well make some decisions, either bold or obvious. Manchester United have existed for 143 years, in which time there have been few performances as mind-bogglingly dreadful as Harry Maguire’s last two league efforts, so he, not Victor Lindelöf must make way for Raphäel Varane. The similarly ailing Luke Shaw should also be replaced, by Alex Telles, and though Donny van de Beek has done little to earn a start, he may as well get one now, likewise Jadon Sancho. But the most significant change Solskjaer must make is to United’s formation. Neither 4-3-3 nor 4-2-3-1 are working, so a 4-1-4-1, with the wide players asked to defend as well as attack, might help balance a team that has no business being this horrendous. DH

3) Can returning Lamptey halt Salah threat?

When Brighton deservedly won at Anfield in February, Liverpool had Nat Phillips and Jordan Henderson in central defence, there was no Allison in goal and no fans in the stands. What is more, Liverpool were, according to Jürgen Klopp, mentally and physically tired. So this Saturday’s duel at Anfield should be a very different challenge for the visitors, since Liverpool could hardly be in better shape. How, for instance, can Graham Potter’s side subdue Mohamed Salah this time, with the Egyptian aiming to score for an 11th successive match? The answer may lie in a change to the Brighton team: last week Tariq Lamptey came off the bench to make a terrific return to Premier League action after a 10-month absence with injury. If the 21-year-old is fit enough to start at Anfield, he could force Salah backwards. PD

4) Gallagher can show off talents against champions

It does not seem a stretch to imagine Conor Gallagher as a Chelsea regular next season. The 21-year-old loanee has arguably been Crystal Palace’s best player this season, and one could imagine his athleticism, intelligence and old-fashioned ruggedness alongside the guile and craft of Jorginho and Mason Mount in midfield. For now, that remains a dream: reality is a trip with Palace to the champions on Saturday. However, if he continues his trajectory over the course of this season, it is not impossible to see him forcing his way into Thomas Tuchel’s plans next year at the expense of Ross Barkley, Billy Gilmour or Saúl Ñíguez. Gallagher was magnificent in Palace’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal and Patrick Vieira will be hoping for a similar display at another of the Frenchman’s former clubs. MB

5) Newcastle playing for their replacements

Still without a league win to their name this season, Newcastle will do well to rectify that particular situation against table-toppers who spanked seven goals past Norwich City last weekend despite the absence of their first choice strikers. Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner remain sidelined but Chelsea should have more than enough firepower to torpedo a Newcastle side, who were extremely fortunate to take a point at Crystal Palace. In his first game in charge as interim boss, Graeme Jones started several big name players on the bench and it is difficult to see howFabian Schär, Miguel Almirón, Joe Willock and Jamal Lewis would not constitute a significant upgrade on the players picked ahead of them last weekend. With 11 league games to play before they can start investing their new found billions in the transfer market, the current rabble find themselves in the weird position of needing to scrap for every point in order to make life easier for their inevitable replacements. BG

6) Will Ward-Prowse march back into Saints’ XI?

James Ward-Prowse played every minute of every top flight game for Southampton last season but has sat out their past three games in the league and Carabao Cup through suspension after his dismissal against Chelsea. In his absence, Ibrahima Diallo has stepped up and impressed as Southampton secured four of their unsatisfactory tally of eight league points with a win over Leeds and a draw with Burnley. While Ward-Prowse is available for selection after his spell on the naughty step, his return to Southampton’s starting line-up for their visit to Watford may not be the formality many would have predicted prior to his ban. BG

7) Fernández has big gloves to fill for Brentford

Brentford’s defeat to Leicester was costly in more ways than one. David Raya, the Bees’ No 1, will be out for at least four months after sustaining a knee injury, which represents “a massive blow” for Thomas Frank, both defensively and in possession. Raya is both an exceptional shot-stopper and his long-range distribution towards Ivan Toney and co has been a notable factor in his side’s play. Following the 3-3 draw with Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp joked that Raya “could have the shirt with number 10”, such was the quality of his passing. His replacement is Álvaro Fernández, who arrived on loan from Huesca in the summer. Capped by Spain in June, Fernández will have to be ready for an aerial bombardment at Turf Moor on Saturday. MB

8) Norwich can further lift Leeds spirits

You can’t doubt Leeds’ morale, nor their energy. They could have slumped last weekend after Raphinha added to their long casualty list but instead they rallied and made Wolves suffer before earning a late equaliser thanks to trickery by young Joe Gelhardt and composure by Rodrigo. So there was encouragement to be taken from that game, and also from the midweek Carabao Cup tussle with Arsenal, if only because Kalvin Phillips returned to the starting lineup. If Raphinha also returns on Sunday, then Leeds can be confident of getting back to winning ways against Norwich, for whom positives are much harder to detect. PD

9) In-form Hammers can trouble Villa

Every time it seems like West Ham have hit their peak, they scale another. Taking just the last couple of weeks, they found a way – OK, a set-piece – to win a stinker at Everton, swept aside Genk, found a way to beat Spurs in the derby – OK, a set-piece – then overcame Manchester City on penalties in midweek. They deserved to win both of those league games, and though there’s nothing wrong with scoring from free-kicks and corners, but they do need to get better at creating from open play; an improvement well within their reach, given the quality they have. Villa, who haven’t won since the middle of September and were especially horrible against Arsenal last weekend, will give West Ham space in which to express themselves – a decent opportunity for the Hammers to get forward in greater numbers and use the talent they have to pick inferior teams apart. DH

10) Wolves’ results outstrip their performances

These are curious times at Wolves. The facts say they are in good form, with three wins and a draw from their last four matches. But the eyes say they have not been playing particularly well during that run and have shed much of the brio that made them so thrilling to watch in their first three league matches – all of which they lost. So Bruno Lage’s task against Everton is to continue picking up points while regaining the attacking enterprise of earlier in the campaign. Rafael Benítez’s challenge, meanwhile, is to plot a redemptive performance after last week’s absurd 5-2 collapse at home to Watford. PD



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