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


1) Liverpool have attacking edge over United

One of English football’s fiercest rivalries resumes at Old Trafford on Sunday, with both teams coming off dramatic 3-2 midweek wins in the Champions League. Liverpool look close to the force of 2018-2020 again, give or take a few defensive doubts, and it is Manchester United who go into the game with shakier confidence. Jürgen Klopp’s first win at Old Trafford came in May of this year, a 4-2 victory that was chastening for Ole Gunnar Solskjær. “When you play against good players and good teams you can’t give easy goals away,” he said afterwards, a comment that could be readily attached to several matches this season. Klopp has his reliable trident of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino back in form. Solskjær has as much attacking talent to call on, but is yet to find consistency or coherence from a group including Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard. Does Solskjær risk the freeform presence of Paul Pogba? The Frenchman was benched against Atalanta, though his absence did little to lock down United defensively. JB

Manchester United v Liverpool, Sunday 4.30pm (all times BST)

2) Are Villa closing the gap on Arsenal?

Arsenal have gone five top-flight games unbeaten but, given their most recent two brought underwhelming performances in draws against Brighton and Crystal Palace, excited murmurs that Mikel Arteta’s side might be turning things around have quietened somewhat. They may gather volume again if Aston Villa can be seen off at the Emirates on Friday night in what feels like a significant clash. Villa have beaten Arsenal three times in a row and demolished them 3-0 in this fixture last season; they have an outstanding ex-Arsenal goalkeeper in Emiliano Martínez and felt confident enough in their pulling power to test the water this summer with two bids for Emile Smith Rowe. They are a place, and a single point, behind the Gunners and may justifiably feel confident their long-term prospects are just as good. The gap between these two clubs has narrowed to the point of being imperceptible: it would be a major fillip for Arsenal if, this time, Villa can be put in their place. NA

Arsenal v Aston Villa, Friday 8pm

'It has to change': Mikel Arteta condemns abuse of managers – video
‘It has to change’: Mikel Arteta condemns abuse of managers – video

3) Blues face yellow wall at the Bridge

After a run of form more competent than inspiring, Chelsea gave an ominous reminder of how ruthlessly they can swat aside minnows when they hammered Malmö on Wednesday. There was a swagger to their performance in probably their easiest Champions League group assignment that will worry Saturday’s opponents, bottom-placed Norwich. The loss of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner through injury shouldn’t jolt the league leaders greatly, given the former’s recent dip and the perennial inconsistency of the latter. The likes of Kai Havertz and Callum Hudson-Odoi should still keep the Canaries defence busy in a test of Thomas Tuchel’s attacking reserves. Norwich have at least risen to such challenges lately, well-drilled defensive performances earning consecutive draws with Burnley and Brighton. Daniel Farke’s team sat back for long spells in those games and will probably have little choice but do more of the same on Saturday. TD

Chelsea v Norwich, Saturday 12.30pm

4) Jones steps in amid off-field arguments

Crystal Palace take on Newcastle at Selhurst Park on Saturday, after a week where Palace chairman Steve Parish is reported to have led proposals to temporarily ban sponsorships from parties related to a club’s ownership, a vote eventually carried by 18 clubs in the wake of Newcastle’s takeover. Palace would be one of those clubs vulnerable to a former peer becoming flush. Wilfried Zaha, for instance, is the kind of a player Newcastle might move for when the January transfer window opens. Until then, the priority is finding a new manager after Steve Bruce was put out of his misery on Wednesday. Stepping into his crocodile shoes is his former assistant, Graeme Jones, who arrived in January to the suspicion – flatly denied by all parties – that he was on board to supplant Bruce. Jones last had a frontline job with Luton, where he struggled to repeat the success of namesake predecessor Nathan Jones, and ended up being replaced by the same man. JB

5) Wolves to pounce on weakened Leeds?

The depth of Leeds’ squad is being sorely tested. Last week they lost to Southampton, who became the first team this season to outrun and outfight Marcelo Bielsa’s side, and this weekend they will again have to cope without several key players. Kalvin Phillips and Patrick Bamford are out injured, as are defenders Luke Ayling, Robin Koch and Junior Firpo. So it is a bad time to meet Wolves, who showed when storming back to win at Aston Villa last week that they can punish any team who slacken off the pace. A clash between two teams dedicated to attacking football could produce plenty of goals, and the visitors look a good bet to run out as winners. PD

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6) West Ham enjoy new status in local derby

West Ham v Tottenham has always been something of a lopsided rivalry, mattering that bit more to Hammers fans than those of Spurs, for whom the priority is bettering Arsenal. That said, the two sides currently compete more or less as equals, with David Moyes’s side the more coherent in the past two seasons. All of which makes Sunday’s derby one to relish. While two wins on the bounce have lifted Nuno Espírito Santo’s side to fifth, they didn’t look as composed in them as West Ham did in seeing off Everton last weekend. West Ham look better set up away – where the outstanding Declan Rice and Tomas Soucek in midfield can draw the sting from attacking opponents – than at home, where they haven’t won in the league since August. They may need to get on the front foot early against a Spurs side who can be slow starters, and have been overwhelmed a couple of times on their travels this season. Nuno made wholesale changes for the Europa Conference League defeat by Vitesse in the hope his first-choice Spurs side will be fresher on Sunday. They will need to be. TD

7) An early top-four test for Brighton

Although fewer than 8,000 fans were there to see it, Brighton’s 3-2 win over Manchester City in May was one of last season’s most uplifting occasions. A limited number of supporters had just been allowed back into stadiums and they were rewarded with a scintillating comeback victory, the Seagulls’ first in the Premier League over City after seven straight defeats. Pep Guardiola’s players could point to an imminent Champions League final that night but there will be no such excuse this time, and City cannot afford to let Chelsea pull too much further away at the top. Brighton give very little up defensively and a tight yet highly watchable affair appears likely. Despite two straight goalless draws Graham Potter’s team still sit fourth, one place behind City. A repeat of last season’s outcome would bring up the tantalising possibility they might just be at the business end to stay. NA

Brighton v Manchester City, Saturday 5.30pm

8) Gbamin gets his chance for Everton

Claudio Ranieri claimed it is impossible for his team to play worse than they did in the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend. That could be interpreted as a challenge. It will be interesting to see how Watford’s players respond, with this being the first week the new manager has been able to work with all their players, including the internationals. There will also be intrigue in how Rafa Benítez attempts to solve the latest problem to beset Everton – the injury to Abdoulaye Doucouré, who had been thriving this season in an enterprising role similar to the one he used to fulfil as a Watford player. Jean-Philippe Gbamin has had to bide his time since joining Everton three years ago – owing to injuries, he has made just one Premier League start to date. Perhaps Doucouré’s misfortune could present the Ivorian with an opportunity to show what he can do at last. PD

'I am so young … why are you laughing?': Ranieri ready for Watford test – video
‘I am so young … why are you laughing?’: Ranieri ready for Watford test – video

9) Daka ready to make Foxes impact

Leicester did not sign Patson Daka in the expectation he would blow anyone’s socks off this season. The 23-year-old is seen as a project for the next few years, given that the day will eventually come when Jamie Vardy slows up. But he has announced himself over the past week with five goals, including all four in the freewheeling win at Spartak Moscow, and a first Premier League start would appear a matter of time. Brendan Rodgers seems more likely to stick with the team that overwhelmed Manchester United for Sunday’s tricky trip to Brentford, but Daka may well get a chance from the bench to put heat on Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho. The Zambian striker has timing that cannot be taught: his judgement of the offside line is an art form and his finishing, just as it was at Red Bull Salzburg, is clinical. Another big contribution in west London would heighten the sense his day is coming ahead of schedule. NA

10) Sharper shooting needed at St Mary’s

It is tempting to say Burnley are too good to go down. Seriously. Their all-round performances have been strong in most of their matches this season and they have been unfortunate not to have won a game so far. Getting off the mark at Southampton would be no surprise – but then again, neither would a home win. Both sides have suffered this season from a lack of cutting edge, which has undermined otherwise impressive work. Whichever team has their sights set most accurately on Saturday should prevail. A draw looks most likely. PD



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