After what should be seen as a very successful opening Champions League game week for the English clubs, the Premier League returns this weekend. For those in Europe, they now have a added complication when it comes to team selection so expect to see managers start tinkering with their starting 11’s.
The weekend starts early with a Friday night kick off between Bournemouth and Brighton. Bournemouth have struggled to get going so far this season with the feeling that teams have figured them out. Eddie Howe has done a brilliant job keeping them in the premier league and I still think they will have enough against some of the bottom sides to remain in the division past this season, but there is no doubt he needs to start coming up with other ways of approaching games. Their defence is nowhere near good enough but they have struggled for goals this time out which is a surprise with the amount of attacking talent they possess and the signing of Jermain Defoe was expected to bring about more goals. I think this week, however, is where they finally pick up goals and crucially points. Brighton had a great win last time out against a West Brom side that had been unbeaten up until they arrived at the Amex, so maybe I am being harsh on them, but I think Bournemouth will have too much for them at home.
The top sides do not kick off until Saturday afternoon when Liverpool welcome Burnley, Man City have a tough trip to high flying Watford and Spurs have a nice looking fixture at home to Swansea. Liverpool were the only English side who failed to pick up 3 points in midweek and they will have to make do without Sadio Mane for three weeks after his controversial sending off last week. I thought they would have enough to beat Sevilla but maybe they did carry more of a city hangover to what I expected they would. One bonus from Wednesday, however, was the return of Philippe Coutinho who would be a great replacement for Mane during his suspension. Burnley come in off the back of a hard fought win over Palace and a great point at Wembley the game week previous. However, I don’t feel they deserved the 4 points they got from those games and that Liverpool will have far too much for them in attack. I expect Coutinho to return, maybe a start for Daniel Sturridge and a comfortable afternoon for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Man City demolished Liverpool last week and Feyenoord on Wednesday, with Pep finally seeing his attacking players come to fruition. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are scoring regularly, Kevin De Bruyne is controlling games exceptionally well and he has a bench full of fresh ideas to come on and make a difference. If he gets Vincent Kompany back anytime soon then they are surely the team to beat this season, as painful as that is to say. However, Watford have started brilliantly, comfortably in the top half of the league with another fine victory last week at struggling Southampton. Marcos Silva has got them playing well but more importantly, together and this will not be a walkover. I still think City will be too strong, but I don’t see another rout for the boys in blue.
Much like Liverpool, I do not see any way that Swansea spring a surprise in London on Saturday evening. Spurs are flying at the moment after a somewhat uncertain start, recording two huge wins over Everton last Saturday and then, what I feel was a huge step to qualifying for the knockout phase, beating Borussia Dortmund at home. They also have Deli Alli fit and fresh for the game due to his suspension in Europe. Swansea failed to keep their momentum up following their victory at Palace by losing to Newcastle at home and look lacking in creativity in midfield. Renato Sanches showed early signs of his quality but faded at a rapid rate, Paul Clement will need him to improve at an even quicker rate in order to supply the chances to Tammy Abraham and Wilfried Bony because they will need to score goals in order to draw most games, let alone win.
We are then spoilt by 2 huge games on Sunday, as Arsenal visit Stamford Bridge in the repeat of last seasons FA Cup final and then the United welcome Everton to Manchester to finish the weekend. Of course, the two London clubs faced off more recently than May’s cup finals, in the curtain raising Community Shield. However, you could not get two contrasting situations if you tried. Heading to Wembley Chelsea were in a bad place with injuries, transfer issues with Diego Costa, losing out on Romelu Lukaku and a squad lacking in depth. Arsenal had a promising pre-season, had secured the services of Alexandre Lacazette and were coming in off the back of beating Chelsea to the FA cup. The day didn’t get any better with Arsenal battling back to force a penalty shootout, which they went on to win. However, the tables have turned, with Arsenal suffering a humiliating defeat at Anfield, a farcical transfer window and the same black cloud hanging over their manager that was there last season. After a rocky opener, Chelsea have come storming back and that did not change in Europe, putting 6 past Qarabag, I can not see Arsenal getting anything out of this game. They would need all their big players firing but unfortunately the biggest of them all looks like he wants to be anywhere else but in an Arsenal shirt.
They may have lost their unbeaten run last week, but United bounced back with a simple win in midweek. The loss of Paul Pogba will hurt them after he started so brightly, with goals and assists, but I thought Marouane Fellaini was excellent when he came on on Tuesday night and has probably played himself into the starting 11 for Sunday ahead of Ander Herrera. That is not something I thought I would ever be writing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marcus Rashford return in place of Anthony Martial and the defence will return to the how it has been, maybe minus Matteo Darmian, who doesn’t offer enough in attack to warrant his place in the side at home. The left back position is one that needs rectifying, with a definite opportunity for someone to grab it and make it theirs, that someone should be Luke Shaw who could offer the same attacking threat to what Antonio Valencia offers on the other flank. Ashley Young could have played himself into the left back slot after his performance in midweek, although defensively he was never really tested. For Everton, I was adamant that they did not have anywhere near enough to trouble Spurs last weekend and I was proved correct, going down to an easy 3-0 home defeat. They then backed that up with the same scoreline on Thursday. United should not have anything to fear going into this game and I can only see yet another convincing home victory.
The season is now in full flow and it is at this stage where squads begin to get fully utilised. Other distractions have kicked in with the international break and European campaigns, with the league cup also around the corner. Jose Mourinho has a deep squad full of talent that should stand him and his side in a strong position to mount a serious challenge to the Premier League title.