After another long and grueling international break, the world’s most-watched football league returns on Saturday. Watford host Liverpool in a baptism of fire for Claudio Ranieri, who replaced Xisco Muñoz as Watford manager following a 0-1 loss to Leeds United. It is the fourth Premier League adventure for the Tinkerman, who’ll be looking to shake off memories of his most recent spell in England, when he was sacked after a three-month spell at Fulham in 2018/19.
The Hornets will be without Francisco Sierralta, Josh King, Christian Kabasele and Peter Etebo, whilst Thiago Alcantara, Harvey Elliott, and Diogo Jota are unlikely to feature in the match-up at Vicarage Road. Fabinho and Allison will miss out as well after only just returning from international duty with Brazil, whilst Trent Alexander-Arnold remains a minor doubt.
Liverpool served up one of the most entertaining fixtures of the season thus far in a 2-2 draw against Manchester City, with individual heroics from Mohammed Salah leading the Reds to a point at Anfield. City will be looking to close the gap at the top of the table by defeating Burnley at the Etihad. Premier League odds heavily favor the reigning Premier League champions, who are valued at -901 odds to win.
City’s last five home games against the Clarets have seen Pep Guardiola’s side take a 5-0 victory on each occasion. Burnley have desperately struggled against City with eight consecutive losses amounting to a combined scoreline of 30-1; Sean Dyche will be looking to break his demons and walk out of Manchester with a point.
It has been a worrying start for Burnley who sit in the relegation zone after picking up three points in seven games, including a stalemate against Norwich City at Turf Moor. In doing so, the Canaries picked up their first point at the Premier League level since February 2020, ending a run of 16 straight defeats.
They’ll be looking to double their point tally and pull off a shock result against 6th-placed Brighton, perhaps the biggest revelation of the early weeks of the season. The Seagulls are flying high under Graham Potter with 14 points, level with Everton, Manchester United, and Manchester City, and while they will be kicking themselves for failing to defeat Arsenal — they had 13 more shots than the Gunners in their 0-0 stalemate — they can get back to winning ways against the league’s bottom side.
Leeds United ended a horrid run of form and picked up their first league win of the season as Diego Llorente’s opening goal put an end to Xisco’s time in charge of Watford. They’ll be facing off against Southampton, one of four teams who have yet to win this season, and who are coming off back-to-back losses against Wolves and Chelsea.
Perhaps the most ‘underrated’ fixture of the lunchtime bunch, both sides are hovering above the relegation zone; only a win will see Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side leapfrog Marcelo Bielsa’s team in the standings. Along with his compatriots Gabriel Jesus, Alisson, and more, Raphinha will be unavailable after starring in Brazil’s 4-1 victory over Uruguay, whilst Robin Koch and Luke Ayling are sidelined as well.
Aston Villa play Wolverhampton Wanderers in a mouth-watering West Midlands derby, and Dean Smith could be without various key players such as Douglas Luiz, Emiliano Martínez, and Bertrand Traoré, whilst Francisco Trincão will miss out for the visitors after testing positive for COVID-19. Wolves have won four of their last seven league meetings against the Villans and they’ll be looking to add to their record under Bruno Lage on Saturday.
One of the most disappointing sides of the first fifth of the league season has been Leicester City, who, after narrowly missing out on Champions League football, have taken 8 points from 7 and even found themselves on the losing end of a Europa League fixture against Legia Warsaw. They’ll be looking to pick up their first league win since August as they welcome Manchester United to the King Power Stadium.
The Foxes are experiencing some major losses in defense with Wilfred Ndidi, James Justin and Wesley Fofana missing out due to injury, but Northern Ireland veteran Jonny Evans is finally available for selection and is expected to start against his former side. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be without his fair share of reliable performances in defense with Harry Maguire and Raphäel Varane set to miss out, whilst Fred, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford are unavailable as well.
We round out Saturday’s action with a West London derby between Brentford and Chelsea. Despite a troubling run of form that saw them lose to Juventus and Manchester City, the Champions League winners sit pretty atop the Premier League with 16 points after taking a 3-1 victory over Southampton. After equalizing from the spot, James Ward-Prowse went from hero to zero and was sent off for a reckless tackle on Jorginho.
Chelsea would go on to take the lead shortly after with Ross Barkley teeing up César Azpilicueta with a pinpoint pass, whose perfectly timed cross met the feet of Timo Werner for a tap-in; they would seal the victory with a well-struck finish from Ben Chilwell. Brentford, on the other hand, took an early lead at West Ham via Bryan Mbuemo, who pounced on a weak clearance from Łukasz Fabiański and fired in from close range.
The Hammers evened up proceedings in the 80th minute via Jarrod Bowen who, after two deflected headers from a corner kick, volleyed the equalizer past David Raya. It would not be the final set-piece drama, however: Yoane Wissa, the summer arrival from Lorient who had scored Brentford’s 82nd minute equalizer in their nail-biting 3-3 draw against Liverpool the week prior, found himself in ample space by the edge of the penalty spot and deftly converted the winning goal in the 94th minute.
West Ham will be looking to bounce back from their defeat and face off against Everton in a match that will see David Moyes return to the stadium he called home for 11 years. Rafa Benítez’s side paid a visit to Old Trafford in their recent fixture and found themselves trailing at halftime via a well-taken finish from Anthony Martial. However, Andros Towsend levelled the scoreline in the 65th minute and despite missing Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Seamus Coleman, the Toffees held on for a thrilling 1-1 draw.
The second Sunday match pits two sides with vastly different atmospheres and results against one another. Despite sitting nine points behind the visitors, Newcastle United have, at long last begun a new era freed from the shackles of Mike Ashley’s ownership. The takeover of Newcastle by a consortium led by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia raises a series of moral questions, but also a question regarding the club’s ambitions: as Steve Bruce prepares for his 1,000th game in management, how much longer can the Englishman remain in charge?
The Magpies fell to defeat on October 2 at Molineux as a brace from summer signing Hwang Hee-chan led Wolves to their second straight victory under Bruno Lage and condemned Newcastle to 19th in the Premier League. Hwang’s compatriot Heung Min-son could put backup goalkeeper Karl Darlow and his relegation-threatened backline under serious pressure, as Tottenham Hotspur look to pick up their third straight victory in all competitions under belattled manager Nuno Espírito Santo.
The final fixture of matchday 8 takes place in Emirates Stadium, as Patrick Vieira leads his young Crystal Palace team into battle in the same stadium that he called home for nine years as arguably the greatest midfielder in Arsenal history. Palace erased an early 0-2 deficit at home against Leicester City two weeks ago, with Michael Olise and Jeffrey Schlupp’s second-half goals turning the tide and sealing a draw for the eagles.
Arsenal were unable to extend their four-game winning streak under Mikel Arteta and found themselves lucky to take home a point from a tense encounter against Brighton, but having won their past seven Premier League home fixtures on Monday, they’ll be looking to add to another streak and continue their upward slide in momentum with a win against the Eagles.
By: Zach Lowy / @zachlowy
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Oli Scarff – AFP / James Williamson – AMA – Getty Images / Serena Taylor – Newcastle