The return of the Premier League from the international break elicited several talking points ranging from VAR, season ending injuries and great comebacks. Can Matchday Six live up to last week’s drama?
Aston Villa vs Leeds United
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After barely escaping relegation on the last day of last season, few would have expected Aston Villa to hold a 100% record. However, they now sit in second place after beating Leicester City with a last gasp winner from Ross Barkley. The strong opponents Villa have dispatched (Spurs, Liverpool and Leicester City) this season makes their achievements all the more impressive.
It took Aston Villa 13 games last season to reach the 12 point mark in the league and now has taken Villa just four games this season. Confidence is high and the sky is the limit for Dean Smith’s side.
Leeds understandably will feel doubly aggrieved. Firstly, they dominated possession against Wolves in the first half, yet weren’t able to pull the trigger and Wolves made them pay in the second half with the only goal of the game.
Secondly, Leeds won’t be impressed at having just a four day turnaround before facing Villa on Friday night. Villa are in wonderful form and Bielsa’s Leeds will need to recover quickly if they are to stop their opponent’s 100% record.
Prediction – Aston Villa 1-0 Leeds United
5 wins in 5 games for Aston Villa
West Ham vs Manchester City
TIMES PHOTOGRAPHER MARC ASPLAND
West Ham certainly put their fans through a mixture of emotions against Spurs on Sunday. 3-0 down within the first 16 minutes only to score 3 goals in the last 12 minutes to salvage a improbable draw.
David Moyes paid tribute to his side’s character. Manuel Lanzini’s equaliser is undoubtedly one of the goals of the season so far. However, Moyes knows if the defence repeat their first half performance against Manchester City, there will be no room for such amazing comebacks.
Manchester City may have edged Arsenal on Saturday but they had Ederson to thank after making several important saves. Pep Guardiola will be slightly worried at how his defence has become less of a barrier to opponents, as shown when Porto scored their opener at Manchester City in the Champions League in midweek, a consequence of not being able to adequately replace Vincent Kompany.
Yet with an attacking corps of Sergio Aguero, Riyad Mahrez, Phil Foden, Bernando Silva and Raheem Sterling avaliable, Manchester City can overwhelm opponents. Alas, if their defence is making errors then offensive firepower can only go so far.
Prediction – West Ham 1-3 Manchester City
No comebacks for the Hammers
Fulham vs Crystal Palace
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Sunday’s draw at Sheffield United was a double edged sword for the Cottagers. Though they won their first point of the season, it was seen as two points lost after conceding a penalty due to a high foot by Aleksandar Mitrović.
However, there were plus points for Scott Parker to take from the game. Firstly, Tosin Adarabioyo was one of Fulham’s best performers at centre back, with the 23 year old at ease in defence that is a sharp contrast in past Fulham performances this season. The Cottagers must use this as a base to push on and three points on Saturday is a must.
As for Crystal Palace, they nearly pulled off a smash and grab win against Brighton, only to concede in stoppage time to drop two points. Palace were on the backfoot against Brighton, outclassed in possession (35%) and had 1 goal on target that was the penalty converted by Wilfried Zaha.
Such statistics can work away from home like at Manchester United when approaching a counter attack approach. But doing it at home can only take them so far. Maybe that’s why Palace might not extend Roy Hodgson’s contract when it expires in the summer.
Prediction – Fulham 1-1 Crystal Palace
Points to be shared at Craven Cottage
Manchester United vs Chelsea
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The game of Matchday Six. Manchester United will be feeling confident after two results, beating Newcastle United 4-1 after pulling away in the last ten minutes of play and a brilliant 2-1 win at PSG in the Champions League.
Back to back wins will lessen the pressure on Ole Gunner Solskjaer and a win at Old Trafford would signal they are beginning to turn a corner at least for now. A defeat would leave them with a unwanted record by losing their first three league games of the season since 1930-31.
In terms of pressure, it’s Chelsea manager Frank Lampard who is feeling the heat after his side threw away a two goal lead, regained it and conceded in stoppage time. Southampton’s second goal was yet another glaring error by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Chelsea’s goalless draw against Sevilla in the Champions League was a small step forward and Lampard will be glad Edouard Mendy is back to full fitness. They need to avoid defeat and what would help is avoid making individual errors, as each of Southampton’s goals came from mistakes.
Prediction – Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea
Lampard to feel the heat.
Liverpool vs Sheffield United
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Liverpool suffered twin blows in their 2-2 draw at Everton. Firstly, losing Virgil Van Dijk likely for the season to a long term knee injury after being tackled by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, yet no action was taken against Pickford in or after the game. Secondly, Thiago Alcântara is sidelined after Richarlison’s horror tackle that led to his red card.
With Alisson out it means Liverpool are without the two players that propelled them from a Top 4 side to a Premier League and Champions League winning team in back to back seasons. How Jurgen Klopp’s side fares against Sheffield United is intriguing and many pundits have already changed their mind on Liverpool defending their league title.
Sheffield United won their first point of the season against Fulham yet it is ominous they have failed to win any of their opening five league games to a season for the first time since 2006-07, when they were relegated from the Premier League.
The Blades are heading into a tough period of fixture, as they face Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in the next few weeks. However, Rhian Brewster facing Liverpool is a interesting subplot, with the striker wanting to prove a point against his old club that still has a buyback option.
Prediction – Liverpool 2-0 Sheffield United
Back to winning ways for Liverpool
Southampton vs Everton
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Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was pleased at his team’s grit in gaining a point at Chelsea he felt was richly deserved after going behind twice. Southampton have overcome losing their first two league games by being undefeated in three games with two wins and a draw.
Though defence is a slight issue for Southampton, averaging nearly two goals conceded in the league, Danny Ings can’t stop scoring and his goal at Chelsea means only Jamie Vardy has scored more goals in the league since the start of last season.
Everton still sit at the top of the league despite the furore over the lack of a red card for Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside derby. Yet Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s equaliser continues his fantastic form infront of goal and is developing into a real threat upfront.
Though Everton now face a test with Richarlison banned for three games after his straight red card, James Rodriguez and Seamus Coleman out with injury. The true test of Everton’s credentials to break into the Top 6 has come now injuries and suspensions are into play. Can those replacements cope in their absence?
Prediction – Southampton 1-1 Everton.
A close fought game at St Mary’s.
Wolves vs Newcastle United
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Manchester City – Premier League – Molineux – (Copyright PA Wire)
Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo was pleased at his side’s second half performance at Leeds – rewarded with a goal via Raul Jiménez’s deflected shot. Moving up to sixth after three wins in five league games, Wolves have started well.
Newcastle United were sturdy opposition last season for Wolves in the league – both games ending 1-1. As I have said before, what has stopped Wolves from moving up into Top 6 contenders is dropping points to mid-table sides. A win at Molineux on Sunday can help eradicate those barriers.
Losing 4-1 to Manchester United last week was harsh on Newcastle who was in the game up until stoppage time when Manchester United made it 3-1. Karl Darlow has deputised well in the absence of Martin Dúbravka, saving Bruno Fernandes’ penalty while the scores were level. Darlow is a injury doubt, struggling at the latter end of the game. With Dúbravka still injured, manager Steve Bruce will hope the 30 year old shrugs off his knock despite the attacking talents of Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin.
Prediction – Wolves 2-0 Newcastle.
Wolves to bank their fourth win in five league games.
Arsenal vs Leicester City
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Arsenal’s defeat at Manchester City felt like a missed opportunity to show they can take points away from home against the other Big Six teams. They didn’t play terribly yet couldn’t create enough opportunities. Some pointed to a lack of creativity, notably the ostracising of Mesut Ozil, yet sitting in 5th place after five games is a decent starting position. Facing Leicester City on Sunday evening is a test, as they failed to beat the Foxes last season in the league, but a win shall build further confidence. The Gunners will hope their performance isn’t as rocky as their Europa In win at Rapid Vienna on Thursday.
Back to back league defeats would have brought anguished memories from fans of last season when their late season form cost them a place in the Champions League. Defeat to Aston Villa last week at the death was a bitter pill to swallow and manager Brendan Rodgers would have been worried at their lack of cutting edge upfront without the injured Jamie Vardy.
The striker faces a race to be fit for the game at Arsenal yet the loss of Calgar Soyuncu for up to three months with an abductor injury is a blow. The Turkish defender was excellent last season and Wesley Fofana faces a baptism of fire should he start.
Prediction – Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City
The Gunners to shade a very close game.
Brighton vs West Brom
Brighton may have been relieved at getting a stoppage time equaliser against Palace, as they controlled possession (65%) and had 20 shots on goal. The Seagulls need to be prolific in front of goal so to turn defeat to Manchester United and a draw at Crystal Palace into wins.
Monday’s game at home to the Baggies are the games the Seagulls need to win, as winning just one match from five isn’t the forward progress manager Graham Potter wanted in his second season. To make things harder, Brighton are without Lewis Dunk for three games after his red card at Palace.
West Brom’s goalless draw against Burnley was a missed opportunity and highlights their lack of quality upfront. The signing of Karlan Grant from Huddersfield can provide goals, as he scored 19 in the Championship last season, though he is untested in the Premier League.
Keeping a clean sheet for the first time this season is a positive, but need to find a consistent goalscorer to avoid spiralling into a relegation dogfight. Manager Slaven Bilić wanted to build on the positive of getting a point to jump out of the relegation zone. Victory at Brighton would be just the tonic.
Prediction – Brighton 2-1 West Brom
Brighton to find the goals to reward their attacking play.
Burnley vs Tottenham
Burnley may have won their first point of the season at West Brom last week though reached an unwanted milestone in failing to win their last five league games since late 2018. Burnley could use fatigue from the Europa League as a reason for their bad form back then yet now it is lack of recruitment and injuries that is hampering them.
They need to win games sooner rather than later though facing Spurs and Chelsea next week is a hard starting point for a comeback. Yet grit and determination has always been part of Burnley’s DNA and will not stop now they are in the relegation zone.
Victory in their Europa League opener against LASK on Thursday was a confidence booster for Spurs after their capitulation to West Ham. Throwing away a three goal lead in 12 minutes elicited strong criticism from pundits and quite the memes on social media.
Manager Jose Mourinho was at pains to say this type of collapse wouldn’t happen again and signing centre back Joe Rodon from Swansea is certainly one to look out for. In fairness, Spurs’ attack was brutally efficient in the first 16 minutes against West Ham by scoring three goals and if they repeat such attacking potency could blow Burnley away.
Prediction – Burnley 0-2 Tottenham
Spurs back to winning ways in the league
By: Yousef Teclab
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Visionhaus – Getty Images Sport / Matthew Peters – Manchester United