How a player is used matters. Before we start to get out the pitchforks and torches when an obviously talented player isn’t performing up to his reputation/transfer fee we should consider how that player was being used when he gained his big reputation and how he’s being used now that that reputation is being sullied. It’s easy to think back only a season to Angel Di Maria who was great at Real Madrid and for Argentina but was mediocre for Manchester United. We can throw the same lens on players like Juan Cuadrado or Filipe Luiz from last season’s Chelsea squad. Neither are bad players but they weren’t used in a way to get the best from the talents that they do possess.
I bring this up for two reasons. One of those reasons is the re-emergence of Aaron Ramsey as a force in the Premier League over the course of the past week. No, the opposition hasn’t been fantastic but it is clear that Ramsey is meant to play in the same spot that Santi Cazorla has been occupying at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. His ability to transition from defense to attack and his effectiveness at both needs no further demonstration than Arsenal’s second goal on Sunday. Ramsey executed a well-timed tackle that, if made by most other midfielders, would have stopped the Villa attacking move through a foul. Instead, Ramsey deftly dislodged the ball from his opponent and got it to a teammate while going to the ground in the process. Rather than lagging behind, he picked himself up and sprinted into the perfect position half a field away to be ready when Mesut Ozil, who had received the ball from Giroud via Theo Walcott, was ready to provide for yet another teammate. Ramsey isn’t the fastest player in the league or the best tackler but he’s pretty good in both areas and a willing worker who puts himself in the right positions to capitalize on the skills that he does have. When forced out to the right of the attack, we just didn’t get a chance to enjoy what he can offer.
The broader implication of the point about Ramsey is that it is, to some extent, on Arsene Wenger that Ramsey has underperformed what we think he can be because Wenger has chosen to play Ramsey out of position in favor of playing Cazorla at the base of midfield. That isn’t necessarily a criticism of Wenger as Arsenal were playing well as a team before the switch and thus faced dynamics that were at odds with each other. What was best for the club wasn’t necessarily what was best for Ramsey. What it is is an opportunity to underscore that it isn’t only the player who determines how effective they will be for a new club (or even one they’ve been with for years).
Even before a manager can get to a player, there is some mechanism that determines what players will be brought into the club. In some places, like Arsenal, the manager leads this effort and can take the praise when transfers work out or the blame when they don’t. In others, with Liverpool and Manchester United seemingly among them in recent years, there is a mysterious executive group that sets the direction that the manager is left to follow. I’m certain that I’m over-simplifying things because it’s hard to imagine anyone telling Louis Van Gaal what he’s going to have for lunch in a given day let alone what players he’s going to have at his disposal but he certainly isn’t the beginning, middle and end of the transfer process as managers were in the past. Because there are multiple people involved in these processes and their roles are typically not abundantly clear until such time as they take credit for a big success, it’s easy for us to blame the player or the manager but these people escape blame almost entirely when a big deal goes bad.
The manager is the next person who helps determine a players’ relative success or failure based on how good they are at putting that player in a position to succeed. Louis Van Gaal has famously left Bastian Schweinsteiger out to dry on a couple of occasions this season by insisting that the calcifying holding player attempt to play a high line. First Arsenal and then Wolfsburg were more than happy to pass around and through the speed-challenged German en route to scoring three goals each on the supposedly defensively stout Red Devils in high profile matches. Independently, I think that Schweinsteiger has a role to play in a good United side and there’s nothing inherently wrong with playing a high line. Put those two things together though, and ugliness ensues.
Just something to think about as January approaches and you start to get your hopes up that your club might sign someone who could be the answers to all of your current woes. Chelsea have been woeful in harmonizing signings that fit what they need over the past few years – witness De Bruyne, Schurrle, Cuadrado, and Salah playing at a high level elsewhere along with the busts that have been Falcao, Luiz, Remy, Pedro, Rahman, etc. What you have to decide heading into January is whether it’s the talent on hand or the inability of the manager or the transfer committee or whomever is actually in charge to get the most of the talent.
Oh, and when you’re getting ready to go on a rant about your favorite big name player who isn’t playing up to his reputation or transfer fee, give at least a moment to why that might be. Has Cesc Fabregas turned into a really bad player at the age of 28? Certainly not out of the question given how many miles he’s logged at a relatively young age but more likely, it’s less his fault and more the fault of someone higher up the food chain at Chelsea. Ditto Pedro. Or De Maria. Or Schneiderlin. Or Benteke. Or even, dare I say it, Falcao (take a look at the dysfunctional situations he’s been in over the past season and a half and it wouldn’t be out of line to say that at best he’s only partially to blame for his lack of effectiveness – it isn’t like anyone else on either of his Premier League sides was covering themselves in glory while he was earning a reputation as one of the biggest busts in league history for the money).
The Title Race (Ranked from favorites to most likely to miss out on the Champions League)
Manchester City – How close they came to yet another catastrophic result against middling (yes, I’m being nice, Swansea are currently aspiring to middling) opposition. That they were rescued by Kelechi Iheanacho is both a feel-good story about an academy that is starting to produce some results for the first team and an indictment of their summer work where they left themselves dangerously thin at forward. I’m leaving City in the first spot for now because at full health I think they’re better than Arsenal. That spot is in significant danger if they continue to out-Arsenal the Gunners in terms of key players being out through injury.
Arsenal – I’m going to reiterate a point I’ve made previously this season. If Olivier Giroud isn’t a forward you can win a Premier League title with, who in the Premier League is? Diego Costa? He of the three Premier League goals this season? Wayne Rooney? Um, no. Anthony Martial? You don’t win things with kids, right? (Or Van Gaal apparently) Sergio Aguero? He has to actually be playing to win, doesn’t he? Daniel Sturridge? See Aguero, Sergio. Harry Kane? Maybe but Spurs look like a squad that’s thin and exhausted and it’s only December. Jamie Vardy? That would be an amazing story but it seems implausible. Romelu Lukaku? Could be, but not at Everton. My point is that the Premier League doesn’t boast a reliable “World Class” forward at the moment. If the question is “Can you win the Champions League with Olivier Giroud leading the line?” then the answer is probably “no”. If the question is “Can you win the 2015-16 Premier League with Olivier Giroud leading the line?” then the answer is unquestionably “yes”. And that probably goes for Theo Walcott too.
Manchester United – It’s fun to pile on Louis Van Gaal because he’s done and said a lot of stupid things since he arrived at Old Trafford. Maybe it’s my long-standing support of Arsenal but I’m going to give him a pass on this one because there’s just not much that any club, no matter how big, is going to do when shorn of its top six options (Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Valencia, and Darmian) at the back along with their most talented midfielder (Schneiderlin). The Premier League is littered with mid-table clubs that started more talented elevens than Manchester United did on Saturday. If that particular group of players had come out with Stoke City or West Brom jerseys on – and make no mistake, both of those clubs started better line-ups this weekend – then a 2-1 loss on the road would have been a mild surprise but it wouldn’t have been a shock by any means. Don’t mistake any of this for me supporting Van Gaal or thinking highly of anything he’s done as a manager, I just don’t put this one on him so much as I put it on a horrifically bad run of luck in a single position group. Maybe the only thing we can put on Van Gaal is that he didn’t do what mid-table clubs do when they go on the road and bunker in and try to play a counterattacking game with Anthony Martial ideally suited to tear an opponent apart on the counter (see Arsenal vs. Monaco last season). Hard to see LVG “pulling a Pulis” though, isn’t it?
Leicester City – The Foxes have yet to play this weekend so we’ll cover their exploits against Chelsea next Monday.
The Second Tier (Ranked from most likely to break into the Champions League to least likely)
Spurs – No sooner do I get a little bit excited about the notion that Spurs could challenge for a Champions League spot than they demonstrate all the perils of the style that Mauricio Pochettino has chosen. The Southampton team that got him this “bigger” job faded in the second half but we generally dismissed it because they were Southampton and just being in the conversation for half a season was seen as a big deal. Now that the expectations have moved up a few notches, he won’t have that luxury of a thin squad, exhausted from playing nearly every match for club and country. On full rest with their best eleven all available, I like Spurs’ chances in one match. Over the course of a long season they’re going to need a bigger squad where the talent level doesn’t drop off as significantly as it does currently. Who backs up Harry Kane? Christen Eriksen? Vertonghen/Alderweireld? Deli Alli? Mousa Dembele? Erik Dier? There is some depth in the wide areas with Chadli, Lamela, Son, and N’Jie all available but the core strength of this group is down the middle and it’s hard to like any of the answers there when it comes to taking the step up to contending for a Champions League spot.
Liverpool – Unlike Spurs who play a similar style, Liverpool seem to have the depth in the middle of the park thing set. What Jurgen Klopp has to figure out is how to cope when the opposition manages to get a set piece. West Brom scored twice from set pieces and missed out on a third when Jonas Olsson was judged to be fractionally offside on the stroke of halftime. Liverpool’s squad isn’t a bunch of minnows with Martin Skrtel (6’3”), Dejan Lovern (6’2”), Emre Can (6’3”), Jordan Henderson (5’11”), and Christian Benteke (6’2”) all starting the match and available to defend set pieces. If it isn’t a physical inability then it’s down to how they’re trained and how much desire they have to defend set pieces. The Reds also seem to have fallen in love with shots from distance at the expense of good shots in the box. They managed three shots on target inside the 18-yard-box including Jordan Henderson’s 21st minute goal. They decided that the answer for “we can’t seem to get our shots in the box on target” was “let’s take 16 shots from outside the box” (three of those were on target). Liverpool partisans will respond that Divock Origi’s late equalizer came from well outside the box and was obviously critical to Klopp’s side picking up a point. To that I ask how sustainable is a hugely deflected shot from 30 yards as a means of scoring? Take the point and slink quietly out the exit but let’s not pretend that “chuck it from deep” is a long-term winning strategy in the Premier League.
Crystal Palace – As the teams around them on this list – Everton, West Ham, Spurs and Liverpool – struggle starting off December the Eagles have continued to pick up steam. They still don’t have a great win (2-1 at Anfield is a good win but not a great one and the win over Chelsea looks a lot less attractive than it once did) and they will be kicking themselves for the loss to Sunderland at home but they’ve been more efficient than most at dispatching the also-rans of the Premier League. Call them Leicester City-lite without the Jamie Vardy story and the time spent in first place. That’s not a bad thing. That they have an obvious weakness (forward) to address in January that could help them push themselves to greater heights is an added bonus that separates them from the rest of the teams sitting somewhere between mid-table and “tier two”.
Watford – As Everton and West Ham look like they’re going to fade to mid-table mediocrity, Watford continue to emerge. Just about everything that applies to Crystal Palace applies to the Hornets as well. You won’t find a single impressive win on their resume over the first half of the season but they’ve been more ruthless than most when facing “the rest”. Their losses have come against Manchester United, Leicester City, Arsenal, Crystal Palace, and Manchester City. That’s five of the top six and they haven’t played the other (Spurs) yet in the first half of the season. In a season when there have been surprising results left, right, and center you won’t find a single result that the Hornets will look at and be embarrassed about. This season that might end up being enough to challenge for a Europa League spot even if that challenge ultimately falls just short.
Everton – Everton are going to be banished from this list going forward. Romelu Lukaku and Gerrard Deulofeu are a blast to watch and Ross Barkley is “making the leap” to being a very good player (you probably read “great” elsewhere but I’m not English and not nearly as beholden to the notion that any English player that plays well is going to be the “next big thing”). That is by turns exciting and infuriating to watch. The Toffees could have been up by 3 or 4 goals going into halftime with Lukaku by himself looking like he should have had a hat trick by the break. As it turns out he was a foot wide here and six inches off there and it was only 1-0. Norwich turned the tables in the second half and what looked like a dominating Everton win turned into a frustrating draw. Of such things are mid-table teams made.
West Ham – Stoke City are in form so keeping them off the scoresheet is a solid effort but not managing a goal against a good but not great team at home makes me want to type a version of what I typed about Everton. They’re mid-table and therefore not worthy of weekly discussion as a potential contender for a Europa League spot.
The Relegation Battle (Ranked from most likely to be relegated to least)
Aston Villa – Never really felt like they were in it against Arsenal. Worse than that, the teams around them at the bottom are picking up points at a rate that might doom them even if they find some form and/or make a couple of key signings in January.
Norwich City – A solid point against Everton but they shouldn’t take too much long term hope from it because the point was more down to the profligacy of Lukaku and friends in the first half than it was down to anything particularly positive that the Canaries did. And you thought that “profligacy” could only be used in a sentence with “Arsenal”, didn’t you?
Bournemouth – If they end up going down, and you still have to think that it’s headed that way, they’ll certainly head that way with some great memories. A win over the defending champions at their home ground. A win over the most famous club in England. You suspect that time will morph the legend of the past week in Bournemouth history to downplay the fact that Chelsea were a shadow of their title-winning selves and Manchester United fielded a line-up that was only entirely recognizable to the U21 manager. The legend will become Harry Arter overcoming the tragic loss of his daughter to hold off Cristiano Ronaldo, George Best, David Beckham and Eric Cantona in their respective primes rather than a back four of Daley Blind (who isn’t a central defender no matter how much Louis Van Gaal wants it to be so), Guillermo Valera, Paddy McNair, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson “protected” by a rapidly aging Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini who still isn’t a holding midfielder. Long live the legend.
Swansea City – They weren’t going to beat City and got closer to a point than anyone had any right to expect. I still hold out some hope that they’ll get things together once the new manager is appointed but with each passing week and with each passing big result from a team we have tabbed for relegation the Swans lose whatever margin for error that they might feel like their more talented squad might earn them.
Sunderland – Given Watford’s form, a 1-0 loss, even one that came at the Stadium of Light, isn’t a terrible result. Sunderland are by no means out of the woods as far as relegation goes but with each passing week that doesn’t involve an embarrassing display of the sort that characterized the beginning of the season you feel better about declaring the Black Cats the bottom of the mid-table pack as opposed to being in the relegation group.
Newcastle United – They could end the week above Chelsea in the table after sixteen matches and coming off consecutive wins over Liverpool and Spurs. Ten points in their past six matches is a very reasonable haul when those six matches only include one bottom half team (Bournemouth) and include four clubs (Liverpool, Spurs, Palace and Leicester) very much in contention for the Champions League and/or Europa League. The youngsters seem to be coming into their own and Fabricio Coloccini looks worthy of being the hub of a Premier League defense after a long spell where that just wasn’t true. Let’s not get carried away, this is still no better than a mid-table team but if Mike Ashley opens up his wallet again in January then there’s certainly opportunity to move up.
Chelsea – Have they turned a corner by topping their Champions League group? We’ll see when they travel to the King Power Stadium later today.
Newcomer of the Year of the Week
Junior Stanislas has been kicking around in England, mostly in the lower divisions, for a while now so calling him a “newcomer” isn’t entirely accurate but he’s been gone for a while but he sure has reminded us that he exists over the past month. His goal directly in from a corner kick was a fun highlight but it certainly wasn’t the length and breadth of his contribution against Manchester United in Bournemouth’s big win.
Young Player of the Year of the Week
Gerrard Deulofeu enters our Top 5 list for the season on the back of a six week spell where he’s been creating chances at an Ozil-like rate. His game is still about 50/50 between excellent creation and wasteful overelaboration but at his young age you can certainly take the good with the bad. Ross Barkley will undoubtedly get more press because he’s more physically imposing and English but given the minutes played thus far this season Deulofeu looks like the bigger contributor. Ask yourself this, when was the last time you wondered when Kevin Mirallas might be coming back into the line-up?
Player of the Year of the Week
With Watford ending the match week in sixth place it’s pretty clear that Odion Ighalo needs more attention on this list. Usually we reserve Player of the Year awards for the best player on the best team. With there being no clear “best team” and a real lack of superstars playing like superstars thus far, why not a shout for Ighalo not only for this weekend but in the season leaders. Certainly Vardy and Mahrez have orchestrated higher heights and bigger stats at Leicester City and Mesut Ozil has been an assist machine for Arsenal but beyond those three there’s really no other candidate that clearly trumps Ighalo. He’s joint third in the league in goals and, unlike Lukaku, he isn’t blessed with exceptional attacking talent around him or playing on a squad with an attacking mentality. That’s Player of the Year stuff even if it will never happen playing for Watford.
Manager of the Year of the Week
How do you not give this to Eddie Howe after consecutive wins over Chelsea and Manchester United with a ragtag bunch of players? I talked earlier about the names on the Manchester United team sheet and how unrecognizable it probably is to all but the most avid fans of the Premier League. Well, Bournemouth’s squad is entirely comprised of guys that were unrecognizable to Premier League fans until the start of the season. We’ve gotten to know some of the names but they certainly weren’t guys being “sniffed around” by Premier League clubs before the season started. Excellent job pulling this group up from the relegation zone and into 14th even if it only ends up being a temporary reprieve. He’s given his ownership a reason to think about some measured spending in January to see if they can outpace two other laggards (Villa seems to be a given).
My Week in Expert Leagues
It’s certainly not over but we could be looking at a clean sweep in my three expert leagues which is a nice way to go into a podcast tomorrow night with a few other fantasy Premier League experts (stay tuned on Twitter and I’ll tweet out the URL once I have it). Throw in Arsenal winning, Spurs and United losing, and the Eagles winning in the NFL and winning one Fantasy NFL playoff match-up and the final regular season game in another to position myself well for the playoffs in that league and it was a great real and fantasy sports weekend in the Thurman household. The only thing that could have made it better was unseasonably warm and sunny weather in the Washington, DC metro area…oh wait, we had that too. I can only imagine that I’ll pay for all of the above next weekend but that’s OK, like Bournemouth supporters, I’ll take it when I can get it.
None of my match-ups are done yet but my win in the IEFSA Expert League on Fantrax looks the most assured. I faced off with fellow Rotoworld contributor Galin Dragiev but the Bulgarian was no match for big weekends from Olivier Giroud, Matt Ritchie, Craig Cathcart, and Hector Bellerin. I have a 21 point lead going into Monday’s match and he’s got Mahrez going and I’ve got Fabregas. Mahrez showed last weekend that he can overcome a big lead but in our scoring system that would be a pretty huge lift from even a player who has been playing as well as Mahrez has been.
I’m slightly less assured about the assuredness of my victory in the Togga Premier League Fantasy Expert League against Razzball.com pundit Robert Langevin. I’m up 10.5 points after the weekend on the strength of Odion Ighalo and Junior Stanislas going for 20+ points each along with solid performances from Ryan Shawcross, Ayoze Perez and Boaz Myhill. I have Riyad Mahrez and Christian Fuchs left to play. That sounds like an easy win but Robert has Eden Hazard remaining and while he hasn’t been great in terms of actual counting statistics (goals and assists) this season he’s been very productive in the Togga scoring system. It looks good for me but certainly no slam dunk if Chelsea rebound and get a Hazard-inspired win.
My situation in the Togga Premier League Writers League is similar to my situation in the Togga Experts League. I’m up 11.25 with me having Leicester City players yet to go (in this case Jamie Vardy, Marc Albrighton, and Christian Fuchs) and my opponent having Chelsea players remaining (in this case Cesar Azpilicueta and Nemanja Matic). Fellow Rotoworld-er Andrew Gastelum is fighting injuries in a big way with Alexis Sanchez and Vincent Kompany missing from his side but his decision not to play Yannick Bolasie is what has him behind and looking unlikely to get a win this week. Meanwhile, my team got a big day from Bolasie’s Crystal Palace teammate Yohan Cabaye and then a bunch of solid efforts from Mesut Ozil, Deli Alli, Nacho Monreal, Yann M’Vila, and Petr Cech. This team just keeps on rolling.
Perfect XI – So far, so good but it feels like it could have been so much better. Romelu Lukaku did a solid 17.50 on the strength of his goal but it could/should have been two or three. Odion Ighalo was a strong pick with a goal and a lot of phantom stats putting up a total of 27.00. Ozil was Ozil and had an assist (of course) and 14 points. The back line was pretty good with Monreal (9), Montero (16), and Rose (10.50) all scoring well despite mixed results for their clubs. Joe Hart was also pretty solid with 10.25 despite City conceding. The good news here is that I’m currently sitting at 292nd for the week with Mahrez, Hazard, and Fuchs still to play this afternoon. I’m temporarily up to 28th in the overall standings with a chance to go higher depending on how invested others are in Leicester City and Chelsea today.
PL.com – Kind of a crap week so far between some bad decisions and rotation. I had two transfers coming into the weekend and I was looking at Ramsey vs. Barkley in midfield. I chose Barkley. I was looking at Danny Rose vs. Scott Dann at defender. I chose Rose. I was looking at Dusan Tadic vs. Yohan Cabaye for my starting line-up. I chose Tadic. Romelu Lukaku, my captain, could have had a hat trick but I had to settle for just the one goal. On the plus side, I’m at 44 points with Mahrez and Vardy still to play so all is not lost. Just a mediocre weekend that could have been a pretty good one. I’m definitely fading slightly. I’m in the mid-17,000s pending the outcome of the Leicester City vs. Chelsea match but I’m sure most people near me in the standings have Mahrez and Vardy unless they ditched one or both trying to make room for Aguero a few weeks back.
Players I’m looking at acquiring: There aren’t too many secrets out there sixteen matches into the season. There haven’t been any longer term injuries to significant fantasy players over the last couple of weeks either so there’s not a lot to love. I picked up Duncan Watmore recently in one of my draft leagues and feel good about that over the second half of the season. Otherwise, the opportunities are really the same ones that have been out there for a few weeks – Fuchs, Van Aanholt, Kante, and Stanislas. If they aren’t all already off the table in your league then you may want to dive in if you have a hole in your defense/midfield.
Players I’m thinking about ditching: I wrote a column about this for Togga last week so rather than try to jam all of that into a short paragraph, I’ll just provide the link to When To Dump A Fantasy Premier League Asset?. Look at me being self-referential. I’m usually not that guy.
Random Closing Thoughts
My Second Club – Very interested to see if my second team fares better against Jose Mourinho and company than my first team can. Either way, one of Arsenal or Leicester City will be in first after sixteen weeks which is fantastic from my point of view.
This Week’s Good Points: Bournemouth and Newcastle check in with three good points each while West Brom and Norwich pick up solid single points.
The Good Points Table: West Ham United 10; Bournemouth 10; Norwich City 9; Newcastle 8; Stoke City 7; Everton 6; Crystal Palace 6; West Brom 5; Swansea City 4; Watford 4; Tottenham 4; Liverpool 3; Manchester City 2; Aston Villa 2; Sunderland 1;
This Week’s Bad Points: Once again we have lots of bad points to give out with Manchester United and Spurs leading the way with three each while Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton are just behind at two each.
The Bad Points Table: Chelsea 19; Manchester City 14; Liverpool 11; Manchester United 10; Arsenal 8; Swansea 8; Southampton 8; Tottenham 7; West Ham 5; Everton 4; Sunderland 3
My Favorite Things – Stanislas’ corner…Ramsey’s tackle/run/goal…Ozil’s unselfishness…Bournemouth’s fight…AYOZE!...Jordan Henderson’s take for Liverpool’s first, it just looked pretty…the one Lukaku did put home, a target forward’s goal if ever there was one…Deulofeu running/dribbling up the right side…ODION!...and a City youth product making some noise when their policy of spending huge is failing them…Petr Cech reaching 169 Premier League clean sheets in a fraction of the time it took David James, he’s a Chelsea legend and has carried it on at Arsenal.
My Least Favorite Things – Injuries getting in the way of discussing why Louis Van Gaal is doing a bad job at United…any Premier League club giving up a goal directly from a corner…Southampton’s form, fleeting is “best small club” status…Tadic and Pelle left on the bench as Ronald Koeman’s answer to “how do I fix things?”…Liverpool’s defending on set pieces…Liverpool’s love of shooting from deep…the depth of Spurs squad…Hugo Lloris being unable to get prepared for Ayoze Perez’s shot from that angle, he only had so many options…Everton’s fading form with leads and against teams that they should beat (they’ve dropped leads to Bournemouth and Norwich over their past three matches).
What did we find out? No club can expect to win with their second, eighth, ninth and tenth choice defenders. Manchester United’s attack isn’t good enough to compensate for said defensive absences. Liverpool and Spurs have significant work to do to justify consideration at the fringe of the Champions League race, neither are title contenders. Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Watford are showing how effective a club can be by just winning the ones they should win this season. Aston Villa is sunk but the rest of the relegation “race” is going to be a blast. Everton and West Ham are nice, solid mid-table teams but no more because they aren’t doing what the Foxes, Eagles and Hornets are doing to teams they should beat.
What’s Next? There are some very interesting match-ups next weekend. The marquee match-up comes on Monday with Arsenal hosting Manchester City with rumors that Alexis might make it back for the occasion. That one is interesting for obvious reasons. Saturday brings us Everton hosting Leicester City in what could prove to be a 4-3 type of scoreline given how prolific both attacking groups are and how suspect both are at the back. The rest of the “interesting match-ups” come courtesy of this crazy season we have going on. If Manchester United don’t get healthy quickly then their match against Norwich City at Old Trafford might be unexpectedly interesting as could Sunderland’s trip to Chelsea against whom the Black Cats have been surprisingly successful even when the Blues were good (Sunderland has lost twice, drawn and won since Mourinho returned). Sunday brings us Liverpool’s trip to Vicarage Road where they face a Watford side ahead of them in the table and in better form. It might not look interesting when you compare club histories or payrolls but Liverpool will have to improve significantly to get a result against Quique Flores’ side.