Week 6: Top Premier League storylines - London calling, Euro-hangover
As we head into Week 6 of the Premier League season, let’s take a quick look around at the top five storylines this weekend.
With a huge London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal taking center stage on Saturday, tricky tests for Manchester United and Manchester City following disappointing defeats in the UEFA Champions League in midweek, plus three teams still desperate to get their first win under their belt, expect plenty of drama.
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Here’s five things you need to look out for.
All eyes will be on Stamford Bridge on Saturday as Chelsea host Arsenal (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) in a massive clash between two title contenders. Jose Mourinho is feeling confident ahead of this one, despite his side losing three of their opening five PL games this season -- that’s the same number they lost throughout their entire title-winning campaign last season -- and plenty of critics circling around the reigning champions. Chelsea dispatched a lackluster Maccabi Tel Aviv outfit in their UEFA Champions League opener on Wednesday, with many of Mourinho’s fringe players impressing to give the Portuguese boss a selection headache ahead of the derby.
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As for Wenger, he wishes he had that problem as his side lost 2-1 away at Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday and had Olivier Giroud sent off. Wenger has never beaten Mourinho in league play, and if Chelsea win on Saturday they could be just three points off the top four. Would that mean the crisis is over in West London? Either way, England’s capital will be divided come lunch time on Saturday local time in what has been an incredibly feisty encounter in years gone by.
No time for Euro-hangover, United and City
Both Manchester clubs suffered tough defeats in midweek as United and City squandered leads in the Champions League. United lost 2-1 away at PSV Eindhoven in a game which was marred by Luke Shaw’s horrific double fracture to his right leg. Louis van Gaal had raised concerns before the PSV defeat about whether or not his side is ready to make waves in the UCL, and many are asking that same question when it comes to them in the PL this season. Despite having David de Gea back, United will be sweating on the fitness of captain Wayne Rooney this weekend as Van Gaal travels to face his fellow Dutchman Ronald Koeman at Southampton.
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Last season Saints beat United 1-0 at Old Trafford and lost 2-1 at St. Mary’s, despite dominating large swathes of the latter game. You just feel like a big home win would kick-start Saints’ season and this could be the perfect time to play United. As for City, Manuel Pellegrini isn’t panicking after their late collapse against Juventus at home in the UCL, but City have put themselves in a tough spot to start off with in Europe once again. They host West Ham who have three wins from five under new boss Slaven Bilic and in their two away games so far they’ve beaten Arsenal 2-0 and Liverpool 3-0. Surely they can’t start off their away schedule by making it three wins on the spin and adding City to their list of sensational scalps?
Three teams still searching
Stoke City, Newcastle United and Sunderland are the only three teams yet to record a win in the PL. All three will be very confident of grabbing their first three points of the season on Saturday, but if they don’t, man, they will be getting jittery. Stoke host Leicester City at home and, on paper, they should beat the Foxes. But Claudio Ranieiri’s side have yet to be beaten this season and are coming off the back of an incredible comeback win at home against Aston Villa. With Bojan close to returning, the Potters need the Spaniard to start and have a big impact. Speaking of having an impact, not many of Newcastle’s players had a positive one during their dismal defeat at West Ham on Monday.
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Steve McClaren has a big job on his hands to turn around their fortunes and perhaps its too early to say this home game against Watford this weekend is a must-win, but if they lose, the boo boys will be out in force at St James’ Park. Then, there is Sunderland. Despite an improved display against Tottenham last Sunday, Dick Advocaat’s side went down 1-0, but if they play like that away at Bournemouth on Saturday, expect them to bag their first win of the season. Look out for Jermain Defoe to play the hero on his return to his former club.
Europa League complaints
Every season around about this time, the Thursday night football kicks in. This year, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are the PL’s reps in the Europa League, UEFA’s much-maligned second-tier continental tournament. Brendan Rodgers has left six first-team players at home for their trip to Bordeaux on Thursday, while Mauricio Pochettino will likely rotate his squad for Spurs’ clash against Qarabag.
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The Thursday-Sunday schedule will become a grind between now and the festive period for Liverpool and Spurs, and both teams will be relieved they have home games on Sunday following Thursday night action. However, Liverpool face Norwich, who will be buoyed by their big win against Bournemouth last weekend, while Spurs play Palace who sit in sixth place after a brilliant start to the current campaign. Let’s see what Rodgers and Pochettino have to say about the Europa League after Sunday’s games.
Martinez, Monk reunited
When you scanned the schedule for this weekend (if you haven’t, here is the link) Everton vs. Swansea City may have not jumped out at you at a first glance. But it should have. Both Everton and Swansea have enjoyed superb starts to the new season, with the Toffees coming off the back of that 3-1 shellacking of Chelsea at Goodison last weekend. Swansea’s progress under young manager Garry Monk came to shuddering halt with an away defeat to Watford last week, but overall the Swans sit one place being Everton and level on points, as Monk is working his magic with plenty of shrewd signings and building on the past success at the Liberty Stadium.
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Toffees boss Roberto Martinez made Monk his captain when he managed Swansea from 2007-09, and the duo have a long history together which has seen them both play for and then go on to manage Swansea. Martinez and Monk have similar philosophies and at times both Swansea and Everton are the best teams to watch in the league. Expect plenty of possession and clever flicks and tricks at Goodison on Saturday as two old Swans collide.