Friday, 6 November 2015

Premier League: 10 things to Check out this weekend!

Will Tottenham’s pressing suffocate Arsenal, can West Ham undo their Lukaku curse and is Allardyce the man to stimulate and stabilise Sunderland?

1) Tottenham’s pressing may pay off against Arsenal

Tottenham Hotspur will surely have taken note of Arsenal’s feeble attempts to cope with Bayern Munich’s high press on Wednesday. Mauricio Pochettino makes his players work feverishly out of possession, using intense training sessions to improve their fitness, and one of Tottenham’s most complete performances last season was when they overwhelmed Arsenal at White Hart Lane, recovering from the setback of Mesut Özil’s early goal by claiming a 2-1 victory thanks to a Harry Kane double in the second half. Yet they should also remember how they took the lead in their 1-1 draw at the Emirates Stadium last season. Nacer Chadli’s goal was created by Christian Eriksen winning the ball from a dawdling Mathieu Flamini in a dangerous position and with that in mind Arsenal will need to be sharp and alert when they have the ball near their own area, especially if Héctor Bellerín and Laurent Koscielny are missing from their back four again.

3) Vardy v Ighalo

Two of the Premier League’s leading strikers are set to meet at the King Power Stadium, assuming Odion Ighalo shakes off the knock he received from James Collins’s agricultural foul last weekend. The Watford striker has been in outstanding goalscoring form this season, scoring seven of his side’s 10 goals and creating two more, but even he has been outgunned by Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, who will be bidding to score in his ninth consecutive game. Watford will have their work cut out trying to bring Vardy back down to earth, although Quique Sánchez Flores’s superbly organised side do have an excellent defensive record, and their last away game saw them win 2-0 at Stoke City, goals from Troy Deeney and Almen Abdi showing that it is not all about Ighalo. Yet Leicester have been even better and they will be confident of briefly joining Arsenal and City at the top of the table if Vardy’s hot streak continues. 

4) Pulis out to frustrate Manchester United fans further

When you are trying to fend off accusations of being boring and goal-shy, there are better teams to host than one managed by Tony Pulis. West Bromwich Albion have been porous at home, where they feel obliged to venture forward more regularly, but they have conceded in only one of their five away matches in the Premier League so far. You can already picture Albion’s manager giving his pre-match team talk in the Old Trafford dressing room, telling his charges to keep it tight for as long as possible and wait for the locals to start venting their displeasure, the angry supplications to “Attack! Attack! Attack!” soothing a manager who likes nothing more than to stifle, stifle, stifle. Having said that, WBA’s apparent solidity away from home has been due partially to a benign fixture list, and Manchester United will probably not need to sparkle too brightly to beat a side who lie 12th at the moment but are likely to slide closer to the bottom three as the season progresses. 

5) Palace bid to stun Liverpool again

Talk of Steven Gerrard potentially returning to Liverpool revives memories of Crystal Palace spoiling his Anfield farewell in May and it would not be a surprise if Alan side walk away with the points again. Liverpool kickstarted the Jürgen Klopp era with the joyous win over Chelsea, with Philippe Coutinho back to his goalscoring best and Christian Benteke using his strength to great effect, but the trip to Russia to face Rubin Kazan could take a toll despite an impressive victory and it will be a challenge for them to play with the same energy. Palace love playing away from home and, with Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie on the flanks, they have the pace and energy to take advantage of any signs of Liverpool flatness. 

Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. Unlikely to be lying down on the job at Anfield.
 Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. Unlikely to be lying down on the job at Anfield.  Photograph: Tony O'Brien/Reuters

 6) Baptism of fire for as new man takes Garde

Since Aston Villa’s new French manager is not Getafix the druid, it is difficult to foresee Rémi Garde concocting the magic potion that would enable Villa to avoid an eighth successive league defeat when they travel to Manchester City. But Garde’s approach will certainly be interesting: his instincts are attacking but to what extent will he dare to do that at the Etihad? And how strong is his firepower anyway? The manager’s team selection all over the pitch will be interesting: will the gifted Carles Gil be restored to midfield from the start? Will the offensively exciting but defensively vulnerable left-back Jordan Amavi be brought back in place of Kieran Richardson? Will Rudy Gestede start? Will Garde eventually regret taking the Villa job? Will Villa regret giving it to him? 

7) Shawcross already back to his best, but what about Hazard?

The immediate impact that Ryan Shawcross has made after returning from nearly three months out after back surgery speaks volumes for his quality and commitment. The centre-back excelled in the Capital One Cup victory (on penalties) over Chelsea and again in the 0-0 draw at Newcastle last weekend, only Stoke’s second clean sheet of the season. Granted, Jack Butland had to be at his best in both those games, too, and the pair will likely have to be in top form again on Saturday as Chelsea return to the Britannia eager to get their Premier League campaign back on the right track. Eden Hazard has shown over the years that he has the character to get up and play to his best despite being repeatedly fouled, and against Dynamo Kyiv on Wednesday, after being introduced from the bench, he suggested that he has the gumption to respond positively to being punished by his manager. A strong performance against Stoke, where he missed a decisive penalty a couple of weeks ago, would be further important evidence. Should he start? 

8) Newcastle seek first away win

Newcastle United remain in a state of anxiety, still stuck in 18th after winning only one of their first 11 games, but there are reasons for encouragement. They were denied their second win by the heroics of Stoke City’s goalkeeper, Jack Butland, last weekend, while the defeat against Sunderland hinged on a controversial refereeing decision. Although Newcastle need to show that they can react to adversity better, the majority of their performances have not been terrible and they could be a force if they gel under Steve McClaren. Aleksandar Mitrovic, for instance, will develop into a potent striker as long as he retains his focus away from the pitch and curbs his aggression on it. With Bournemouth in a rut, Newcastle will expect to win at the Vitality Stadium. Eddie Howe’s strugglers will replace Newcastle in the bottom three if they lose.

9) Sunderland still looking to find stability

Whether it is because they thoroughly check out characters before recruiting them or because the coaching and management at St Mary’s is tip-top, Southampton have a fine recent record of improving players who join them. Sunderland do not. Players such as Billy Jones, Patrick van Aanholt and Younès Kaboul clearly have qualities but at Sunderland their performances have wavered between acceptable and abysmal. There is time for Sam Allardyce to get the best out of them and other defenders but it will take a mighty upswing in form after Sunday’s capitulation at Everton, and perhaps some returns from injury, for Sunderland to shut out an increasingly formidable looking Southampton side. 

10) Norwich need not panic but must improve

It seemed that Norwich had found their feet in the Premier League when they took nine points from their first seven games, but they have stumbled since then, and Carrow Road will be a fretful place for the visit of Swansea City. Norwich have lost their past four games in the league, a run that includes home defeats against Leicester and West Brom, and after relinquishing their cosy spot in mid-table, now they are hovering just above the relegation zone. There is no need for them to panic yet – Norwich are capable of playing some fine football – but they desperately need to improve defensively. Alex Neil’s side have not kept a clean sheet in the league and their forwards do not appear ruthless enough to cover up their flaws at the back. 
Source: TheGuardian.

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