By Toby Godfray
- Five burning questions ahead of the fifth round of Premier League fixtures
- Score predictions for all 10 games
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – This week we discuss whether Bournemouth can stop City, preview this weekend’s most anticipated game, pick our player to watch and more.
Should we cancel all plans for Friday night?
There is no better way to start the weekend as this Friday we are treated with a mouth-watering tie, in which Chelsea welcome Liverpool back to the capital. Liverpool have lost just once in their five previous League visits to Stamford Bridge; their most memorable performance being the 3-1 rout last year in which Philippe Coutinho bagged two stunning goals.
However, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp must decide whether to bring the Brazilian magician back into his starting XI for this game. Rested on the bench against Leicester City last weekend after returning late from international duty, Coutinho watched his team-mates blow away Leicester 4-1 – the Champions did not concede four goals in any game last season during their title-winning campaign.
Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana were all man of the match contenders, whilst Daniel Sturridge was heavily involved in the build-up play for the first three goals. If Coutinho was to start, Sturridge would likely be the unfortunate one to drop out. This would see Firmino moved centrally into the lone-striker role, where he started against both Arsenal and Spurs earlier in the season.
Sturridge is one of the best strikers in the country when fully fit, and has the ability to create chances out of nothing, but Coutinho has been the focal point of any of Liverpool’s big away-day victories in the last two seasons and deserves to start.
Regardless of who starts for Liverpool, Chelsea know they are faced with a huge task in keeping out a firing Reds attack. Despite completely outplaying Swansea last weekend, Antonio Conte’s side ended up drawing 2-2; thus dropping their first points of the season.
Deciding not to include new signings David Luiz or Marcos Alonso at the Liberty Stadium, it would appear Conte favours the same back four – Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry and César Azpilicueta – that won Chelsea the Premier League title back in 2014/15. With Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante holding together in a midfield two, on paper Chelsea have the most impenetrable defence in the League.
Further up field the return to form of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard should cause real concern for a Liverpool side that keep shipping in goals. Although they tried to be inventive from set pieces against Swansea, expect Chelsea to put the ball into the box more often and challenge a Liverpool back-line against whom they have a clear height advantage.
From what we have seen so far this season this will be a high-tempo, end to end encounter that promises goals and entertainment.
Who is our player to watch in this game?
People often forget that in April 2014, Southampton’s Lallana was named as one of the six players on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award. It has taken two seasons and a change of management at Liverpool, but now Lallana is now a First Team regular and in a purple patch that may yet see him playing the best football of his career.
Lallana netted against Leicester City last weekend with a superb strike from the edge of the area arrowed into the top corner, making it three goals in his last six games for club and country – his best record since January 2014. Finally breaking his goal duck for England against Slovakia during the World Cup qualifiers, it would seem Lallana is now adding goals to his artillery; the one part of his game that had been previously lacking.
However, other aspects of his game have also caught our eye in recent weeks. Against Leicester, Lallana ran 13.1 km – the most of any Premier League player so far this season. Fielded in the centre of midfield by Klopp, Lallana’s tireless work ethic suits his new role and he epitomises Klopp’s relentless pressing style more than anyone.
Never one to shy out of a tackle, Lallana has fulfilled his defensive responsibilities so far; but it is on the ball where he impresses most. The England star’s deft feet and close control rarely see him dispossessed, enabling himself to be a more than reliable outlet. Chelsea must stay tight to Lallana and prevent him from drifting into pockets of space between their midfield and defence – it is here where he can really hurt the Blues.
Is Watford’s strike partnership back?
Last season Troy Deeney’s and Odion Ighalo’s 28 goals between them kept Watford in the Premier League. The physical prowess and natural presence of Deeney combined with Ighalo’s trickery and runs in behind proved tricky to handle for many teams last year, but their link-up has been missing at the start of this season. Neither player scored in the first three games and with no firepower on the bench, boss Walter Mazzarri may have been concerned.
However, the Watford pair appeared rejuvenated last weekend, with a goal apiece sparking a magnificent comeback against West Ham. Losing 2-0 with just half an hour gone, a winless Watford could conceivably have just capitulated, but Ighalo’s mazy run and finish and Deeney’s spectacular chip saw Watford go in level at half-time and with all the momentum. Two second-half goals took the scoreline to 4-2, as the Hornets became the first away League side to win in the Olympic Park Stadium.
Following the visit of Manchester United to Vicarage Road at noon on Sunday, Watford have a highly favourable run of five games against fellow lower-table opposition from which they should look to take between 8-10 points from.
Should Deeney and Ighalo kick on from Saturday’s showing, Watford will be difficult to contain. Midfielder Étienne Capoue has already chipped in with three goals, and former Juventus playmaker Roberto Pereyra is certainly living up to his £13 million price tag with a goal, an assist and man of the match award in just two appearances for his new club.
Can Bournemouth stop the City train in full throttle?
Had Manchester City chosen their most difficult fixture before the 2016/17 season started, it would have been facing their neighbours Manchester United at Old Trafford. In this exact clash last weekend, City completely tore apart their title rivals in the first 40 minutes, in arguably one of the best footballing displays seen in the Premier League for a long time.
In the second half United grew much more into the game, and could have salvaged a point thanks to countless errors from City’s debutant goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Regardless, this victory is a sign of things to come under Pep Guardiola. Considering İlkay Gündoğan and club captain Vincent Kompany are still yet to feature, one imagines City will only get stronger in the weeks ahead. For Bournemouth, there is absolutely no pressure on this game, as they go into this game massive underdogs.
They must hope to catch City cold; either through fatigue after playing the Manchester Derby and their opening Champions League group game already this week; or complacency as City are over-confident from having won every game so far this season. That said, this team looks fitter and more professional than any City side we have seen before, so the above may just be wishful thinking on Bournemouth’s behalf.
Therefore Bournemouth coach Eddie Howe must be thinking long and hard about how to approach this game. Last season Bournemouth conceded 67 goals, the second-most in the League. This statistic and their general playing style would suggest that putting eleven men behind the ball and playing for the draw is not their style.
Instead they must stick tight to playmakers David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, and more importantly limit Fernandinho‘s control on the game. So Howe’s best bet is to try and match City’s midfield three and nullify their threat – when Bournemouth do win the ball back though, they have to break quickly and be clinical with any chances they get.
A front three of Jordan Ibe, Callum Wilson and Josh King offers exceptionally pace, and they should continuously look to get in behind a City back line that will look to push as high as possible.
Were Bournemouth to pull off an away win, it would undoubtedly be the shock of the season so far.
How far can Ronald Koeman take this Everton side?
An 11-minute hat-trick from striker Romelu Lukaku saw Everton brush past Sunderland on Monday night, with the win taking them to third in the table. Since an opening day draw with Spurs, Everton have won three League games on the bounce and look a real force.
During this most recent encounter at the Stadium of Light, Everton were in fact very poor going forward in the first half. An inspired half-time change by manager Ronald Koeman saw Gerard Deulofeu come onto the right wing for Ross Barkley, allowing Yannick Bolasie to move over onto the left flank.
The service for Lukaku from out wide wildly improved and the Belgian found space on two occasions to head home from crosses. Forced to help out their full backs out wide, the Sunderland centre-backs left a gaping hole for the Everton centre-forward to latch onto a Kevin Mirallas through-ball and complete his hat-trick.
Finishing seventh and sixth in the League in his two season tenure with Southampton prior to his move to Merseyside, Koeman’s managerial capabilities are clear to see. On first arrival at Saints, many predicted his team to be relegated following the loss of major players to bigger clubs. Koeman has had no such problem at Everton, and has in fact recruited exceptionally well.
£10 million man Ashley Williams is yet to concede a goal when in the starting XI, helped by the return to full fitness of Seamus Coleman and Phil Jagielka alongside him. Idrissa Gueye adds legs and agility to a previously laboured central midfield, and looks a steal at £7.1 million from relegated Aston Villa.
Record-breaking signing Bolasie has been a livewire on the ball as expected, but must improve on his end product. Everton look to have all bases covered, and will be a match for any side this year. They welcome Middlesbrough to Goodison Park on Saturday, a game in which they simply cannot drop points if they want to fulfill European ambitions.
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