By Toby Godfray
- Five burning questions ahead of the sixth round of Premier League fixtures
- Score predictions for all 10 games
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – we contemplate José Mourinho‘s methods, highlight the form of a young English goalkeeper, preview a historic London Derby and much more.
Is the ‘Special One’ losing his touch?
Mourinho last lost three games in a row during his two-season tenure with Porto. 14 years on, and the Manchester United Manager has suffered the same feat with his new club, succumbing to defeats against Manchester City and Watford in the league, along with a midweek 1-0 loss away against Feyenoord in United’s first Europa League group game.
It all started so well too for Mourinho, with three League wins from three to kick off his first season with the Red Devils. But it all fell apart in the Derby, when Mourinho’s attacking players just could not get a foothold in such a high-paced game.
Marouane Fellaini was left horribly exposed in midfield as Paul Pogba inexplicably went wandering out of position once too often. All in all, Mourinho was tactically outdone by Pep Guardiola. Against Feyenoord the United players looked almost disinterested by the game, lacking any sort of motivation to overcome their mediocre opposition.
During their most recent encounter with Watford, the lack of creativity and slow nature of the build-up play was almost reminiscent Louis Van Gaal‘s United team. The United players rarely broke through Watford’s ‘two banks of four’ structure and Mourinho was once again tactically outdone, this time by his old Serie A rival Walter Mazzari.
Furthermore, clear incidents of poor man-to-man management have left many questioning Mourinho’s methods. For example, making Bastian Schweinsteiger train with the reserves in pre-season and publicly criticising Luke Shaw after the 3-1 Watford loss were highly unpopular moves.
United have since fallen back into fifth-favourites to win the League, and respond with a strong display against Leicester City on Saturday. The pressure is on José, that much is certain.
Will Arsenal go past Chelsea in the League table after Saturday’s clash?
All of a sudden Chelsea have picked up just one point in their last two League games. Having failed to match Liverpool’s high intensity of press, and leaking two goals out of nothing away to Swansea, they travel to the Arsenal desperate to get back to winning ways. Incidentally, the Blues are unbeaten in their last five League visits at the Emirates, and in general have a strong record against their bitterest of rivals.
After a slow start, Arsenal seem to have now found their feet in the League and go into the game favourites with the bookies; evidently aided by their home advantage. There are signs the new centre-back partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi is working, but the pair will face their toughest test yet up against Chelsea striker Diego Costa.
Lucas Pérez bagged a midweek brace in a 4-0 League Cup rout at the hands of Nottingham Forest. Granit Xhaka once again netted spectacularly, as both new signings look to break into the starting XI. Such fierce competition for places is a peculiar luxury for Arsène Wenger, whose side is for once relatively injury-free.
This game is particularly difficult to call; the two are so evenly matched. Perhaps after his two goals in two minutes against Leicester on Tuesday night, ex-Gunner Césc Fabregas may be the one to spoil the party.
What is going on at Stoke?
With one point from five games, Stoke sit rock bottom of the Premier League. Since an opening day draw with Middlesbrough, they have conceded 12 goals and scored just two. The switch in name from the Britannia to the Bet 365 stadium has coincided with a change in perception – Stoke away is no longer a game to be properly feared.
Stoke do not boast the same physical and aerial threat they once did under Mark Hughes’ predecessor Tony Pulis; the current Manager instead employs a much more purist philosophy, and has seen the Potters play some high-class football in his three-year tenure at the club. In fact, Stoke have finished 9th in the League in each season since Hughes’ arrival – a highly credible achievement. But even Hughes is feeling the pressure: against Spurs he was sent to the stands for acting inappropriately towards the officials, and was fined £8,000 by the FA as a result.
Coincidentally, Stoke’s next opposition is Pulis’ West Brom side, who notched up four goals against West Ham in their latest League outing. This is impressive considering they only scored three goals in a League game on one occasion last year, let alone four. £13 million-man Nacer Chadli was instrumental against Hammers, scoring two goals and setting up the other two. Stoke must try to mark him out the game, but that is a lot more easier said than done. Fans will be dying to see loanee Wilfried Bony get on the score-sheet, as goals are proving hard to come by.
Who is our player to watch?
This week we are changing course a little bit and opting for a goalkeeper as our player to keep an eye out for. Not only that, this goalkeeper plays for the team sitting 19th in the League; Sunderland. That said, the Black Cats’ goal difference of -6 would be considerably worse if it wasn’t for Jordan Pickford’s efforts in between the sticks.
At just 22 years old, the England U21 international is flying in his debut Premier League season. In 3 starts for Sunderland he has made 20 saves; the pick of the bunch seeing the goalkeeper tip Erik Lamela‘s left-footed curling effort just past his right post to keep his side in the game against Spurs last Sunday. His performances have not gone unnoticed either.
Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier has revealed Pickford to be in his team of the season so far, even though his team are yet to register a clean sheet. Credit must go to his manager David Moyes who stuck with Pickford despite his costly debut howler against Southampton. Come the end of the season, it may be Pickford’s saves that keep Sunderland up. Come the end of the season, Pickford may have picked up his first full international cap.
Does Sunday’s televised game merit ‘super’ status?
We have just the one game to look forward to this Sunday, a step down from the four ties we were treated last weekend. But unless you are fans of either West Ham or Southampton, are you really going to watch this one? There’s no saying this will not be the game of the season, but does this game really matter to the neutral?
These two sides finished 6th and 7th last term to qualify for the Europa League, but both would be naive to expect similar achievements this time round. Currently, the League table sees the Manchester clubs, the Merseyside clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs fill these top seven European spots (not in order). Some will say Leicester may yet split up some of these sides, but if you offered Claudio Ranieri a top 10 finish, he would probably take it. This portrays how competitive this League is this year – that the Champions would settle for a 10th place finish.
At the moment sitting 18th and 14th respectively in the table, West Ham and Southampton are far from playing their best football. Both have cemented Premier League status in the last few years and boast strong squads, yet have the slimmest of chances of improving on last season’s campaigns.
Manchester United 2-2 Leicester City
Bournemouth 1-1 Everton
Stoke 1-0 West Brom
Middlesbrough 1-1 Spurs
Liverpool 2-0 Hull
Swansea 1-3 Manchester City
Sunderland 1-0 Crystal Palace
Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea
West Ham 3-2 Southampton
Burnley 1-1 Watford