By Toby Godfray
- Five burning questions ahead of the fourth round of Premier League fixtures
- Predictions for all 10 of the weekend’s matches.
With the International Break over, we are back discussing the main talking points of this weekend’s fixtures.
Who will come out on top in the Manchester Derby?
In the early kick off this weekend, the bookies’ title favourites go head to head in what is the most anticipated Manchester Derby for years. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero will be unavailable following a 3-match ban from the FA this week for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid, so the main decision facing manager Pep Guardiola will be whether to select teenager Kelechi Iheanacho up top or play a false nine in the form of Nolito.
Given that Iheanacho had the best goals-per-minute ratio of any player last season – averaging a goal every 93.9 minutes – the Nigerian stakes a real claim for a starting place in Aguero’s absence. Manchester City are playing some fantastic football at the moment and will remain confident of coming away from Old Trafford with their 100% record intact, but let’s not forget the Red side of Manchester are also three wins from three so far in the League.
Unlike City, Manchester United will not be missing their superstar striker – Zlatan Ibrahimovic – who has taken little time to settle into his new surroundings. From what we have seen of José Mourinho in big games with Chelsea, he will be happy to concede the majority of possession and invite pressure from City, knowing United can break quickly with real menace on winning the ball back.
United have the upper hand in terms of physicality and athleticism in the middle of the park, so City must find a way of playing around a strong and streetwise opposition. Thus, creative players such as Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling must turn up on the day when it matters most.
A win for either side will be a massive early statement in the title race, but we must remind ourselves: Mourinho has been fired more times than he has beaten Guardiola. Even with this stat it is impossible to predict who will triumph, but some would argue that with Aguero watching from the stands United already have the upper hand.
How important are the keepers for the two Manchester clubs?
It is worth going into deeper analysis of the two men standing in between the sticks in this game.
You wonder where Manchester United would have finished in the League in the two previous seasons under Louis Van Gaal had it not been for David de Gea. Awarded with Player of the Season for United last term, today he is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in world football.
He is closely followed by Manchester City’s new shot-stopper, Claudio Bravo. In a deal worth £16 million, the 34-year old Chilean arrives with bags of experience, but more importantly real composure and class on the ball; skills evidently lacking in Joe Hart’s game, with the England No.1 playing his football on loan in Torino for the year.
Bravo’s debut will be a highly testing one, but he will not be fazed by such an occasion; far from it, the ex-Barcelona keeper will relish it!
Expect strong performances from De Gea and Bravo not only this weekend, but across the season – they are both outstanding professionals who can earn their sides 10-15 points a season.
How will David Luiz fit in at Chelsea?
Currently no one knows how Luiz is going to make his way into an unbeaten Chelsea XI and, if so, who does he come in for? Supposedly the fourth-choice centre back that manager Antonio Conte wished to sign during the recent transfer window (after Leonardo Bonucci, Kalidou Koulibaly and PSG team-mate Marquinhos), it is difficult to predict the Brazilian’s role during his second spell at Stamford Bridge. The last-minute hastiness of the signing along with rumours that PSG were still in debt to Chelsea for the £50 million fee the French side were asked to fork out for Luiz back in June 2014, would suggest that the deal made sense for reasons other than Conte just wanting Luiz in his squad.
Conte often opted for a 3-5-2 formation during his time with Juventus, with great success; employing this system would see César Azpilicueta and £23 million deadline day signing Marcos Alonso providing the width in wing-back roles, while Gary Cahill, John Terry and Luiz hold the fort steady in the centre of defence. Playing three at the back does require a huge amount of organisation and planning on the training ground, whilst Luiz’s tendency to wander out of position may convince Conte to forget this tactic for now.
Alternatively Luiz could accompany N’Golo Kante in a double-act anchoring midfield role, which would see Nemanja Matic drop to the bench where his main use would be keeping Cesc Fabregas company. The most likely scenario however is that Chelsea keep the 4-1-4-1 formation that has served them well so far this campaign, and Luiz must fight with Terry for a place alongside Cahill in defence.
Who is our player to watch?
Bournemouth’s deadline day signing of Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was undoubtedly a massive scalp for the south-coast club. Wilshere will hope the stop-and-start style of his career has ended for now as he plays on a much more regular basis injury forbid.
Manager Eddie Howe will look to deploy Wilshere in the centre of midfield where he can get on the ball and dictate the play. His footballing ability complies perfectly with Bournemouth’s possession-based game, and being a big fish in a small pond should give him a renewed sense of responsibility and popularity among the Cherries’ fans.
Once his fitness goes up he will regain the ‘box-to-box’ dynamism that Arsenal and England fans have raved about but only seen in glimpses till now. Bournemouth host West Brom on Saturday afternoon, a winnable game in which Wilshere’s performance may have a significant say on the outcome (if cleared fit to play).
Which squads look more complete than they did two weekends ago?
As the transfer window was drawing to a close, Arsène Wenger finally heard the cries of the Arsenal fans that he must spend, and that he did. Spaniard Lucas Pérez arrived first from Deportivo la Coruña after a 17-goal season last year in La Liga, followed by centre-back Shkodran Mustafi for £35 million from Valencia.
Both these players have their best years ahead of them (aged 27 and 24 respectively), but whether they will be a hit remains in question. Mustafi had a strong Euro 2016 with Germany and seems a much more complete defender than the one who flirted around the Everton First Team in the years 2009-2012; but Pérez is considerably less well-known; let’s hope for the Gunners that he is not the next Iago Aspas or Roberto Soldado brought over from Spain!
A few miles across London, Tottenham Chairman Daniel Levy responded with two major signings of his own; Moussa Sissoko arrived from relegated Newcastle for a hefty £30 million, joined by fellow Frenchman Georges-Kevin N’koudou from Ligue 1 outfit Marseille for a smaller £9 million fee. Both wingers by trade, they offer manager Mauricio Pochettino the pace and directness he currently lacks in his squad. Spurs have looked a little off the pace at the start of this season, and look in need of a spark.
Going on his performances in Euro 2016, Sissoko could be that spark, but his tendency to drift in and out of games for Newcastle would say otherwise. N’koudou is just 21-years old and does not have particularly impressive career stats as of yet, but should develop under Pochettino and may yet turn out to be a steal for Spurs.
Man United 2-2 Man City
Arsenal 3-1 Southampton
Bournemouth 3-2 West Brom
Burnley 1-0 Hull
Middlesbrough 1-3 Crystal Palace
Stoke 1-1 Spurs
West Ham 1-1 Watford
Liverpool 4-2 Leicester
Swansea 0-2 Chelsea
Sunderland 2-1 Everton
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