Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
Klopp cursing early kick-off, but Liverpool can continue title charge at Palace
Jurgen Klopp did not take kindly to comment regarding Liverpool’s latest appearance in the 12:30 slot, with the German irked after Amazon Prime presenter Marcus Buckland joked it was Klopp’s favourite kick-off time in an awkward exchange in midweek.
Klopp has been vocal in his criticism of the scheduling and Liverpool, for the fourth time already this campaign, will feature in the weekend’s first game. Having failed to win in six 12:30 kick-offs last season, Liverpool are unbeaten in three this time around.
This weekend the Reds can move top of the table with a win at Crystal Palace, who are perhaps as accommodating an opponent as there is in the Premier League at present. The Eagles have lost three of their last four games to teams below them in the table, a run which has dragged Roy Hodgson’s side towards the danger zone.
Manchester United better without Rashford?
As the 2022/23 campaign came to an end, Marcus Rashford was celebrating a career-best season. The forward had become the first player to score 30 goals in a season for Manchester United for a decade, performances rewarded with the club’s Player of the Season accolade.
This season has been difficult. Out of form and now out of favour, Rashford was dropped to the bench for the midweek win over Chelsea. In his absence, Manchester United produced arguably their best-attacking performance of the campaign, recording the second-highest xG (4.07) of any team in the Premier League this season.
🗣️ ‘He’s not in the form he was last year, but I’m sure he’ll get there’
Erik ten Hag says that Marcus Rashford is an incredible player and is confident it’s only a matter of time until his form improves with Manchester United 🔴⚽ pic.twitter.com/ytuzRT8gMn
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 8, 2023
Alejandro Garnacho’s eye-catching performance from the left means he will be difficult to oust this weekend, with Rashford perhaps set for a second straight game on the bench. Rashford was poor in the recent defeat to Newcastle and widely criticised for a lethargic display, one in contrast to the zestful showing of Garnacho against Chelsea. Poor form can be excused, a lack of effort will not be.
Rashford is not the only player performing below expectations, but given last season felt like real progress, this has been one of regression.
Where will the goals come from for Brentford?
Brentford have performed admirably this season in the absence of Ivan Toney, with the loss of last season’s 20-goal top scorer through suspension having not overly impacted Thomas Frank’s side. A large reason for that has been the impressive performance of Bryan Mbeumo, who scored his seventh Premier League goal of the campaign at Brighton in midweek.
However, the Cameroonian sustained an ankle issue that is set to sideline him for the coming weeks. Ahead of a busy festive schedule, Brentford are without a reliable goal threat. Neal Maupay, Yoanne Wissa and Kevin Schade have just six league goals between them this season, a return which will need to improve if Brentford are to remain clear of trouble in the absence of Toney and Mbeumo.
The Bees’ stand-in strikers will hope to improve their fortunes against Sheffield United this weekend, with the Blades in possession of the Premier League’s worst defence.
Raya struggles a concern ahead of Arsenal acid test
Arsenal’s goalkeeping position has been a talking point since the start of the season, with summer signing David Raya having ousted Aaron Ramsdale from the side.
Raya has come under fire once again this week after a dreadful performance in the win at Luton, where the Spaniard was at fault for The Hatters’ second and third goals. Having failed to get near a set-piece as Elijah Adebayo headed home, he then allowed Ross Barkley’s low effort to squirm under his grasp.
🗣️ “There is no debate”
Mikel Arteta says there is no debate about goalkeeper David Raya’s form 🔴 pic.twitter.com/0VdkNarmnu
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) December 8, 2023
Declan Rice’s winner spared the Spaniard, but Arsenal can ill-afford for their goalkeeper to be so shaky this weekend. The Gunners travel to face Aston Villa, with the latter on a 14-game winning run at Villa Park. Fresh from beating Manchester City in midweek to move third in the table, Villa will enter the contest full of confidence.
If Villa can put a similar level of pressure on Arsenal as Manchester City felt in midweek, the Gunners will need their goalkeeper to stand firm. Raya, recently, has transmitted a nervousness that needs eradicating.
A billion spent and still imbalance for Blues
Mauricio Pochettino continues to insist that Chelsea are in the infancy of their project, but it’s fair to say more should be expected than this. A meek defeat at Manchester United demonstrated just how far Chelsea are from competing at the top end, as the Blues were outplayed at Old Trafford.
Chelsea finished third in the season that pre-dated Todd Boehly’s arrival as owner. Since then, the club have spent more than a billion on new players, endured their lowest league finish in 29 years last season, and are languishing again in mid-table this time around.
For all the investment, Chelsea still lack elite options at both ends of the pitch. Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez – admittedly impressive at Manchester United – was unwanted at Brighton, while Nicolas Jackson continues to underwhelm in front of goal. The Senegalese striker had two good opportunities in midweek but wasted both, including a heavy touch when played one-against-one. In a game of few chances for Chelsea, those moments were critical and Jackson failed to deliver.
Christopher Nkunku’s impending return should add some potency, but Chelsea’s haphazard recruitment has been evident in this season’s performances. There’s potential, no doubt, but the West Londoners look a long way from the Premier League’s top teams.
Doucoure thriving amid Everton freedom
Sean Dyche is bringing the best out of Everton right now. Despite the club’s off-field issues, Everton have shown spirit on the pitch and beat Newcastle 3-0 on Thursday to climb out of the relegation places.
The Toffees would be tenth without their 10-point deduction for breaching FFP rules, after a run of three wins in four games. Ex-Burnley stars James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil are impressing under Dyche’s familiar management, while one player thriving is Abdoulaye Doucoure.
5️⃣⚽️ for the season
🔟⚽️ so far under Sean Dyche
The Duke. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/fEutsKyKUH
— Everton (@Everton) December 8, 2023
The Mali international scored some crucial goals during last season’s run-in as Everton avoided the drop, including the winner on the final weekend against Bournemouth. Doucoure has continued that form into the new season, with five goals in 15 games. In the 69 appearances, under four different managers, that preceded Dyche’s arrival, Doucoure scored just four times. He’s been transformed.
Is Bowen the best bet as West Ham’s centre-forward?
Jarrod Bowen continued his excellent start to the season with another goal in midweek, extending his record to nine in the Premier League. Only Erling Haaland (14) and Mohamed Salah (10) have scored more than Bowen, who netted for the seventh consecutive away game at Spurs.
Bowen was brilliant in the second half as West Ham came from behind to win, shining in a centre-forward position. With Michail Antonio and Danny Ings having failed to find the net consistently, and Mohammed Kudus a fine option from the right, Moyes could look to use the razor-sharp movement of the England winger in a central position, until expected additions arrive in January.
Jarrod Bowen is on fire away from home 🔥 pic.twitter.com/kVgA1Ftvxu
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) December 8, 2023
“I think he can play the centre-forward position well, I’ve thought that for a few years,” Moyes said at his pre-match press conference ahead of facing Fulham.
“Jarrod has always scored goals, even when he was at Hull before he came here. He’s scored a lot of goals coming off wide areas, but I think he has showed he can play centrally as well.
“There are games we will play him wide and there are games where we will play him as a centre-forward.
“We’re really pleased he got another goal away from home. If he keeps these numbers up then hopefully by the end of the season, he’ll have a big number of goals.”
Postecoglou needs a plan to stop ‘Spursy’ swing
Across the opening months of the Premier League season, Ange Postecoglou appeared to turn water into wine in North London. The Australian won consecutive Premier League Manager of the Month awards in August, September, and October, becoming the first coach to do so from the start of the season.
With Spurs producing some of the best football in the division, all appeared well, but things have taken a turn. Five games without a win have seen Spurs drop from first to fifth, while the events of those defeats have seen the old ‘Spursy’ jibes resurface.
1 – Tottenham are the first side in Premier League history to…
…fail to win five consecutive games despite going 1-0 up in each match.
…lose three consecutive home games despite going up 1-0 up in each match.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 7, 2023
Spursy was a phrase coined from the club’s perceived ability ‘to have success in reach but to ultimately chuck it away’. Across the last five games, it’s rang true. Postecoglou’s side have become the first team in Premier League history to lose five consecutive games after scoring the first goal, while the North Londoners are also the first to do so in three successive games at home.
Injuries, of course, have not helped but Postecoglou needs a plan.