Each week we preview the Premier League weekend action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
It’s been all change in the division during November’s international break, with three new managers preparing to take charge of their sides for the first time as the Premier League season resumes this weekend.
Last season’s FA Cup finalists meet at the King Power Stadium in Saturday’s early kick-off between Leicester and Chelsea, whilst Arsenal travel to Liverpool in the midst of the league’s longest unbeaten record.
Elsewhere, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces Watford with his position at Manchester United under scrutiny, and Manchester City host an Everton side on a concerning winless run.
Here are eight talking points ahead of the weekend’s action.
Contrasting fortunes ahead of FA Cup final reunion
Leicester and Chelsea meet in a rematch of last season’s FA Cup final, one which saw Youri Tielemans’ stunning strike prove a fitting final winner for the Foxes at Wembley.
The FA Cup success of Brendan Rodgers’ side – alongside consecutive fifth-place finishes and a strong-looking window of recruitment – raised hopes that Leicester could again challenge the elite this season, but it has been an underwhelming campaign so far with the club languishing in the bottom half.
"When you play the big teams, you have to be at the top of your game." 👊
Brendan Rodgers' #LeiChe preview 💭
— Leicester City (@LCFC) November 19, 2021
Chelsea, by contrast, have continued to go from strength to strength under Thomas Tuchel and head into this weekend’s fixture as Premier League leaders, having conceded just four league goals.
It’s a significant difference from the last league encounter at the King Power Stadium, one which saw the Foxes’ 2-0 win spell the end for Frank Lampard’s tenure at Chelsea.
Leicester are in danger of falling adrift of the top four at present and the Foxes will need to make themselves awkward opposition once more to secure a positive result this weekend.
Villa begin new era under Gerrard
Steven Gerrard’s soundbites since arriving at Aston Villa have been predictable if promising, hailing the size of the Midlands club and insisting his new role is not a stepping stone back to Anfield.
Gerrard is notoriously self-critical and demanding on himself, traits which Villa will hope can lead to a turnaround in fortunes following a five-game losing run that has left the side on the edge of the Premier League’s relegation places.
Steven Gerrard’s first session as Villa coach 📸 pic.twitter.com/Hy8tCegnHe
— B/R Football (@brfootball) November 15, 2021
The 41-year-old faces a difficult test in Brighton in his first fixture in charge and the international break has hindered his preparation time, as Gerrard looks to revive an Aston Villa side that has performed well below their capabilities in recent weeks.
Organising a defence that has been continually exposed will be at the forefront of his priorities, whilst there is more to come from summer signings Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia, each of who have failed to find their level this season.
Gerrard has promised an energetic and exciting Villa side, with the club’s fans optimistic ahead of a new era that begins this weekend.
Howe-ay the lads
Newcastle’s new ownership have settled on Eddie Howe as their new manager, with the former Bournemouth boss set to take the reins for the first time against Brentford this weekend.
Howe won admirers for his work in guiding Bournemouth through English football’s pyramid, but faces a significantly different challenge at a Newcastle side with ambitions to challenge the elite.
The priority for the Magpies remains climbing away from the relegation places, however, winless after 11 fixtures and in desperate need of a run of results.
Howe could hardly have wished for a better set of opening fixtures with Brentford arriving at St James’ Park in poor form, the Bees having faded following a fast start to lose each of their past four fixtures.
The manner of losses to previously winless Burnley and Norwich is concerning, and another defeat to a struggling side will further congest the bottom half of the table.
Howe will need his side to keep tabs on Ivan Toney, who will have a point to prove against his former side after being afforded just two league appearances during his time at Newcastle.
An impossible task for Dean Smith?
The third managerial debut of the weekend, Dean Smith has dived back in at the deep end at Norwich, just days after his dismissal at Aston Villa.
Remarkably, Norwich’s clash with Southampton will see Smith become the first manager to face the same opponent in consecutive Premier League encounters, in the same season with different clubs.
Smith’s final fixture with Villa was a 1-0 defeat at St Mary’s prior to the international break, and he faces the Saints again in a clash Norwich will consider winnable as the Canaries look to climb out of the bottom three.
Norwich won their first game of the season at Brentford last time out, but remain rooted to the bottom and five points adrift of safety at present. Goals have been a major problem for the Canaries with a paltry five scored all season, a statistic that must improve if Smith’s side are to survive.
No second chance for Solskjaer at Watford
The international break perhaps came at a favourable time for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, providing an opportunity for the Norwegian to reflect and regroup following a run of form that has made his position precarious.
The manner of Manchester United’s derby defeat to Manchester City has piled the pressure on a coach already short of trust, and Solskjaer can ill-afford another poor performance as the Red Devils face Watford this weekend.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær took charge of Manchester United, no other Premier League club has spent more on transfers pic.twitter.com/lLhFEiywOT
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) November 16, 2021
Watford have failed to keep a clean sheet all season and it is a fixture Manchester United will be expected to win, and win well, ahead of a defining run of games that will see Solskjaer’s side face Villarreal, Chelsea and Arsenal within just nine days.
Having seen his side lambasted for limp showings in losses to Liverpool and City, this weekend’s fixture is a must-win and it’s time the Red Devils’ senior stars stood up and were counted.
Improving Arsenal look to end Anfield hoodoo
Arsenal’s renaissance has seen the Gunners rise to fifth in the Premier League, their eight-game unbeaten run the longest sequence in the division and one which has raised confidence over a potential Champions League challenge.
Having been rock bottom of the league after three games, the north London side are now just two points outside the top four and can leapfrog Liverpool with a win over the Merseysiders this weekend.
Arsenal have picked up more Premier League points than Liverpool in 2021 😲 pic.twitter.com/LulF7bDKl1
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) November 19, 2021
Arsenal will need to end a recent hoodoo at Anfield, however, having failed to win on their last eight league visits to Liverpool (6 losses, 2 draws) since a 2-0 win in September 2012.
The last five Premier League encounters at Anfield have all ended in defeat, with the Gunners losing by a combined score of 18-4.
Kane’s return to form a welcome boost for Spurs and Conte
Harry Kane’s struggles this season have been well-documented with the forward having netted just once in nine league starts for Spurs, a post-Euro 2020 hangover and unsettled summer of transfer speculation having contributed to his slow start to the campaign.
The international break provided Kane with a welcome chance to rediscover his touch, capitalising on the often calamitous defending of Albania and San Marino to score seven goals in just two fixtures for England.
He became the first England player in 64 years to score consecutive hat-tricks for the Three Lions and has now risen to joint-third in the all-time list of leading scorers, level with Gary Lineker on 48 goals.
Scored the most goals ever in a calendar year for @England. ✅
First player to score back-to-back hat-tricks since 1957. ✅
First player since 1993 to score 4+ goals in a game. ✅
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 15, 2021
With his confidence increased, he will hope to continue that momentum when a Leeds side who have regularly offered up chances visit north London this weekend.
However, Tottenham have failed to register a single shot on target in each of their last two league games, with a lack of creativity in midfield a major problem.
Kane will not be afforded the same service provided by England colleagues including Phil Foden and Reece James, the conundrum for Conte is getting the best from a forward who is arguably Spurs’ best creative and goal threat.
Cancelo can continue carrying slack
Manchester City’s dominant performance in the Manchester derby was a reminder that Pep Guardiola’s side remain the team to beat this season, a display of complete control at the home of their cross-town rivals.
City are second in the division and have dazzled on occasion, but there is a sense that it has not all quite clicked for Guardiola’s side across the season’s opening months.
Kevin De Bruyne has struggled to recapture the form that won him back-to-back PFA Player of the Year accolades, whilst Raheem Sterling has struggled for minutes and Jack Grealish – still finding his feet at the Etihad – was a notable omission from their derby XI.
Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden have enjoyed excellent campaigns in contrast, but it is the performances of Joao Cancelo which capture the attention when assessing the underlying numbers.
Cancelo provided five assists across fixtures with Club Brugge and Manchester United before the break, but his influence has been marked with the Portugal international dominating a host of metrics for City this season.
5️⃣ assists in 2️⃣ games! 👏
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 11, 2021
The 27-year-old leads his teammates for touches, passes, final third passes, tackles, interceptions, duels won, and shots so far this season, a staggering amount of influence for a full-back who has become amongst the most effective in world football.
As the likes of De Bruyne and Grealish rediscover their finest form, Cancelo can continue to carry the creative slack for a City side who face struggling Everton this weekend.