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Premier League preview: Eight talking points ahead of the weekend’s action

Each week we preview the Premier League weekend action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.

Mancunian rivalries resume this weekend as champions Manchester City make the short trip to Old Trafford, with Pep Guardiola’s side in need of a positive derby day result after last weekend’s shock defeat to Crystal Palace.

Antonio Conte will take charge of his first league fixture as Spurs manager when the North Londoners travel to face Everton, whilst West Ham will look to continue their strong start despite a tough test as Liverpool visit the capital.

 

Elsewhere Brentford and Norwich meet in a battle between two of the promoted sides, whilst league leaders Chelsea host Burnley and Leeds meet Leicester.

Here are eight talking points ahead of the weekend’s action.

Pressure increasing on Villa and Smith

It is perhaps an indicator of the pressure on Dean Smith that he is now the bookmakers’ favourite to be the next Premier League manager sacked, moving ahead of Norwich’s winless Daniel Farke and the under-fire Ole Gunnar Solskajer at Manchester United.

Villa have lost each of their past four league fixtures and have conceded 3+ goals in each of their last three, last weekend’s 4-1 home defeat to West Ham leaving Smith’s side just three points above the Premier League’s relegation places.

The club’s summer recruitment – spending around £93m on Leon Bailey, Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendia – was deemed as good business, a trio of talents who would provide Villa with greater balance following Jack Grealish’s record-breaking move to Manchester City.

Despite bright moments from each, Smith has so far failed to find the balance in his side and his tinkering – including dropping Tyrone Mings – has not resulted in results.

Villa travel to face Southampton on Friday evening and Smith can ill-afford another slip-up as the pressure begins to increase.

Centre-backs have a point to prove in Manchester derby

The Manchester derby headlines the weekend’s fixtures and both sides head into the clash in need of a positive outcome, Manchester United hoping to continue the momentum of last weekend’s win at Spurs against their cross-town rivals.

City were beaten in shock fashion last weekend and another defeat could open up a sizeable gap to the league leaders, though responded with a convincing Champions League win over Club Brugge in midweek after two games without a goal.

Much could depend on the centre-back performances at Old Trafford, with a number of defensive options possessing a point to prove.

Harry Maguire’s form this season has been nothing short of disastrous and the Red Devils will need their captain to look somewhere close to his best in order to secure a result against a City forward line boasting intelligent movement and fluid interchangeability.

Eric Bailly made just his second appearance of the season against Atalanta in midweek and was excellent despite the chaos around him, and the Ivorian should be granted another opportunity with Raphael Varane sidelined through injury.

For City, John Stones looks set to return after Aymeric Laporte’s red card last weekend and the clash offers the England international a chance to reclaim the regular role he has compromised this term.

Contrasting fortunes for newly-promoted Norwich and Brentford

Last season Norwich cantered to the Championship title in impressive style, falling narrowly short of the 100-point mark in a fine promotion-winning campaign.

The Canaries were soon followed by Brentford who navigated the second-tier play-offs to secure their place in the Premier League, but since then it’s been contrasting fortunes as top-flight sides.

Norwich remain rooted to the bottom of the division and without a win this season, the club having made a profit during the summer window despite investing £31.9m on 14 new arrivals, a scattergun recruitment drive that has failed to adequately replace Emiliano Buendia or build a competitive side at this level.

Brentford invested a similar sum (£31.1m) but crucially retained their key personnel, adding to the squad in key areas and their ambition has been rewarded with a strong start to the season.

Last weekend’s defeat to Burnley was a poor performance and setback, but there’s no disputing which of the newly-promoted sides looks better equipped for survival as the pair meet this weekend.

Palace and Wolves each looking upwards

Palace and Wolves were both tipped for seasons of struggle in some sections during the summer, each undergoing mass changes with new managers and an overhaul in playing personnel.

Palace have won just twice this season but have impressed with their performances, a side full of hard-running and energy a welcome sight for a set of supporters who had watched the Eagles age considerably in recent campaigns.

Last weekend’s 2-0 win at Manchester City was an example of their stylistic change with Conor Gallagher’s pressing and drive crucial to the shock success, and Patrick Vieira’s side will be in confident mood ahead of a clash with a Wolves team in impressive form.

Wolves began the new season with three successive defeats but have since bounced back under Bruno Lage, winning four of their past five to rise to seventh in the division.

Both sides are in fine fettle and it will be fascinating to see whose momentum is slowed at Selhurst Park this weekend.

Bournemouth brigade back together at Newcastle

Newcastle’s next managerial appointment is edging closer with Eddie Howe having agreed a deal to take charge, the former Bournemouth boss set to be tasked with leading the revolution at St James’ Park.

Howe will be greeted with familiar faces in the North East including a strong contingent of former Bournemouth players he knows well, with each of Matt Ritchie, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser having played influential roles for Howe at the Cherries.

Wilson remains a crucial presence for Newcastle and has scored four goals in six appearances this season, and getting the best from the 29-year-old and Allan Saint-Maximin will be crucial to Howe’s hopes of leading the club away from the relegation places.

It could, however, be an awkward reunion with Fraser, who memorably refused to sign a short-term deal to extend his stay at Bournemouth and complete the Covid-19 impacted 2019/20 season.

Fraser walked away from the Cherries with nine games of the club’s relegation fight remaining, with Howe leaving Bournemouth after their unsuccessful bid to survive.

Can Conte revive Spurs?

Antonio Conte will take charge of his first league game as Tottenham manager at Everton, with the Italian possessing a sizeable ‘to-do list’ after taking the reins in North London.

Spurs have struggled at both ends of the pitch this season and coaxing more from an underperforming squad is paramount for Conte, most notably Harry Kane who has looked a shadow of his former self following a summer of transfer speculation.

Conte could look to implement the 3-1-4-2 formation that worked so successfully at Inter Milan, with the performances of Son Heung-Min and Kane as a front pairing crucial to a Spurs side void of elite talent elsewhere.

Cristian Romero will also be important should Conte revert to his tried and tested back three, the Argentine yet to find the form that saw him named as Serie A’s Best Defender in 2020/21 since making the move to the Premier League from Atalanta.

Leicester and Leeds meet in battle of underperforming sides

Leicester and Leeds have been amongst the more disappointing sides of the new season so far, each having performed well below expectations after stellar campaigns last time around.

Leicester’s lacklustre defeat to Arsenal last weekend leaves the Foxes 10th in the division, six points adrift of the top four after failing to reproduce the form that has agonisingly seen them miss out on Champions League qualification in each of the past two campaigns.

Brendan Rodgers’ side have already lost four times this season and each defeat – West Ham, Manchester City, Brighton and Arsenal – has come against sides who hold realistic ambitions of challenging the Foxes for the European places.

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Leicester meet Leeds this weekend and the situation at Elland Road is even worse, teetering narrowly outside the relegation places with last weekend’s win at Norwich offering brief respite.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side have lacked the overwhelming energy of last season and have struggled in Patrick Bamford’s ongoing absence, though will hope to gain momentum – led by the sparkling Raphinha – on home soil this weekend.

Moyes’ men face acid test against Liverpool

West Ham and David Moyes continue to roll on, rising to fourth in the Premier League after three consecutive league wins, including a clinical 4-1 success at Aston Villa last weekend.

Hopes are high that the Hammers can maintain their push for the Champions League despite concerns over squad depth and continental commitments, as contenders around them flounder and struggle for consistency.

This weekend brings West Ham their toughest examination of the campaign so far, however, as unbeaten Liverpool arrive at the London Stadium.

West Ham will need to remain compact and utilise the tools that have brought their recent success, their excellence at set-pieces perhaps their best chance of securing a result against a Liverpool side possessing huge firepower.

Sadio Mane has four goals in his past six appearances for the visitors, whilst Mohamed Salah has been the Premier League’s best player so far this season and enjoys an excellent record against West Ham, scoring nine goals in eight appearances against the Hammers – the joint-most the Egyptian has netted against a single opponent (also Watford).

Read – Talent factory: Five Chelsea academy graduates shining across the Premier League

Read Also – Tactical Analysis: How will Antonio Conte get the best out of his Spurs squad?

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