Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.
Villa and Brighton keen to challenge elite again
Aston Villa and Brighton meet in Saturday’s lunchtime kickoff, a clash between two teams once again looking to compete at the top end of the division. Each secured European qualification last season and are placed inside the top six after six games.
Villa are looking to record a 10th consecutive home win in the Premier League, with Villa Park having become a fortress under Unai Emery. Just three teams have won more home games since Emery’s arrival at the club last season, though a midweek cup exit at home to Everton proved a disappointment as Villa’s second-string failed to take their chance in the side.
Brighton, meanwhile, can move level with Manchester City at the top with a win at Villa Park. The Seagulls are the league’s leading scorers and have won five of their first six games of the campaign, raising hopes that the club can improve on last season’s top-six finish.
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 21, 2023
This one should be a cracker.
Friends reunited at Bournemouth
Optimism was high when Andoni Iraola arrived at Bournemuth during the summer, with the Spaniard’s achievements in bloodying the noses of La Liga heavyweights with Rayo Vallecano appearing an ideal fit for the Cherries.
Six games in however, and Iraola remains without a Premier League win. Bournemouth’s winless run now extends to 10 top-flight games dating back to last season and a fixture with unbeaten Arsenal hardly screams first three points of the new season.
Iraola will take on a familiar face in fellow Basque Country boss Mikel Arteta, a childhood friend having played youth football together at amateur club Antiguoko.
🗣️ “We know each other really well!”
Mikel Arteta speaks about his friendship with Bournemouth head coach Andoni Iraola 🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/VMhBk1vWWr
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 29, 2023
“It will be really nice to see Mikel again. He was an amazing player,” Iraola said on the reunion.
“He was the one above the rest. He was the one who left our club first and joined Barcelona.”
Iraola can expect no favours from his friend, but the return of Tyler Adams to fitness should provide the Cherries with added steel against an Arsenal side who could be missing Declan Rice and Bukayo Saka.
Everton must build on recent wins
Everton are on the up after bouncing back from a difficult start with back-to-back away wins at Brentford and Aston Villa in league and cup. The second of those saw Everton end a run of 10 straight home victories for Villa in all competitions and has raised confidence that the club can climb away from trouble.
For the first time this season Sean Dyche has options in the final third, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin back to fitness and back in the goals. Beto also appears a piece of astute business and Dyche now has alternatives – or a potential partnership – to utilise this season.
Sean Dyche on the impact of DCL and Jack Harrison…
— Everton (@Everton) September 28, 2023
With Jack Harrison also debuting in midweek and James Garner excellent in midfield, there is optimism at Everton. A home clash with Luton this weekend appears the ideal fixture to end a run of just one win from eight games at Goodison Park.
“I am pleased with the relentless attitude of the players to keep performing, that’s a key factor when results aren’t going your way,” Dyche said this week. “You can’t just wait for them to happen, you have to make them happen. I think in the last two performances, we have done that.”
Man United emerging from troubled start?
Back-to-back wins have lifted spirts at Manchester United, following a stuttering start which saw Erik ten Hag under pressure. A hard-fought win at Burnley was followed by a more comfortable victory over Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup, ahead of a rematch with the Eagles in the Premier League this weekend.
United have suffered injury issues over the season’s opening weeks, but are returning closer to full health. Mason Mount returned to the side in midweek and provided an assist, while Casemiro’s contribution further forward and an impressive full debut from Sofyan Amrabat stole the headlines.
United play six of their next seven fixtures in all competitions at Old Trafford, with the sole away trip in that run against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. If the Red Devils are to claw back the gap that has opened up to the top sides, this appears a crucial period.
Palace are a better side than the one which struggled at Manchester United in midweek, but have struggled away from home of late. The Eagles have won just three times on the road in 2023.
Back-to-basics working for Newcastle
Newcastle have recovered from an unconvincing start to look a whole lot closer to the team who gatecrashed the Champions League places last season. Since losing at Brighton, the Magpies are unbeaten in four games across all competitions and have failed to concede a goal in that time.
Eddie Howe’s team posted the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League last season, but had recorded just one shut-out in 15 league games before their back-to-back successes against Brentford and Sheffield United.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) September 28, 2023
Next up are Burnley at St James’ Park, a team without a win or clean sheet in five Premier League games since promotion. Howe has injury problems, particularly in the final third with Harvey Barnes out and Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak doubtful, but this weekend represents a chance to maintain momentum ahead of a massive showdown with Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
Ward-Prowse set-pieces spell trouble for Sheffield United
West Ham’s analysis team would have been licking their lips reviewing last weekend’s footage, as Sheffield United were thrashed 8-0 by Newcastle at Bramall Lane. The Blades have had a difficult start to their Premier League return, conceding 17 goals in just six games.
The concern for Paul Heckingbottom will be that that number almost directly correlates to their xGA, with no side in the division posting a poorer expected goals against figure (17.50). Sheffield United have been particularly vulnerable from set-pieces, conceding a Premier League high (4) from such situations to date.
4 – James Ward-Prowse has four assists from dead ball situations this season in all competitions – no other Premier League player has more than one. Whip. pic.twitter.com/A0wcjhsFl0
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 22, 2023
Kieran Trippier caused chaos in the Blades’ box with his deliveries last weekend and West Ham will hope James Ward-Prowse – arguably the best set-piece taker in the business – can cause similar scenes this time around.
Ward-Prowse already has four assists from set-pieces in all competitions since signing for West Ham last summer, with no Premier League player producing more. Expect that to be an avenue the Irons look to exploit.
Rodri-less City chase record start
Manchester City are motoring along nicely at the top of the Premier League table, having become just the second defending champions to open their defence with six straight wins.
Only Liverpool (2019/20 – 8) and Chelsea (2005/06 – 9) have ever opened a campaign with more consecutive victories and City will be eyeing a record-breaking start ahead of this weekend’s meeting with Wolves.
Rodri’s absence shapes as a crucial one for the Citizens however, and Pep Guardiola’s side crashed out of the Carabao Cup in midweek without the influential Spaniard. In all likelihood Rodri would have been rested at Newcastle anyhow, but he is a certainty to start in the Premier League and City look less assured in his absence.
City have lost four of the last 14 Premier League games Rodri has missed, ahead of trips to Wolves and Arsenal before his return.
Szoboszlai a star
Dominik Szoboszlai’s start at Liverpool has left many inside Anfield circles wondering just how their side had a clear run at signing the midfielder last summer. The Hungarian has hit the ground running and while fans from other clubs might not have had chance to watch Szoboszlai close up on too many occasions to date, his impact will not go under the radar for much longer.
Szoboszlai struck a stunning goal as Liverpool beat Leicester in the Carabao Cup in midweek, his second of the season with each a Goal of the Season contender in their own right. The 22-year-old often operated across the frontline at RB Leipzig, but he has found a home as a roving playmaker in Klopp’s new look midfield.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 28, 2023
Szoboszlai started at Liverpool by winning the pre-season lactate test and has barely stopped running since. He leads his Liverpool teammates for distance carried in possession and ranks behind only Andy Robertson for touches.
Szoboszlai might not have the same thunderous presence as a certain former Liverpool number eight, but it has been a while since the club have had one with such energy and a penchant for the spectacular.
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