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Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend | Premier League


1) Last hurrah for Bruce on Tyneside?

It feels trivial discussing mere football matters when set against the ethical concerns arising from Newcastle’s Saudi takeover, but it feels as if whatever happens on the pitch against Tottenham will accelerate Steve Bruce’s departure. He is unlikely to get much credit if his side record a first league win of the season; instead it will only heighten the sense of “new broom” momentum that would require a bigger-name manager as soon as possible, while defeat would only serve to demonstrate the immediate need for change. It helps Bruce that Newcastle’s first opponents of the new era are a side who have been desperately unconvincing for at least a month, and who could be there for the taking if the hosts get on the front foot early. Defeat for Spurs would intensify the early pressure on Bruce’s counterpart, Nuno Espírito Santo, and heighten the focus on the various aspects of Tottenham’s game that aren’t functioning properly, particularly if Harry Kane remains goalless. It will be a morally queasy occasion but the party atmosphere might just work in Newcastle’s favour, for all the good it will do Bruce. TD

Newcastle v Tottenham, Sunday 4.30pm (all times BST)

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2) Burnley will test City’s lack of pace

Manchester City lack a bit of pace, a strange thing to write about a Pep Guardiola side but true nevertheless. This is partly because, by signing Jack Grealish and playing him on the left, they have removed it from an area of the pitch in which it is generally found, but also because they have no centre-forward and have a panoply of beautiful midfielders who – apart from Kevin De Bruyne – lack the legs to run beyond the strikers. In some games, most recently against Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool, this doesn’t matter much, because the desire of such teams to attack means they can be passed and run around. But Burnley will stick eight men behind the ball, so the ability to beat then escape them could be crucial in preventing the kind of draw foisted upon City when Southampton visited. As such, perhaps it’s time for Guardiola to restore Raheem Sterling to his league starting XI, because though he is out of form, his ability to manufacture space and time back-post arrivals could be important against a well-organised defence. DH

Manchester City v Burnley, Saturday 3pm

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3) Solskjær needs more than a good result

Neither Leicester nor Manchester United have made auspicious starts to the season, but though United are still handily placed, it is they who come into this game under more pressure; where Leicester need a result, their opponents need a result and a performance. In their quest to achieve this, they will be without Raphäel Varane and perhaps Harry Maguire, but if they fail, those absences will not be the reason. First of all, Leicester will be missing Wesley Fofana, Wilfred Ndidi and James Justin and cannot spend as much as United on mitigating such misfortune. But beyond that, Victor Lindelöf is a decent defender who should be experienced enough to stop Eric Bailly, his likely partner, going off on crazy adventures, and Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side have attackers good enough to score goals quicker than their defenders can give them away. The question – this weekend and for the remainder of the season – is whether their midfield can feed the former while protecting the latter. DH

Leicester v Manchester United, Saturday 3pm

4) Will Ranieri conjure spirit and coherence?

Quite why Watford appoint managers on contracts longer than a year remains a mystery, and Claudio Ranieri’s first game under his two-year deal could scarcely be tougher, Liverpool at home kickstarting a gruelling eight-game run that also includes both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. Ranieri will not be judged – you’d hope – on results in those games but performances will need to be more coherent and spirited than most this term under Xisco Muñoz. The Tinkerman’s ability to get the best out of limited resources will be tested to the full given Watford’s current injury problems. Ranieri’s attitude and experience mean he won’t feel the pressure as much as some – “I maintain my spirit, no one can kill me,” he said at his unveiling – so Liverpool might have a tougher afternoon than might have been anticipated had Xisco remained in post at a venue where they suffered an emphatic first defeat of their title-winning campaign two seasons ago. TD

Watford v Liverpool, Saturday 12.30pm

'I am so young … why are you laughing?': Ranieri ready for Watford test – video
‘I am so young … why are you laughing?’: Ranieri ready for Watford test – video

5) Frank v Tuchel adds intrigue to derby

Chelsea at home will have been among the games Brentford fans most eagerly looked for when the fixtures came out. The west London sides have not met in the league since a crowd of 33,000 shoehorned into Griffin Park to watch a Chelsea side spearheaded by Tommy Lawton win a top-flight match 2-0 in 1947. And though Thomas Frank’s side are firm underdogs, they might go into it in better spirits than their opponents. Brentford’s win at West Ham felt like the most significant of their three wins to date, demonstrating an ability to absorb pressure and grab victory on the break that has often eluded other easy-on-the-eye promoted sides in recent seasons (notably neighbouring Fulham). Chelsea haven’t hit top gear for a while but N’Golo Kanté’s likely return from injury may give Thomas Tuchel’s team the industry and nous to edge a meeting of two of the top flight’s cannier and more interesting coaches. TD

Brentford v Chelsea, Saturday 5.30pm

6) Benítez and Moyes to deliver match of the weekend?

Rafael Benítez versus David Moyes sounds like a battle from another decade, two footballing dinosaurs struggling to stay relevant. But the reality is very different and proves, yet again, that much as some like to obfuscate and complicate, football remains a simple game; whether you call “sitting midfielders” a “double pivot” or “putting them under” a “high press”, quality is quality. Everton arrive at this game in decent spirits, thanks to a point earned at Old Trafford before the break. Crucial to that was Benítez’s decision to play three wingers; the speed, flexibility and creativity of Anthony Gordon, Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray asked questions United struggled to answer, and with Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin still injured, that looks a sensible way to pick through and around the two banks of four Moyes will almost definitely deploy. West Ham, though, will be far less open in transition and look nicely grooved going forward, so this should be a terrific contest and might well be the match of the weekend. DH

Everton v West Ham, Sunday 2pm

Andros Townsend celebrates with teammates Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon after scoring Everton’s equaliser against Manchester United at Old Trafford
Andros Townsend (left) celebrates with teammates Demarai Gray and Anthony Gordon after scoring Everton’s equaliser against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

7) Villa needing spot of creativity

On the face of things, 10th isn’t a bad spot for Aston Villa to be in; they finished 11th last season, then lost their best player and talisman Jack Grealish. But though they’ve pulled off a couple of decent results, they’ve not been great overall, Dean Smith tinkering with formation and personnel in search of his best starting XI. As such, Emi Buendía – at £38m a club record signing – has begun the last four league games on the bench, to facilitate a solid but stolid midfield of Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn. It may be that Buendía’s best position is on the right of an attacking trio, a position that, given Villa’s 3-5-2 setup, does not currently exist – a situation that looks unlikely to change, given the presence in the squad of Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins. However, both those players need service and, already deprived of wingers and overlaps, would benefit from Smith sacrificing a holder in order to reintroduce the creativity that Buendía brings. DH

Aston Villa v Wolves, Saturday 3pm

8) Will Arsenal develop a natural game?

When Mikel Arteta took over at Arsenal he inherited a bloated squad lacking quality and requisite mentality for a top Premier League club. Since then, he has done a decent job of replacing those he didn’t fancy, to such an extent that his first XI now has a player he likes in every position, but with that comes pressure, especially as Arsenal, though capable of performing well, struggle to score – only Norwich have managed fewer than their five league goals. Whether Arteta can solve that problem is unclear, because while cohesion will improve as familiarity increases, there is a general lack of imagination, freedom and competitive charisma in the way Arsenal attack that does not fit with the personality their manager projects. He may find Crystal Palace to his liking, because Patrick Vieira played under Arsène Wenger in his golden age so his side get the ball forward quickly, leaving space in behind. But until Arteta finds a way to get his team playing naturally, it’ll continue to be less good than the players in it. DH

Arsenal v Crystal Palace, Monday 8pm

Arsenal on the attack against Chelsea at the Emirates earlier this season
Arsenal on the attack against Chelsea at the Emirates earlier this season. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty Images

9) Leeds look to find ruthless side

For fans of a certain vintage, meetings of Leeds and Southampton will always prompt memories of Don Revie’s team’s 7-0 romp in 1972. The famous, almost cruel passing sequence at the end was regarded as other-worldly in a way Marcelo Bielsa’s football often has. But Bielsa could do with some of the ruthlessness of 50 years ago, Leeds’ recent defeat by West Ham typifying a failure to make flair count. The unavailability of Patrick Bamford, who has an ankle problem, and possible absence of Raphinha, a late returner from international duty with Brazil, will blunt that flair further, and Bielsa will hope Kalvin Phillips has recovered from injury sufficiently to bring some much-needed steel and reliability to the side. Southampton played reasonably well in their last outing, a defeat at Chelsea, and Leeds could find their failings exploited again. TD

10) Hanley offers hope for toiling Canaries

There is much Norwich could learn from Brighton, a similar-sized club from a one-team city who have learned how to adapt and survive in the top flight following promotion in 2017, while the Canaries have yo-yoed between the top two divisions. Daniel Farke’s side looked to be reprising their hapless 2019-20 campaign in the early weeks, but there were more hopeful signs in the admittedly dour goalless draw at Burnley before the break that yielded Norwich’s first point. The form of Grant Hanley, offering a tenacity and leadership at the back that has been too often missing, and the increasing promise further forward of Mathias Normann and Ozan Kabak, give Farke hope that Groundhog Day may yet be avoided, and – despite Brighton’s current seventh place – a Seagulls side that still don’t score as many goals as their attacking play merits could yet be susceptible. Norwich have to go for it. TD

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