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


1) Chelsea have a James-sized hole to fill

It is easy to see why Chelsea were interested in finding cover at right wing-back last summer. Reece James’s knee injury has given Graham Potter a conundrum to solve before his team host Manchester United on Saturday. There is no ready-made alternative to the England international. The experiment of using Raheem Sterling as James’s stand-in was swiftly aborted during Chelsea’s win over Villa last weekend and César Azpilicueta does not have the legs to charge up and down the right flank against top opposition. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a likelier candidate. The midfielder did well as a wing-back for Thomas Tuchel and has filled in there for Potter. However Loftus-Cheek is not a defender – he had some uncomfortable moments against Brentford in midweek – and his delivery is not as incisive as James. United should look to target that flank. Jacob Steinberg

2) A crunch fixture for Conte

Following Spurs’ stomping by Manchester United, Antonio Conte was realistic. “We need time,” he said. “In only 10-11 months, you cannot pass from ninth place to become title contenders.” But this summer, Conte’s board gave him the financial backing they denied Mauricio Pochettino, and in such circumstances, the way his team have been outplayed by more or less every decent opposition they’ve faced, is unacceptable. The feeling persists that, while Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma and Richarlison are decent players, just as Djed Spence is a decent prospect, Conte has spent more than £100m turning a team able to contest the Champions League places but no more into a team still able to contest the Champions League places but no more. Add to that a dreary, frustrating style and it’s no wonder some fans are beginning to wonder whether the game has passed their manager by – and things will not get easier for him on Sunday when in-form Newcastle visit. Daniel Harris

3) Can Brighton repeat Liverpool trick?

Manchester City’s first defeat of the season came on Sunday at Anfield, when Mo Salah’s strike gave Liverpool a vital win that makes Brighton’s visit to the Etihad Stadium a touch more intriguing. Though Erling Haaland being kept off the scoresheet was a rarity, Pep Guardiola’s side were not beaten following the discovery of a previously unknown secret. Salah’s was a solo breakaway goal from an Alisson long-ball clearance, City caught on the break as they so often are when tasting the near-collector’s item of a loss. Can Brighton replicate this? Do Leandro Trossard and Danny Welbeck, Roberto de Zerbi’s usual attackers, have the pace to splay City on the counter and the team the guile to engineer openings of this ilk? Or will the land’s preeminent team pummel them as they do so many other visitors. The odds say yes: the last time City lost two league games on the bounce was in December 2018 – to Crystal Palace and Leicester. Jamie Jackson

Leandro Trossard (bottom) and Danny Welbeck have combined well this season for Brighton.
Leandro Trossard (bottom) and Danny Welbeck have combined well this season for Brighton. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

4) Saints’ way another test for leaders

There are two ways to look at Arsenal’s win against Leeds last weekend: either they won because they happened to finish on the right side of football’s notoriously chaotic margins but looked like a side that has run out of form, or they won because they scored a terrific goal and are now confident and doughty enough to dig in for another fine result. Sunday’s trip to Southampton might give us a decent steer as to which is so because, though the home side have made a poor start to the season. Two decent results – a draw with West Ham followed by a derby triumph at Bournemouth – mean they’re in better heart. And should Ralph Hasenhüttl stick with his preferred 4-4-2 formation, that might cause problems for Gabriel and William Saliba, who are more used to sharing one centre-forward between two, just as Ben White and Kieran Tierney or Takehiro Tomiyasu might find it harder to defend wingers playing on their natural flank, backed up by attacking full-backs. DH

5) Where this Klopp team goes now

It’s been a tricky start to the season for Liverpool, and it’s easy to see why. When Jürgen Klopp’s team was at its peak, its method was simple: three physical monsters ran the opposition off the pitch in midfield, which allowed its full-backs the freedom to make the play from wide areas, which allowed its wide attackers to hunt for goals. This changed when Georginio Wijnaldum was replaced by Thiago Alcântara – a fine player but of a different profile and also often injured – and as age caught up with Jordan Henderson, meaning he could no longer set so ferocious a tempo. Klopp has tried various methods of addressing this issue, both in terms of formation and personnel but, though his players have forced two terrific wins in the last week, they still look far from vintage. While the likelihood is that, however they line up on Saturday, they’ll have too much for Forest, there’s not yet a sense that Klopp has found a lasting solution. DH

Klopp denies his comments on Manchester City and PSG were xenophobic – video

6) New faces wait in the wings for Wolves

This season is gradually getting away from Wolves. In the short term the responsibility of steering Wolves out of the relegation zone rests with Steve Davis, the former Crewe and Leyton Orient manager who will remain in interim charge until at least the new year after the club’s failed pursuit of Julen Lopetegui and then Michael Beale. Wolves have won two of their 11 league games and badly need a lift when they host Leicester on Sunday. Adama Traoré opened the scoring at Selhurst Park on Tuesday but goals remain a serious concern. At the other end, Davis handed the 20-year-old defender Hugo Bueno his full debut at Crystal Palace and must be tempted to freshen things up further. Wolves’ squad is thin by Premier League standards but the midfielders Chem Campbell, who is eligible for England and Wales, and Connor Ronan, who was a fixture during pre-season under Bruno Lage, could be next. Ben Fisher

7) Is it now or never for Benrahma?

It could be now or never for Saïd Benrahma at West Ham. The winger has struggled to nail down a regular starting spot since joining them two years ago and the club were open to offers for him last summer. The former Brentford player’s inconsistency had become difficult to set to one side. It is commonplace to see an exasperated reaction from David Moyes after a moment of needless indulgence from Benrahma and the manager is entitled to expect a superior end product from the Algerian. However, with Maxwel Cornet and Lucas Paquetá both sidelined through injury, Benrahma has a chance to earn an extended run in the team before the World Cup. He has mostly been an impact player this season, made a decent one as a substitute against Liverpool and looks likely to start against Bournemouth on Monday. West Ham need Benrahma to show why he cost £30m. JS

8) The heat is turning up on Lampard

Frank Lampard’s ability to talk football in an engaging, intelligent and insightful way makes perfect sense: he grew up “in and around” the game, then had to think extremely hard about how to maximise his ability, while playing under some brilliant managers. But he has yet to translate this skill to the dugout, and was extremely privileged lucky to get the Chelsea job after failing at Derby, as he was to get the Everton job after failing at Chelsea. Now, after three straight defeats, his team find themselves 15th in the table having spent roughly £70m this summer and, while most of that was covered by the sale of Richarlison, that has no bearing on Lampard’s ability to build a functioning team – Everton have scored just eight times in 11 league games. And things might get worse against a youthful, dynamic Palace who perfectly illustrate what can be done with astute purchases and coaching. There’s a strong chance that, by Saturday evening, the pressure on Lampard will have intensified. DH

Frank Lampard applauds the Everton fans after defeat at Newcastle.
Frank Lampard applauds the Everton fans after defeat at Newcastle. Photograph: Richard Lee/Shutterstock

9) Mitrovic holds key at Elland Road

Marco Silva’s side are heavily dependent on a striker who scored eight goals in his first 10 games this season – one of the afternoon’s most intriguing subplots will revolve around how Aleksandar Mitrovic handles the invariably febrile Elland Road atmosphere. He has matured greatly since his Newcastle days but, hostile and one-eyed as they come, the gloriously partisan Leeds crowd are something else. Can a player who used to retaliate at the merest verbal insult maintain equilibrium in the midst of such an environment? Or might the Leeds manager Jesse Marsch advise Mitrovic’s markers to wind him up? Silva had better brace himself for an eventful return to Yorkshire, where he so narrowly failed to keep Hull in the top tier in 2017. What price Sunday’s winning goal being scored by either Mitrovic or his Leeds counterpart, Patrick Bamford? Louise Taylor

10) Villa face another west London test

The mood music surrounding Aston Villa and Brentford could hardly be more contrasting. With Steven Gerrard sacked after their miserable defeat to Fulham, his former captain Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, a former Brentford defender, will have to be on their games to mute Ivan Toney on Sunday. All three players carry England aspirations but Toney is surely the most likely to be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for Qatar next month. Thomas Frank previously said the left-back Rico Henry could also play for England. Brentford head to Villa on the back of a creditable draw against Chelsea and will fancy their chances against the rudderless visitors. BF