1) Huddersfield rely on home form as goal show rolls in.
Thirty years ago this month Manchester City thrashed Huddersfield 10-1 and three of their players scored hat-tricks (Paul Stewart, David White and Tony Adcock). That remains their biggest ever margin of a victory in a league match. You get the feeling, despite their laboured performance against Feyenoord in midweek, that Pep Guardiola’s side are going to set a new record soon. If this weekend’s fixture were at the Etihad, such a feat might even be very imminent. But Huddersfield are much tougher opponents at the John Smith’s Stadium, where Spurs are the only visitors to have won this season and Manchester United have fallen. City could only draw there 0-0 in last season’s FA Cup – but both sides fielded second-strings that day, whereas on Sunday both will be close to full strength. Another draw would be a major triumph for Huddersfield.
2) Whither West Brom post-Pulis?
How fitting that West Brom’s first match since jilting Tony Pulis should be against Mauricio Pochettino’s team, who have demonstrated so well in recent seasons that, even on a budget, it is possible to combine solidity with entertainment. Granted, Spurs’ budget is much bigger than West Brom’s but it is smaller than that of many of the teams they are out-performing. It is hard to foresee Gary Megson wielding a dazzling new broom during his stint as the Baggies’ caretaker but a visit to Tottenham would be a good time to give Nacer Chadli a chance to prove he can flourish now Pulis has departed. Gregorz Krychowiak, too, has just lost an excuse.
3) Will Chelsea be haunted by an ex again?
Chelsea have already been haunted by a former player this season. Antonio Conte was as baffled as anyone after Kevin De Bruyne’s starring role in Manchester City’s win at Stamford Bridge in September sparked questions about why the Belgian was allowed to leave when the club was under previous management. It could be a similar story at Anfield on Saturday evening. Like De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah was never given much of a chance when José Mourinho was Chelsea’s manager, but the Egyptian’s potential was obvious even as he left after an unproductive year and, after excelling for Fiorentina and Roma, he has been superb since joining Liverpool, scoring 14 goals in 19 games. Asked to defend their transfer policy, Chelsea might argue that selling Salah did not stop them winning two league titles. Yet Conte’s thoughts will be interesting if the 25-year-old leads Liverpool to victory. After all, Salah’s pace makes him look like the type of forward who would flourish in this Chelsea side.
4) Burnley bid to gatecrash the top-six party
Burnley entertain Arsenal with the sides separated only by goal difference and will leapfrog their visitors if they beat them. Sean Dyche’s side would be unlikely Top Six gatecrashers a third of the way into the season, but their largely impressive results against the sides above them speak for themselves: an away win over Chelsea, draws at Liverpool and Tottenham, and a defeat at the hands of Manchester City in which there was no shame. Sunday’s encounter could reveal a lot about the mettle of both, with Burnley taking on one of the Premier League’s elite at Turf Moor for the first time this season and Arsenal hoping to defy the expectations of those expecting them to revert to monotonously predictable “Arsenal” type. Assuming Chris Wood has returned to fitness, Dyche has a big decision to make: stick with Ashley Barnes, who scored against Swansea last weekend, or replace him with the New Zealand international who is more mobile and is likely to pose a greater aerial threat. With Sam Vokes and Nahki Wells also fit, it is a pleasant conundrum for the Burnley manager to ponder.
5) Watford and Newcastle fans have other things on their minds:
m for the Burnley manager to ponder. BG
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5) Watford and Newcastle fans have other things on their minds
Marco Silva: the prize steak being tossed from one hungry pair of jaws to the next
When Newcastle take on Watford it will be difficult to avoid the feeling the match is little more than a distraction from more seismic off-field events that may or may not happen at both clubs. Newcastle fans are titillated by the possibility of their disinterested owner Mike Ashley accepting the £300m offer for the club tabled by a Middle Eastern private equity group. By contrast, Watford fans are traumatised by the possibilities of losing their manager Marco Silva to the next club to have their head turned by the latest Portuguese flavour of the month in the Premier League. For Newcastle supporters in particular, the outcome of this match could scarcely be less important in the grander scheme of things but they need to arrest a run of three consecutive defeats. Hobbled by Ashley’s unwillingness to back him in the transfer market, Rafael Benítez is doing as much, if not more than could be expected with a squad many thought would be ill-equipped to survive in the Premier League. It is important Newcastle continue to show their appreciation for their manager and his team despite recent reverses, while simultaneously making it clear that they want their club’s owner to go.
6) West Ham could see another poisonous atmosphere
Given how poor West Ham’s running stats have been this season, it is easy to see how David Moyes’s new side might suffer against Leicester City’s flyers on Friday night. West Ham’s susceptibility to quick counterattacks was a major problem under Slaven Bilic, whose team was neither fit nor organised enough, and they will have to take care to maintain a tight shape in possession, otherwise they could leave themselves open to being hit on the break by Demarai Gray, Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy. If that happens, expect another poisonous atmosphere to develop at the London Stadium. A repeat of the mutinous chants during Moyes’s first game, last Sunday’s 2-0 to Watford, will be inevitable if West Ham slip deeper into relegation trouble.
7) Clement gets show of confidence before Cherries test:
Four of the teams in the bottom five of the Premier League table have already sacked their manager this season. The exception is Swansea, whose owners this week gave a vote of confidence to Paul Clement. That confidence is based on the fine work Clement did after being parachuted in towards the end of last season. But Swansea’s transfer dealings have left the side even weaker since then. They are a club who have completely lost their way, providing of good example to Bournemouth of What Not To Do whenever Eddie Howe departs. Swansea have become particularly ineffective going forward, being the second-lowest scorers in the division this season and the only side to have an average of less than two shots on target per match. They need Tammy Abraham to be fully fit and in form if they are to have any hope of ending Bournemouth’s good recent run and of relieving the pressure on Clement.
8) Brighton braced for a Manchester United backlash
A solitary strike from a young Ryan Giggs was enough to separate the sides when Brighton & Hove Albion last visited Old Trafford for an FA Cup tie almost 25 years ago. They were different times. United were a few months away from winning the first Premier League title, Sir Alex was plain old Alex and Brighton had been absent from the top flight for 10 years. That makes Saturday afternoon’s trip to the Theatre of Dreams, their first in the league since a 1-1 draw in March 1983 (two months before the double whammy of relegation and a 4-0 defeat to United in their FA Cup final replay), a special occasion for the club from the south coast. Yet whileChris Hughton’s diligent side are feeling good about themselves after a five-match unbeaten run, the chances of them earning a first ever win at Old Trafford look slim. Jose Mourinho will demand a response after the stumble against FC Basel and, with Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic looking sharp after returning to fitness, Brighton will be braced for a United backlash.
9) Will Unsworth leave Rooney out?
Wayne Rooney’s romantic reunion with Everton is starting to lose its spark. Though the former Manchester United striker made a promising start to life back at Goodison Park, his influence has diminished lately. Thursday’s defeat to Atalanta was the first time he had completed a full game since the 2-2 draw with Apollon Limassol at the end of September, has managed one league goal in open play since scoring in the 1-1 draw with Manchester City in August, had been taken off by the time Everton launched that improbable comeback against Watford and remained on the bench throughout last weekend’s draw with Crystal Palace. There is no sign of Rooney being given special treatment by David Unsworth, who has not been shy to give opportunities to players who were overlooked by Ronald Koeman, and he might have to make do with a place amongst the substitutes again at Southampton on Sunday.
10) Onward Christian soldiers
Crystal Palace have shown signs of gradual improvement since Roy Hodgson took charge but need to start hoovering up more points. Bagging the three available at home against a fairly ordinary Stoke side who have lost three out of six on the road this season should not be beyond them. Unbeaten in three, Mark Hughes’s side will be no pushovers, but Palace fans can look forward to welcoming back Christian Benteke after his cameo against Everton last weekend, during which the ring-rusty striker missed a glorious chance to snatch all three points. Benteke may not be the most reliable striker in the world, but he’s the only fit specialist Palace have got at the moment and Hodgson is expecting big things of him. “The fact that he is big-money signing for the club means there’s a lot of expectancy,” he said. “He’ll have to live up to those expectations.” No pressure, Christian.