Liverpool’s season is up and running, and despite going undefeated in their two competitive games so far and being on the verge of Champions League qualification, there is a sense of trepidation amongst supporters ahead of their first home game of the season on Saturday as Crystal Palace roll into town. On the evidence of the Eagles’ 0-3 hammering at home to Huddersfield last week, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a home banker at Anfield, but the last six competitive meetings of these teams have all been won by the away side. Indeed, Frank de Boer’s men are aiming for a fourth consecutive win in L4, and if that result is to transpire, the Reds’ top four hopes would already look slim. Christian Benteke scored the winner here for Palace in April against his former club and he has a potent record at this ground, although those of us who witnessed the Belgian in Liverpool colours during 2015/16 might beg to differ.
Victory is doubly imperative for Liverpool on Saturday with the visit of Arsenal to come the following weekend. This week, the Gunners are away to Stoke in a fixture that historically brings disappointment for Arsene Wenger’s side. However, they won 4-1 at the bet365 Stadium towards the end of last season and the Stoke fear factor of old has faded under Mark Hughes’ current crop. The home fans’ spirits will have been lifted, though, by the midweek loan signing of Jese Rodriguez, bringing to five the number of Potters players to have Champions League winners’ medals. Also, it will not be lost on Hughes that Arsenal looked brittle at defending set pieces against Leicester a week ago.
The standout fixture of the weekend is Sunday’s London derby between last season’s top two. Wembley hosts a Premier League match for the first time as temporary hosts Tottenham entertain title holders Chelsea. The pre-game narrative would have mainly focused on Spurs’ travails at this venue ahead of a year-long lodging, but instead it is the troubles of their rivals that take centre stage following the shock home defeat to Burnley last week. Antonio Conte has made no secret of his unhappiness with the lack of recent transfer activity for the Blues and no new signings appear imminent. If Tottenham can repeat their 2-0 win over the champions from last term, the storm clouds will gather in even greater force for Conte and Chelsea.
By the time Liverpool kick off on Saturday, they could already find themselves five points behind one of their fiercest rivals. The lunchtime fixture sees current table-toppers Manchester United visit a Swansea team now devoid of Gylfi Sigurdsson, following his long-anticipated move to Everton. The Swans may have claimed a point at Southampton last time out, but that owed primarily to Saints’ glaring lack of penalty box potency. There is simply no way that United, and Romelu Lukaku, will be so charitable if they carve out as many chances as Swansea’s previous opponents.
Title favourites Manchester City welcome Everton to the Etihad in the first Monday night game of the season. For both of these teams, it was a sense of job done on the opening day as they each secured an expected three points without excelling. City had to be patient to get the better of Brighton but you sense that the goals could flow much freer at home. Still, the Toffees should offer better resistance than most Premier League defences, while there could be a debut for new signing Sigurdsson. Ronald Koeman will also be encouraged by Wayne Rooney’s track record of finding the net against City.
Two of the off-season additions to the top flight meet on Sunday lunchtime as Huddersfield hosts a Premier League match for the first time, with Newcastle making the comparatively short trip to Yorkshire. The Terriers caused a sensation on their Premier League debut by thrashing Crystal Palace 3-0 away, a result which saw them top the table overnight, and the John Smith’s Stadium should be buoyant on this landmark occasion. The Geordies got their campaign off to a losing start against Tottenham and Rafael Benitez will be without three key players, following the injuries to Paul Dummett and Florian Lejeune and the idiotic suspension picked up by Jonjo Shelvey.
Leicester and Brighton were both defeated in their opening games, but both will have extracted positives from their respective losses to Arsenal and Manchester City ahead of their meeting at the King Power Stadium on Saturday. The Foxes looked set to leave north London with all three points last Friday, only for two late lapses in concentration to undo them, while they showed an energy and potency that will very much encourage Craig Shakespeare. Brighton held firm against City for 70 minutes in their first Premier League outing, and the pressure is off Chris Hughton’s men again this weekend, so don’t be surprised if they return southward with a result.
Just as Liverpool began last season with three away games due to construction work at Anfield, West Ham do likewise this term with London Stadium in transition after the World Athletics Championships. The Hammers are off to Southampton this weekend in a fixture that both will see as ideal after poor starts to the season. Mauricio Pellegrino’s Saints dominated against Swansea but, in an eerily familiar tale, they looked toothless in attack. That could give Slaven Bilic some much-needed encouragement after he saw his team picked apart by Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Watford put three goals past Liverpool last time out, although one wonders if Bournemouth will be as obliging with their set piece defending as Jurgen Klopp’s side. The Cherries fell to defeat at West Brom in a match that has already been consigned to the memory bank, but this is a fixture that Eddie Howe will feel his team needs to win if they are to enjoy a season as comfortable as the last one. Watford could give a full debut to Andre Gray, who came off the bench in the 3-3 draw against Liverpool and might trouble Bournemouth’s ageing defence.
Burnley and West Brom both got off to winning starts, with the former garnering far more attention for their victory. That was because it came at the home of champions Chelsea, a 3-2 scoreline disguising the Clarets’ first half dominance when they opened up a three-goal lead. Sean Dyche’s men were superb at home last term and they will see this game as an ideal opportunity to make it six points from six. The Baggies had a narrow home win over Bournemouth, in which they again proved their effectiveness from set pieces, a weapon they could utilise to good effect again at Turf Moor.
Huddersfield, Burnley and West Brom are among the teams who already have a win to their name in the Premier League this season. Liverpool will fully expect to join that list on Saturday afternoon, but if they are to avoid another disappointing result, they will have to overcome the weight of recent history against a Crystal Palace team that has perfected the art of smash-and-grab victories at Anfield.