Premier League week 3 Preview: Resurgent Reds face Arsenal test

Liverpool’s first major test of the season, ensuring qualification for the Champions League group stage, has been passed with flying colours, so it’s onwards to another significant challenge on Sunday, namely their first domestic match of the campaign against a direct rival. These are the types of games in which they excelled last term and they did the double on Arsenal, who visit Anfield on the back of a demoralising defeat at Stoke. Both of these teams have had to deal with wantaway stars in recent weeks, but while Liverpool seem to be managing fine for now without Philippe Coutinho, you get the sense that an Alexis Sanchez-less Arsenal could again struggle in their bid to make the top four. Victory for either side here would score a notable blow heading into the international break.

There’s another Merseyside versus London affair earlier on Sunday as Chelsea welcome Everton to Stamford Bridge. The champions romped to a 5-0 win in this fixture last season but a repeat showing does not seem likely, even with Antonio Conte’s men getting back on track with the scalp of Tottenham at Wembley. The Toffees, meanwhile, weren’t far off recording a surprise win at Manchester City and, having largely nullified the attacking threat of Pep Guardiola’s expensively-assembled outfit, they might well fancy their chances of returning to the north-west as the second team in a fortnight to deny Chelsea a home victory.

Liverpool were paired with Leicester in the midweek Carabao Cup third round draw and this Saturday the Foxes have a daunting trip to league leaders Manchester United, for whom Zlatan Ibrahimovic will again be lining out this season. Jose Mourinho’s men have scored four in both of their Premier League games thus far and did so when Leicester last came to Old Trafford, so all the signs point to a routine home victory here. The 2016 champions will be pleased with the start they have made, though, and the pace of Jamie Vardy in particular troubled Arsenal aplenty a fortnight ago. This promises to be a far bigger test for United than either of their two previous games.

The weekend begins with Manchester City making the long trip south to Bournemouth, where they have recorded comprehensive victories on both of their previous visits. Having won their first six league games of last season,  Guardiola’s side just about managed a draw in their second assignment of 2017/18, even if they were a man short against Everton for a sizeable portion of the game following Kyle Walker’s harsh dismissal. They won on the south coast a couple of weeks ago at Brighton and can feel confident of doing likewise on Saturday against a Cherries team that has lost two out of two so far in the league and, despite the summer addition of Jermain Defoe, is finding goals hard to come by at the moment.

While Liverpool were given what seems a kind Champions League group, fellow third seeds Tottenham were handed a nightmare task in a week that begun with them recording yet another Wembley defeat to Chelsea. Spurs are back at the national stadium this Sunday to take on Burnley, who turned over the Blues on the opening day but came unstuck at home to West Brom last weekend. Losing to the champions was galling but not disastrous for Mauricio Pochettino and co, but failure to get three points against the Clarets would set alarm bells ringing. There’s no great pressure on Burnley here, which gives Sean Dyche license to set his team up to frustrate the life out of Tottenham just as he did to another London outfit two weeks ago.

While most of the Premier League’s big hitters have already dropped points, West Brom take a 100% record into their home fixture against Stoke on Sunday and occupy the rarefied heights of third in the table. Tony Pulis will see that as the perfect answer to the dissent of the Baggies faithful that has been ringing in his ears thus far during 2017 and what chance another 1-0 win over his former club? There’s bound to be a spicy element to this game if ex-West Brom striker Saido Berahino features for the Potters, who immensely enjoyed turning Arsenal over last weekend thanks to a wonder goal from the superb Jese Rodriguez. This may seem like a hard sell as part one of Super Sunday on Sky but it could be worth a watch.

Like the Baggies, Huddersfield have maximum points from their opening two games, with David Wagner’s men taking to the Premier League like ducks to water. They welcome Southampton to the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday, with the teams recording contrasting results in the Carabao Cup in midweek. The Terriers came from behind to defeat Rotherham, whereas the Saints’ hopes of getting to a second consecutive final were ended at the first time of trying by Wolves. Huddersfield have yet to concede a goal in the league this term and they’ll be confident of another clean sheet against a Southampton side that, despite scoring three last week, has a frustrating tendency to draw blanks.

Both Newcastle and West Ham are awaiting their first points of the season, so at least one of those records will cease after they clash with each other at St James’ Park. It’s been a difficult return to the top flight for the Geordies, who have shown precious little attacking threat and got turned over by Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup. Already Rafael Benitez is realising that he could be in for a tough few months and the Newcastle faithful will expect a win against a West Ham side that has already shipped seven goals in two games and will be without Marko Arnautovic, whose red card rivalled that of Jonjo Shelvey for inexplicable stupidity. If there is a losing team in this game, their camp will be a very morose one during the two-week wait for their next fixture.

Newcastle aren’t the only newly-promoted side without a point or a goal to their name. Brighton are still waiting to get off the mark and they visit Watford on Saturday, with the Hornets occupying fourth after winning at Bournemouth last week. Marco Silva is already making his mark on the team, with new signing Richarlison looking a very shrewd purchase, although the midweek Carabao Cup loss to Bristol City has checked their momentum slightly. Brighton were well beaten at Leicester last time out and Chris Hughton will need his team to start improving soon. Even a tame scoreless draw at Vicarage Road would at least provide encouragement going into the international break.

Crystal Palace are also in need of a result following defeats in their opening two league matches. They welcome Swansea to Selhurst Park in a match that both will view as winnable. Frank de Boer’s side restricted Liverpool to a single goal last week but failed to really threaten the Reds’ brittle defence, while they will need to show a vast improvement on their last match here, the opening day hammering by Huddersfield. Swansea have one point on the board thus far but were cut apart by Manchester United last time out. Paul Clement will cling to the positive of restricting the leaders to one goal before a late flurry, while they netted a few themselves at MK Dons in midweek, so there is a goal threat in the Swans’ ranks.

There’s a considerable goal threat in the Liverpool ranks, too, and if they can unleash it to its full capacity against Arsenal on Sunday, the likelihood is that Jurgen Klopp and his players will enter the international break with immense satisfaction as to how August has gone, especially with the myriad off-field issues with which they have had to contend.

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