Premier League Week 4 Preview: Can the Reds temporarily go top?

Premier League Preview Liverpool

With seven points from a possible nine on the board and Champions League group stage qualification secured without too much difficulty, Liverpool have every reason to be satisfied with their early season form, and a win on Saturday lunchtime will put them top of the Premier League for a few hours at least. However, they are set for a stern examination against a Manchester City team which also has seven points in the bag and will not want to be denied victory by Merseyside opponents on their own patch for the second time in three weeks. Pep Guardiola’s men have been more determined than dazzling in their matches so far and their expensively-assembled defence can expect a rigorous test from Liverpool’s scintillating attacking triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Jurgen Klopp’s team selection for Saturday’s match promises to be very interesting – will there be a debut for £40 million recruit Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and will Philippe Coutinho come back into the side following intense speculation over a heavily-discussed potential transfer to Barcelona?

If there is a winner at the Etihad on Saturday, they will temporarily overtake Manchester United at the Premier League summit, but as the only team in the league with a 100% record after three games, few would bet against Jose Mourinho’s men occupying the same position once this weekend’s fixtures are done. They have a tricky assignment on Saturday evening, though, travelling to a Stoke side that has a good record against United at the bet365 Stadium in recent campaigns. The Potters have already downed Arsenal on their own turf this season and Mark Hughes would relish handing out the same treatment to the club for whom he played towards the end of his career. A draw would not be a terrible result for the Red Devils, but given their scintillating start to the campaign, their sights will be set on making it four wins out of four.

The champions of the last two seasons meet at the King Power Stadium on Saturday as Leicester welcome Chelsea in what should be a decent clash. The current title holders have won both league games since that disastrous opening day defeat to Burnley and bolstered their ranks on transfer deadline day with the arrival of Danny Drinkwater, who faces a very quick return to his old stomping ground. He will resume the formidable partnership he shared with N’Golo Kante two seasons ago as Leicester stunned the world of football by winning the Premier League and the sight of those two in the colours of another blue-shirted club will pain Foxes fans. Craig Shakespeare’s current crop might have lost two out of three so far, but they have had some tough fixtures and it doesn’t get any easier for them here. They would have loved to have Adrien Silva to call upon, though, after his transfer missed the deadline by 14 seconds, meaning he’ll have to wait until January to take to the field for his new club.

If that was frustrating for Leicester, it was nothing compared to the utter torment endured by Arsenal fans prior to the international break after their hammering at Liverpool and the failure to bring anyone in before the transfer window closed. The pressure is well and truly on Arsene Wenger’s shoulders to return to winning ways at home to a Bournemouth team still awaiting their first points of the season. Similar to Coutinho, all eyes will be on the Gunners’ teamsheet to see if Alexis Sanchez is among the names included following fierce speculation that he would jump ship. Bournemouth might not have any points on the board yet, but they were most unlucky not to take one against Manchester City last time out and Eddie Howe could have the perfect plan in place to prey upon the toxic atmosphere at the Emirates right now.

Arsenal’s neighbours Tottenham have also had a less than stellar start to the season, but unlike the Gunners, they made hay in the final days of the transfer window with the signings of Fernando Llorente, Serge Aurier and Davinson Sanchez. Mauricio Pochettino will also have been encouraged to see Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Eric Dier score on international duty, so Spurs might soon recapture the impressive form of last season. Everton also have four points from their first three games, albeit against some tough opposition. They have managed to keep hold of Ross Barkley for now after his proposed transfer to Chelsea never materialised, but there was a cloud over them in recent days with Wayne Rooney’s arrest for drink-driving, an act which has understandably irked Ronald Koeman. The recently-arrived Gylfi Sigurdsson comes up against his former club at Goodison Park.

Liverpool’s next opponents in the Premier League after this weekend are Burnley, who host Crystal Palace in the Sunday lunchtime kick-off. Their form thus far in 2017/18 has been a reversal of last season, with a home defeat to West Brom sandwiched between a win at Chelsea and a last-gasp draw away to Tottenham. Those four points leave the Clarets in a decent position as the second month of the season begins and Sean Dyche will be fully confident of adding three more to the tally against a Palace side in disarray. Just three games into his tenure with the Eagles, Frank de Boer is a man under pressure and he could badly do with a turnaround in fortunes quite swiftly. Not only have the Londoners lost all their matches so far; they have yet to even score since the league started and goals won’t come easily against a well-drilled Burnley defence.

The only team keeping Palace off the bottom are West Ham, who have lost three from three and shipped 10 goals in the process. At least they will have home advantage for the first time this season against Huddersfield on Monday night, with the London Stadium ready for football again following the recent World Athletics Championships. Mind you, their home results from their first year at the 2012 Olympics venue don’t strongly hint at all of Slaven Bilic’s problems being erased in an instant. How he would love to trade places with David Wagner at Huddersfield, who haven’t conceded a single goal in their first three Premier League games and already have seven points in the bag. Their most recent visit to London saw them smash three goals past Crystal Palace and the Terriers could well take advantage of another capital outfit sorely lacking in confidence.

Huddersfield’s debut Premier League season has got off to a flier, but the same can’t be said for Brighton. At least Chris Hughton’s men picked up their first point of the campaign two weeks ago at Watford, but the wait for a first goal in this division continues as they play host to West Brom on Saturday. This will be perceived as one of the Seagulls’ more winnable games as they aim to avoid being sucked into a relegation battle by the winter months, but they face a Baggies team who have made a superb start to the season. Only for a defensive mishap against Stoke last time out, Tony Pulis’ men would have a perfect record to their name and they can continue to call upon the services of Jonny Evans, the centre-half remaining with West Brom despite being linked with a move to Manchester City in the concluding days of August. Indeed, should Manchester City and Liverpool end all-square and the Baggies win at the Amex Stadium, they will take temporary leadership of the Premier League before Manchester United’s trip to Stoke.

Swansea and Newcastle both picked up their first wins of the campaign prior to the international break, but their fortunes on transfer deadline day could hardly have been more different. The Swans welcomed Wilfried Bony back to the Liberty Stadium after unhappy spells with Manchester City and Stoke, while Paul Clement pulled off a serious coup with the loan signing of Renato Sanches, the Portuguese attacker who caught the eye at Euro 2016. How Rafa Benitez mush wish he could have drafted someone of that quality into the Newcastle squad, which continues to look threadbare following the transfer window. At least summer signing Joselu got off the mark against West Ham last time around, removing a potentially crippling noose from around his neck.

Two unbeaten teams meet at St Mary’s on Saturday as Southampton face Watford, both of whom have collected five points thus far. The Saints have picked up where they left off last season in terms of creating bagfuls of opportunities but sorely lacking a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch. It’s a problem which the return of Charlie Austin to first-team action will hopefully rectify, especially with Shane Long again looking a man short on confidence during his two games with Ireland in recent days. They might be meeting Watford at a good time, though, as the Hornets defence will be without Miguel Britos, who is suspended for his horrific challenge on Anthony Knockaert in the draw with Brighton two weeks ago.

With a potentially troublesome August safely negotiated for Liverpool, a similarly busy September will give a truer indication of how ready Klopp’s team is to improve upon last season. If they can make it three league wins in a row at the Etihad this Saturday, it will leave them buzzing ahead of their return to the Champions League proper at home to Sevilla in midweek.

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