It isn’t exactly the stuff of dreams to return to the site of a bad experience within four days, but that’s the task with which Liverpool are faced as they take to the King Power Stadium pitch for the second time in less than a week. Last Tuesday, a much-changed Reds team came unstuck against Leicester, although the profligate nature of the performance was reminiscent of those served up by Liverpool’s first-choice XI recently. Jurgen Klopp is still unable to call upon the services of Sadio Mane as he serves the last of a three-game ban, but the performance of Philippe Coutinho against the Foxes in midweek showed that he is returning to his usual form and he will be adequately rested, having been taken off at half-time in that 2-0 defeat. The ailing Reds could certainly do with a rousing performance from the gifted Brazilian on Saturday against a team to have beaten them in the last three editions of this fixture.
Liverpool’s alarming downturn in fortunes began with a thumping defeat at Manchester City two weeks ago and since then Pep Guardiola’s side have been irresistible, even if their second-string had to dig deep to beat West Brom in the Carabao Cup. This Saturday they host Crystal Palace in what appears to be one of the most predictable fixtures in Premier League history. With 17 goals in their last four matches, three of which were away, it’s a good time to be a Manchester City supporter and they could easily fill their boots once more against rock-bottom Palace, who continue to await their first points of the Premier League season. A midweek Carabao Cup win over Huddersfield has offered hope, but this is the last fixture that Roy Hodgson would have wanted as he seeks to reverse the Eagles’ fortunes in the league.
Like their crosstown rivals, Manchester United are also in free-scoring form of late, scoring four each against Everton and Burton Albion. Some might point out that a series of late goals have slightly distorted the aura of invincibility around the Red Devils, but it is in stark contrast to last season when they were creating chances but spurning them en masse. While goalscoring is coming easy to United, it has proved substantially more difficult for Saturday’s opponents Southampton. The Saints managed to beat Crystal Palace last week but had to work for an unconvincing 1-0 win. It has been an inconsistent season thus far for Mauricio Pellegrino’s men but they might settle for failing to score this week if they can keep United’s formidable attack at bay.
Tottenham return to the venue where their title challenge all but ended last season when they visit London Stadium on Saturday lunchtime to renew acquaintances with West Ham. Both teams drew 0-0 last week, but the nature of their respective stalemates could hardly have been more different. Similar to Liverpool’s ineffective domination against Burnley, Spurs were on top for most of the game against Swansea but could not find a way past a resolute defence, making it three league matches without a win at Wembley. The Hammers, meanwhile, claimed a point from a truly dismal affair away to West Brom, a match neither team deserved to win. They remain just outside the drop zone, but if they can repeat last May’s result at this venue, Slaven Bilic will be sitting a lot prettier in the dugout.
Chelsea, too, were involved in a scoreless draw last weekend, with Arsenal thwarting the champions at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte’s men travel to Stoke on Saturday seeking to reel in the Manchester duo at the top of the table. In the week that Diego Costa’s exit seems to have drawn closer, Blues fans will be glad to see Eden Hazard back in action, the Belgian nearly scoring against Arsenal. Stoke have already frustrated Arsenal and Manchester United at the bet365 Stadium this season, so Mark Hughes will be reasonably confident of doing the same to Chelsea. It was a last-gasp 2-1 win here last March that went a long way to Conte’s side triumphing in the title race, and while a similar result would not be as significant, it would at least keep them in touch at the top as they continue the defence of their crown.
On Monday night, Arsenal welcome West Brom to the Emirates hoping to build upon a very encouraging performance at Stamford Bridge last week. The Gunners showed a new-found resilience to earn a point against Chelsea, although this assignment will be much different as they will most likely fulfil the role of trying to find a way past a well-drilled defence. West Brom kept another clean sheet last week in a sterile draw against West Ham and despite losing to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup, the display would have pleased Tony Pulis, who is no stranger to causing plenty of frustration for Arsenal fans.
Just as Liverpool have struggled in September, neighbours Everton have also had a rough month, even if the midweek win over Sunderland in the Carabao Cup provided a welcome antidote to a succession of heavy defeats. On Saturday they play host to Bournemouth, who picked up their first league win last week and also progressed to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup. Ronald Koeman brought in several new signings over the summer but none of them have made a dramatic early impact. Indeed, they are only one point and one place above a Bournemouth team which collected their first points of the season last week against Brighton, a game in which ex-Liverpool midfielder Jordon Ibe excelled. Can he do likewise against the Toffees?
Burnley and Huddersfield have both made far better starts to the season than most people would have expected and they lock horns at Turf Moor on Saturday. Burnley followed up superb away results against Chelsea and Tottenham with a hard-earned point at Liverpool last week, when a resolute defence and tremendous goalkeeping from Nick Pope left the Reds frustrated. Sean Dyche’s men will be expected to show more ambition this time around against a Huddersfield side who gave a good account of themselves in their 1-1 draw with Leicester, conquerors of Liverpool in the Carabao Cup. The Terriers’ recent away performances have been iffy, though, with defeats to struggling West Ham and Crystal Palace teams.
While the identity of the top three teams has gone along expected lines, few would have anticipated that Newcastle would lie fourth as the end of September approaches. Three wins on the bounce have seen the Geordies overcome an uneasy start and this Sunday they go to Brighton, whom they pipped to the Championship title in the final weeks of the 2016/17 season. It’s a game that will have an extra edge for Brighton boss Chris Hughton, partly because of the manner in which they let Newcastle overtake them last spring and partly because of his previous links with the Magpies. This will be seen as one of the more winnable games this season for the Seagulls, although they are up against a team in fine form and they are coming off the back of two defeats in quick succession at Bournemouth.
Swansea’s defence held firm impressively to frustrate Tottenham a week ago, but Watford’s crumbled at the merciless hands of Manchester City. Two of the pre-season relegation favourites meet at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, with Watford hoping to continue their excellent away form. They have a 100% record on their travels thus far and might fancy their chances of maintaining it, although Marco Silva will have had a job on his hands lifting the spirits of a team that got hit for six last time around. Swansea have also found life on the road most rewarding in the early weeks of the season, with both home games so far ending in defeat. Paul Clement will no doubt set up his team much differently this week as they seek their first home points of the season.
Liverpool’s worst performance of a very satisfying 2016/17 came in a wretched defeat at Leicester and another trip to the Foxes is not an ideal fixture for Klopp’s under-fire team. With the pace that Leicester can unleash, the Reds’ defence will need to tighten up considerably, while those at the other end simply must make the most of the chances that will undoubtedly be created.