Premier League week 8 preview: Two tribes go to war

Premier League Preview Liverpool

It was a year ago this weekend that Jose Mourinho sent a struggling Manchester United team to Anfield with the sole intention of getting a 0-0 draw against free-scoring, high-flying Liverpool. The roles have very much reversed going into this Saturday’s instalment of English football’s biggest rivalry, with the Merseysiders blighted by inconsistency and the Mancunians routinely racking up multi-goal hauls. On form, this looks a banker away win, but Liverpool tend to save their best performances for high-profile opposition and when the teams met in similar circumstances at a similar juncture of the 2009/10 season, the Reds stunned United with a 2-0 win at Anfield. A repeat is rather unlikely this weekend, though, as Liverpool’s erratic defence will be up against Romelu Lukaku, who has scored in every league game that he has played for United since his summer move. Also, the news that Sadio Mane will be out injured until December after getting injured for Senegal last week ruined most Kopites’ Tuesday. I don’t want to speak for all Liverpool fans, but if I was offered a guarantee of another goalless draw in this fixture right now, I would accept it.

I’d venture to suggest that Crystal Palace fans would feel the same about their meeting with Chelsea on Saturday. The Eagles have yet to even pick up a point from seven league games so far this season and their maliciously cruel sequence of fixtures pits them against the champions, who know that they need a run of wins to avoid dropping off the pace being set by the two Manchester clubs. Palace actually won the last meeting of these teams, a 2-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge in April, but at the moment they are showing no form whatsoever and even scoring a goal has proven beyond them. That will be all the harder without Christian Benteke, who is missing through injury, while they will also be without the on-loan Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who cannot play against his parent club. Chelsea probably feel that this match offers them the perfect pick-me-up following the sobering home loss to Manchester City at the end of September.

When Manchester City take to the field to play Stoke on Saturday, they will either be energised by their crosstown rivals dropping points at Anfield or tasked with claiming a sixth successive league win to remain level with United. They have hit 10 goals in their last two league games at the Etihad, so the home faithful are nicely accustomed to prolific afternoons, but the loss of Sergio Aguero robs them of their chief scoring threat. Stoke haven’t been in the best of form this season, but they remain the only team to have taken points off Manchester United since August and are capable of sitting in to frustrate teams when the occasion requires. Also, a trip to Eastlands always perks up Mark Hughes, who was unceremoniously shown the door by City’s owners back in 2009.

Tottenham might find it bizarrely difficult to win at Wembley, but at least Harry Kane hasn’t forgotten how to score at the national stadium, finding the net with a last-gasp winner against Slovenia while on international duty. They have yet to win at their temporary home in the league and after especially poor draws against Burnley and Swansea, they face into another Wembley assignment where anything less than three points would be unacceptable. Bournemouth haven’t got out of the blocks yet this season, though, and their defenders will probably have missed out on some sleep during the week due to the prospect of trying to stop the rampant Kane. You sense that either Spurs will misfire again or they will cut loose and put the Cherries to the sword mercilessly.

Arsenal came off the last international break on a real downer after their hammering at Anfield, but this time they resume Premier League action on a fine run of form and on Saturday evening they visit a Watford side who, despite enjoying a good start to the campaign, have yet to win at home in 2017/18. The Hornets could be at the wrong end of a backlash from Alexis Sanchez, whose Chilean side were eliminated from the World Cup in midweek, although they did win the previous meeting of these sides at the Emirates last January.

The Gunners’ last outing saw them defeat Brighton, who welcome Everton to the Amex Stadium on Sunday lunchtime. The Seagulls are targeting a third consecutive home win in the league and they might fancy their chances of getting it against an Everton team reeling from a home defeat to Burnley, a result which raised fresh questions about Ronald Koeman’s position at the Toffees. Despite bringing in several recruits over the summer, none of them have made a good start to life at Goodison Park, with Gylfi Sigurdsson and Sandro Ramirez especially disappointing. The honeymoon is very much over for them and their team-mates, for Everton’s season needs to get going soon if they are to have any hope of returning to Europe next year.

Another team in real danger of falling well short of pre-season expectations are Southampton, whose 2-1 defeat at Stoke a fortnight ago has left them rooted in the bottom half. The Saints have struggled badly for goals this term and Mauricio Pellegrino will not have been happy to see Shane Long pick up an injury for Ireland last week, even if the striker has been woefully out of form. It’s a long trip south for Newcastle on Sunday, but having taken a point against Liverpool last time out, they have every reason to be confident of returning to the north-east with a result. Rafa Benitez had Pellegrino in his Valencia squad and also brought him to Liverpool for a brief spell; will the master get one over on the student this weekend?

If Southampton have started the season slowly, Burnley have been lightning quick out of the blocks, not least in their away games. Victory at Everton two weeks ago saw them surpass their away points tally from the entirety of last season and on Saturday they will hope for more of the same as they play host to West Ham. Surprisingly, Sean Dyche’s men have just one home win so far in 2017/18, although that seems to be overshadowed by their remarkable away form. West Ham can at least travel to Turf Moor on the back of a badly-needed win over Swansea last time out, during which the home fans were preparing to twist the knife into Slaven Bilic were it not for a stoppage-time winner. The goodwill of that result will soon be forgotten if the Hammers are beaten by their fellow claret and blue opponents.

Leicester have not been especially poor this season, but they find themselves just outside the relegation zone with only one win thus far ahead of Monday night’s home fixture against West Brom, who themselves hit a rocky patch prior to the international break. The Foxes’ slow start owes a lot to a horrendous run of fixtures, but with that now behind them, Craig Shakespeare needs a string of victories to lift his side up to where many feel they should be. The Baggies won this fixture last season, but they have been on a bit of a downward spiral lately and carelessly squandered two points at home to Watford last time out. Manager Tony Pulis was in the news midweek after being touted as a potential successor to Chris Coleman should the Wales boss step aside, but the West Brom coach has distanced himself from that post.

Swansea have yet to win at home this season, a stat that their fans fully expect to change this Saturday against Huddersfield. It certainly ranks as one of those fixtures that the Swans need to win if they are to avoid getting sucked into a prolonged battle against relegation, while deadline day arrivals Renato Sanches and Wilfried Bony could do with putting in a few performances to match their ability. Huddersfield had been motoring nicely until a heavy home defeat to Tottenham two weeks ago, although that was the first test they had against one of the Premier League’s heavy hitters. A fixture like this should be more to their liking, especially when the pressure will be very much on Paul Clement’s team.

Pressure might begin to mount on Jurgen Klopp if Liverpool slip to defeat against their greatest rivals on Saturday, but if the German can mastermind an overdue league win over Manchester United, his status on the Kop will be rock solid for another while. If there is a winner at Anfield, they will be doubly encouraged by the fact that the last five seasons have seen both league meetings of these two go the same way (United double in 2012/13, 14/15 and 15/16, Liverpool double in 13/14, two draws last season).

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