Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Paul Doyle, Will Unwin, Daniel Harris and Luke McLaughlin
·8 min read

1) Solskjær has finally found the right balance

“Manchester United struggle against a low block” is a criticism trotted out so regularly that it is accepted as fact, but the reality is somewhat different. When any Premier League team defends deep and in numbers, scoring goals against them is difficult. Since signing Bruno Fernandes, United have played 33 games, winning 22, drawing seven and losing four, the defeats linked not by the opponents’ set-up but by United’s poor goalkeeping, defending, finishing and fitness. They look to have resolved those issues, and may also have found the best way of setting up. Though a 4-4-2 diamond means selecting only two of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial – who is suspended for Sunday’s game – the formation makes the strikers extremely difficult to mark. A tight midfield four behind affords the defence greater protection and allows Ole Gunnar Solskjær to pick two playmakers. After a long search, United look to have found the right balance. DH

Manchester United v Arsenal, Sunday 4.30pm Sky Sports Premier League

2 ) Stability can unleash City’s attacking riches

Pep Guardiola finally got his side to click for the first time this season in their win in Marseille. The forward line looked confident, aided by the pace of Ferran Torres playing down the middle. However, the defence also enjoyed its least precarious outing, looking secure and balanced for the first time this season. Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte makeup three quarters of what should be Guardiola’s first-choice backline with Oleksandr Zinchenko adding a perfect counterweight at left-back. Considering the centre-back pairing cost more than £100m it might be time for Guardiola to stick with a duo for as many games as possible in order to create a unit that could help City challenge for the Premier League once again rather than risk its consistency with game-by-game rotation. Stability at the back will also give more freedom to those at the other end of the pitch and knowing they can finally trust the defence will alleviate pressure. WU

Sheffield United v Manchester City, Saturday 12.30pm BT Sport 1

3) Defensive crisis could play into hands of Hammers

West Ham’s only league win at Anfield since 1963 came in 2015, when they gambolled to a 3-0 victory with the aid of some slapstick defending by Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren. Liverpool fans might be pining for that duo now, as injuries lay waste to their central defence. With Fabinho joining Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip on the casualty list, Jürgen Klopp must choose a new partner for Joe Gomez this weekend. The main options are asking Jordan Henderson to fill in at the back or throwing 19-year-old Rhys Williams into the fray. Whoever Klopp selects, David Moyes is sure to instruct his physical team to test Liverpool’s solidity, especially from set-pieces and counterattacks. PD

Liverpool v West Ham, Saturday 5.30pm, Sky Sports Premier League

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4) Clarets need to beware of belated arrival Ziyech

Frank Lampard has a panoply of attacking options, but his team’s play has yet to click. These difficulties are understandable – it takes time to integrate new players and for them to build the familiarity with one another that results in the intuitive play we see from best. But the absence of Hakim Ziyech has been of similar significance – he has the bravery and brain to become the fulcrum of a Chelsea team who have missed him before he’s even played. His presence not only takes the creative burden off Kai Havertz but frees Timo Werner to make runs in the knowledge that the ball will arrive where he wants it, when he wants it. Ziyech has long been one of the best players outside Europe’s richest leagues, and how long he stayed with Ajax says more about those tasked with finding players than it does about him. Burnley would be advised to look out. DH

Burnley v Chelsea, Saturday 3pm BT Sport Box Office

5) Rodgers left with tough choice as he seeks fluency

It says a lot about this season’s Premier League, and also a lot about Leicester, that they sit fourth in the table but have yet to find their fluency. They have, though, made tactical improvements and it is already clear that they have bought well yet again. Against Leeds Brendan Rodgers has a choice to make: do his team sit back as they did against Arsenal, or do they engage and look to dominate? On the one hand, they have by far the better players so should feel comfortable pushing the pace – able to rely on their quality in the first instance and their defence if it comes to it. But, on the other, this is probably what Leeds want: a team stretched enough to be passed around, leaving space in behind for them to attack. It’s a tricky call to make, and one of the reasons this is the weekend’s most intriguing match-up. DH

Leeds v Leicester, Monday 8pm Sky Sports Premier League

6) Can Spurs be contenders?

Following their 1-0 win against Burnley on Monday, Tim Sherwood tipped Tottenham to win this season’s Premier League. There are clearly stronger candidates out there and Thursday’s loss in Antwerp was a setback. But Monday’s victory did feel like the sort that champions often produce: travelling to a notoriously tricky venue, soaking up pressure and emerging with the points. It wasn’t long ago that Spurs collapsed to that 3-3 draw against West Ham, either, and as you’d expect José Mourinho insisted they do not consider themselves title contenders after the win at Turf Moor. But it’s still tempting to wonder if this season’s champions might be one of the less obvious candidates, particularly with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min hitting their best form. Gareth Bale has made a good impression off the pitch - the question is what kind of impact he can now make on it when fully fit - and whether Mourinho can achieve the solidity and consistency required to mount a credible challenge. LM

Tottenham v Brighton & Hove Albion, Sunday 7pm Sky Sports Box Office

Gareth Bale is looking to make an impact.
Gareth Bale is looking to make an impact. Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/EPA

7) Murphy can step up for Magpies

Jacob Murphy scored the equaliser against Wolves last weekend in his first Premier League start for two years. Not only was it a rare outing for the former Norwich winger but it saw him put in a composed performance at right wing-back which offered a glimpse of his capabilities in a new role. Murphy has the fitness and attacking prowess to fill the role but whether he can also offer the defensive discipline is yet to be seen as due to the shot shy nature of Newcastle, they cannot afford liabilities in key positions. More than half of his Newcastle appearances since arriving in 2017 have come from the bench, not to mention being sent out on loan twice. At 25 he needs to show he has the aptitude to be a Premier League player and considering the shortages Newcastle are currently suffering from, he should be given the opportunity to finally make his mark three years after arriving. WU

Newcastle United v Everton, Sunday 2pm Sky Sports Premier League

9) Podence looks to provide substance to go with style

Nuno Espírito Santo has set himself the mission of developing Wolves’ style, declaring that he wants his team to become more dominant in matches. There have been signs of progress in recent weeks but Wolves have yet to turn control and attacking promise into regular scoring, leaving them more reliant than ever on Raúl Jiménez. Crystal Palace will know that if they can subdue the Mexican on Friday, they have a good chance of hurting Wolves on the counterattack, especially with Wilfried Zaha in fine form. This would be a good match for Daniel Podence, who has attacked with impressive skill and wit in recent weeks, to finally get his first goal of the season for Wolves. PD

Wolves v Crystal Palace, Friday 8pm BT Sport Box Office

9) Villa need to avoid repeat showing to reignite season

The trip to St Mary’s was one of the lowest points of Aston Villa’s last campaign, with Dean Smith saying after the 2-0 defeat in February: “My feelings are embarrassment with the performance. The thing that hurts me the most is a lack of fight.” Villa have improved enormously since then but last week brought their first setback of this season, and they did not respond well to falling behind at home to Leeds, eventually losing 3-0. They will need to reassert their attacking strengths and regain their defensive solidity against a Southampton side that is starting to look very nifty after a flat start to the campaign. PD

Aston Villa v Southampton, Sunday 12pm Sky Sports Box Office

10) Now or never for Parker to show Fulham belong

The time has to be now for Scott Parker and his Fulham team. After four straight defeats to start the season, first against Arsenal and then in-form sides such as Aston Villa and Leeds, they earned a point away at Sheffield United before falling again at Crystal Palace. After such a challenging start to the season, a home meeting with 17th-placed West Bromwich Albion is not the kind of fixture Parker can afford to lose, and he knows it. “Every game is massive for us, but this one has got a little bit extra,” he said. Defeat would leave Fulham contemplating the longest of seasons in an unforgiving top flight, while a first victory would instil belief among the squad that they belong at this level. LM

Fulham v West Bromwich Albion, Monday 5.30pm, Sky Sports Box Office