Premier League resumes after the first International break this season. Some old rivalries will continue, and some new ones will be forged in the cauldron of the best league in the World this weekend.
Several teams were dealt a tough hand as players got injured on International duty while others are boosted by returns of medical room regulars as the two-week break was just what the doctor ordered for them. Some teams were disappointed by a schism in their rich vein of form while others were delighted to get some time on the training ground to set their affairs and charges in order.
With some potential real banana skins and possible ripsnorters, here are top 5 fixtures to cure your weekend blues:
Tottenham vs. Liverpool (1700 hrs IST on Saturday, 15th September)
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The Box office Saturday gets an early start as table-toppers Liverpool visit Wembley to lock horns with fifth-place Tottenham. The two of the most aggressive and hard-pressing sides in the league are emblazoned with richest of creative talents in their midfield and attack — Likes of Kane, Eriksen, Moura on one side and Salah, Mané and Keita on the other.
Liverpool and Tottenham also have the most in-form fullbacks in the league as well. Liverpool boasts of the 24-year-old Scottish captain Andy Robertson who has created more chances than Mesut Ozil, David Silva or Paul Pogba. Alexander Arnold is equally threatening on the right flank, making a fearsome twosome for the Reds.
For Tottenham, 27-year-old Trippier his leading the charge for his side doing as the team’s designated set-piece specialist. Another fullback Ben Davies is also a leading assist-maker for Tottenham this year.
Tottenham will be hoping to get their form back on track with a win against a high-octane Liverpool. Pochettino’s side claimed a 4-1 victory last season and did a double over the Merseyside Reds last year.
Liverpool will be looking to cement their dominance before the likes of PSG, Napoli comes knocking at their door. The fixture list is not kind to them with matches against Southampton, Chelsea (twice) and Manchester City over the next four weeks, appending to the Champions League meat-grinder. They will be banking on the red-hot Sadio Mané, has come out all guns blazing and is the joint-top scorer with Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic (4 each).
Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren will be missing in action for Liverpool. The likes of Firmino and Fabinho might be rested having arrived on Thursday. Fabinho has not started for Liverpool yet but played for Brazil during the International break.
Spurs will be without midfielder Dele Alli and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Juan Foyth and Moussa Sissoko are also not ready to join the action on the pitch. South Korean Heung-Min Son has returned from the Asian Games after his country won the tournament in Indonesia and will bolstering Spurs' ranks.
Manchester City vs. Fulham (1930 hrs IST on Saturday, 15th September)
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The reigning champions Manchester City take on a dangerous Fulham side at the fortress Etihad. Manchester City has been unblemished in their first two home fixtures. City has won the last five meetings between the two, including the last three home games against Fulham, who have conceded ten goals without a reply over that span.
Pep Guardiola has won all eight Premier League matches in September with a goal difference of +23 (28 scored and three conceded). Overarchingly, Pep is unbeaten in 42 domestic games (Spain, Germany, and England) in September, since 2010 with 36 victories and six draws.
For City, it is the defender Benjamin Mendy who has sparkled the brightest this season. He has played every minute for City this season and has the joint highest number of assists with Watford’s José Holebas at four apiece. Mendy’s tally of 27 crosses in open play is also the highest in the league. His long layoff after a knee injury last campaign seems like a distant memory and £48.88 m price tag seems like a bargain at the moment.
Fulham has scored 16 goals their four league games, joint highest with Arsenal. Manager Slavisa Jokanovic will be hoping that striker Mitrovic, leading the Premier League scoring chart, can add to his impressive haul. He has aggregated 16 league goals since making his Fulham debut in February, highest in the top two tiers of English football.
However, they must plug the defensive holes that were manifest in their showing as Brighton erased a two-goal deficit. Fulham has just one point away from home this season and remains without a clean sheet in their last 20 Premier League matches. City’s devastating attack does not require any external assistance from Fulham’s shaky defense. Fulham last won on their visit to the Etihad in 2009 after going down 1-0.
For Manchester City, defender Danilo and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne and shot stopper Claudio Bravo will remain absent. However, Raheem Sterling is has recovered from the back injury which forced him to withdraw from international action.
Fulham defender Tim Ream and midfielders Tom Cairney and Neeskens Kebano are still in the physio room.
Newcastle United vs. Arsenal (1930 hrs IST on Saturday, 15th September)
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Newcastle only has a solitary victory in their last nine Premier League games, and a defeat would equal their lowest ever return after the first five fixtures of a Premier League season with a single point.
Overall, Newcastle has lost to Arsenal 16 times out of the last 23 meetings in all competitions. However, they did win the previous meeting 2-1 at home last April. Before that, they had lost ten league meetings in a row. Rafa Benitez’s tally of 6 losses to Arsenal is only bettered by nine losses against Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.
Last time around, the Gunners conceded lead twice against Cardiff before clinching a 3-2 victory. Notwithstanding that victory, Arsenal has a terrible away record this year with only two wins in their last 10 Premier League away games.
On a more positive note, the Gunners' have eight different players, seven from their team sheet and one from the opponents’: West Ham's Issa Diop.
Interestingly, the Arsenal talisman, Mesut Ozil has never played at St James' Park but has two goals and one assist in three Premier League games against Newcastle. The in-form striker, Alexandre Lacazette has five goals, and two assists in his last five Premier League starts.
Newcastle United’s Salomon Rondon and defender DeAndre Yedlin are facing a possible rest after their international exploits and delayed return. Matt Ritchie and Jonjo Shelvey are back in training are expected to feature.
Arsenal has no new injury concerns and could name the same side as against Cardiff. Alex Iwobi has recovered from illness and should be involved.
Chelsea vs. Cardiff City (1930 IST hrs on Saturday, 15th September)
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Chelsea has won both previous Premier League in 2013-14. At Stamford Bridge, Cardiff has not won since 1981. That’s the enormity of the task that Cardiff face this Saturday.
Maurizio Sarri can become only the fourth manager to win his first five Premier League fixtures. He would be the second Chelsea boos to achieve the feat after Italian Carlo Ancelotti. The Blues won their opening four Premier League games of a season for the sixth a Premier League record.
The toughest challenge for Sarri would be to scrimmage enough players without fatigue or jet leg with nine of their expected line-up away on International duty.
Cardiff had almost all their squad members available and amply rested. They will need all that rest in their legs as Neil Warnock's defense will be under the cosh for most of the game. The Blues have completed the most number of passes in the current campaign at a staggering 2,677.
Cardiff boss is on a six games winless streak in all competitions, but they would be buoyed by their tenacity against Arsenal in 2-3 loss. The match saw them ending their 6 hours and 55 minutes without a goal in the league.
Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek picked up a shin injury for England and could miss out. Cesc Fabregas could return to the bench after recuperating from a knee injury.
For Cardiff City, Josh Murphy and Aron Gunnarsson might be risked with early returns from their respective injury lay-offs.
Watford vs. Manchester United (2200 hrs IST on Saturday, 15th September)
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Manchester United would want to ease the pressure on their manager by securing the first succession of wins this season. However, Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat to the same opponents must be taken as a wakeup call, not that he needed one.
Jose Mourinho must remember the 3-1 reverse at Vicarage Road in his first season even though it was a breezy 4-2 last time out. In his entire managerial stint in England, he has five wins out of six Premier League tussles with Watford with last three on the bounce.
Watford is the surprise high flyers this season winning their opening four league games. It is a first for them in the highest tier of English football. Javier Gracia has only suffered one home loss since getting the reigns at Watford in February. Over that period they have accumulated 23 points at home, highest in the league.
In the last 15 outings, Watford has lost 14 in all competitions to Manchester United. Their only win, a 3-1 victory came at home in 2016.
Watford full-back Jose Holebas, with one goal and four assists, is the in-form player of the league.
Watford is likely to stick to the same squad that beat Tottenham at Vicarage Road. Midfielders Gerard Deulofeu and Tom Cleverley are still sidelined.
Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw is likely to be in the squad having recovered from his head injury playing for England.
Ander Herrera is sidelined with an ankle injury while striker Marcus Rashford has a three-game suspension after being dismissed at Burnley.Published 15 Sep 2018, 06:08 IST