The international break is over, and while some hearts are broken and others are lifted with euphoria, all players must get back to work regardless of if they will be headed to Russia next summer.
From a club perspective, international breaks bring a chance for players to improve their form with a slight change of scenery, or the possible occurrence of a slight drop in momentum. But most of all, they just want their players to stay healthy.
With the players back to their training grounds, here are the four biggest storylines for the return of Premier League action…
Liverpool tests itself against the Premier League’s best
Last season, Liverpool was terrible against the lesser teams and up for it in games against the best. This time around, Jurgen Klopp will hope for more of the same – at least, the positive part – as he hosts heated rival Manchester United at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). The Red Devils may not be atop the Premier League table, but that’s only because Manchester City has matched them the entire way, only slightly ahead by just a single goal on differential.
Unfortunately the Reds could not complete their international break objective – Sadio Mane returns injured and will miss six weeks, a massive blow to Liverpool’s top four hopes. Nevertheless, they still have Klopp, who has matched up extremely well against Jose Mourinho, with just one loss in seven matches against this weekend’s opposing boss. Can Liverpool manage to stave off the high-flying Red Devils?
Can West Ham break down Burnley?
The Hammers have put their poor start behind them and are beginning a climb up the table. A win this weekend against Burnley at Turf Moor at 10:00 a.m. ET (Watch live on NBCSports.com) would be a signature moment in their recovery, three points against a team that has been a pleasant surprise this season. The Clarets have been ridiculously hard to break down ever since their return to the top flight, but this season they’ve also discovered a newfound cutting edge up front.
Slaven Bilic has deployed Javier Hernandez out wide in an attempt to fit both he and Andy Carroll into the lineup, and with the Hammers healthy after the break, they should have a full disposal of players to look to break down the hosts. However, with Burnley now able to possess the ball in greater spells, the weak West Ham defense could be at risk.
Can Alexis Sanchez put World Cup heartbreak behind him?
Like the United States, Chile missed out on the World Cup in heartbreaking fashion. The two-time defending Copa America champions were poor throughout qualification, and ultimately ended up just short of the finish line. Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez must put this disappointment behind him, lest it bleed into his club career.
Arsenal travels to Watford at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), and like Burnley, the Hornets have improved mightily from last season to this. Most importantly, they’ve capitalized on playing teams down on their luck such as Bournemouth, Southampton, and Swansea, and could do the same if Sanchez and Arsenal do not bring their best mentality to Vicarage Road.
Will Ronald Koeman stave off the sharks?
Everton is 16th in the table, and if this season is truly setting up to be a relegation battle, their match this weekend could be a vital one. The Toffees travel to Falmer Stadium to take on Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) with the Seagulls sitting just two spots above them in the table, with both sides sitting on seven points.
If Ronald Koeman is to keep Everton floating above the relegation sharks, he must win this match. Any dropped points on the road at a newly promoted team would only serve to leak even more water into an already listing ship.