Following this weekend’s slate of Premier League fixtures, club soccer won’t take another break for five months, thus the meaty portion of the season is so nearly upon us. First, though, one more round of league games followed by that dreaded weekend off.
[ MORE: JPW’s PL predictions | TV, stream schedule for the weekend ]
Here are five of the biggest PL storylines to follow over the next 72 hours…
First of 6 battles among the “Big 3”
If we’re operating under the wide-spread notion that Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea — as they currently sit 1, 2 and 3 in the league table — are the main contenders for this season’s PL title, Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) is of massive importance: 3rd vs. 1st.
Man City (21-2 combined score through six games), like Man United, are yet to lose a game in the PL this season, while Chelsea haven’t lost since opening day (10-2 combined score in the ensuing five games). To say Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola‘s sides are in good form would be quite the understatement.
Conte got the better of Guardiola on both occasions last season, knocking off a nine-man City side at the Etihad Stadium in December before doing the double with a 2-1 win at home in April. Each side was victorious in the UEFA Champions League this week, with City brushing Shakhtar Donetsk aside, and Chelsea snatching all three points from their away trip to Atletico Madrid.
Undefeated vs. only defeated
Five wins, one draw — Man United’s start to the season. Zero wins, zero draws, six losses — Crystal Palace’s start to the season. Unfortunately for
Frank de Boer Roy Hodgson, up next for the Eagles is a trip to Old Trafford (followed by a visit from Chelsea, so expect things to get worse before they get better). Will Palace score their first goal this season? Tune in to find out.
Further complicating matters for Hodsgon and Co. is the scintillating form of Romelu Lukaku (nine goals in eight games, all competitions) and the young attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial (10 goals between them, all competitions, already this season), even with Paul Pogba still unavailable through injury (hamstring). Jose Mourinho’s men did the double over Palace last season, winning 2-1 away in December and cruising to a 2-0 victory at home in May.
Rafa faces his former club
Rafa Benitez served six seasons as manager at Anfield, and while he’d previously faced his former club as manager of Chelsea, Sunday’s 11:30 a.m. ET kickoff (Watch live, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) will be just the second time he’s done so while at Newcastle United. While it’s still early in the season, the Magpies’ current standing in the league table — 9th, and they trail the Reds by just two points — is undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises thus far.
No side currently in the top-16 of the league table has conceded more goal than Liverpool, which is welcome news for a Newcastle side that has struggled a fair bit in the goal-scoring department (six in six games). On the other hand, nothing they’ve seen thus far will have prepared them for the all-out attacking onslaught Liverpool are set to unleash.
Trouble ahead for Huddersfield?
Huddersfield were the single biggest story in the PL through two games — two wins as a newly-promoted side had them level on points for the league lead — though David Wagner‘s side has come back down to earth in its last four games — three draws and a loss, which slots them into 8th place ahead of Saturday’s visit from Tottenham Hotspur (7:30 a.m. ET, Watch live onNBCSN and NBCSports.com).
It’s the first time the Terriers have faced any of the PL’s “big six,” and signals the start of a run of five-of-eight games against those very sides — Man United, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal all follow in relatively quick succession.
Battles at the bottom
League-table places 15 through 19 currently read as follows: Swansea, Stoke City, Leicester, West Ham and Bournemouth. While it’s too early to call any game a relegation six-pointer, it’s far from too early to preclude yourself from the relegation dogfight which will be cultivated over the following two months.