Sure, it’s still early days in the 2015-16 Premier League season, but for how much longer can sides use that to justify a slow start to the campaign?
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Two sides still winless to start the season, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland, are set to face off on Sunday. Three points are imperative for either side. Following that battle in the northeast of England, Leicester City will be hoping to turn a hot start into a sustained stretch when they face Aston Villa.
Sunderland vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra
No side in the Premier League needs a win more than Tottenham. In fact, through four games played, they’re one of just four teams without a victory to start the 2015-16 season. None of the other three — Stoke City (five games played) and Newcastle United complete the quartet — were expected to challenge for a top-four finish at best, or top six at worst.
Luckily for Mauricio Pochettino‘s side, they travel to the Stadium of Light on Sunday, where they’ll face fellow winless and bottom-four-dwelling side, Sunderland. Harry Kane, who is scoreless through four league games, scored twice while on international duty with England last week. However, Spurs’ task will be made more difficult by the absences of midfielders Christian Eriksen (knee) and Moussa Dembele (foot). On the other side, Sunderland will once again be without Adam Johnson, who is expected to miss two months with a shoulder injury.
Spurs took four of six points off Sunderland last season, winning 2-1 at home in January and drawing 2-2 in this corresponding fixture in September, coincidentally also on the 13th.
Leicester City vs. Aston Villa — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and Live Extra
Clear at the other end of the spectrum — a team far exceeding expectations during these early days of the season — is Leicester City, who currently sit fifth in the league table. On Sunday, Claudio Ranieri’s side will welcome Tim Sherwood’s 14th-place Aston Villa to the King Power Stadium.
A win on Sunday would vault the Foxes past the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Crystal Palace, into second place, within four points of league-leading Manchester City. Riyad Mahrez, Leicester’s Algerian midfielder, is currently the Premier League’s joint-top goalscoreer with four goals (Bafetimbi Gomis and Callum Wilson also have four). Aston Villa haven’t won since the opening day of the season (1W-1D-2L overall). Midfielders Jack Grealish and Adama Traore (ankle injuries) are both questionable for Sunday’s clash, while Leicester have a clean bill of health.
The two sides split the season series in 2014-15, with the home side winning each meeting — 2-1 at Villa Park and 1-0 in this corresponding fixture.