Ahead of Week 8 in the Premier League there are so many great games to look forward to.
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From local rivalries, to the big dogs clashing and teams at the top and bottom of the standings shuffling ahead of the two-week international break, it should provide some mouth-watering matches as we enter the first week of October and the sun is still shining (for now) in England.
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Here are five storylines to keep an eye on this weekend.
Title pretenders clash at the Emirates: Arsenal vs. Manchester United
Manchester United sit top of the tree as they head to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Louis Van Gaal‘s side dispatched Wolfsburg 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday but the Dutchman said his side were “tired” and must be more clinical. With Anthony Martial and Memphis continuining to gel but Wayne Rooney looking short in confidence, United’s toughest test of the season so far provides a good yard-stick for just how good they are.
The same can be said for Arsenal, as the Gunners are still reeling from their 3-2 midweek UCL defeat to Olympiakos. Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing David Opsina in goal over Petr Cech in the Champions League, especially as the former produced a howler to leave Arsenal with a very slim chance of qualifying for the last 16 as they’ve lost both of their opening UCL games and now face Bayern Munich back-to-back. All is not well at the Emirates, but if they beat United on Sunday, maybe it will breathe new life into a season which hasn’t unfolded as anybody expected. Last season United won 2-1 at the Emirates, before Arsenal grabbed a late point at Old Trafford and sealed a 2-1 win in the FA Cup quarterfinal away to United. This will be tight and tense, as two teams who aren’t seen as legit title contenders try to suggest they are ready to return to past glories and win the PL trophy. A fascinating encounter awaits.
Chelsea must rebound against stubborn Saints
Jose Mourinho wasn’t too unhappy with his side despite the midweek 2-1 defeat at FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League. Good finishing from an impressive home side was the difference, but poor defending once again cost Chelsea as Mourinho continues to harmfully tinker with his lineup, with John Terry still on the sidelines. Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic were also on the bench for the midweek match, and heading in Saturday’s clash with Southampton at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) the Blues need a big performance after stalling again. When they beat Arsenal 2-0 at home in Week 6, everyone said “here we go, Chelsea is back in business.” But a stumbling display in a 2-2 draw away at Newcastle proved that they weren’t and now they come up against a team who they failed to beat on both occasions last season.
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It will not be easy for Chelsea against a Southampton side who is working towards regaining their defensive solidity. With Ryan Bertrand returning from injury, Virgil Van Dijk settling in at center back and Ronald Koeman‘s men increasingly looking more like the team who finished in seventh last season and flirted with the top four, this will be a tough test. Last season Chelsea drew 1-1 with Saints home and away. The same result this season would mean the pressure continues to mount on Mourinho.
Sturridge ready to roll for Merseyside derby
For the first time in over six months, last week Daniel Sturridge‘s wacky goal celebration returned to Anfield. Sturridge, 26, has been out injured for most of the last 12 months and it has hit Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers hard. Pressure has been mounting on Rodgers, as he believes there is “hysteria” from the media and former players surrounding his position at Anfield If Sturridge can stay fit for the rest of this season, it is great news for Liverpool and Rodgers.
The England international has recovered from his hip and thigh problems to return and lead the line. Against Everton on Sunday (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) he will be the focal point of Liverpool’s attack, with Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Danny Ings and maybe Roberto Firmino making runs off him. The importance of Sturridge — who long with Luis Suarez delivered 52 of Liverpool’s goals as they came agonizingly close to winning the PL title in 2013-14 — is not lost on Rodgers as he’s wrapped the forward in cotton wool and rested him for the Europa League game against Sion in midweek. If Everton is to get anything from this, they must stop Sturridge, but as they proved away at West Brom last week, they have quality attacking talents of their own. Romelu Lukaku bagged a brace and Ross Barkley is regaining his best form. The Toffees sit in fifth and could go second with a win. Liverpool would leapfrog their city rivals with a derby-day win. There’s plenty on the line as these fierce rivals collide.
Battle of the newly-promoted boys: Bournemouth vs. Watford
As you know if you watched the video above, it’s been a rough few weeks for AFC Bournemouth and their manager Eddie Howe. The Cherries, like their opponents on Saturday, Watford (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) have adapted superbly to life in the PL but have been hit by three hammer blows. First up their two most expensive signings of the summer both went down with ACL injuries. Promising left back Tyrone Mings is out for the season, Max Gradel out for six months. Then, the biggest blow of them all arrived last weekend as striker and top goalscorer with tfive goals, Callum Wilson, crumpled in a heap against Stoke City. Wilson ruptured his ACL too, leaving Bournemouth without three key men for the next six months, at least. Howe will have to find a solution to those injury issues, but all of a sudden — unless they spend big in January — Bournemouth’s hopes of staving off relegation have taken a monumental hit.
As for Watford, they suffered defeat at home for the first time this season last week, and against Palace Quique Sanchez Flores’ team seemed to struggle with self-belief. Especially in the final third as they now scored just one goal at home all season and fired three blanks in four matches. Both Watford and Bournemouth have shown they can survive in the PL, but different issues are impacting both squads heading into a game which could provide either side with a vital three points when all is said and done at the end of the season.
Can Pardew take Palace where Pulis hoped to?
Last week I asked Crystal Palace’s manager Alan Pardew how he assessed the Eagles’ start to the season which sees them currently sitting in sixth place.
“It’s a good return, whichever way you look at it,” Pardew said. “We find ourselves on 12 points with a game at home coming up. We are going to try and exploit that because we’ve not always done that. It’s Tony [Pulis] coming as well so we know there will be extra resilience in that West Brom team. It’s a big game for us. We kick off early and it is a chance to find ourselves in a very nice position if we can win it.”
That early kick off against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) provides Palace with the chance to go second in the standings. They’d need a monster win to achieve that, but if Pardew can get one over former Palace boss Pulis, his side will more than likely be in the top four with just and a quarter of the season gone. There is, of course, history there between Pulis and Palace. The man who kept them in the PL during the 2013-14 season, then left on the eve of the 2014-15 campaign due to differences with Chairman Steve Parish, left Palace in the lurch. They rushed to appoint Neil Warnock as manager but he lasted under December when Pardew arrived to take the Eagles up to 11th. Many would argue Pulis started this resurgence as the south London club are in their third-straight PL season for the first time in their history. The big difference between Pulis and Pardew at Palace (lot of P’s flying around here) is that Pardew was backed by Parish and the board as he signed Yohan Cabaye for a club-record $20 million over the summer and has huge backing from the fans as a former Palace player. There is a little resentment for Pulis from Palace’s fans, but also appreciation for how he helped kick-start their recent resurgence. However on Saturday, Pardew, Palace and Parish would love to get one over on Pulis to show him what he’s missing out on at Selhurst Park.