Leicester City host Tottenham Hotspur at the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a tasty clash between two teams aiming to kick on after decent starts to the season.
Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes are tipped by many to break into the top six this season and a marquee win against Spurs would go a long way to cementing their status as ‘the best of the rest’ in the PL.
Spurs are looking to bounce back from a midweek collapse in the UEFA Champions League, but Mauricio Pochettino‘s side last won away from home in the Premier League in January. He knows this will not be easy.
In team news Leicester bring Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes into the lineup.
Tottenham start Gazzaniga in goal, with Hugo Lloris welcoming his new child overnight.
But what have we actually learned in the opening weeks of the new campaign?
Here’s a look at some of the storylines emanating from the first 270 minutes of the season.
Man United continue to be their own worst enemies
After losing 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace, it’s easy to write off Man United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. But that wouldn’t tell the whole story. As Nick Mendola pointed out yesterday, it’s not time to panic just yet. Had they scored two penalty kicks via Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, it is very likely they’d be sitting joint-top of the table with three wins from three. United have been their own worst enemies, with Pogba and Rashford fluffing their lines and David De Gea making another costly error to lose in stoppage time at home against Palace. United’s defense looks better, Rashford, Dan James and Martial are a threat and the side is settled with better balance in midfield. If this young side can cut out costly errors, they will be in the top four hunt all season long.
West Ham, Leicester well placed for top six push
The Hammers and Foxes are both looking very decent early in the season and both seem capable of pushing into the top six. Leicester are unbeaten and should have beat Chelsea, while West Ham took care of business against Watford and should have beat Brighton after an opening day mauling at the hands of Man City. Sebastian Haller looks the real deal up top for West Ham as they finally have a striker who can hold up the ball and bring their plethora of wonderful attacking midfielders into the game.
As for Leicester, they have so many youngsters who can put on a show. Harvey Barnes was the hero this week but James Maddison, Hamza Choudury and Demarai Gray are all stars for Brendan Rodgers‘ side. Caglar Soyuncu has also slotted in seamlessly to replace Harry Maguire. Leicester look set to push for a top six finish as the likes of Tottenham and Chelsea have failed to impress early this season. West Ham and Leicester are ahead of Wolves and Everton in the push for European qualification.
Liverpool a ruthless machine
Jurgen Klopp‘s men have been far from their best but they’re getting the job done and a ruthless second half blitz saw them ease past Arsenal on Saturday. After a disjointed summer where several stars didn’t even go on their preseason tour, Liverpool are clicking through the gears when they need to. Losing Alisson to injury in the season opener was far from ideal and that has led to Liverpool conceding in each of their three games so far, but Firmino, Salah and Mane have all stepped up at different times to seal three-straight wins. Not vintage stuff at all from the Reds, but they’re getting the job done in a ruthless fashion when they’re on top in games and that is title-winning material.
Chelsea’s kids are alright, but top four will be a big ask
It will be a lot of fun to watch Chelsea this season. But only if you’re a neutral. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount have hit the ground running and going forward they look very dangerous. Defensively they are a little all over the place with Andres Christensen and Kurt Zouma their first-choice duo at center back, for now. Chelsea won 3-2 at Norwich and drew 1-1 with Leicester, but they should have lost the latter game. In midfield they are a little open and Frank Lampard‘s game-management is lacking a little. He and his young players will grow into this season, but the first few weeks have told us that finishing in the top four would be akin to win the title for Chelsea this season.
Tottenham’s poor form continues as uncertainty unsettles
Spurs’ shock defeat at home to Newcastle United highlighted a worrying trend for Mauricio Pochettino‘s side. Only two PL teams have picked up less points than them in the last 15 games, and the Argentine coach pointed to uncertainty over the future of several key players as having an impact on his squad. Aside from sorting out where Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld or Christian Eriksen will go as their contracts run down, a dip in form for Harry Kane has also hit Tottenham hard. In a season where they were supposed to push for the title after finally spending big this summer, they are already five points off leaders Liverpool. A north London derby at Arsenal on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) gives Spurs the perfect opportunity for a boost, but if they lose that it will heap more pressure on Pochettino.
Old guard standing tall for reigning champs
Pep Guardiola‘s side sit two points behind Liverpool and their old guard have been dragging them through games in the opening weeks. Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero were at it again at Bournemouth over the weekend and City’s slick attack has continued to run seamlessly because of them. Defensively they’ve missed another veteran badly, with Vincent Kompany not being replaced as Nicolas Otamendi and Aymeric Laporte haven’t struck up a similar partnership with the former looking far from settled. For now, City will rely on their veteran stars to led the way but others need to step up, like they did last season, if they’re going to challenge for every trophy going.
Barnes’ second career Premier League goal was an absolute stunner, coming just six minutes after he entered the fray at Bramall Lane off the bench. The 21-year-old unleashed a rifling volley that saw the Foxes through, with Kasper Schmeichel and the Leicester City defense preserving the lead over the final half-hour.
Another youngster, Hamza Choudhury, covered himself in glory across the 90 minutes in a defensive midfield position, covering the back four well and keeping Leicester City comfortable in defense as Sheffield United looked for an equalizer down the stretch.
Three things we learned:
Poor touches in midfield can be dangerous. Chris Basham will be kicking himself for a cheap giveaway right on the halfway line that directly lead to Vardy’s opener. It came out of nothing more than slight pressure from behind, and put the Foxes in with Sheffield United’s back line pressing higher on the ball. Midfielders have to be better, especially if Sheffield United has any long-term prospects of staying in the Premier League next season.
Boy can Leicester City run a scything counter-attack. The goal came on a gifted counter, but they ran others that deserve plaudits as well, including one just after halftime that saw Vardy combine well with James Maddison and new boy Ayoze Perez, with the latter ending up with just too tight an angle to finish from. Do not give the Foxes any opportunities to break, because it will not end well for you.
Leicester City continues to be the sum of its parts. Some teams repeatedly struggle to implement quality brought in via the transfer window, but the Foxes have been one of the best and adding talent that truly improves the club as a whole. James Maddison is a brilliant addition, Ayoze Perez is contributing up front, and Harvey Barnes – brought in from West Brom last winter – is making his presence known. 21-year-old Choudhury, a recent youth team promotion, also performed fabulously at the back to preserve the victory.
Man of the Match: Hamza Choudhury.
The first 20 minutes of the match were incredibly sloppy, with Leicester City holding the majority of possession but doing very little with the ball in an attacking sense and unable to put anything together going forward. The first chance of the match fell to Sheffield when George Baldock rifled a one-time volley towards the top corner a half-hour in but it had little movement and Kasper Schmeichel collected easily despite solid pace on the effort.
Leicester City went in front out of relatively nothing seven minutes from halftime as Chris Basham lost the ball in midfield leading to a vicious counter from the Foxes. James Maddison sent through a ridiculous ball forward with the outside of his boot, lofting it over the scrambling defenders to Jamie Vardy, and the England striker made no mistake with a thumping finish at the near post.
The Foxes looked more likely to score a second than Sheffield United did an equalizer, but against the run of play McBurnie bagged his first Premier League strike. Baldock came good from his earlier mistake with a fabulous delivery from extremely deep on the right flank and it found the head of the former Swansea man who buried the chance to level the scoreline.
That wouldn’t last long, however, as Barnes was on hand to collect the ball off the head of Caglar Soyuncu and rifle it one-time before it hit the ground, delivering an absolute howitzer into the top corner for a moment of brilliance that put Leicester City in front for good. Schmeichel was required to preserve the three points with 15 minutes to go, somehow parrying a close-range effort by John Lundstram he should have scored from. Sheffield pressed for an equalizer but Leicester City’s defense was up to the task, locking things down for the win.
With unproven managers at Chelsea and Manchester United and a possible David Luiz-Shkrodan Mustafi center back partnership at Arsenal, there are scenarios in which the seas part and a new team finishes in the Top Six for the first time since Chelsea and Liverpool crashed out of the picture in 2015-16.
Wolves will like their chances, having made Raul Jimenez and Leander Dendoncker permanent members of the team and buying Patrick Cutrone, Pedro Neto, and Bruno Jordao from Serie A.
But they’ll face a loaded fixture list thanks to the Europa League (assuming they don’t exit at the hands of Armenia’s Pyunik in the third qualifying round or a similar foe in the playoff round). The first group stage date is sandwiched between Chelsea and Crystal Palace on the league docket, the second between Watford and Man City.
That’s a test of depth, one of which most of their players are taking for the first time.
Then there’s Everton, which has amassed some serious experience and guile even amongst its youngsters. Moise Kean arrives from Juventus, while Andre Gomes, Djibril Sidibe, and Fabian Delph are no strangers to silverware.
If Jean-Philippe Gbamin can quickly adapt to the league to combine with Delph and provide 75 percent of what Idrissa Gana Gueye gave the club, look out.
West Ham is another interesting one: Issa Diop was a revelation at center back and the club is close to keeping a hold of Felipe Anderson.
The Irons have finally added their prototypical center forward and should be nice and settled at the London Stadium. The question is whether West Ham can rewrite their organizational reputation this season.
There are arguments to be made for Watford and even Aston Villa, but those seem a bit farfetched unless the Hornets are seriously out-scouting the rest of the world.
So we’ll finish with Leicester City, who needs to hope that Jamie Vardy can keep holding off the hands of time and youngsters Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi can take a hold of the team to take the next step as stars.
But the question of how they’ll replace Harry Maguire is a real one, as is the big Brendan Rodgers effort: Can he focus the club the way he did when Liverpool had a Europe-free year in 2013-14, and take advantage of the fixture list to ride into the top tier?