Here’s what we have on the docket for a busy weekend in England.
The reigning champs begin life without Laporte
Norwich City v. Man City, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Aymeric Laporte may not get the headlines of Virgil Van Dijk, but the Man City man has been a close second to the Liverpool star when it comes to how important a role he plays to his defense. Fortunately, Man City has reliable Nicolas Otamendi and a healthy John Stones. How they perform together will go a long way to determining whether a 3-peat is an option once Laporte returns after the new year. The first Laporte-less test comes against Teemu Pukki and defense-starved Norwich City
Spurs aching for stability, return to form
Tottenham Hotspur v. Crystal Palace, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Both Tottenham and their visitors had a key attacker in the rumor mill throughout August, and both Christian Eriksen and WilfriedZaha stayed put at the transfer deadline. Spurs have just five points through four games, but have already played two Top Four rivals (draws with Man City and Arsenal). It’s fair to say nothing short of a home win over Palace will be acceptable to the Lilywhite faithful. Can Spurs “re-focus?”
New (old) boss bump against dangerous Gunners?
Watford v. Arsenal, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Watford fired Javi Gracia in favor of a return to Quique Sanchez Flores, and the Hornets’ home faithful will see whether it gives the moribund Hornets a return to 2018-19 form. Watford has just one point from the first four matches of the season, while Arsenal has only lost to Liverpool. Goal fest?
Someone’s stalling has to end here
Wolves v. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
Europa League congestion can rightfully be blamed for some of Wolves’ struggles to start the season, but no such prognosis can be made ahead of a visit from less-than-inspiring Chelsea. This is a good litmus test for two teams’ high-end hopes, and a loss for the hosts could see them finish the weekend in the drop zone.
Business as usual for Salah, Mane versus Newcastle
Liverpool v. Newcastle United, Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Forget the argument last week: Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and their fellow Reds will be licking their lips to face a Newcastle team which hasn’t won at Anfield since a League Cup match in 1995. The goal scorer? Steve Watson.
Manchester United v. Leicester City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold
The hosts Red Devils are running out of excuses for their in-game dominance not producing three points, and the latest test at Old Trafford comes via an in-form Leicester City. Will Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers deliver his first big result of the season?
Boy do I love getting yelled at, so let’s invite more criticism with Week 2 of the Premier League Power Rankings.
Let’s also get something out of the way, though: While a round-robin tournament such as the Premier League doesn’t need power rankings by the end of the season given the balanced schedule, the early season is ripe for these sorts of debate because of the performances and opponents.
Additionally, we like having fun. Because this is sports. And sports are supposed to be fun. Even if you support Newcastle and the idea that sports are supposed to be fun sounds like someone telling you something you’re allergic to is goooooood eatin’.
Excited for the furor. Let’s party in the comments section.
20. Newcastle United — For all the promise Miguel Almiron showed under Rafa Benitez, the Paraguayan looks absolutely clueless under Steve Bruce. Last week’s ranking: 16
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Spurs
19. Watford — The Pozzo Family is known to change managers on a whim, and Javi Gracia will be wondering if his wonderful 2018-19 is fresh enough in the owners’ minds following an insipid loss to Brighton and a two-shot performance at Everton. Last week’s ranking: 20
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham
18. Crystal Palace — Unlike Newcastle at Norwich, the Eagles probably deserved a point in losing to a newly-promoted side. They still did, however, lose to a newly-promoted side. Will WilfriedZaha torment his old club (Man Utd) and teammate (Aaron Wan-Bissaka) on Saturday? Also, those away jerseys… Last week’s ranking: 14
Last match: Lost 1-0 at Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Manchester United
17. West Ham United —Manuel Pellegrini will be under deserved pressure if he can’t manufacture a result at Watford. Last week’s ranking: 18
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Brighton and Hove Albion
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Watford
16. Southampton — Thoroughly deserved a home point versus Liverpool, but that does not totally make amends for a terrible Week 1. Last week’s ranking: 19
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Brighton and Hove Albion
15. Aston Villa —Dean Smith knows the mistakes made early against Bournemouth can’t happen in the Premier League, but the Villans were the better team in a loss to Bournemouth. Last week’s ranking: 8
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Bournemouth
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday v. Everton
14. Bournemouth —Eddie Howe, on the other hand, will be thanking his lucky stars that Tom Heaton decided to put Villa behind the 8-ball after just 45 seconds. We need to see better from the Cherries, and it’s probably not coming when Man City visits on Sunday. Last week’s ranking: 15
Last match: Won 2-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City
13. Sheffield United — The Blades have been a pesky problem in collecting four points from Bournemouth and Palace. Saturday’s visit from Leicester City will be a bird of a different feather. Last week’s ranking: 13
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Leicester City
12. Norwich City —Teemu Pukki was lethal against Newcastle, and the Canaries probably could’ve scored thrice on Opening Day at Anfield. That, folks, is what we call encouraging stuff for a newly-promoted group. Last week’s ranking: 17
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Newcastle United
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Chelsea
11. Chelsea — There’s a lot to say about Frank Lampard as a manager, but we can’t stop thinking about how gigantic he looked standing next to Brendan Rodgers after the match. Will we have the chance to see it again when Chelsea visits Leicester City on Feb. 1? Last week’s ranking: 12
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Norwich City
10. Leicester City — So far, so okay for Brendan Rodgers and the Foxes, who took points from two tricky fixtures. Nothing but three points will be acceptable this weekend at Sheffield United. Last week’s ranking: 10
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Chelsea
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United
9. Burnley — Don’t bet against Sean Dyche. You’ll either lose, or be terrified at how angry you’ve made Sean Dyche in being right. Last week’s ranking: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves
8. Everton — After taking four points from two matches, the Toffees’ bring an extremely enticing start to the Premier League weekend on Friday at entertaining Aston Villa. Last week’s ranking: 11
Last match: Won 1-0 v. Watford
Up next: 3 p.m. ET Friday at Aston Villa
7. Wolves — What they’ve done in drawing Leicester City and Manchester United while bombarded with Europa League fixtures and planning is laudable and acceptable. Last week’s ranking: 9
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Burnley
6. Brighton and Hove Albion —Graham Potter‘s Blue and White Army are unbeaten through two matches and deserved three points against West Ham in a 1-1 draw. Leandro Trossard is a talent, and looks like what the Seagulls thought they bought last summer with Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Last week’s ranking: 5
Last match: Drew 1-1 v. West Ham United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Southampton
5. Manchester United —Paul Pogba: Penalties as Shaquille O’Neal is to free throws. We’ll hang up and listen. The Red Devils should be 2-0 and sitting atop the league. Alas. Last week’s ranking: 2
Last match: Drew 1-1 at Wolves
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Crystal Palace
4. Arsenal — 2-0 is 2-0, even if the wins come against Newcastle and Burnley. There’s no way Arsenal will be able to afford Dani Ceballos at the end of his loan stint if he keeps looking like an absolutely wondrous midfielder of the highest order. Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool
3. Liverpool — The bad news is that Liverpool’s poor defensive summer has dragged into August and they are a competent Danny Ings flick away from drawing Saints. The good news is that the Reds are alone in first place despite the defensive foibles. Also, relax, you’re the European champions. It’s okay. Last week’s ranking: 7
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Burnley
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. Arsenal
2. Spurs — Took the most shots in the league in Week 1, and followed it up by scoring twice and taking a point from the Etihad Stadium. That’s something only one team did over 19 matches last season (Palace’s 3-2 memorable win around Christmas). Last week’s ranking: 3
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Man City
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Newcastle United
1. Manchester City — VAR did its job in enforcing a rule that is, at best, against the spirit of the game in supporting defenders unfairly in comparison to attackers. City took 30 shots against the Champions League finalists and deserved all three points. If you think they should be lower on the list, try this mental exercise at the heart of the PL power rankings: Based on what you’ve seen this season, make the case for why you’d rather play City over a single team in the league. You’re lying. Last week’s ranking: 1
Last match: Drew 2-2 v. Spurs
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Bournemouth
Another day has come and another day has gone. Harry Maguire is still a Leicester City player.
Weeks after intense rumor and speculation that Maguire was on his way to Manchester United in a major transfer, those same rumors and reports have calmed down, with Maguire also keeping his head down and continuing training for the upcoming season.
Leicester City on Saturday defeated Stoke City, 2-1, with Maguire going the full 90 minutes for the first time all preseason along with a handful of his teammates. For most clubs, a player subject to this kind of transfer speculation may be kept on the sidelines to avoid injury, but Leicester City is treating Maguire with the kind of confidence that it expects him to be ready to go for the Foxes this season.
“He’s been brilliant since the first day of pre-season,” Rodgers said after the game, via the Leicester Mercury. “There’s a lot of speculation around Harry but he’s just got on with it. Like I’ve always said, we’re all pretty relaxed with it. We’re looking to prepare the whole team and squad and Harry’s a part of that. He was excellent today, he’s working very hard.”
Manchester United made two bids for Maguire earlier in the summer but it appears neither bid was able to rise to the $99 million valuation placed on Maguire by Leicester City, so Maguire has remained.
Man United meanwhile is now down another defender after Eric Bailly suffered yet another injury during Man United’s preseason match against Tottenham earlier this week. With the transfer window closing soon, it could leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the Man United front office with no choice but to come up with the $99 million needed to sign Maguire.
If not, Rodgers won’t have to worry about replacing an England international in the back and he can focus on continuing to prepare his squad for the upcoming season.
Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers credited Maguire for his professionalism — the center back scored in a friendly win on Tuesday — and said that the club’s vice chairman Aiyawatt “Top” Srivaddhanaprabha has not received a fitting bid for the 26 year old’s services.
“There’s no big pressure to sell any player. If a player does leave Leicester City, then the player would need to be met because we have a top-level player, coveted by top-level clubs and I respect that,” Rodgers said. “Harry is on a long contract here and there’s been no valuation or near to that which would make Top have a look.”
Look, we’ve still got a few weeks until the close of the window, and every supporter has a target they want their club to acquire and some have some assets they hope stay in the same shirt at the deadline.
The Maguire story is getting a bit tedious now. He wants to go to Manchester United, but Rodgers is happy to keep him at Leicester. Maguire’s not the player who will quit on the club if he’s not sold, and Leicester’s hope of landing a replacement will dip as the deadline draws nearer and clubs like Burnley (James Tarkowski) realize their replacements options have been lessened by the wait.
The Foxes sit in seventh place in the Premier League table, and while they’re unable to catch Manchester United in sixth sitting 17 points back, they still have a crack at a place in the Europa League should Watford fail to win the FA Cup. It’s a hotly contested race, with Wolverhampton Wanderers level on points with Leicester at 47, while Everton and Watford are both a point back with 46.
As a boost, Leicester City could have Marc Albrighton back from a long-term hamstring injury that has kept him out for two months, although it’s unlikely he would start right away after being out for so long. The 29-year-old was a regular in the Leicester lineup before his injury, appearing in all but two of the club’s Premier League matches until his injury in early February.
For the Hammers, they sit in 11th position and have work to do to reach the top half of the table, behind Watford and Everton by four points. Jack Wilshere could find his way back from an ankle injury, although the club is reportedly being careful with his return. They are missing a trio of important attacking players, with Manuel Lanzini, Javier Hernandez, and Samir Nasri all likely out with injury problems.
What they’re saying
West Ham manager on his season to this point: “It’s not an easy answer because there are two sides to it. Yes, I’m happy because it is a solid season compared to the last one. Having so many important players injured for so long is not easy. But always I feel we can do better.”
Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers on a possible European place: “We’re not really thinking about that. We want to finish as high as we can and do our very best. It’s important we continue to work and prepare for next season while finishing as strongly as possible.”
Leicester City has fared well against West Ham in the past, and while this is a road trip for the Foxes, it has far more importance to the visitors than the home side, who have already pretty much packed up shop for the season. With Leicester City needing this match much more, and West Ham missing a number of attacking players, the Foxes should come away with it 2-1, returning home with a vital three points away from home.