Everton host Chelsea on Saturday in the first of two high-profile matches this weekend, the second being Liverpool’s trip to London this Sunday to take on league leaders Tottenham Hotspur.
Of course this means that The Reds play a second successive tough away fixture against a team widely expected to be among the league’s frontrunners. Chelsea, meanwhile will hope for victory in the blue half of Merseyside to affirm their title-challenging credentials.
Most would have expected the Manchester United / Burnley match to be a relative no-brainer, but given United’s struggles of late – and particularly their Capital One Cup humiliation against third-tier MK Dons – this is a match that should draw significant attention.
Elsewhere, Arsenal travel to Leicester to take on The Foxes who gained a credible 2-2 draw against Everton on the opening day of the season, so this is another fixture that’s hardly cut and dried.
Everton Vs Chelsea
Everton have thus far had a rather indifferent start to their bid for a European berth as they’ve recorded two draws from their opening two matches. In the first of these, they would have expected to win away at Leicester and indeed were headed toward victory, but for a late Chris Wood strike that robbed them of two points.
Similarly, Arsenal came from 2-0 down at half time to snatch a draw at Goodison Park last Saturday, thanks to two very late goals from Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud. As a result, Everton will not be riding a wave of confidence going head to head with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
On the other hand, this will be Chelsea’s first stern examination of the current campaign, as they’ve swept aside Burnley and Leicester in their opening two matches. These are teams Chelsea would have been expected to dominate, and though they have done, it should not take anything away from Chelsea’s performances in those matches.
Diego Costa is looking good value for the ₤32million Chelsea paid for him, while Cesc Fabregas is a veritable bargain at ₤30million having assisted with three of his team’s five goals scored so far.
Prediction: 2-0 to Chelsea. Everton, under Roberto Martinez, have been great to watch, but I can’t help but feel that Chelsea’s sparkling new attack and sure-footed rearguard will prove too much for the Toffees this time around. Everton may also have suffered a knock in confidence having taken only two points from their first two games – both of which could easily have been won.
Burnley Vs Manchester United
I’ve had my fingers burnt after predicting a win for Manchester United against Sunderland last weekend, so I am loath to put my neck on the line for them a second time around – even more so following the aforementioned 4-0 drubbing at the hands of a team two divisions lower than them.
Having that said, I have considerably more faith in Louis Van Gaal as Manchester United manager than I ever had in David Moyes. The Dutchman has the pedigree required to steer a team like United, having won several league championships and a string of European honours. However, I read an interesting comment this week stating that he’d only managed established teams in leagues with little competition for the traditional fraternity, namely Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
But on matters concerning Tuesday night, Manchester United fielded six full international players against the team from Milton Keynes, and were still outplayed. Jonny Evans’s unforgettable and unforgivable error that led to the first goal suggests that players’ hearts may no longer be in it at Old Trafford – and heart is something much harder for a manager to instil in his players than any set of tactics.
As for Burnley, there are barely a handful of recognisable names in their squad list, and while Manchester United are having to endure a dismal run of results, Burnley should be no match for United’s red army.
Prediction: 2-1 to Man United. United will enter the match a bit shell shocked following an abysmal start to their season, and I think they’ll take a nervy three points here. Should United again perform as they have done in their first three games, it could mean that the team simply does not want to play for Louis Van Gaal – in which case he’s already on borrowed time.
Leicester Vs Arsenal
Arsene Wenger, for the first time I can remember, dug deep into Arsenal’s coffers and spent well over ₤40million on four players, with Alexis Sanchez alone costing ₤35million. However, Arsenal’s new marquee striker is yet to etch his mark on this league championship with a goal, though he does at least have an assist to his name.
That said, I would have expected more from him, but the season is yet young and he may need a little more time to acclimatise to English football.
For the trip to Leicester though, Arsenal will have to do without last Saturday’s late-goal hero, Olivier Giroud due to a long-term ankle injury, which is likely to keep him out until the New Year. Even so, Wenger has insisted that he’ll not dip into the transfer market for a replacement striker, and with Yaya Sanogo, Joel Campbell and Lukas Podolski at his disposal, it’s hard to disagree – even if Podolski has fallen out of favour of late.
As for Leicester City, home ground advantage may count for something, but I still cannot see them getting past Arsenal this weekend.
Prediction: 2-0 to Arsenal. Perhaps I’m not giving Leicester City the credit they deserve after the draw with Everton, and new boy Esteban Cambiasso is a quality signing even if his best days are behind him, but Arsenal should easily have the beating of them in my opinion.
Tottenham Hotspur Vs Liverpool
Last season Liverpool did the double over Spurs, comfortably running out 9-0 winners on aggregate after the home and away fixtures. The first 5-0 drubbing cost a hapless Andre Villas-Boas his job in North London, while the 4-0 return thumping at Anfield could have been the result of having an inexperienced manager at the helm in the form of Tim Sherwood.
This season however, Spurs have hit the ground running. Their opening-day win at West Ham United, showed plenty of grit and determination, especially after Kyle Naughton was sent off before the half hour mark. Even though Spurs were left a player short with over an hour left of play, they still managed to keep more of the possession.
That result was followed by seven goals in their next two games as Spurs trounced QPR 4-0 and then smashed three more past AEL Limassol without reply in Europa League action on Thursday night.
Mauricio Pochettino has been a revelation.
Liverpool meanwhile have not had the greatest of starts to their league season, their victory over Southampton was nervy at best, and though they were the better team in the first half against Man City, the Sky Blues simply streaked ahead in the second period at the Etihad.
Liverpool have also received news that they’ve been grouped with European Champions Real Madrid in the Champions League – something that could play on their minds upon their travels to North London. They’ve also added a player of considerable temperament and talent in Mario Balotelli, though it remains to be seen if the Italian maestro will start alongside Daniel Sturridge at the weekend.
Prediction: 1-1. Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool have shown great ability to bounce back from defeat, but they are playing away to a Spurs team riding a wave of confidence at the moment – this one’s a little too close to call.