Friday, August 20, 2021

Premier League Preview Match Week 2: Gunners Under Fire in London Derby; Foxes Face Hammers; Nuno v. Bruno; Benitez and Bielsa in Stylish Clash; Devilish Task for Saints

The pressure increases on Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta as Arsenal moves on from its embarrassing defeat last week to Brentford only to face a more daunting task this week in front of their home fans. Chelsea and new striker Romelu Lukaku visit the reeling Gunners in a London Derby. Arsenal could get Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back from his COVID illness though fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette remains sidelined. The Gunners will also be without injured midfielder Thomas Partey and center back Gabriel as they face their powerful London rival. Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic has contracted COVID and will miss the match.

A meeting of top six clubs from last season takes place at London Stadium as manager Brendan Rogers leads his Foxes against West Ham. Leicester has moved to address its injury riddled defense with the addition of transfers Ryan Bertrand and Jannick Vestergaard from Southampton. West Ham striker Michail Antonio scored his 47th career Premier League goal last weekend, tying him with Paolo di Canio as the Hammers’ all-time leading scorers in the league.

Spurs Manager Nuno Espirito Santo returns to Molineux Stadium to face his former club when he faces Wolves under new manager Bruno Lage on Sunday. A swarming defense and a goal by Son Heung-min propelled Spurs last week to an impressive win over defending champion Manchester City despite the absence of an unhappy Harry Kane. Son has now scored six goals in his last seven appearances without Kane in the lineup. Kane’s status for the game against Wolves is uncertain. Wolves played well in Lage’s Premier League debut last week but exhibited a frustrating lack of finishing as speedster Adama Traore missed key chances in the loss versus Leicester. A return to form by striker Raul Jimenez, who returned last week from a serious head injury, would seem imperative for success by the home side.

A contrast of coaching style will be on display when Rafa Benitez and Everton go to Elland Road to face Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds. Benitez teams are generally known for pragmatic defensive discipline. Bielsa philosophy incorporates free wheeling attack which can sometimes backfire as in last week’s 5-1 loss to Manchester United. Benitez, meanwhile, won over some of his Everton detractors with an opening win over Southampton last weekend. The Toffees will again be without James Rodriguez this weekend as he recovers from COVID. Leeds will be bolstered by the return this week of defensive midfielder Kalvin Philips who saw heavy minutes for England in the recent European Championship.

Southampton will be given little prayer of the Saints derailing Manchester United as the Red Devils invade the south coast. United scored five goals on opening weekend and outscored the Saints in two victories last season by an aggregate 12-3 margin. Since those two losses, Southampton has lost its top scorer, Danny Ings, and arguably best defensive player, Jannick Vestergaard. Manchester United flashed its star power on opening weekend with Bruno Fernandes scoring a hat tick and Paul Pogba carving up Leeds with four assists. Center back Rafael Varane, winner of Champions League and World Cup titles for Real Madrid and France, respectively, could make his debut for Manchester United versus the Saints.

Manchester City hosts Norwich in what should be a substantial mismatch at the Etihad. The Canaries won just once away from home in their last Premier League season two years ago and Norwich did not look to be an improved side in an opening loss to Liverpool. Manchester City, meanwhile, will be anxious to rebound strongly in front of their home fans  from an opening weekend loss to Spurs.

Burnley returns to Anfield for their first visit after ending Liverpool’s 68 match home unbeaten streak last season. The Clarets were poor in an opening loss to Brighton and have done little to improve a side which flirted with relegation last season. Liverpool took the first step in a hoped-for return to title contention last weekend by easily disposing of Norwich. Mohamed Salah, with a goal and two assists on opening weekend,  leads the attack for the Reds while Virgil van Dijk has returned from injury to take his accustomed place in the heart of Liverpool’s defense.

Aston Villa continues to adjust to life after Jack Grealish when it hosts Newcastle this weekend. The Villains fell behind early and lost to newly promoted Watford last week. Sorely missed against the Hornets was the pace of Villa striker Ollie Watkins who missed the opener and is expected to be absent again this week as he recovers from a preseason injury. Newcastle is likely to again start goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, who conceded four goals on opening weekend, as Karl Darlow and Martin Dubravka recover from COVID and injury, respectively. Joe Willock, who starred on loan for the Magpies last season, returns for Newcastle after his permanent transfer from Arsenal. Willock scored in his last seven matches for Newcastle last season.

Brentford plays a second consecutive London derby after its emotional win over Arsenal as the Bees head to Selhurst Park for a match with Crystal Palace. The Eagles are winless in their past nine London derbies after a 3-0 defeat to Chelsea in their first match last week under manager Patrick Vieira. Palace will have Conor Gallager available to make his debut for the Eagles on Saturday after the on-loan midfielder was ineligible to play against his parent club last week. Brentford last won at Selhurst Park in 1957.

Watford travels to Brighton in a battle of unbeaten Hornets and Seagulls. The Hornets stung Aston Villa last week and have won more matches this calendar year any club in the four tiers of English football except for Manchester City. Brighton, which scored a come-back win over a poor Burnley squad on opening weekend, is undefeated in three previous Premier League matchups with Watford.

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