Friday, September 30, 2022

Match Week 9 Preview: Manchester And North London Derbies Headline Premier League Return

While absence may have made the heart grow fonder, a glittering weekend schedule also heightens the anticipation for the Premier League’s return from international break. There are attractive matchups at every level of the table. The top two clubs are involved in local derbies with heated rivals. Table leading Arsenal hosts Tottenham Hotspur while Manchester City welcomes Manchester United to the Etihad.

Manchester United has recovered from early season setbacks to win four consecutive matches and topple previously undefeated Arsenal at Old Trafford in the Red Devils’ last outing. The center back pairing of Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane has proven highly effective with captain Harry Maguire relegated to a bench role.

Tyrell Malacia has made himself a home at right back, forcing Luke Shaw to the bench. Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford appear more comfortable in Eric ten Hag’s free flowing system of attack. Cristiano Ronaldo has been largely reduced to a substitute role but could start Saturday should Rashford not be sufficiently recovered from a muscle pull. Antony makes his second Premier League appearance after scoring in his debut versus Arsenal. Ten Hag’s experiment of playing Christian Eriksen in a deep lying role has found success with the Dane triggering the United attack with his accurate passing from distance.

Manchester City is currently tied with Tottenham Hotspur with both clubs just a point behind Arsenal. The Citizens have become even more dangerous with the successful incorporation of Erling Haaland as a true number nine in Manager Pep Guardiola’s lineup. Haaland already has 11 goals in his 7 Premier League matches. Kevin De Bruyne is also in top form and leads the league with his six assists. Manchester City leads the league in goals scored, finding the net five times more than next closest Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs will try to knock Arsenal from its top of the table perch when Manager Antonio Conte takes his undefeated club to the Emirates. In Spurs last outing versus Leicester, Son Heung-min dramatically broke from a poor run of form which had seen him benched by Conte. Entering as a second half substitute against the Foxes, Son exploded for three goals, his first scores of the Premier League season. Son will need play a large role versus Arsenal, particularly with Spurs forward Dejan Kulusevski potentially sidelined by a hamstring injury. The match versus Spurs will represent a major test for Arsenal which fumbled its only meeting with a top six contender this season in its loss to Manchester United. The home match versus a historic rival should provide an electric atmosphere for the Gunners to prove themselves against a quality opponent.

Bukayo Saka is in a fine run of form for the Gunners, assisting on two goals for Arsenal in their last match versus Brentford and performing well for England over the international break. Gabriel Jesus leads the Gunners with four league goals, just one more than teammates Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard. Arsenal’s prospects this weekend could depend on the fitness of several key players. Odegaard encouragingly saw action with Norway over international break, a hopeful sign that he can return to league action after being held out from the Brentford match due to a calf injury. Thomas Partey, however, returned early from international duty after sustaining a knee injury. Ukrainian international Oleksandr Zinchenko sat out the international break after missing the Brentford match with a calf injury. The Gunners are hopeful all three players will be available for the derby. Arsenal will be looking to avenge a 3-0 defeat to Spurs in the clubs’ last meeting. That May loss at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was one of two defeats suffered by the Gunners in their last three matches of last season which foiled their hopes of a top four finish.

Graham Potter will manage his first Premier League match in charge of Chelsea when the Blues travel to Crystal Palace Saturday. Chelsea has defeated the Eagles in their last nine league meetings so eyebrows will be raised if Potter is unable to continue that streak. While currently seventh in the table, Chelsea is but three points outside its accustomed place in the top four and a good showing in a first outing under Potter could go a long way to reenergizing the Blues’ season.

Potter’s former club Brighton is under new management as the Seagulls surprisingly find themselves enjoying the rarefied air of the league’s top four. New manager Roberto De Zerbi faces a potentially rude welcome to the Premier League when Brighton travels to Anfield where Liverpool is unbeaten in its last 26 matches. The Reds have fallen to eighth in the league, winning but twice so far this season, and Manager Jurgen Klopp will be anxious to begin reversing their fortunes when they face the transitioning Seagulls.

Newcastle was touted for a potential top six challenge this season under Manager Eddie Howe but instead it is newly promoted Fulham which occupies sixth position as the Magpies visit the Cottagers this weekend. Newcastle has drawn five of its last six matches while not tasting victory since an opening win over Nottingham Forest. Fulham has won three of its last five matches, losing only to top four clubs Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur over that stretch. Aleksandar Mitrovic has six goals for the Cottagers, tying him with Harry Kane for second in the Premier League behind Erling Haaland.

Several of the remaining matches could factor in this season’s current and expected relegation fight. Bottom of the table Leicester is the only club not to have won a match this season. That could change on Monday when the Foxes play host to Nottingham Forest. Only a solitary win over West Ham in Week 2 accounts for the three points which separates newly promoted Forest from the feeble Foxes. Both sides look odds on favorites to go down.

The third member of the current relegation club, West Ham, has a golden opportunity to exit the drop zone this weekend when the Hammers host Wolverhampton. Goals could be scarce at London Stadium as Wolves and West Ham are the joint lowest scoring teams in the league this season with just three goals apiece after seven matches. West Ham would leapfrog Wolves and escape the relegation places with a win.

Bournemouth was expected to be a relegation contender but a three-match unbeaten run since the sacking of Scott Parker has raised the Cherries to 12th in the table. That unbeaten run faces a serious challenge when Brentford visits Saturday. Manager Thomas Frank will be looking for a response after the Bees’ abject capitulation to Arsenal in their last match before the break. Only three Premier League players have scored more than the five goals that Bees striker Ivan Toney has put in the net this season.

Everton and Southampton are level in the table as the Toffees head south to take on the Saints. Southampton has lost three of their past four matches, failing to score in each of those defeats. Everton has had similar scoring difficulties and hasn’t scored more than a goal in any match this season. The Toffees have not lost in five matches though, albeit drawing four consecutive meetings before a win over West Ham before the break. Nathan Patterson, a revelation at right back for Everton this season, is unfortunately sidelined by an ankle injury.

Leeds has lost two of its last three matches after a stinging 5-2 defeat at Brentford before the break. The Whites return home Sunday to face Aston Villa. Striker Patrick Bamford is reportedly fit for the match which is a huge boost but will matter little if the defensive shortcomings versus Brentford are not corrected. Aston Villa began to correct course with a draw and win before the break after Manager Steven Gerrard faced mounting pressure following four losses in Villa’s first five matches this season. 


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