Friday, September 15, 2023

Premier League Week 5 Preview

The Premier League returns from international break this weekend with the Champions League set to follow just a few days later. The defending Premier League and Champions League titlist, Manchester City, travels to London Stadium Saturday to take on West Ham. The Hammers are a top four club right now, based on a better goal differential than Arsenal. West Ham has collected ten points after four matches, its best start since 1999/2000 and newcomers James Ward-Prowse and Edson Alvarez seem particularly shrewd transfer additions as the club reinvests after the sale of former star Declan Rice. Expect Manager David Moyes to have his charges concede the vast amount of possession and look for the counter strike opportunity, an unappealing but successful strategy to date for the London club. Manchester City, of course, are perfect on the season despite the transfer losses of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyadh Mahrez and the long-term injury sustained by Kevin De Bruyne. Phil Foden and Julian Alvarez have stepped up into increased roles with the club while Erling Haaland once again leads the league in goalscoring with six tallies to date.

Liverpool is also in the top four as they travel to Wolverhampton for Saturday’s early match on the weekend schedule. A rebuilt Liverpool midfield could see another new face as Ryan Gravenberch, a transfer deadline day purchase from Bayern Munich, could make his debut. Gravenberch joins Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai and Wataru Endo as new midfield additions this season for the Reds.

A suspended Virgil Van Dijk and an injured Trent Alexander-Arnold will be missing this week from the Liverpool defense that has conceded the second fewest goals in the league. Their absences may not matter, however, against a Wolverhampton side which has fewer goals to date than all but the clubs currently in the relegation places. Toothless Wolves scored the fewest goals in the league last season and could contend for that nefarious distinction once again.

Sheffield United, meanwhile, has scored no more goals than Wolves this season and the newly promoted Blades have scratched out just a single league point. They are unlikely to add to that total on Saturday when they face a Tottenham Hotspur side which is thriving under new Manager Ange Postecoglou. A victory on Saturday would mark the best league start for a Spurs squad since the 1965/66 season. Only Brighton has scored more goals than Spurs who sit behind only Manchester City in the table and whose 11 goals match those put in the net by the Citizens. Supporters have applauded the aggressive attacking style of Postecoglou’s club, a marked contrast to former defensive minded mangers Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho. The style creates some defensive vulnerability but that’s unlikely to be a worry against the blunt Blades attack.

Brighton is just a point outside the top four as the Seagulls head to Old Trafford to face “Team Chaos” this weekend. Manchester United has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Antony is on  a leave of absence after abuse allegations were leveled against the Brazilian winger. Jaedon Sancho, a potential replacement in the lineup for Antony, is off training by himself after a heated dispute with Manager Eric ten Hag. Meanwhile, injuries on the back line could see Harry Maguire back on the pitch for ten Hag. The Seagulls will be ready to swoop as Manager Roberto De Zerbi’s club has continued its fine form last season despite key transfer losses such as midfielders Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo. Brighton’s league leading 12 goals includes 4 by 18-year-old sensation Evan Ferguson who could be a question mark Saturday after a minor knee knock while on international duty with Ireland. On loan Barcelona forward Ansu Fati could be a reasonable backup plan should he make his club debut at Old Trafford. Brighton has defeated Manchester United in their last three league meetings though they tripped up in the FA Cup semifinals against the Red Devils last May.

Arsenal will be on guard for a shock outcome when the Gunners travel to Goodison Park to face Everton Sunday. The Toffees defeated the Gunners at Goodison in Sean Dyche’s debut as Everton Manager last season and have not won at the home of the Toffees since 2017. The case remains, however, that Arsenal is very good, and Everton is very bad. The Gunners are yet to lose while Everton is yet to win this season. Arsenal does have some injury concerns with Thomas Partey likely out for a month with a thigh problem. Midfielder Partey had been seeing some minutes in defense deputizing for the injured Jurrien Timber. Gabriel Jesus, however, has returned from injury to enhance the Gunner attack. Everton received some hope for the future this week with the announcement of the club’s purchase, pending league approval, by American firm 777 Partners. While the proposed new owners already own several other football clubs across the globe, there are some skeletons in the closet, such as unproven past allegations of fraud, which could complicate the approval process. On the pitch, Everton are facing a third consecutive season of fighting against relegation with a below quality roster.

Crystal Palace is a surprising seventh in the table despite having said goodbye to club legend Wilfried Zaha in the transfer window and having played to date without injured winger Michael Olise. Striker Odsonne Edouard has found the net three times for the Eagles, Eberechi Eze has been a creative force in midfield, and only Manchester City and Liverpool have allowed fewer goals than Crystal Palace. Defender Marc Guehi could possibly miss Saturday’s match versus Aston Villa, however, after suffering a knock while on duty with England. Aston Villa are one of the more difficult Premier League clubs to evaluate on results so far. Manager Unai Emery’s men have drubbed relegation battlers Everton and Burnley but have themselves been thumped by an aggregate 8-1 margin in losses to Newcastle and Liverpool. The Crystal Palace test will help measure the quality of the Villans who will be looking to extend a current nine match home win streak across all competitions.

The “Dukes of Draws” will face each other at St. James Park when Brentford visits Newcastle. The two clubs failed to reach a decision in a joint league high of 14 matches last season. The Bees have continued that trend this season with three draws in their four matches to date. Newcastle Manager Eddie Howe should be so lucky. His side has underperformed expectations in three consecutive losses. Newcastle scored only two goals across those three losses after an opening weekend 5-1 defeat of Aston Villa. Bryan Mbeumo has four goals for Brentford to help compensate for the absence of suspended striker Ivan Toney.

Striker Taiwo Awoniyi, meanwhile, has either scored or assisted in each of his last eight Premier League matches for Nottingham Forest and the Tricky Trees are in the top half of the table after winning two of their matches this season. Forest will be trying to win a fifth consecutive match at home when Burnley visits the City Ground on Monday. Burnley are yet to win and have conceded a league high 11 goals despite having played only three matches so far. The Clarets on Monday could become only the second Premier League side to concede at least three goals in each of their first four matches of a season.

Fulham have been leaking goals at almost the same pace as Burnley, allowing 10 goals in its four matches. The Cottagers host Luton Town on Saturday. The Hatters have conceded nine goals in three matches and are the only club beside Burnley not to earn a point this season. Fulham midfielder Palhinha signed a new contract with the Cottagers this week after his deadline day transfer to Bayern Munich collapsed. Raul Jiminez hasn’t scored in his last 27 Premier League appearances but perhaps there is hope after the Fulham striker scored three goals for Mexico during the international break.

Chelsea will be trying to win for just the third time in 17 Premier League matches when the Blues travel to Bournemouth on Sunday. That could prove possible against a Cherries side which has taken only two points from its last eight league matches. 

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