Friday, October 20, 2023

Premier League Week 9 Preview

The Premier League roars back from international break this weekend. When last we left off, Manchester City had tumbled from its perch atop the table and the two north London rivals, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur moved past the Citizens into a virtual tie atop the table. The Gunners delivered a 1-0 statement win over Manchester City just before the break to move atop the table alongside Spurs which holds a goals scored tiebreaker advantage over the Gunners. Both Arsenal and Spurs will be involved in London derbies this weekend.

Arsenal visits Stamford Bridge Saturday for a match against an improving Chelsea. Arsenal hasn’t lost a league match at Chelsea since 2018 when Maurizio Sarri was Chelsea manager. Chelsea, however, was an improving team prior to the international break, winning three consecutive matches across all competitions as Mauricio Pochettino seemed to be getting a tune out of his young and hastily assembled squad. Injuries continue to bedevil the Blues, however, with numerous players questionable for Saturday’s match. Arsenal will be hoping to have Bukayo Saka available after the English star missed his first league match in 88 games against Manchester City. Teammate Kai Havertz, meanwhile, faces former club Chelsea for the first time.

Tottenham Hotspur returns to action on Monday against Fulham. Spurs remain undefeated in Manager Ange Postecoglou’s inaugural Premier League season but have seemed more vulnerable than their record would indicate. Spurs were gifted a victory by the referees, who admitted and apologized for that fact, after a win over Liverpool. Two added time goals were required for Spurs to put away bottom of the table Sheffield United. A second half set piece goal was the only score in Tottenham Hotspurs’ 1-0 win over newly promoted Luton before the break.

Manchester City, still smarting from its loss to Arsenal will try to bounce back at the Etihad Saturday versus sixth place Brighton. The Citizens have won 20 consecutive matches at their home stadium across all competitions. A 21st home win, which would establish a new record for a Premier League side, should be helped by two key factors. Defensive midfielder Rodri returns after a three-match suspension and his presence will be key against the high scoring Seagulls. Brighton’s wide-open style of play will also have Erling Haaland excited to put an end to his two-match league goalless streak. Haaland has never gone three Premier League games without finding the net. Brighton, perhaps showing the stress of its first ever season in European, has failed to win in its last four outings across all competitions.

At least one noteworthy streak will end when Aston Villa hosts West Ham on Sunday in a match between the league’s current fifth and seventh place clubs. Aston Villa has won its last ten home matches in the Premier League under Manager Unai Emery. West Ham, however, is unbeaten in its last ten league visits to Villa Park. The Hammers’ Manager David Moyes, meanwhile, is unbeaten in 14 matches versus Aston Villa dating back to 2010 when he was managing Everton. Emery and Moyes present an interesting tactical matchup with both managers preferring to counterattack.

Contrasting styles will be on display in Saturday’s Merseyside derby when Liverpool hosts rival Everton. The high pressing Reds will work overtime to attack what should be a deep lying Toffee defense set up by Everton Manger Sean Dyche. The Toffees, though, did score three times against Bournemouth in their last outing, a shocking output for a club which has failed to score in half of its eight matches to date. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has returned from injury to provide an element of danger for Dyche with the oft injured striker notching three goals in Everton’s last four matches across all competitions. Unfortunately, Anfield should put a stop to Everton’s recent momentum. The Reds have lost only once on their home pitch in their last 45 Premier League home matches. Jurgen Klopp will surpass Rafa Benitez as the all-time winningest manager in the Merseyside derby with a win on Saturday while Mohamed Salah will be looking to find the net for a 200th career Premier League goal. Salah has been involved in a remarkable 27 goals in his last 23 league appearances, recording 16 goals and 11 assists.

While not technically a derby, the matchup between Bournemouth and Wolverhampton has a rich story line. The Cherries have won only one of their six Premier League matchups versus Wolves. The manager of that Bournemouth victory is now in charge of Wolverhampton and likely anxious for some revenge against his former employers after a questionable sacking. Gary O’Neil kept a ragtag Bournemouth squad safe last season after taking over from former Cherries manager Scott Parker who publicly declared the squad not to be of Premier League quality and was sacked soon after. O’Neil was then sacked himself, after keeping the Cherries up, in favor of current Bournemouth Manager Andoni Iraola. O’Neil’s surprising sacking might not have been the best move for the Cherries. Bournemouth has yet to win under Iraola this season, matching their worst ever league start. Yet another managerial change could be on the table if the new manager loses to the former manager this weekend.

Another manager on the host seat is Sheffield United’s Paul Heckingbottom. The Blades are the only other winless squad besides Bournemouth as Heckingbottom’s gang prepares to face Manchester United on Saturday. Manchester United Manger Eric ten Hag, meanwhile, has his own problems. A loss by the Red Devils to the league’s bottom team on Saturday would be a fifth loss in their opening nine league matches, the first time that will have happened in 37 years.

Surprisingly level on points right now with Manchester United is Crystal Palace. The Eagles are ninth in the table despite their seven goals being less than any club not in the relegation zone. Palace are at Newcastle on Saturday to face a Magpies side which has scored more goals than any Premier League club but for Brighton this season. Look for Crystal Palace, however, to park the bus in the latest iteration of low scoring duels between the clubs. Only 15 goals have been scored in the last 14 meetings between the Eagles and Magpies across all competitions.

Nottingham Forest was involved in a goalless draw with Crystal Palace just before the break. The Tricky Trees now could be looking at another tedious battle when hosting Luton Town this weekend. Forest has struggled without injured striker Taiwo Awoniyi. Only Bournemouth, meanwhile, has scored fewer goals than Luton Town. The absence of suspended striker Ivan Toney continues to weigh on Brentford as the Bees prepare to host Burnley on Saturday. The Bees have even resorted to using former Brighton and Everton striker Neal Maupay who has gone 30 appearances in the Premier League without a goal. Both Brentford and Burnley have one win this season, but the Bees have drawn on three more occasions than the relegation bound Clarets.

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