Entering week four of the Premier League, it’s already turning into the race of former champions. Both Manchester clubs and Chelsea have started with a perfect three out of three wins to jump out of the gates on fire.
Can the surprise package of Hull City continue to astound? Will Crystal Palace’s talented side finally explode into life? Will Leicester upset Jürgen Klopp’s all-action Liverpool?
All these questions provide an interesting secondary story this weekend.
The real headlines will begin Saturday just after noon as the Manchester derby kicks off.
The first game of Week 4 pits the red of United and Jose Mourinho against the blue of City and Pep Guardiola. This could possibly turn into an explosive rivalry once again, if history repeats itself.
This game is the first of 10 Premier League Week 4 battles. We’re taking a look at them all, with predictions for winners and losers as well as the top player for each contest.
Manchester United vs Manchester City
The big team news is that Sergio Aguero is missing for Man City because of a three-match suspension for elbowing Winston Reid of West Ham United in the throat. This is a major development for the away team, because Aguero is a world beating forward who can make goals from nothing.
Man United will probably be missing Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and there are question marks over Luke Shaw’s availability after he pulled out of England’s World Cup Qualifying squad. Shaw would definitely be a big miss for Mourinho, but very little has been made public about this injury since. So it might not be all that serious.
It was also alleged that Marouane Fellaini would be unavailable for the derby. But having played 83 minutes for Belgium on Tuesday, it looks likely his partnership with Paul Pogba will be present come Saturday.
Without Aguero, City is reliant on Raheem Sterling to unlock United’s new-look resilience. There is no doubt City have the movement and possession football to cause problems. They just don’t have the number of out-balls, personalities or physical presence United do.
In a derby, it’s normally the most physical and determined who wins.
This game will boil down to one moment of physical power that breaks from midfield and results in reactionary magic from Zlatan or Martial, who is due a good game this season.
This match will end up with the media re-focusing on United’s best player, David De Gea, who will no doubt have to be in fine form to keep City out.
Prediction: Manchester United 1 – 0 Manchester City
Man of the Match prediction: David De Gea
Arsenal vs Southampton
Arsenal had a strange start to the season. They have been in the league’s best game so far against Liverpool. They have also lost in one of the most boring goalless draws against Leicester City.
To continue this unpredictability they decided to mix it up against Watford with a great first half and wretched second. They may have won that last game, but this uncertainty over which Arsenal squad will turn up from game to game makes them unpredictable.
That said, Arsenal’s performance will depend on Southampton. This is a team that seems unable to put its chances on target with any regularity against any and all opposition. For instance, against Manchester United, Southampton controlled possession, had more shots but only managed one on target, losing 2-0 in the process.
So it boils down to which team will retain possession, as neither has a plan B. It’s possession or nothing, and this will be Southampton’s undoing on Saturday because Arsenal has better individual talent which will, at some point, put a chance on target.
Claude Puel has a chance to showcase managerial genius. If Southampton comes out with a front three of Shane Long, Nathan Redmond, and Charlie Austin to play a high pressing game, all cards are off the table.
Arsenal’s attack likes to build momentum through possession. What they don’t like is chasing down lost causes, which will happen if Southampton changes their style accordingly.
Prediction: Arsenal 2 – 1 Southampton
Man of the Match prediction: Alexis Sánchez
Bournemouth vs West Brom
The big news is that Jack Wilshere has arrived on loan from Arsenal. Wilshere has the vision to pick out passes under pressure and could be vitally important in turning the constant runs of Jordon Ibe and Callum Wilson into meaningful attacks.
What Wilshere needs to do is prove his fitness and be of sound mind during the last 10 to 15 minutes of games. That is where Bournemouth have been vulnerable so far this season. In three games, Bournemouth have dropped 3 points to goals in the final 10 minutes of games. If Wilshere brings calmness and control, expect an upturn in fortune for the club.
West Bromwich Albion already looks to be on auto-pilot for a lower mid-table finish. They sit deep, without any attempt to play for possession or close down high up the pitch.
They don’t even have the creativity to carve open opposition, relying more on overlapping fullbacks and flooding the box. Yet they are methodical and playing to their strengths and manager’s philosophy.
How Hal Robson-Kanu fits into the team is uncertain, but he could be the catalyst for a more expressive forward lineup that is willing to run off the ball.
Prediction: Bournemouth 1 – 0 West Brom
Man of the Match prediction: Jack Wilshere
Burnley vs Hull City
Burnley, despite the team having three points, are not playing well.
They lost to Swansea in a tight match and beat Liverpool 2-0 in the most one-sided game ever witnessed. Burnley only had 20% of the possession and three chances, two of which were goals. Liverpool basically owned that match but was unable to put the ball on target.
Against Chelsea, Burnley had similar stats but lost 3-0. The match against Hull City will be the first time we can truly evaluate Burnley, but expectations aren’t high.
The recently promoted Hull City had the worst preseason in the history of the Premier League. They literally had no squad, countless injuries, the owners wanted to sell and the manager was a temporary solution.
Hull manager, Mike Phelan, must have made a deal with the devil because they’ve looked like a team possessed since week one.
Burnley will create chances but they won’t get past Curtis Davies. If the center back plays half as good as he did against Manchester United then the best result for Burnley is a draw.
Going forwards, Hull has enough creativity and passing power to break down Burnley. The biggest problem for Hull is that their new signings and the international break have slowed momentum.
Prediction: Burnley 0 – 2 Hull City
Man of the Match prediction: Tom Huddlestone
Middlesbrough vs Crystal Palace
It’s only Week 4 of the Premier League, but Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough have the clear look of a mid-table team. This is about the greatest compliment someone can give to a newly promoted team. They look resilient and capable of competing in the physical games ahead of them.
A draw against Stoke and West Brom, along with a victory in Sunderland, prove this. The question at this point is, like with Southampton and many others currently, can they turn chances into goals?
It’s been a poor start for Crystal Palace, and the sale of Yannick Bolasie may look like the wrong move right now. But the team is far too talented to end up in a relegation battle.
The signing of £32m Christian Benteke is an enormous move for Palace but one that will prove its worth. Benteke is a proven Premier League goalscorer. He’s not going to change a game like Bolasie could, but he is an out-ball target man and a threat if Palace deploy wingers.
To add steel in the midfield, Arsenal man Mathieu Flamini has been signed on a free. This gives more creative freedom to Yohan Cabaye — a player who will make or break Palace’s season.
At some point, Wilfried Zaha is going to burst into life for Crystal Palace. With the sale of Bolasie, the pressure to create is definitely on Zaha’s shoulders. This could be the game where potential turns into performance.
In reality, pressure will most likely cause Palace to buckle and a Scott Dann 93rd minute special will be required to spare further blushes.
Prediction: Middlesbrough 1 – 1 Crystal Palace
Man of the Match prediction: Christian Benteke
Stoke City vs Tottenham Hotspur
It’s okay, we won’t mention the league table, Stoke fans. Right now Stoke is rock bottom but has played the currently sublime Man City and scarily efficient Everton.
Will they stay in this position? Not a chance, but it’s absolute cruelty to pit them against Tottenham. Stoke City’s season is no doubt going to get worse before it gets better.
Tottenham’s games against Liverpool and Everton resulted in very equally balanced results and stats. Against Palace, Tottenham dominated. In each game, they have gotten well-earned results, two draws, and a win.
Tottenham is playing efficiently but not spectacularly right now. The signing of Moussa Sissoko for £30m from Newcastle United adds more dynamism that, when in form, will no doubt be competing for a top-four position at the end of the season.
It would be easy to blame stand-in goalkeeper Shay Given for Stoke City’s bad results. But the reality is, unless Stoke can find the bite which made them a team everyone hated to play, Mark Hughes’s men will be looking at their third loss against Tottenham.
Prediction: Stoke City 0 – 3 Tottenham Hotspur
Man of the Match prediction: Christian Eriksen
West Ham United vs Watford
West Ham United have looked tired so far this season. One wonders if the attempted but failed qualification for the Europa League has taken it out of the team. Such a tiring start to the season, combined with fixtures against Man City and Chelsea, must have surely taken some of the sting out of West Ham’s tail.
Like West Ham, Watford has had tough games so far this season, including matches against Arsenal and Chelsea.
The positives are that against Chelsea, Watford was tight and productive in the first half. Against Arsenal, Watford was tight and productive in the second half.
If Watford can find the fitness to remain tight and productive for 90 minutes then they will become competitive against mid-table teams — an imperative if Watford is to survive in this league.
Last season, West Ham made me believe the top four was possible for them this season. Three games in and this is already unlikely. West Ham aren’t firing on all cylinders, and without some of manager Slaven Bilic’s trademark magic they won’t fire again for a while.
In theory, this game is Watford’s for the taking.
Prediction: West Ham United 0 – 1 Watford
Man of the Match prediction: Troy Deeney
Liverpool vs Leicester City
Liverpool have impressed so far this season. Yes, they lost to Burnley in a game that could have easily been 10-0 to Liverpool. The 2-0 loss was a result that is a contradiction to the performance — an outlier of sorts of what will no doubt be an interesting season between Merseyside teams.
With the signing of Sadio Mané, already considered a genius move by Liverpool fans, and the fact Mario Balotelli has gone, Liverpool finds themselves a team on the up.
Where Liverpool are on the up, the only way for Leicester City is down.
Does anyone really think they can compete for a top-four position in the league after every other team has strengthened significantly?
The biggest issue for Leicester is that they sold N’Golo Kanté — part man, part wall. With Kanté, Leicester could break at pace knowing that they had this impenetrable fortress sitting behind them. Without Kanté and their tactic of choice comes frailty at the back.
The good news is that goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel appears to be fit.
This will arguably be the most intriguing game of the day. Leicester is playing a little less offensively, ensuring they have the cover but Liverpool don’t sit back. They defend in the attacking third, which makes them vulnerable to how Leicester played last season.
Who will decide to adapt? Liverpool is at home, which puts the onus on them to push forward and press.
The likely scenario is that Liverpool will have too much going forwards for Leicester, winning possession and creating several chances.
The tipping point will be whether Leicester can put pressure on Liverpool’s fullback positions. If so, this could result in a repeat of Arsenal versus Liverpool from the opening week of the season, with goals galore.
Prediction: Liverpool 2 – 2 Leicester City
Man of the Match prediction: Kasper Schmeichel
Swansea City vs Chelsea
Here is a bold prediction: Swansea will get relegated this season. Sorry Swansea fans.
So far, there hasn’t been one redeeming feature in Swansea’s game. The once free-flowing, attractive football of this club seems not just gone but completely obliterated.
Good technical players remain, with Gylfi Sigurðsson, Jefferson Montero and Ki Sung-Yeung offering creativity around the target man Fernando Llorente. But so far, they look unable to link play between a vulnerable but overloading defense and an attack which only comes to life with the ball at its feet.
Chelsea, under Antonio Conte, look the complete package. They are passionate, powerful, technical, possession-based, counter-attacking and direct. About the only question mark is the purchase of David Luiz.
We all knew Conte wanted Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus but failed to prise him away this summer. Luiz might have technical ability but doesn’t have the mentality to replace Gary Cahill or John Terry unless something drastically changed while at Paris Saint-Germain. Theoretically, Chelsea could be weaker by playing Luiz, but that theory won’t be tested against Swansea.
There will not be a more one-sided game this Premier League weekend. Chelsea will steam roll Swansea but will probably concede thanks to a David Luiz blunder.
Prediction: Swansea City 1 – 4 Chelsea
Man of the Match prediction: Diego Costa
Sunderland vs Everton
Sunderland manager David Moyes looks to have aged about 10 years since taking over the club this summer. In what looked like an absolute scramble leading into transfer deadline day, this Sunderland team might just have enough guile and moxie to avoid a relegation battle this time around.
The likes of Adnan Januzaj and recently signed Ibrahim Ndong have points to prove, as does Moyes.
Everton, under new manager Ronald Koeman, doesn’t look like anything like what we’ve seen for the last two decades from this club. They are creating chances and dictating possession while at the same time looking absolutely impossible to break down.
On the opening day of the season against Tottenham, they looked an equal match. If this is a sign of what’s to come for Everton under Koeman, the competition for top four and Champions League qualification is going to be epic and to the wire.
Sunderland’s direct play will be no match for Everton. They will be resolute for long periods before the likes of Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, and Kevin Mirallas cut through a Sunderland defense reliant on Papy Djilobodji, who looked good against Southampton but has yet to face a test like this.
Prediction: Sunderland 1 – 2 Everton
Man of the Match prediction: Kevin Mirallas
Check back Tuesday as all the predictions are reviewed and scored accordingly.