Friday 22 September 2017

10 reasons to feel tense about this weekend's Premier League games

There's plenty at stake this weekend
There's plenty at stake this weekend

Ben Curtis

Here we are. Matchday nine has arrived and with it the quarter distance marker for this 2015/16 Premier League season.

Is it time to feel twitchy? We think so. For many this could be a very significant weekend of football and, with that in mind, here are 10 reasons, with some help from Opta, you should be feeling tense ahead of the weekend.

1. Spurs on the verge of history

After a flying start to the season, Manchester City have left the door ajar at the top of the Premier League table for teams including Tottenham to have a taste of top spot.

And Mauricio Pochettino's side will have an early chance to go first when they face Bournemouth in Saturday's lunchtime kick-off. Moreover, a win or draw will mean it would be only the fourth time in Spurs' history that they would go nine top-flight games unbeaten at the start of a season.

Things not quite so tense for Eddie Howe and Bournemouth who have found a rich vein of form, winning three of their last five games including their thrashing of Hull. An intriguing game awaits.

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Mauricio Pochettino is not blaming his players after they missed the chance to go top of the Premier League

2. Drawing, drawing Arsenal

Well, against Middlesbrough at least - they've been held to four draws in their last six Premier League games against the north-east side. While such drawn-out history shouldn't play any part in Saturday's match, fresher memories of a struggle against Swansea may well linger as a strong start quickly turned to a tense and nervous finish.

This is an important spell for Arsene Wenger's side, who have put themselves in a good position following that opening day disaster. November - Tottenham and Man Utd ahoy! - will represent a true test of whether this Arsenal side is any different from those of the last few years, but dispatching Aitor Karanka's men with a Ludogorets-esque flourish will keep the momentum going.

Middlesbrough fans, too, have reason to feel tense for the opposite reasons. One win in eight and a place in the bottom three threatening. Fortunes need to change quickly.

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Head coach Aitor Karanka insists he has been through tougher spells than Middlesbrough's current run

3. Burnley's barren spell gives cause for concern

Sean Dyche's side are on the hunt for goals. Only Sunderland have scored as few (six) as them in the first eight games of this season. Indeed, if you stretch back to the last 20 Premier League games for Burnley, they've only scored nine.

Not the best time, then, to come up against at Everton side looking strong in defence. Maarten Stekelenburg saved not one but two penalties against Man City last weekend, and those in front of him were in good nick too.

Good reason to feel a little edgy, then for Burnley fans. Perhaps a goal rush is on the way?

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Burnley's Jeff Hendrick celebrates scoring their first goal Reuters / Scott Heppell

4. Back to the league for Leicester

Europe's going well - very well, in fact, for Leicester who have more points in the Champions League than they do in the Premier League.

But league football is back on the agenda on Saturday when Crystal Palace pay a visit and while European pursuits have been enjoyable, the champions stuttering domestic form is becoming quite concerning.

Claudio Ranieri's champions are only two points off the bottom three. A win could kick-start a league revival, while defeat could leave the Foxes looking further down the table. Tense indeed.

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Leicester's Riyad Mahrez scored his third Champions League goal of the season in their 1-0 win over Copenhagen

5. Bradley bounce must arrive soon

There were reasons for Swansea to feel very upbeat after their narrow defeat at Arsenal last weekend. Six shots on target was the most they had registered in a single game since the opening day, and they gave Arsenal a huge scare. Modou Barrow was also impressive.

But four defeats in a row and four points from eight games make this an important junction in Swansea's season. Bradley has admitted his side are facing a relegation battle. In-form Watford are the visitors to the Liberty Stadium - time is of the essence for Bradley and co to turn the ship around.

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Swansea manager Bob Bradley accepts his new club is in a relegation battle.

6. Black Cats woe or the ordinary Moyes?

Are Sunderland destined for relegation under David Moyes, or can he haul the club away from the widening trap door? Two points from eight games, rock bottom, no wins... any hope?

Surely if there is any sign of life (even in the context of several miraculous survival attempts in recent years) they'll need to show it against West Ham.

Pressure on Slaven Bilic eased somewhat last week with a win at Crystal Palace, but there are still problems at the London Stadium. Defeat for Sunderland and it's looking increasingly bleak for the club and Moyes' future. A win offers newfound hope. It's quite a critical point.

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David Moyes is confident he is big enough to handle the challenge of turning Sunderland around

7. Can Liverpool click back into gear?

Trying to break down a Jose Mourinho Manchester United side, and struggling bar a couple of super David de Gea saves, could have been the perfect preparation for Liverpool's match against West Brom. Tony Pulis has the measure of the Reds - incredibly, he's unbeaten in his last eight Premier League games against them.

Can Jurgen Klopp's side blow the Baggies away, or will it be another tense and frustrating evening at Anfield?

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Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge

 8. City will need to be en Guard against Southampton

Man City started the season in ominously superb form, looking very much like title contenders under new boss Pep Guardiola. However, a midweek thrashing at the hands of Barcelona (who, to be fair, would do that to most teams in Europe on current form) and two games without a win in the Premier League have halted the club's speedy progress.

Guardiola hasn't gone three league games without a win since 2014/15 as Bayern boss (they'd already won the league at this point), so will be looking to get back on track in this one.

And while the Saints might struggle to recover properly following their Europa League adventures there is one stat of warning: they've picked up two more points in 2016 (51) than City (49) in 2016. Oof.

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Charlie Austin scored twice against Burnley

9. Phelan the pressure

It had all started so well and yet it feels like such a long time ago. An opening day win against Leicester, victory over Swansea, that top of the table feeling.

Fast forward to the present and things are a lot more tense. Four defeats on the spin and a hammering at Bournemouth last week leave Mike Phelan's side with an important clash against Stoke on Saturday. Onwards and upwards.

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Michael Dawson is poised for his first appearance of the season

10. Mourinho back at Chelsea - but the record's not too strong

Plenty of pressure on both managers as Jose Mourinho returns to Chelsea for the first time since his sacking last year. There are reasons for Mourinho to feel tense, too, not only with his side's current form but also the fact that Chelsea have lost none of their last seven Premier League games against Man Utd.

But if one man can unpick the lock, it's Mourinho. The master tactician was at it again against Liverpool - and he'll be sure to have a plan or two for this game on Sunday.

Success for United at Stamford Bridge would leave Antonio Conte feeling a little twitchy. Either way, it'll be one you can't take your eyes off of.

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Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea is the weekend's major talking point in the Premier League

Telegraph.co.uk

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