Sunday 26 January 2020

10 reasons to feel confused about the weekend’s Premier League football

Charlie Eccleshare

We’re only a couple of weeks into the season, and already the Premier League is full of contradictions. Charlie Eccleshare is a little bit confused, and he explains why in this preview of the weekend’s matches.

1. Man City v West Ham

Joe Hart gets pilloried by the British press for his dismal Euro 2016 performances. Pep Guardiola gets pilloried by the British press for dropping Joe Hart.

The Hart Manchester City narrative is a little bemusing. The goalkeeper was roundly criticised for his displays at Euro 2016, with many experts suggesting he should be dropped for Fraser Forster, and almost everyone agreeing that Jack Butland should get his England chance when he returns from injury. And yet there has been an absolute outcry at Guardiola turning up and thinking Hart is not good enough and replacing him with Claudio Bravo. Yes it's obviously tough on Hart to be cast aside in this way, but that's football. What's Guardiola meant to do? Sit back and plough on with a keeper he doesn't think is good enough? He's paid a small fortune to make these sorts of difficult decisions and that's what he's done.

On Sunday, City welcome West Ham to the Etihad looking to maintain their 100% start to the season. And if they keep winning, Hart will sadly be quickly forgotten.

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart could try and force a move to Liverpool through

2. Tottenham v Liverpool.

This could be a great season for thrilling Liverpool. No wait, they’re terrible.

Liverpool are an odd one. For a half against Arsenal they were poor, then for a half (or at least 20 minutes) they were really good. Then against Burnley they had 81% possession but contrived to lose 2-0 to Burnley. Last season it was a similar story, with exciting cup runs juxtaposed with pretty iffy league form.

So, would the real Liverpool please stand up? Because it's really quite difficult to know if they're any good or not.

Saturday's trip to White Hart Lane should offer some clues against a Tottenham side, who have made a solid if unspectacular start to the season.

Klopp shows displeasure from the sidelines. Photo: Getty

3. Chelsea v Burnley

Sean Dyche is a tactical dinosaur. Or is he a tactical genius?

With his gruff voice, no-nonsense manner and preference for 4-4-2, Sean Dyche is easy to dismiss as an old-fashioned English manager.

That impression was heightened earlier this month when he claimed foreign managers were given an easier ride than their English counterparts.

But then last week Dyche's Burnley beat Liverpool 2-0 despite only having 19% possession, so maybe he is a genius not a dinosaur after all.

On Saturday 'the ginger Mourinho' locks horns with another foreign manager - Antonio Conte of Chelsea, and how he'd love to upset another of the Premier League's big boys. 

Sean Dyche, pictured, admits Antonio Conte has an embarrassment of riches at Chelsea

4. Watford v Arsenal

Why do Arsenal fans continue to go to games when it upsets them so much?

Arsenal fans are serial masochists. They seem to hate watching their team play and yet travel the length and breadth of the country doing so. On Saturday the Gunners make the short trip to Watford, where anything less than a win will surely force some of the supporters to spontaneously combust. 


5. Hull v Manchester United

Hull could not have had a more chaotic summer, and have Mike Phelan in charge. Yet they’re joint top.

Hull's pre-season was nothing short of disastrous. Steve Bruce walked out on the club due to a lack of signings, Mike Phelan took temporary charge, and an injury crisis meant Hull only had nine fit outfield players a couple of weeks before the season started.

And yet somehow they have started the season superbly, beating Leicester and Swansea to sit pretty at joint-top of the table.

One of the teams they're joint with is Manchester United, who travel to the KCOM Stadium on Saturday evening. Jose Mourinho's side have looked ominously good, and they could inflict a nasty reality check on the high-flying Tigers.

Phelan: “I feel great, really good, and proud of those players on the football field.” Photo: Simon Galloway/PA Wire.

6. Leicester v Swansea

Leicester are the champions, but Arsenal viewed an away point against them as a complete disaster.

It's tough to know what to make of Leicester this season. They are the Premier League champions, and yet most people still think deep down that they will probably finish around mid-table. It's partly for that reason that Arsenal supporters were so irate last weekend at drawing 0-0 at the King Power Stadium, which on the face of it was a valuable point away at the champions.

Next up for Leicester is Swansea, who were beaten at home by Hull last time out. So this should be an easy win for Claudio Ranieri's side. But then, hold on, Leicester themselves were beaten by Hull on the opening day of the season.

It's hard work making sense of this Premier League thing.

Leicester City's Ahmed Musa reacts after a penalty is not awarded. Photo: Reuters

7. Crystal Palace v Bournemouth

Alan Pardew was meant to be the next England manager. Now he’s the favourite to be the next manager sacked.

How quickly things in change in football. In December last year, Palace were fifth, and Pardew was being touted as the next England manager. Now he looks set to lose his job after a dreadful run that has seen his team win just two league games in 2016. On Saturday 'Pardiola' comes face to face with another England hopeful Eddie Howe, who ridiculously could also be under pressure soon if his Bournemouth team don't start picking up points.

Alan Pardew still has transfer targets in his sights

8. Everton v Stoke

Stoke are brutal but effective. No, Stoke are neat and tidy but ineffective. What exactly are Stoke?

Over the past couple of years, Stoke have suffered a bit of an identity crisis. Mark Hughes has overseen the team's evolution into a more aesthetically pleasing, less physical side, and for spells last season it worked brilliantly. In fact the apogee was arguably a 4-3 win at Goodison Park, where Stoke travel to on Saturday. The problem now is that Stoke seem to be less of an intimidating outfit, and their results have been decidedly mixed over the last year or so (they finished 9th last year and are currently 17th). Everton too have struggled to match attractive football with good results, so we should probably expect a draw on the weekend.

Mark Hughes' Stoke won 4-3 at Everton last season

9. Southampton v Sunderland

Sunderland look doomed again, but David Moyes seemed like such a good appointment.

It appears that no matter who Sunderland appoint, they will start the season terribly and be involved in a relegation battle. This time around it's Moyes who's been given the poisoned chalice, and sure enough the Black Cats have begun the season with two defeats (not since 2010 have Sunderland won a match in August). They have a chance to end that hoodoo on Saturday at St Mary's against Southampton, who themselves have started the season slowly with a draw and a defeat.

Middlesbrough's Christian Stuani (right) thunders in Middlesbrough's opener.

10. West Brom v Middlesbrough

Alvaro Negredo's pretty good isn't he?

Alvaro Negredo looks to be an excellent signing for Middlesbrough, but there are few strikers who blow as hot and cold as the 31-year-old. During his spell at Manchester City, the Spaniard scored 26 goals in his first 36 appearances, and then none in his last 16. He made a good start to life on Teeside with a goal against Stoke on the opening day, and his finishing could decide whether Boro stay in the Premier League. He'll get another chance to improve his tally away at West Brom on Sunday.

Alvaro Negredo of Middlesbrough and Joe Allen of Stoke City

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