Tuesday 21 November 2017

10 reasons to feel pumped about this weekend's Premier League matches

It could be a big weekend for Rashford, Aguero, Fabregas and Firmino
It could be a big weekend for Rashford, Aguero, Fabregas and Firmino

Vicki Hodges

It looks set to be another compelling weekend in the Premier League. Here are 10 things to look out for.

1. Forget a role from the bench, Marcus Rashford has to start

Seven goals in 290 minutes of play this season. That is the only stat that should convince Jose Mourinho 19-year-old Marcus Rashford has to start against Leicester in Saturday's lunchtime kick-off.

There are more stats his belligerent manager would do best to take note of right now.

How about the fact this teenager has been involved in more goals in all competitions than any other United player since his debut back in late February with 11 strikes and three assists?

How about the fact he is buzzing right now off the back of scoring his sixth, yes SIXTH, debut goal (Premier League,  Europa League, Manchester derby, England senior, England U21 and now League Cup) on Wednesday night at Northampton in the EFL Cup third round?

While Rashford has proved a solid impact player from the bench this season this has to be the time Mourinho throws the youngster in from the get go. As Mourinho dilly-dallies over Rooney's best position - he now hasn't performed as a No 10, nor a No 6 or in the role which always suited him best the No 9 role - Rashford has already showed he has footballing maturity beyond his years and deserves his run in the team.

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford

2. A walk down memory lane for Fabregas

The ill-feeling in the Stamford Bridge stands towards Cesc Fabregas and the so-called part some fans thought he had in Mourinho's departure may have passed but Arsenal supporters' antipathy towards their former midfielder lives on.

The Spaniard is in contention for a starting berth in Antonio Conte's side after his two-goal heroics ensured Chelsea's path into the fourth round of the EFL Cup and he's itching to line up against his former club again in the late game on Saturday.

“Arsenal is a special fixture because I’ve lived moments there that I’ve never lived in my career. It’s a very special place for me and that’s it. No matter what I hear or what they say to me, Arsenal will always be a fantastic, special club in my heart. They gave me absolutely everything and I will repeat it until I die, no matter what they will always be in my heart.”

Fabregas' last outing at the Emirates in Chelsea's 1-0 win back in January which put a dent in Arsenal's title charge saw the Spaniard tapping his Chelsea badge in glee and beating his chest in triumph. Not that Gunners fans will need reminding of that little moment, though.

Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas (left) celebrates scoring his side's fourth goal

3. Everton have nothing to fear going forward

OK, take that midweek defeat to Norwich in the EFL Cup aside and Everton have produced the best possible start to the season with Ronald Koeman settling in nicely into Roberto Martinez's Goodison Park hotseat.

Everton sit two points off leaders Manchester City - a side they will go up against next month. But other than their trip to the Etihad on October 15, Koeman's men have two winnable fixtures either side of facing Pep Guardiola's flawless and free-flowing City.

They start with a trip to Bournemouth tomorrow before entertaining Crystal Palace next weekend. It means by the time the next round of international fixtures kick-in, Everton will not be relinquishing second berth in the table just yet. To be honest, they could still be on City's coattails by early November with a trip to Burnley to follow their likely top-of-the-table Etihad clash with the defensively-lapse West Ham to come around Halloween. 

All in all it could present Everton with the very realistic outcome of obtaining 12 from 15 points to potentially see the Blues collect a handy 25 points from their first 10 league matches. Watch this space.

Ronald Koeman

4. Another statement of intent from Liverpool’s great entertainers?

You have to go back to mid-February for Liverpool's last goalless draw in a Europa League clash with FC Augsburg. In fact Jurgen Klopp has only ever resided over one 0-0 in his Premier League experience in his first ever match in charge against Totttenham last October.

Liverpool have been knocking goals past opposition with ease this campaign, sharing the responsibilities among Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Sadio Mane among others and they'll fancy their chances of adding to that goal glut at home to Hull on Saturday.

Seven games into the season, Liverpool have bagged 19 goals - it's two better than arguably the club's most potent attack back in 1987/88 when John Aldridge and Peter Beardsley led the line - but they'll have to go some to keep up with that legendary side. Klopp's men must score 12 in the next four games to keep ahead of Kenny Dalglish's champions which looks doable on paper with Swansea and West Brom to come. Er, but there is just the small matter of the visit of arch rivals Manchester United between those two fixtures.

Jurgen Klopp has really missed Sadio Mane over the past month

5. Janssen can fill the Kane void

Ignore all that doom and gloom surrounding how Tottenham will struggle without talisman Harry Kane.

As disappointed as Spurs fans will have been to see Kane withdrawn on a stretcher last weekend, they will be intrigued to see how Pochettino — and his squad — cope without Tottenham's star man when they go up against Middlesborough.

Pochettino has challenged new £17m summer signing Vincent Janssen to step up and fill Kane's shoes, and the Dutch international has already got himself up and running - albeit against League One side Gillingham in the EFL Cup -  but it's a start.

Yes Janssen missed a few opportunities in the first half in the Cup and ultimately needed a penalty to hit his first goal in Tottenham colours, but now he has broken his duck it could set him free from the shackles.

Janssen is not the only option. Pochettino may elect to move Heung-Min Son into a central role, to capitalise on his goal-scoring form, while the talented 19-year old Academy graduate Shayon Harrison has been training with the first-team in recent weeks.

Harry Kane was stretchered off after scoring the winner for Tottenham against Sunderland

6. Hughes should take a chance on Sobhi

Imagine you're Mark Hughes. The chips are down. You're bottom of the table with just one point to your name, you've shipped 10 goals in your last three games and you need to turn things around and fast before Peter Coates gives you that tap on the shoulder.

Well how about blooding a young and raw winger to get the disgruntled locals back on side? Ramadan Sobhi arrived in the summer for £5m from Al Ahly but has been eased into life in the Potteries.

Dubbed the ‘Egyptian Neymar’ by a smattering of die-hard Stoke fans, the 19-year-old's pace and energy could be just what Hughes' side needs right now.

Sobhi couldn't stop Stoke suffering a late defeat to Hull in the cup in midweek but deserves a run out against West Brom this weekend.

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes is under pressure at Stoke with his side bottom of the Premier League

7. Aguero's back, how City have missed him

Take Yaya Toure's outspoken agent out of the equation and life at the Etihad has been one glorious honeymoon for Pep Guardiola. The only matter troubling the former Barca coach is whether to stick Sergio Aguero - you know him of nine goals from five games this season - back into the line-up or stand by Kelechi Iheanacho - he of 10 Premier League goals from just 14 shots on target. Problems, problems.

While Aguero has been sitting out the last three matches through suspension, Iheanacho's stock has been rising with the 19 year-old Nigerian picking up three goals and three assists already this season.

It's not a bad headache for Pep given he's going up against a 'dead man walking' in Swansea manager  Francesco Guidolin this weekend. Now that's a real problem.

Sergio Aguero is poised to sign a contract extension at Manchester City

8. Deeney is going for his ton up

He's already been mentioned as a possible replacement for England with Harry Kane sidelined - well in Ian Wright's eyes at least. Wright says that every time he watches him play for Watford he is at "at least a seven-out-of-ten player; often an eight" (high praise indeed). Yet England call-ups are likely to be far from Deeney's mind at the moment with the 28-year-old needing two more club goals to reach the century mark in all competitions for Watford.

Only Luther Blissett, Tommy Barnett, Ross Jenkins and Cliff Holton have previously scored 100 goals for the club and Deeney could reach the milestone at the glamorous location of Turf Moor on Monday night in front of Sky Sports' Monday Night Football crowd.

Troy Deeney, right, and Camilo Zuniga helped their Watford side see of Manchester United

9. McNair can solve Sunderland's scoring problems

Remember those Premier League days gone by when defenders turned strikers were all the rage? You know who I mean, the Paul Warhurst's, the Chris Sutton's and Dion Dublin's - the list used to be endless.

Well David Moyes looks to be turning back the clock and hoping that Paddy McNair can be the man to end his side's goalscoring problems.

It was thought McNair was bought as a defender when he joined from Manchester United in the summer, but Moyes is keen to move him further up the field. OK, he might not be deploying him as a striker any time soon but after his two-goal salvo against QPR in the League Cup in midweek he might be tempted to throw him up top if things are going to plan at home to Palace this weekend.

SOCCER QPR 213.jpg
Sunderland's Patrick van Aanholt (right) celebrates after team-mate Paddy McNair scores his side's second goal of the game. Photo: PA

10. Payet can lift the gloom over West Ham

Poor old Dimitri Payet has been feeling the effects of last season's exertions coupled with his stand-out performances for France at Euro 2016. But his last-gasp goal against Accrington Stanley in midweek could well be the moment that lifts some of the gloom that has enveloped West Ham's new London Stadium home.

Payet's goal saw West Ham halt a run of four straight defeats and came a day after Slaven Bilic celebrated the birth of his fourth child so things are starting to look up for the players and their management on and off the pitch right now.

The 'Super Sunday' clash with Southampton also gives us a chance to see that West Ham fans will be one big happy family again after co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold took steps to stop the in-fighting in the crowd by moving and relocating supporters so like-minded fans can sit together again. Isn't it great what a plan all comes together?

West Ham United's Dimitri Payet applauds fans after the game. Photo: Reuters


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