The international hiatus is like an abrupt ad break right bang in the middle of a gripping movie. It’s irritating and can’t run its course fast enough. Thank goodness EPL football returns this week with a raft of mouth-watering Premier League fixtures on the menu, including renewal of an old and sanguinary rivalry.
As normal business is resumed, to what extent will team selections and performances reflect the ravages of the international break?
Can Tottenham make their move?
There were question marks about the manner of Tottenham’s capitulation in the title race last season. Many wondered how they would react this term and whether the implosion had left the players psychologically scarred. With Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool expected to improve after below-par campaigns, the fear was that Spurs had spurned their best chance of winning the title.
Fast forward and seven matches into the new season Spurs remain the only unbeaten side in the league, one point adrift and snapping at the heels of the leaders. The win over Manchester City heading into the break sent a strong message to rivals and underlined Spurs’ title credentials. Publicly, they will shun all talk of winning the title. Privately, they will allow themselves to dream. There is a growing feeling that Mauricio Pochettino’s men are on the cusp of achieving something special. Last season’s near-miss will stand them in good stead for another assault on the title.
Yet the trip to West Brom represents a potential banana skin. The aesthetics of their football aside, the Baggies have made a decent start to the campaign. Salomon Rondon has been at the centre of everything that has been good about them. And in Nacer Chadli the Venezuelan seems to have found the perfect foil. Chadli will be up for this one, determined to put one over his former club. We expect Tony Pulis will send his men out with a containment plan. We also fancy the visitors’ class and quality to prevail.
Can City rediscover their mojo?
After surrendering their unbeaten record last time out Manchester City must start all over again on Saturday. The chastening 2-0 defeat at Tottenham stripped off the early-season veneer of invincibility. A return to winning ways at the first time of asking is not guaranteed either, not if Everton can help it.
The down side of being a top club boasting the crème de la crème of the game’s talent is that the bulk of your first-team squad are also regulars for their countries. That is true about City and other elite clubs. Pep Guardiola will be cursing the international break. With his players scattered around the globe representing their countries, it hasn’t been the ideal preparation for a match City are desperate to win. Ronald Koeman will have experienced similar frustrations, so it’s ‘even stevens’ going into this one.
The deposed and the reigning champions
The last time Chelsea and Leicester City met in the league was on the final day of last season, by which time the Foxes had already been crowned champions. The deposed champions and the usurpers played to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, site of Saturday’s battle.
The Blues have already beaten Leicester this season, albeit in the League Cup. Antonio Conte’s men will be hoping for more of the same, otherwise the win at Hull City heading into the international break would be in vain. It has been an indifferent start to the campaign for both sides. Chelsea’s problems at the back, typified by Gary Cahill’s costly aberrations, have been plain for all to see. It is an area the visitors will look to exploit, especially with the pace of Jamie Vardy.
The basement six-pointer
When Stoke and Sunderland meet at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday beleaguered managers Mark Hughes and David Moyes will take a moment to swap notes about their respective troubles this season. It has been a wretched start to the campaign for the bottom two sides, making this fixture an early season six-pointer. It is a match neither side will want to lose, yet a draw will do very little for their respective causes.
The Potters go into the clash buoyed by their 1-1 draw at Manchester United last time out. The result was a moral victory and a much-needed morale booster. Hughes’ men will look at this fixture as the best opportunity to register their first win of the campaign.
The biggest rivalry in English football
Liverpool and Manchester United bring down the curtain on Week 8 at Anfield on Monday. When season fixtures are released, this is the one fans of both clubs look out for first. It is one of the biggest rivalries in world football and arguably the biggest in English football.
This is a meeting of two teams in transition although Liverpool look the more settled. For the first time in recent years the Reds have the look of genuine title contenders. It will be interesting to see how United cope with the hosts’ much-vaunted high pressing game. The Reds are the league’s joint-top scorers, but the visitors will be encouraged by the fact that Jurgen Klopp’s men also concede regularly at the other end.