Tottenham v Chelsea
This is a marquee match-up that easily evokes memories of high-octane engagements from yesteryear, not to mention the famous names who contributed to them. Unquestionably, it is a meeting that excites neutrals as well as participants.
It is also a meeting that throws up all kinds of intrigue, featuring as it does two ‘top six’ stalwarts at different stages of development under new management. Chelsea are a side utterly revitalized under Thomas Tuchel; a side with genuine title aspirations and already with a Champions League in their trophy cabinet. Spurs, by way of comparison, are a collective in flux; their future uncertain.
Yet for all the fascinating aspects to Sunday’s clash, it is one facet alone that will determine the eventual outcome, a shortcoming on Tottenham’s part that their fan-base feared on Nuno Espirito Santo’s appointment. For right now, they are seemingly incapable of creating sufficient openings to greatly trouble opponents, looking instead conservative and even pedestrian in possession.
It is a lack of imagination and adventure that was perhaps overlooked from three consecutive 1-0 wins but became painfully obvious in South London on Saturday, as Crystal Palace mauled them convincingly. An identikit midfield of Skipp, Winks and Hojbjerg were workmanlike but only that, and this left Harry Kane horribly isolated throughout. For the first time in 248 Premier League appearances, the arch hit-man had precisely no touches of the ball in the opposition penalty area.
0 – For the very first time in his Premier League career, Tottenham's Harry Kane has had neither a shot nor a touch in the opposition's box in a game where he completed the full 90 minutes. Isolated. pic.twitter.com/KiPNybiOI8
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 11, 2021
If this can be considered an error of judgement from Santo regarding his team selection, what exasperated the Spurs faithful was his refusal to change it when Spurs fell behind.
There is then pressure and expectation on the hosts to be enterprising as they seek to end their rival’s unbeaten streak this term but frankly, that is easier said than done against a quite formidable Chelsea back-line. Under Tuchel’s tenure, the Blues have constructed the best defence in the top-flight, conceding six fewer than Manchester City in 2021. The league champions are the only team that even comes close to their parsimony.
The visitors are 15/8 to win to nil, an eventually that feels as predictable as Tottenham’s engine-room.
Liverpool v Crystal Palace
With every passing week it is becoming increasingly clear that Liverpool are, by a sizable measure, back to their ferocious best and from this it’s reasonable to deduce a title challenge is in the reckoning.
From their commanding triumph at Leeds last Sunday all the elements were there to make such a call. In defence, Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk were imperious once again, each determined to shepherd a season of injury and career curtailment out of play.
A second assist of this nascent campaign for Trent Alexander-Arnold meanwhile means only three players have accrued more at his age in the top-flight; a remarkable feat for any player. Those trio, for the record, are Cesc Fabregas, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, so the Liverpool star is in fine company but it’s worth remembering that Alexander-Arnold is a right back by trade.
Most chances created in the Premier League this season:
20 – Trent Alexander-Arnold
13 – Jack Grealish, Mohamed Salah
Mind the gap. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/tTa70x3RXd
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 12, 2021
Perhaps most encouraging of all however, is the ruthless manner in which Jurgen Klopp’s front-line is punishing their opponents at present, with seven goals scored between them so far. Granted, this is a different triumvirate to the one that easily secured the title in 2019/20, with Diogo Jota stepping in these days for Roberto Firmino but even this can be viewed as a significant plus. The Brazilian will act as a useful auxiliary threat as the season progresses.
All told, Liverpool amassed an impressive 30 shots in Yorkshire, and Sadio Mane’s 92nd minute clinical strike took their attempts on goal to a round hundred already this term. Only two other teams in the 21st century have fired off such a high number in their opening four fixtures.
There are of course, some downsides to accompany the resurgence. A long-term lay-off awaits the Reds’ talented midfielder Harvey Elliott, and not only is this a cruel blow for a teenager who was firmly establishing himself as the Premier League’s next-big-thing, but it echoed too the enforced absences that were so costly for Liverpool last year.
Then there’s this Saturday’s adversaries to consider, a match-up that appears on paper to be a home banker until recent results are factored in. Because when Crystal Palace head to Anfield strange occurrences typically take place.
During Klopp’s formative seasons in England, Palace won 2-1 consecutively on Merseyside, the latter upset memorable for being Liverpool’s last loss at home for 68 games. Two years later the Eagles contested a remarkable 4-3 that saw the hosts prevail courtesy of a last-gasp Mane winner.
The scorer that day is pertinent because the Senegalese striker has incredibly found the net in the last eight meetings between these sides. Contrasting this, James Milner has only been sent off twice for Liverpool, both times against Palace.
The visitors will be in buoyant mood as they head north. A rousing win over Tottenham last weekend continues a steady arc of improvement under Patrick Vieira, and though Wilfried Zaha and debutant Odsonne Edouard shared the headlines, yet another stand-out performance by Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher caught the eye.
The last five occasions these sides have met produced an average of 4.6 goals and expect that trend to resume. Over 4.5 goals at 11/4 is a decent punt.
Norwich City v Watford
It instinctively feels far too early to describe any game as a ‘six pointer’ or indeed a relegation scrap, yet the Hornets’ trip to East Anglia already feels weighty and potentially meaningful.
From their combined eight games to date, Norwich and Watford have only rustled up a solitary win — an opening day slaying of Aston Villa by Xisco’s men — and their joint aggregate return to this point is fairly damning: a comprehensive 18 goals conceded to just four converted.
Of the two, it is the hosts this Saturday who most look in peril, with all momentum from an exhilarating 2020/21 that saw them crowned champions of the Championship immediately stalled by thrashings at the hands of Liverpool and Manchester City. If those defeats can be absorbed due to the elite level of the opposition, further losses to Leicester and Arsenal — quality sides for sure but both out of sorts right now — have condemned the Canaries to the foot of the table with muscle memory no doubt kicking in from their miserable last stint in the Premier League.
— Norwich City FC (@NorwichCityFC) September 12, 2021
Yet there is hope for Daniel Farke’s team, and not just because a vast swathe of the season remains. Norwich have put together the same number of key passes as Spurs, table-leaders until last weekend, and there have certainly been enough bright moments from advancing full-backs Brandon Williams and Max Aarons to suggest chances will soon be taken. The isolation of Teemu Pukki up front, however, is a major concern, and this above all else explains their meagre single goal in four games.
As for the visitors, a failure to build from that success against Villa largely emanates from a toothless attack, though it’s a worry also that a back-line that kept 23 clean sheets last season is now being breached so regularly. “We need to continue working hard,” Xisco reflected after their 2-0 downing by Wolves. “We need to know what is our problem.”
As is so often the case when two struggling sides meet, it is highly likely this will be a tense, tight and low-scoring affair with both ultimately content to take a point. The 6/1 available for the 1-1 therefore makes sense.
West Ham United v Manchester United
The Ronaldo Roadshow rolls into the capital this Sunday and the hype and hyperbole surrounding CR7’s involvement is entirely understandable given the tremendous impact he has already made since returning to the Red Devils. The Portuguese superstar’s two goals against Newcastle were seemingly scripted and typified the 36-year-old’s unerring ability to transform routine league fixtures into box-office events.
Yet, beyond the heightened interest for Cristiano Ronaldo’s revisiting of Premier League grounds, there are plenty of other reasons for Manchester United supporters to feel positively bullish currently.
Mason Greenwood has fired three in four and coupled with some excellent all-round performances, the young striker is conclusively proving he can be United’s main source for goals for years to come.
Cristiano Ronaldo wins trophies everywhere he goes 👀 pic.twitter.com/WxXzK1UCiW
— Goal (@goal) September 13, 2021
Bruno Fernandes, meanwhile, has notched every 88 minutes this term, resolutely putting a poor Euro campaign behind him and it greatly matters too that his interchanges with Paul Pogba is finally resulting in a harmonious creative department in midfield. Pogba’s seven assists, it should be noted, is a record for any Premier League player after four games.
Speaking of records, the Reds head down the M1 looking to extend on an unbeaten away streak that goes all the way back to the start of 2020 and lastly, when stepping back from the data and instead assessing United’s qualities, an obvious truth becomes apparent. That an attacking quintet of Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Sancho and Ronaldo possess the multifarious gifts to terrorise any side, regardless of stature.
All of which will be a big concern for David Moyes, though it is a mark of the Hammers’ progress that a 0-0 draw at Southampton last week was viewed so negatively. The stalemate means West Ham remain unbeaten — for only the second time in the Premier League after four fixtures — while their eight points so far exceeds their tally at this stage last season, a successful campaign that ultimately secured them European football.
The absence of Michail Antonio will be sorely felt for this blockbuster clash, the Hammers’ burly forward suspended after a late sending off versus the Saints, but though he has put away 40% of his team’s goals this season, they still have a variety of attacking threats in the form of Benrahma, Fornals and Bowen.
Even so, the visitors should be backed here at a generous 8/11, for all the reasons detailed above, plus the presence up front of a certain legend.