Watford v Liverpool
The visitors boast an impressive track record when returning to domestic commitments after an international break. They last lost in September 2017 and on the three most recent occasions they have resumed Premier League action with 3-0 wins.
If this trait continues, Watford can expect to come under some heavy bombardment at Vicarage Road this Saturday with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds having already racked up 147 shots this term. That’s twenty more than Manchester City. That’s 74 more than the Hornets who have managed the fewest in the top-flight in 2021/22.
Such a propensity to pepper opponents with attempts on goal has resulted in Mane, Jota, Firmino and Salah scoring the same amount as a fearsome foursome as either Manchester club while the latter’s prolificacy evokes his deadliest seasons on Merseyside. Across all competitions, the Egyptian has only failed to find the net once in nine games.
We really wanted to win this one but we’re still in the game. We’re going for the title and we have what it takes. pic.twitter.com/JDnr2YMwHE
— Mohamed Salah (@MoSalah) October 4, 2021
As for their defence, recent high-scoring affairs against Brentford and Manchester City has prompted suggestions they can once again be ‘got at’ and this despite Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip returning to the fray. Yet four clean sheets in their opening seven fixtures is double that was achieved at the same stage in 2019/20 when Liverpool romped to their first ever Premier League crown.
All these figures, when aligned, signify that Liverpool have bounced back from their under-whelming defence of that title last season and go a long way to explaining why they are short 3/10 favourites to triumph here. But some caution should still be applied when backing an away win with the number of goals contained within a sensible punt instead. For two or three goals to be scored in this match is currently 11/10 and given that eight of Liverpool and Watford’s combined 14 games so far have ended thusly, that offers up an edge.
The reason for such wariness is because Watford have once again lived up to type and rolled the managerial dice, incredibly discarding their thirteenth coach since the Pozzo family took control of the club back in 2012. That means, excluding caretaker spells and summers of inactivity, Gianfranco Zola, Nigel Pearson and company have had an average of 22 weeks apiece to satisfy the owner’s stringent demands, an impossible feat when just a couple of bad results can lead to a dismissal.
The latest manager to receive his P45 is Xisco, who by any reasonable metric has done a commendable job in Hertfordshire, but at least his replacement, Claudio Ranieri, long in the tooth and as pragmatic as they come, will be fully aware that his time will be limited.
Ranieri’s arrival, prior to this lunchtime kick-off, throws some unpredictability into the mix in the form of the often-referenced, usually over-rated ‘new manager bounce’. In Watford’s case, however, the phenomenon is real and warrants consideration. Astonishingly, only one of those thirteen coaches tasted defeat in their inaugural game.
Leicester City v Manchester United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure at Old Trafford is approaching its fourth year and during that time a distinct pattern has emerged, that damns the Norwegian as much as it elevates his coaching credentials.
A record unbeaten streak on their travels has now stretched to 29 league games and just shy of 21 months and within that number there’s been ample examples of fortitude and acumen.
At home however, over such a sustained period that it cannot be dismissed as a temporary trait, United blow hot or cold: either routinely dispensing with opponents, often while looking imperious, or under-performing woefully against inferior fare.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 11, 2021
A good degree of circumspection therefore is necessary when weighing up their chances ahead of a tricky trip to the King Power because on the face of it, two consecutive disappointments when hosting Aston Villa and Everton suggests all is not right with the Red Devils. In both games combined they accrued 41 shots and with just a single goal to show for it that unquestionably illustrates they are wasteful at present. The manner in which they conceded to the Toffees meanwhile once again highlighted their back-line’s propensity to switch off.
Yet we’ve been here before with United, several times in fact. Just as the doubts build and the doubters raise their voices, along comes a stirring away win, complete with fortitude and acumen.
Basing a solid opinion of this forthcoming clash on such evidence however will not suffice regardless of how empirical it is. Instead, far more substance can be found in Leicester’s struggles of late, that can largely be attributed to two factors, namely the psychological impact of twice narrowly missing out on Champions League football, and an injury blight that has deprived them of three-quarters of their defence for much of this term. For this key game the Foxes are also without Wilfred Ndidi and the midfielder is a significant loss for Brendan Rodgers. Leicester have lost 52% of the games the Nigerian has missed since moving to the club in 2016.
Manchester United are 1/1 to gain all three points in the East Midlands.
Brentford v Chelsea
Brentford’s mandate to attack the great and the good, ferociously and without any shred of an inferiority complex, has already produced two exhilarating spectacles at the Community Stadium as first Arsenal were dismantled without mercy before Liverpool were given the shock of their lives.
That the Bees enjoyed only a third of the possession in both of these games illustrates just how shrewdly Thomas Frank’s men economize their assaults, nullifying pressure elsewhere in well-organised fashion.
And we can expect the same again this weekend as Chelsea travel the eight miles or so across the capital only this time it instinctively feels like Thomas Tuchel’s European champions will be less inclined to fall victim to such onslaughts, proving many times over they are happy to roll up their sleeves and battle with the best of them when required. For all of Tuchel’s tactical ingenuity he is also in possession of a side whose resilience is unrivaled at the top.
Just gonna leave this here. 😎 pic.twitter.com/YKme5Wvq6e
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) October 6, 2021
What particularly fascinates about the Blues right now is their increased goals-per-game ratio, a benefit that was widely anticipated when Romelu Lulaku joined at great expense to give them a cutting edge up front. The Belgian has certainly played his part in this with three goals in six appearances, but his influence is clearly rubbing off on team-mates too. Last term, Chelsea only scored more than two goals once in 30 games under Tuchel. This time out, they have done so four times already.
What additionally intrigues is how often defenders are getting on the score-sheet. With seven of Chelsea’s 15 league goals emanating from their rearguard it legitimizes a punt on an anytime goal-scorer who might otherwise be overlooked.
Antonio Rudiger at 11/1 represents good value given that set-pieces may play a pivotal role in deciding this all-London contest.
Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur
Steve Bruce’s days at St James Park are unquestionably numbered but he will still be in charge during Newcastle’s hosting of Spurs this Sunday.
To a large extent however, it really doesn’t matter that the ill-omened coach gets to preside over his 1000th game because the tactics deployed will be assistant Graeme Jones’ anyway while frankly, there is hardly an abundance of talent, lying forgotten within the Newcastle squad to bring back into contention. We know therefore how they will set up and we know the team, and it will be the same eleven that has so far failed to win a Premier League match in seven attempts.
BREAKING: #Newcastle have confirmed that Steve Bruce will remain in charge for his 1,000th game in management this Sunday against Tottenham.
— Metro Radio News (@MetroRadioNews) October 15, 2021
What will be different in the north-east at the weekend — and quite substantially so — is the atmosphere, with the club completely reinvigorated following their takeover this week by a consortium backed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. It is a development that instantly makes the Magpies the wealthiest club in the world and, as we have previously witnessed with Manchester City, unlimited resources typically bring riches beyond all monetary value.
For now though, it is Jamal Lewis, and Sean Longstaff, and Miguel Almiron, and how these players respond to the injection of noise in the stadium will go a long way to deciding the outcome of this fixture, as too their need to impress new employers.
As for Spurs, in recent seasons they would have relished the role of party pooper, but presently their own problems are pressing enough with Harry Kane still to score and scant creativity around him to facilitate that. A tense win over Aston Villa may have calmed talk of crisis under Nuno Espirito Santo but a third defeat in four would resume that conversation quickly.
In the short space of a quite extraordinary few days long-suffering Newcastle have seen their fortunes transformed. But it will be a while yet before the same is true of the team. The visitors meanwhile will be looking to merely save face.
A draw at 13/5 is the best bet, eventful no doubt as this engrossing game will be.