Premier League preview: What will and won't happen this weekend
West Ham vs Tottenham (Saturday, 12.30pm)
The big talking point: West Ham’s biggest game of the season. Not a joke, not a jibe, just the truth: in spite of last season’s dreadful underperformance, beating Spurs 1-0 at home was enough to save Slaven Bilic’s job.
What will happen: It’s not that West Ham’s players try harder in this game than any other, but they do seem much more focused - it’s a cliche, but their supporters cheerfully hold this fixture up as a cup final and the players have traditionally reacted to that. Whether that’s healthy or not is a question for another time.
What won’t happen: Don’t expect a repeat of Spurs’ by-the-numbers impotence from last weekend. Mauricio Pochettino has a periodic tactical botch in his locker, and every now and again surrenders points through over-rotation - but he typically responds very well to defeats. The emphasis on the training ground this weekend, before and after the League Cup win over Barnsley, will have been speed, technique and combination play around the penalty box. Tottenham won’t be turning the sky black with crosses again in a hurry.
Burnley vs Huddersfield (Saturday, 3pm)
The big talking point: No “big” talking points, but this is another potentially intriguing examination of Huddersfield’s survival credentials. Given their own history and financial past, Burnley are a natural role model.
What will happen: Huddersfield will face a trap game. Turf Moor is very much a Premier League stadium and it houses a highly competent side, but Championship teams don’t dream of this sort of fixture when they chase promotion. There will be no live cameras, no natural adrenalin, and no big-game glint; that may sound like a set of incidental factors, but combined they’re quite the obstacle. Either Huddersfield overcome it, or they will likely lose.
What won’t happen: The caveat, though, is that nothing we’ve seen from David Wagner and his team to date suggests that they’re really susceptible to these little intangibles. They were dreadful at West Ham, admittedly, but their Premier League games so far have been characterised by (what seems like) immaculate preparation and, generally, good execution under all circumstances.
Leicester vs Liverpool (Saturday, 3pm)
The big talking point: Not the Carabao Cup game between the two sides, but Jurgen Klopp’s reaction to it: he seems much grumpier than usual at the moment. There’s just a suggestion, after the humiliation at the Etihad and the misfire at Anfield, that his patience is starting to run thin with a few players.
What will happen: A style problem. Every week, the same point is made about Leicester’s style - as it has since before their title win - but with good reason: their propensity to move quickly and vertically upfield makes them problematic for any opponent not entirely comfortable in their own structure. And that, to a tee, is Liverpool: they possess a mesmerising attacking thrust, but remain perilously imbalanced. Leicester's raking Danny Drinkwater passes have been packed up and sold to Chelsea, but they retain the weaponry to further spoil Klopp’s September.
What won’t happen: Obviously there will be no Adam Lallana in the Liverpool lineup, nor will there be for some time, and that’s one of the underappreciated issues for them. Lallana is generally presented solely as a creative player, whereas he’s also a critical part of his side’s pressing game too. Suggesting him to be a solution to their defensive issues is clearly nonsense, just as “signing a better centre-half” wasn’t a magic bullet either, but his structural worth has never been more apparent than it is right now.
Manchester City vs Crystal Palace (Saturday, 3pm)
The big talking point: City’s range of gears. Christ, they look terrifying.
What will happen: No, there’s not going to be a first win for Roy Hodgson here. Pep Guardiola’s players have caught some breaks this season - at Bournemouth in particular - but they finally look like the team he was hired to build. Intimidatingly, their chemistry also appears to be growing by the week and the chances of Palace being able to throw a net over all of Guardiola’s attacking pieces seems remote.
What won’t happen: There will be no Wilfried Zaha. Not yet. He reportedly began training outside last week, but isn’t expected back in action until the other side of the international break.
Southampton vs Manchester United (Saturday, 3pm)
The big talking point: Unfortunately, the real talking point concerns Romelu Lukaku and certain songs being sung in his direction. Football wise, though, it’s United’s start to the season. They don’t quite possess their city neighbour’s dexterity or rhythm in attacking areas, but they look mightily impressive all the same.
What will happen: Virgil van Dijk should start. Interesting: he did a lot of talking over the summer, was very bold about what he believes his status in the game to be and now, against Lukaku, Martial, Rashford and pals, will have to back it up. Much of Southampton’s defensive strength comes from Oriol Romeu’s shielding work and Mario Lemina alongside him; so Van Dijk is hardly an army of one, but he will be a natural focus.
What won’t happen: Any change to Southampton’s forward line. Other than the victory (and a rare goal from open play), the real discussion point from Selhurst Park was Manolo Gabbiadini’s benching in favour of Shane Long. Expect the same here: Long is an inferior player but probably a broader outlet, is certainly a bigger issue for defenders in the channels, and will deal far better with the likely isolation.