Liverpool and Watford look to be on the up and last season’s darling, Leicester City, seems to have righted its ship somewhat, perhaps leaving it more in line with non-Cinderella expectations. After a strong start which had Red Devils fans anointing Jose Mourinho as the new Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United has hit panic mode with nightmares of the David Moyes debacle. But of course things are not as bad anywhere as they are with West Ham or Stoke City, neither of which seems to be willing or able to stop anybody on the defensive end.
While Harry Kane goes out on a long injury spell, Sergio Aguero returns from suspension and Roberto Firmino comes back following a knock. Diego Costa seems unable to go a game without scoring, Romelu Lukaku showed that his hat trick at Sunderland was no mirage (albeit with a fairly phantom goal, but goals are goals and points are points after all), Alexis Sanchez has enjoyed a rich vein of form and newcomer Islam Slimani announced himself with a brace in his first game, so as always there is plenty to mull over with respect to the attacking side of things.
Week 6 Fixtures
Manchester United v. Leicester City
Bournemouth v. Everton
Liverpool v. Hull City
Middlesbrough v. Tottenham
Stoke City v. West Brom
Sunderland v. Crystal Palace
Swansea v. Manchester City
Arsenal v. Chelsea
West Ham v. Southampton
Burnley v. Watford
So, who to Pass (avoid) and shoot (pick up)?
Warning Signs for Jose while Claudio Seems to Have Righted the Ship
Following a whirlwind summer, Manchester United hit the ground running with a strong start from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he has cooled off, reviews are mixed on Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba has failed to make an impact and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has barely seen the pitch. As for last season’s mainstay, Chris Smalling failed to lock things down on the defensive end after earning his first start in replacing Daily Blind as Watford exploded for a trio of goals and the Red Devils have been left with more questions than answers, particularly where the line-up is concerned. Should Marouane Fellaini and/or Wayne Rooney continue to start? Will Juan Mata stick around? Can youth be served in the forms of Anthony Martial and/or Marcus Rashford, or will Jose rely more on the grizzled veterans?
Leicester City did get blitzed by Liverpool, but the lightning quick Reds are a much different animal than the more methodical Red Devils. The Old Trafford setting would usually be a boon for the home side, but the fans’ inevitable anxiety could undermine any advantage. In sum, this week does not look particularly promising for Manchester United.
Things Could be Extra Spurs-y (in the Pejorative Sense) without Kane
Middlesbrough held up decently thanks to facing middle- (and lower-) weights Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Sunderland and West Brom in its first four games. Everton changed things with a resounding victory in GW5 and now things would seem to look dire for the Boro with unbeaten Tottenham coming to town. However, there are other signs at play as well.
Last season’s trio of Spurs stars — Harry Kane, Deli Alli and Christian Eriksen — got off to sluggish starts, but at least Kane was rounding into form with a score in each of the past two games. Now they will have to make do without their leader, likely replaced by Vincent Janssen, but the Eredivisie has a poor recent history of high-scoring exports coming up short in their initial Premier League campaign (think Jozy Altidore, Nacer Chadli and Memphis Depay).
Spurs’ defense is not a problem, naturally, having allowed but a pair of goals. But Tottenham’s been wasteful on offense, with only eight scores out of a whopping 95 shots (30 on target); outside of the explosion against hapless Stoke City, Spurs have managed only a goal in each game. With Kane on the shelf, why bet against another low-scoring win or draw?
Another Self-Implosion for Arsene’s Men Against Chelsea?
Arsenal has climbed up to the warm, fuzzy blanket of fourth place with consecutive victories over Hull, Southampton and Watford. Meanwhile, Chelsea has slipped to the fifth spot after a disappointing draw at Swansea and a home loss to Liverpool. You would think that the Gunners should be comfortable or at least semi-cozy favorites at the Etihad.
However, amazingly enough, Arsenal has not beaten Chelsea in the past NINE tries, with six wins for Chelsea and three draws. In its past five games at home against the Blues, Arsenal has scored a grand total of...wait for it...ONE goal. Last season was particularly painful with red cards spoling things on both occasions (two losses by a combined score of 3-0), even in a down year for the Blues. Can Diego Costa continue scoring? Will undisciplined Arsenal disappoint again? Signs points to yes and yes, along with Alexis Sanchez failing to continue his high-flying ways.
Reds > Red Devils
From 2002-03 through 2015-16, Liverpool finished ahead of Manchester United only one time (2013-14). Right now the Reds sit slightly ahead of their fellow rouge-monikered BPL mates in the standings, and the way things are looking, it would not be a surprise to see things finish that way.
Liverpool welcomes Hull City, which started unexpectedly strong, but the Tigers’ rose-colored glasses got smashed courtesy of a four-goal explosion by Arsenal. Meanwhile, the Reds notched a quartet of their own in their last home game (against last season’s champs Leicester City) and come off a gritty victory at Stamford Bridge.
The danger in picking Liverpool players comes in part from their balance; seven players have scored so far but none more than twice individually. The other part comes from their injury history, with Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge each being nothing close to a lock to play 30 games this season. That said, right now the three of them are healthy. Add in Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and James Milner, put them at the Kop against a Championship-promoted side, and you can sit back and enjoy some fireworks. If you have one or two out of the Coutinho/Firmino/Mane trio, you can’t go wrong, can you?
The Foxes are Finally Getting Foxy Again
Leicester City welcomed plenty of newcomers over the summer, but the Foxes have integrated them slowly, with Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy failing to see too much of the field thus far. The most recent incoming transfer, Islam Slimani, announced himself immediately with a powerful brace in the 3-0 victory against Burnley and surely should be the preferred pairing with Jamie Vardy up front over the likes of Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa.
At a cost of a mere 6.67 in Fantrax, you could do a lot worse; meanwhile, at a pricey 8.5 in Official, you can afford to wait and make sure he keeps things going before jumping in. Vardy and Riyad Mahrez should fall off, but the cheaper Slimani is a pretty good bet to pick up the slack as this season’s big Leicester City bargain. As for this week, the trio will surely be licking their predatory chops at facing a suddenly shaky Manchester United.
Can Crystal Palace Be Contained?
In a weekend full of scoring, the most impressive outing may have been that of Crystal Palace in a 4-1 win over Stoke City. Sure, your nerdy little brother could probably score against Stoke City. Even so, with a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough and that big win against the Potters, Andros Townsend finally unleashed himself. (He had already been a points machine in Fantrax, but the man-of-the-match spoils in Official BPL were a welcome addition.) Meanwhile, the impressive explosion came with Christian Benteke being held in check and Yohan Cabaye on the sidelines with injury.
The Eagles now travel to sorry Sunderland. You think Benteke watched tape of big Romelu Lukaku bossing the Black Cats’ back line two game weeks ago? You think Townsend, Jason Puncheon and Wilfried Zaha saw replays of Deli Alli, Son Heung-Min and Erik Lamela weaving through midfield and peppering Jordan Pickford’s goal relentlessly last weekend? Crystal Palace may not be near the level of Everton or Tottenham (or Manchester City, another of Sunderland’s tough opponents thus far), but no matter the competition, Sunderland’s been outshot by a Grand Canyon sized gulf of 93-46 (32-14 on target). Momentum is clearly in Alan Pardew’s favor and against David Moyes’. Sure, we’ve seen things turn around plenty of times with various squads so far this season, but is there any reason to bet against it continuing here?
Which fixtures and players are tickling your fancy this weekend?