Plenty of Premier League stars were in action last weekend, but it wasn’t for their EPL teams. Instead, they played for their national sides as we all wondered, What the heck is UEFA Nations League? And if it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, is it even a real thing?
I know that you all had your eyes glued to the latest exploits of Andorra, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, Moldova, Oman, and San Marino... While some of you may have watched Spain beat England + Croatia, the Three Lions conquer Switzerland, Belgium better Iceland, and/or France triumph over the Netherlands. Oh by the way, the United States dropped its match to Brazil and then came back to beat Mexico (woo hoo, albeit a more muted one than usual). Well, that’s over and done with, so let’s get back to our beloved Premiership!
This one should be a real cracker, however you look at it. Last season’s 3rd place against 4th, or this season’s 5th hosting 1st. Liverpool started out like gangbusters with a 4-0 win over West Ham followed by a 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace. But things have gotten tighter (but still victorious) recently, the Reds eking out narrow wins against Brighton and at Leicester. Somewhat along the same lines but worse, Spurs got off to a strong start with three wins but faltered at are-they-for-real Watford, letting a second half lead slip away.
Sadio Mane has been the top star so far for Liverpool with four goals, while Mo Salah has been no slouch with two goals and two assists.
Lucas Moura boasts three goals for Tottenham, more than filling in for Son Heung-min who was away earning his military service exemption by leading South Korea to the Asian Games gold. Christian Eriksen has endured a slow start for Spurs, but he is fresh off netting a brace (one a PK) for Denmark in the 2-0 win over Wales.
With an overabundance of talent led by two of the biggest and brightest coaching stars in the league, everybody will surely tune in as the weekend gets off to a grand start!
Bournemouth v. Leicester
Bournemouth (6th place) and Leicester City (8th) have improved on last season’s standings thus far, but neither can boast the out-of-nowhere swagger of undefeated Watford. Both have scored 6 goals and allowed 5, so this screams even match-up! Of course, tie always goes to the home side, right?
Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Joshua King have led the Cherries’ offense. Diego Rico was industrious at wing back in the loss at Chelsea, showing why he was brought in to replace Charlie Daniels.
The Foxes welcome back Jamie Vardy from suspension as Demarai Gray, James Maddison and Rachid Ghezzal will have their burdens eased.
Chelsea v. Cardiff
Jorginho scored a penalty for Italy in the 1-1 draw with Poland, but Eden Hazard notched his own in Belgium’s comfortable win over Iceland and will be expected to be the #1 PK taker should the Blues draw a spot kick against Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge, who has already saved two this season. Olivier Giroud netted the winner in the France’s 2-1 triumph over the Netherlands, but may have to settle for a spot on the bench in favor of Alvaro Morata.
After its offense saw donuts its first three games, Cardiff scored its first two goals of the season against Arsenal. The Welsh side will dream of riding that momentum against another “Big Six” team, but this match is not at Leckwith, it’s at Stamford Bridge.
Huddersfield v. Crystal Palace
Here are two teams mired in the bottom third of the table, which means that only die-hards will be tuned in to this one. Wilfried Zaha’s return from injury will give the visitors a boost on offense. The Terriers are last in the league with only 25 shots taken and 9 SOT so far, so despite being sixth in saves (18), Wayne Hennessey may be left picking daisies at the other end of the pitch at Kirklees.
Manchester City may not be in 1st place, but the Citizens have scored the most goals (11) and tie for the second-fewest against (three). Eight of the scores have come at home. With Fulham having allowed the third most goals, the Sky Blues’ offensive players are going to be ready to roll.
The home side’s defense, of course, will have to contend with Aleksandar Mitrovic who has been in scorching hot form, scoring four of Fulham’s seven goals in the league. He also netted a brace in Serbia’s 2-2 draw with Romania. The Cottagers have been playing wide open so far, and that could spell trouble at the Etihad. But open play also offers a very fun game to watch.
Newcastle v. Arsenal
Going back to the end of last season, Newcastle has scored more than one goal only once in its past nine league games. Under Unai Emery, Arsenal has conceded at least two goals three times out of four this season. Something’s gotta give! Salomon Rondon has yet to net for the Magpies, but he is fresh off a brace in Venezuela’s 2-0 victory over El Salvador, so he would love to use that as inspiration.
On the other end, the Gunners will look to roar with the strike partnership of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while it will be interesting to see whom Emery picks as his preferred starters in midfield. Will he continue with Aaron Ramsey and the invisible Ozil, or might Henrikh Mkhitaryan earn a return?
Watford v. Manchester United (late game)
At the beginning of the season, nobody would have been surprised if you had said this fixture pitted the 3rd place team against the 10th place side. However, we would have pictured the Red Devils in 3rd and the Hornets in 10th, not the other way around. Both teams are coming off big victories — a 2-1 victory for Watford over Tottenham to assert the legitimacy of their hot start, and a 3-0 win by United over floundering Burnley that may possibly have saved Jose Mourinho’s job (for now) — setting the stage for plenty of drama here.
Marcus Rashford comes off scoring both of England’s goals (in the 2-1 defeat to Spain and 1-0 win over Switzerland), and fellow forward Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a brace in Belgium’s win over Iceland. Lukaku leads United with three goals, as does Roberto Pereyra for Watford, while Paul Pogba and Troy Deeney each have a pair, so those are the likeliest suspects should there be any offensive fireworks at Vicarage Road.
Wolverhampton v. Burnley (early game)
Wolves were expected to be fun, and sitting in 9th place is definitely something to be excited about. However, the lack of offense (only 4 goals) has been a bit of a letdown. Normally, facing Burnley would not provide a solution to that problem. But this year is different, the Clarets having allowed the third-most goals in the league (9), including four to Fulham and three to Watford.
Burnley may be thankful to put Europe in their rear view, now able to focus on getting back to their stout ways. Arrgh Joe Hart Arrgh is tied for the most saves in the league, but one has to wonder if Tom Heaton (or the injured Nick Pope) would have made even more parries, or if he could have better organized the defenders in front of him (Does Joe Hart have a soft voice?). But it’s not just Burnley’s defense, the offense also needs to get in gear, since its leading scorer at two is defender James Tarkowski. Jeff Hendrick is the only other player to crack the net, as “strikers” Chris Wood, Ashley Barnes and Sam Vokes have failed hit pay dirt. Maybe they attended the Christian Benteke school of finishing over the summer?
Everton v. West Ham (late game)
Unbeaten Everton has three draws, while West Ham has suffered a “perfect” four losses, so it’s safe to say that of the three possible results, a Hammers victory would be the most surprising. Richarlison notched a brace in Brazil’s pummeling of El Savador, but he remains suspended. Theo Walcott is an injury doubt, so the Toffee offense will not be in full force.
Andriy Yarmolenko scored the only goal (via PK) in Ukraine’s win over Slovakia, but he has yet to crack the net for West Ham. The Hammers have only scored twice, with a certain Mr. Marko Arnautovic accounting for both. It’s not just on the offensive side where the Hammers have struggled, it’s an all-around mess as they tie for both the league’s fewest goals scored (2) and most conceded (10). Lucasz Fabianski was busy last season with Swansea, and the story is the same this time around. He is tied with Joe Hart for the most saves... which means that he has faced the most shots on target. Toffees, get your shooting boots ready!
What, the weekend’s not over? That’s a bit unfortunate, given that the Monday “showcase” features two teams that just barely avoided relegation last season and are at 12th and 14th this season. It is impossible to imagine anyone showing much interest in this fixture outside of diehard Premier League fans... or fantasy managers with Danny Ings, Ryan Bertrand, Alex McCarthy, Glenn Murray or Pascal Gross. I have Ings, so I guess I’ve — gulp — got to tune in.
Which games are you watching, and on whom are you relying for fantasy spoils? Whose performances have you drooling on the barn door? Be sure to join us in the comments as the action unfolds live!