ESPN commentator Jon Champion on the Premier League
ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to the weekend's Premier League action. Watch live and exclusive coverage of Arsenal v Fulham live on ESPN from 4:30pm on Saturday
We’re now one third of the way into the Premier League season, and we’re getting to the stage where certain teams need to start putting together a run of results if they are to achieve their season objectives.
The stand out game this weekend sees too big spending sides - Liverpool and Manchester City – go head-to-head. It’ll be a tough test for City, even if Liverpool haven’t been fully convincing at home – their better performances have come away from Anfield, which is perhaps unusual.
Liverpool aren’t quite yet getting full value from their significant investment over the summer transfer window, and they are yet to settle and find the level of consistency Kenny Dalglish will be wanting from them. They also still look rather vulnerable at the back and that would certainly appear to be something City could exploit on Sunday afternoon.
City’s defeat in Naples on Tuesday evening means they face an all-or-nothing tie with Bayern Munich in two weeks’ time, and while that huge game will be at the back of their minds in the next couple of domestic fixtures, if anybody has the squad which can cope with those kind of distractions then it’s probably Manchester City. Though as we know, it can take a club a few years to fully get to grips with the twin demands of Premier League and Champions League.
It took Manchester United the best part of a decade to fully master the balancing act, and for all the money they’ve spent, City are still in a relatively early stage of their development. We would often see United in the mid-90s fail to keep things going in Europe but still win the domestic title. It may well be that the same is going to be true of City this season.
Given Liverpool’s stuttering home start – four of their six league games on their own patch have ended as draws – City won’t be the kind of visitors the Reds want or need at the moment, and I’d be surprised if Roberto Mancini’s side weren’t the first side this season to travel to Anfield and win.
Though it may seem unlikely, Chelsea are at risk of losing three consecutive home games as they face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, extraordinary given they not long ago set that incredible record of 86 league games unbeaten at Stamford Bridge.It’s a whole new experience for Andre Villas-Boas, who last season with Porto only dropped six league points over the course of the entire 30 game season. Suddenly he’s confronted with a flurry of setbacks – three straight defeats in all competitions, still with work to do in their final Champions League group match and currently outside the qualifying positions for next year’s competition in the Premier League.I’ve seen Chelsea three times in the flesh this season and on each occasion they have set no sort of tempo at all – they’ve been sluggish from the start, content to keep possession rather than take the game to their opponents, which is very unlike the Chelsea we’re used to seeing.Wolves aren’t playing too badly at present, but with just one win in the last ten they do need to start finding results sooner rather than later. The consolation for them is that there are three sides struggling so badly beneath them in Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan, while the sides above them - Sunderland and Fulham – don’t exactly look likely to pull away. It’s hard to see them getting a result away to Chelsea, but if there’s a good time to go to Stamford Bridge, this is it.
Although they were a tad sloppy in their midweek Champions League draw with Benfica, it remains a fact that Manchester United have lost fewer matches than Manchester City this season, with just the one defeat so far this term, albeit a fairly spectacular one. There’s little to suggest Newcastle will end their wretched record at Old Trafford, despite making a very strong start to their campaign. The Magpies are tough to break down but are never likely to score a bucket load of goals, particularly against the stronger sides. United have gone ‘back to basics’ in the league since that defeat to Manchester City – they’ve looked to lock things down, make sure they don’t concede silly goals or leave themselves too exposed. Their performances may not have been quite so dynamic, but the results have continued to come, and for that reason you’d have to fancy the champions to win again this weekend.
Arsenal have been in superb form of late, but closing the 12 point gap that has opened between themselves and Manchester City – and indeed even the seven on Manchester United – will be a gargantuan task, given the general level of consistency at those two clubs right now. The other thing to add is that, although 11 wins in 13 matches in all competitions is highly impressive, if you look at the teams they have beaten, only the win at Stamford Bridge really stands out as a particularly impressive victory. When they have played the stronger sides they have generally been beaten – at home to Liverpool and away to Manchester United and Tottenham – and those matches perhaps give a truer indication of where Arsenal are than matches against teams like Bolton and Norwich.For that reason there may be a reality check in store for them at some stage, though I can’t imagine it would come in Saturday evening’s late kick-off against Fulham, who are likely to turn up, put up a bit of a fight but ultimately roll over.
Spurs also look in tremendous shape at the moment. They have a settled side, are great to watch and are playing some fabulous football – hence their current run of eight wins and a draw in the last nine. There is an element of the cavalier about them, but there are still enough defensively minded players there – including Ledley King, who is enjoying a rare run of matches – to keep the opposition at bay.It’s hard to see them getting anything other than a win from Saturday’s trip to West Bromwich Albion, who probably won’t have too many problems this season and currently sit in tenth place, but what problems they do have will come against sides like Tottenham.
Norwich versus Queens Park Rangers is, of course, a meeting of two
newly-promoted sides, but two sides who have adapted well to life back
in the Premier League, currently sat in 11th and ninth place
respectively. Norwich, however, are not just one win in six, while QPR
have impressed away from home – winning at Everton, Wolves and Stoke –
and have Heider Helgusson in the kind of goalscoring form that could
help them secure significant points. They’ll be happy with the way
things are going and will certainly relish this trip to East Anglia.
Stoke are struggling, and surprisingly so. They’ve lost their last four
league matches and have now won just once in their last eight – a run
that has seen them slide from fifth to 14th, though come the end of the
season I’d still expect them to finish somewhere between. The fixture
congestion caused by their involvement in the Europa League is perhaps a
convenient excuse for their slump, but while there is likely to be some
fatigue it can’t all be down to that. For the first time, Tony Pulis
has a few selection dilemmas, and doesn’t have and obvious first XI.
Perhaps this lack of consistency in selection has led to a lack of
consistency in results.But they’ll relish facing Blackburn on
Saturday, who haven’t kept a clean sheet in 15 matches in all
competitions this season and, despite a couple of improved showings in
the away draws at QPR and Norwich, still look poor, particularly at the
It is certainly a depressing time for the Lancashire clubs at present, with Bolton Wanderers also looking out of sorts having lost seven of their last nine in the Premier League. They’ll be up against an Everton team who should be good enough to secure a result at the Reebok in the current circumstances. The Toffees shot up five places with their win over Wolves last weekend, and although they have displayed a certain inconsistency that hasn’t been a hallmark of David Moyes’ side down the years, they will have been boosted by Marouane Fellaini signing a new long-term contract with the club.
Sunderland’s positive goal difference of +1 is a testament to the fact they concede so few goals – 13 in 12 so far – despite their relatively poor start to the campaign. Their problem, as we’ve said before, is that they don’t score enough goals and that has led to them having to settle for a point rather than three on more than a couple of occasions in recent months – most recently and pertinently against Fulham last weekend when they dominated for long periods but couldn’t get the ball in the net.On Saturday they’ll face one of the team to score fewer goals in Wigan Athletic, whose chairman Dave Whelan has once again stated there will be no change in manager, and it also seems there’ll be no philosophical change, and if Wigan keep trying to play their way out of the hole they’re in – and they’re already five points adrift of safety – it’s hard to see them escaping.
Swansea play some beautiful football, but there’s not a lot on the end of it. They’re great for two thirds of the pitch, but lacking in the final third. Sunday’s opponents Aston Villa were really poor at Spurs on Monday evening, and it’s hard to imagine Alex McLeish allowing that kind of performance to be repeated. Swansea will have been encouraged by both their own and Villa’s performances last time out, and with their home form likely to be the key to survival, will surely look to target three points here.
Jon Champion is a football commentator on ESPN, broadcaster of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League and more. For more information visit espn.co.uk/tv
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