Power-hungry elite missing the big picture
Despite being on an international break, the Premier League still managed to dominate headlines as clubs unanimously agreed to reject the radical “Project Big Picture” plan proposed by Manchester United and Liverpool to restructure the very nature of English football.
Under the controversial proposals, the number of teams in the Premier League would have been cut from 20 to 18 and the League Cup scrapped. The move would have also handed more power to the so called “top six” in the top flight in exchange for a rescue package, as many English Football League clubs find themselves in financial strife amid the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although endorsed by the vast majority of EFL clubs, the plan was criticised by the British Government, the Football Association, the Premier League and fan groups before being wholeheartedly rejected.
On the field, this weekend’s fixtures have thrown up some enticing encounters including a Merseyside, Midlands and London derby, as well as the more quirky derby between Crystal Palace and Brighton & Hove Albion.
Sunday could also see the eagerly anticipated return of Gareth Bale as Tottenham Hotspur host West Ham United in what would be his first Premier League appearance in 2,710 days.
Everton v Liverpool
The weekend gets off with a bang as table-topping Everton host neighbours and title-holders Liverpool at Goodison.
The home side will not only be aiming to maintain their perfect start to the new campaign, but they will also be desperate to halt a 19-game winless sequence against their bitter rivals.
Liverpool will also be desperate to put a humiliating 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa behind them and get their title defence back on track. One major setback is the omission of forward Sadio Mané, who misses the match after a positive Covid-19 test.
Chelsea v Southampton
Both teams come into the match on the back of victories last time out, with Chelsea beating Crystal Palace 4-0 and Southampton overcoming West Brom 2-0.
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s Saints remain unbeaten against Chelsea in their previous two meetings to Stamford Bridge, but with Frank Lampard’s expensively assembled new-look squad finally clicking last week against Palace, it could be a tough task for the visitors.
Manchester City v Arsenal
The master and apprentice meet at the Etihad Stadium as Pep Guardiola hosts Mikel Arteta, his former assistant manager at City.
Somewhat surprisingly, it is Arsenal who head into the match as the form side, sitting fourth with three wins from four, including a 2-1 success over Sheffield United last time out.
In contrast, City have stuttered, winning just one of the first three matches to languish in an unfamiliar 14th-position, having been held to 1-1 draw by newcomers Leeds United in their previous fixture.
Guardiola also faces a selection issue up front with both Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero missing out through injury.
Newcastle United v Manchester United
Under-pressure Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is in desperate need of a positive result, but faces a difficult trip to St Jame’s Park.
Solskjaer’s side have won one of their opening three encounters, losing twice, including the 6-1 humbling at home to Spurs last time out.
In contrast, Steve Bruce’s Newcastle have enjoyed a promising start to the season, picking up two wins and a draw from their four fixtures, with a 3-1 triumph against Burnley in their previous outing.
Solskjaer will have to wait to call on new signing Edinson Cavani, who continues to self-isolate since arriving in Manchester on deadline day, as his new side aim to extend an eight-match unbeaten run on the road.
Sheffield United v Fulham
The league’s bottom two clubs meet with both desperate to pick up their first points of the season.
United, last year’s surprise package, have endured a difficult start in their second year back in the top flight and in contrast to last season have struggled at home, losing their past three at Bramall Lane.
Fulham have been boosted a trio of deadline-day signings, with loan deals secured for Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lyons’ Joachim Andersen, plus a permanent deal for Tosin Adarabioyo from Manchester City.
United will be hoping new striker Rhian Brewster, signed from Liverpool, can bring goals with him. The England Under-21 star arrives with a burgeoning reputation.
Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion
Both teams head into this derby battle at Selhurst Park aiming to halt runs of back-to-back defeats.
Last time out, Palace endured a 4-0 defeat away to Chelsea, while Graham Potter’s Brighton also conceded four, going down 4-2 away to high-flying Everton.
Roy Hodgson’s Eagles snatched bragging rights in their previous meeting with a 1-0 win and they will be desperate for a repeat on Sunday.
Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United
Another derby pits two resurgent clubs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Both have put sluggish starts to the season behind them in recent weeks, with Spurs, unbeaten in three, thumping Manchester United 6-1 last time out, while West Ham have won back-to-back games, following up a 4-0 win over Wolves with a 3-0 success away to Leicester City.
Tottenham manager José Mourinho could be tempted to start Gareth Bale in a tantalising front three alongside Harry Kane and Son Heung Min.
Leicester City v Aston Villa
Aston Villa travel to their Midlands rivals aiming to maintain their perfect start to the campaign on the back of a superb 7-2 victory over the defending champions.
Leicester also enjoyed a faultless start until they suffered a surprise 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham in their last outing.
Brendan Rodgers’s side will be aiming to bounce back against a club they haven’t lost to in the league in their previous five meetings.
West Bromwich Albion v Burnley
Two more teams who will be desperate for a first victory to kick-start their campaigns.
Burnley are still without a point, having endured three successive defeats, while Monday’s hosts have taken but the one point from their four matches. However, they should beaten Chelsea, but squandered a 3-0 half-time lead to draw 3-3.
West Brom can take confidence from having lost only one of their six Premier League meetings with Burnley, while the visiting side will be desperate to avoid starting a top-flight season with four straight defeats for the first time since 1927.
Leeds United v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Newly promoted Leeds will be aiming to continue their unbeaten record at home this season when they welcome Wolves to Elland Road.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have proved to be great entertainment already, claiming two wins and a draw in their first four matches — with nine goals for and eight against.
Wolves have endured mixed fortunes this campaign, but come into the match on the back of a 1-0 win over Fulham, which helped to improve their record of losing only one of their past ten league matches against promoted sides, winning seven.
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