The good, the bad ... and the ugly
We witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly of the English Premier League this past week with varying topics dominating discussions of managers, players, fans and pundits alike.
The good ― fans across England are finally making their return to stadiums to watch live action. Under a newly planned tier system all clubs in areas that fall into Tier 2 will be allowed up to 2,000 supporters into their grounds or up to 50 per cent of the total capacity — whichever is greater.
The bad ― Covid-19 continues to have a major affect on the game with Newcastle United’s trip to Aston Villa today being postponed after the North-East club reported a “significant” rise in positive test results. It is the first top-tier fixture this season to have fallen casualty to a coronavirus outbreak.
And the ugly ― football’s concussion protocols came under serious scrutiny after a sickening clash of heads between Arsenal defender David Luiz and Wolves striker Raul Jiménez, who had to have surgery on a fractured skull.
While the Mexico forward was given oxygen on the pitch and taken off on a stretcher, Luiz returned to action, playing on for more than half an hour despite blood visibly seeping from his head bandage. He was eventually substituted at half-time.
Arsenal argued that protocols were followed regarding the decision to allow Luiz to play on, but there has been outcry from others citing a shocking lack of player welfare.
The incident has since prompted calls for a rethink on how football deals with such issues including the consideration of introducing temporary concussion substitutes; allowing medical teams to assess players in an appropriate off-pitch environment
Burnley v Everton
Having claimed a first win of the season a week previously, Burnley were brought back down to earth with a thud in a 5-0 thrashing against Man City last time out.
Victories for relegation rivals West Brom and Fulham pushed Sean Dyche’s men back into the drop zone ahead of welcoming inconsistent Everton to Turf Moor.
Worryingly for the hosts, their five points this season have been amassed against teams fifteenth or lower in the table.
A glimmer of hope for Burnley is that eighth-placed Everton have suffered the most Premier League defeats at Turf Moor by a visiting side, losing four of the six encounters.
However, despite their poor form, The Toffees have won four of their six away fixtures in all competitions this season
Manchester City v Fulham
Fulham climbed out of the relegation zone with an impressive 2-1 win over high-flying Leicester last week but they face an uphill task to make it back-to-back victories.
Man City finally showed glimpses of the former devastating best form against Burnley, running riot with Riyad Mahrez netting a hat-trick.
To make matters worse for the West Londoners, they have failed to beat City on their previous 12 attempts.
West Ham United v Manchester United
In-form West Ham could prove a stern test for visiting Man United, who themselves have enjoyed a run of victories of late.
The home side find themselves in fifth place ahead of the encounter after three successive wins, including a hard-fought 2-1 success over Aston Villa last weekend.
The visitors have also picked up maximum points in their last three matches including a superb 3-2 win away at Southampton, where they came from two goals down with Edinson Cavani scoring a last-gasp winner, his second of the game.
That stretched United’s unbeaten run of form on the road to 11 matches. However, they have failed to win in their previous three trips to West Ham, while David Moyes’s side remain unbeaten at the London Stadium in their past four matches.
Chelsea v Leeds United
High-flying Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad have finally found their rhythm, with last week’s stalemate against Tottenham stretching their unbeaten league run to eight games.
They welcome unpredictable Leeds to Stamford Bridge with the visitors themselves buoyed by a 1-0 victory away to Everton courtesy of summer signing Raphael Dias Belloli’s first goal of the campaign.
Chelsea will take added confidence from their previous form against Marcelo Bielsa’s side having not suffered defeat to them in the league in their last three meetings, while Frank Lampard’s side are also unbeaten in the previous four games at home.
West Bromwich Albion v Crystal Palace
West Brom will be aiming to climb out of the relegation zone with victory over out of sorts Crystal Palace.
A crucial 1-0 win over basement boys Sheffield United lifted the Baggies out of the bottom three, only to drop back into eighteenth place after Fulham’s win over Leicester two days later.
Pressure has increased on Palace manager Roy Hodgson after back-to-back defeats by previously winless Burnley and understrength Newcastle United saw the Eagles drop to fifteenth.
Supporters not only took exception to the results but also the manner of the defeats in which there was a perceived lack of attacking intent despite an array of forwards including Eberechi Eze, Michy Batshuayi, Jordan Ayew and Christian Benteke.
The expected return of talisman Wilfried Zaha will be a major boost to Hodgson, who will be under intense scrutiny should Palace suffer a third straight defeat.
Sheffield United v Leicester City
Times are becoming increasingly desperate for Sheffield United, who find themselves almost cut adrift of Fulham, just outside the drop zone, let alone anyone higher in the standings.
A 1-0 loss away at relegation rivals West Brom, a fifth straight defeat, leaves United stranded at the bottom of the table with a single point to their name.
Unfortunately for the hosts, visiting Leicester will de desperate to make amends following a shock defeat to struggling Fulham last time out.
To add to the wound, United have failed to win any of their last six matches at Bramall Lane, while they also failed to beat Leicester in the past six meetings.
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
Tottenham prepare to host neighbours Arsenal full of confidence; sitting top of the standings after a superb start to the season.
A 0-0 draw with Chelsea extended Spurs’ unbeaten run to nine matches as they continue to demonstrate their title-challenge credentials.
In stark contrast, Arsenal’s season is already threatening to turn sour, with questions already being asked over Mikel Arteta’s position as manager.
A 2-1 defeat at home to Wolves last weekend extended the Gunners’ winless sequence to three matches leaving them languishing in fourteenth, eight points adrift of Spurs
A derby-day victory at the home of their fiercest rivals could prove the perfect tonic for Arteta and his squad, although it is something they have failed to achieve in their previous six attempts.
Liverpool v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Liverpool will be aiming to maintain the pressure on table-topping Tottenham when they host Wolves.
The defending champions would have been going into the game as leaders had Brighton not snatched a dramatic point with a contentious, last-gasp penalty last weekend. However, Jürgen Klopp must still be satisfied with his side’s form, which sees them unbeaten in six.
Wolves impressive victory over Arsenal was overshadowed by the unfortunate injury to talisman Jiménez, with the forward facing an uncertain return to action as he continues his recovery.
Despite his absence, Nuno Espírito Santo will take confidence from his side’s response after the Mexican’s withdrawal last week, with wingers Pedro Neto and Daniel Podence wreaking havoc in the 2-1 win.
Previous form points to a home victory, with Liverpool not losing to Wolves in the league in their past seven matches.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton
Southampton will be aiming to get their positive start to the season back on track in a trip to their South Coast neighbours.
The Saints, in sixth, will be hurting after throwing away a 2-0 lead in the 3-2 defeat against Man United last time out and will desperate to make amends.
Brighton, who are sixteenth and four points above the drop zone, put on an impressive performance against Liverpool, coming away with an unlikely point courtesy of Pascal Gross’ late spot kick.
Southampton have not lost to their rivals in the past four meetings and will relish a chance to extend that run.
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