Martin King continues his Premier League prediction series with a huge game between Liverpool and Manchester City this afternoon.
If you take the final few days of the summer transfer market out of the equation, then it’s been a largely non-frustrating international fortnight for Premier League clubs (sigh of relief) making this weekend’s return of the English top-flight much welcomed.
For those who didn’t manage to get up and running in the first three weeks of the season, alongside those whose international break has ended with more problems than solutions, it’s sink or swim time as the league gathers pace with gameweek four.
Last time out, Manchester City opened the round with a 2-1 win over Bournemouth.
Newcastle United defeated West Ham 3-0, while there were respective goalless draws between Watford and Brighton and Huddersfield Town and Southampton.
Swansea City beat Crystal Palace 2-0 before Manchester United recorded the same result over Leicester City to bring an end to Saturday’s proceedings.
Sunday saw Chelsea beat Everton 2-0, West Bromwich Albion drew 1-1 with Stoke City, Burnley snatched a late point at Tottenham Hotspur with the same result before Liverpool ended the round with a 4-0 victory over Arsenal.
Let’s look ahead to the latest round of action, starting with a headline-grabbing clash at the Etihad Stadium.
Manchester City vs. Liverpool
It is said that blue and red don’t mix, they clash.
Before, during and after every encounter, the two sides are in constant battle, with one seeking to outshine the other in every aspect, the most important of which, in this context, is league points.
Perhaps unusual then, that midweek saw both rivals join forces for the sake of returning their long-distanced stars from international duty, however, it won’t take an expert to know that once every player has returned to their camp, it’s back to rivalry.
Upon fair reflection, what first seemed like a sticky start to the season for Liverpool has actually produced a rather impressive unbeaten early campaign.
The Reds’ excellent win over Arsenal was a second-straight win, which was made even sweeter by a second clean sheet of the season. Add to that two strong performances in their important UEFA Champions League qualifier and you’re presumably left with the question, are Liverpool braced for a super season or is the current moment a carpet covering their still-existent problems?
City, on the other hand, are only separated from their weekend opponents by goal difference and similar to Liverpool, question marks still remain over Pep Guardiola’s side’s start to the season: are experts being harsh on them or is replicating rivals Manchester United’s 100% start a fair demand?
Whatever the answers to those questions, their Saturday lunch time kick-off with Liverpool is a highly anticipated match, the winner of which will certainly put themselves in great standing for the season ahead.
It’s going to be an intense attacking affair and I think we can expect a lot of counter-attacking football.
Liverpool being, in my opinion, the best in the league at that will be the most dangerous and I’m going to back the Reds – who are unbeaten in five games against City – for a close win.
Prediction: Manchester City 1-2 Liverpool
Arsenal vs. AFC Bournemouth
It felt rather strange reporting the onslaught that followed Arsenal’s 4-0 thrashing at Anfield as news, because in truth, it’s been going on for quite a while, hasn’t it?
The Gunners were, in the kindest of descriptions, outclassed and to be honest, a look at their first two performances of the season, as well as their lack of (successful) activity in the transfer window don’t offer any encouragement for Arsenal fans whatsoever.
I wonder how that will impact Bournemouth’s plans ahead of their Saturday afternoon trip to the Emirates. The Cherries have experienced a wretched start of three straight defeats to the season, though, surely manager Eddie Howe must feel some encouragement towards his side getting a result with the state of affairs at Arsenal at the moment.
Nobody even has to say it, Arsenal have to win this game or else fan reaction – which will definitely have a mental effect on the players – will be beyond description.
I don’t have the greatest of confidence in them earning three points here because one good move by Bournemouth certainly shakes their confidence.
However, I’m going to back them anyway. Arsenal just have to win here.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Bournemouth
Burnley vs. Crystal Palace
Something that is not mentioned enough – perhaps due to the troubles of the past – is how much having a good international break can positively impact not only the players involved but their respective teams.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche will hope that his side can reap such a benefit, as six of his players were involved for their nations, two of which managed to get on the score-sheet. Such a result not only means refreshed minds in front of goal but an added level of fitness altogether.
The Clarets host Crystal Palace, who just like Bournemouth, are in familiar woeful early season form. Three defeats, six goals conceded and none scored has been their story and it’s hard to see it improving in their trip to Turf Moor, as pressure levels intensify on new manager Frank de Boer.
Burnley have struggled to build from their opening day victory at Chelsea but with the form Palace are in, I can see them earning a second win of the season here.
Prediction: Burnley 2-0 Crystal Palace
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. West Bromwich Albion
I honestly ruled out another dream season for West Bromwich Albion at the beginning of this one but as things stand, they look well set to prove me wrong.
The Baggies are one of the seven unbeaten sides in the Premier League thus far and have gone about their business in typical Tony Pulis fashion: with a solid physical and mental attitude.
Up next for them is a trip to the Amex Stadium, where they’ll face newly-promoted Brighton.
Only on three previous Premier League occasions has a team failed to score in their first four Premier League matches and Chris Hughton’s men won’t want to make it a fourth, after failing to find the net in their opening three games.
I think the fact they haven’t really been given a proper hiding by any side and have held their own for most spells is a good thing, however, a bit more attacking ambition definitely has to be shown if they’re going to score, let alone win any games.
I see them giving it a real go in this tie against West Brom.
I do, however, struggle to see them winning so I’m predicting that they score their first league goal and earn their second point of the season
Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 1-1 West Bromwich Albion
Stoke City vs. Manchester United
With three largely comfortable wins in their first three games of the season, Manchester United’s ability to win most, if not all, the games that follow can’t truly be questioned. Instead, we spend most of our thinking time trying to figure out just what the opposition can and should do in a bold attempt to stop them.
Enter Stoke City.
A fruitless opening game of the season at Everton has been followed up by four points for Stoke, who beat Arsenal, before their draw at the Hawthorns.
Being as defensively sound and threatening in attack as they were on the latter occasion is going to be vital to any hopes of earning a result, against a team that so far boasts the best goals (10) and joint-best clean sheets (3).
The Potters will certainly rely on their home supporters to bring that hostile atmosphere, as they search for only their third win over United in the Premier League era.
However, it’s difficult to bet against the Old Trafford side at the moment – even away from the Theatre of Dreams.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-3 Manchester United
West Ham United vs. Huddersfield Town
Here’s a damning statistic for West Ham United: The last time they started a Premier League season with three straight defeats (2010/11) the Hammers ended the season at the bottom of the table – they won’t want that to be an omen now will, they?
The Irons return to league action for the first time at their London Stadium home this season, with manager Slaven Bilic reported to be under intense scrutiny from the club’s hierarchy.
A result this weekend becomes all the more vital then, but far from a foregone conclusion, as opponents Huddersfield Town are riding a wave of good fortune that sees them currently occupy the league’s top three.
The Terriers have so far been the best of the newly promoted sides with two wins and a draw, most impressively showing some Premier League steel by keeping a clean sheet in all three of their encounters.
I fancy them to nick another result in this match.
We are yet to see the best of West Ham at their new home and I think David Wagner’s men will cause further damage to the Hammers’ season with a draw.
Prediction: West Ham United 1-1 Huddersfield Town
Everton vs. Tottenham Hotspur
It’s a weird one, but you kind of get the feeling with Tottenham Hotspur that games away from Wembley Stadium are just what they need at the moment.
Their record at the national stadium is just poor.
Of their twelve games there since 2007, they have won just two, losing eight and drawing two. It may be ‘just another patch of grass’ according to most people, but I think with every match Spurs have there, that record plays on the minds of their players and it only gets worse the longer they go without winning.
A trip to Goodison Park doesn’t make life any easier, as despite an ambitious Everton making a rather humble start to their campaign, it is well known that the Toffees hold their own against any side on Merseyside.
Games between them and Spurs often range from frustratingly cagey to excitingly open – there’s no telling what this latest one will be.
I’m gonna make a bold prediction and back the home side to nick a result. I think it’s really going to be a question of who wants it more and Everton’s ambition may just overwhelm Spurs’.
Prediction: Everton 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Swansea City vs. Newcastle United
I’ll openly admit that after not fancying Swansea City for a good season, I was super flattered by their last minute work in the transfer market – all of a sudden I’m eager to have a look at them!
The Swans bought in Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches and sanctioned a deal to bring striker Wilfried Bony back to the Liberty Stadium, a move that is sure to get fans excited for the future.
It all starts on Sunday against opponents Newcastle United, who are fresh off their first win of the season, a thrilling 3-0 victory over West Ham.
Swansea have won three of their last four home games against Newcastle and I see them making it a fifth after their away win over Crystal Palace last time out.
Prediction: Swansea City 2-0 Newcastle United
Southampton vs. Watford
I’m predicting a Southampton win, on their return home following a goalless draw at Huddersfield.
The Saints have a decent five game unbeaten run against Watford and I mostly fancy them at home so I’m going with a 2-1 win for them.
Prediction: Southampton 2-1 Watford
Leicester City vs. Chelsea
Two successive wins on the spin and Chelsea’s season all of a sudden looks set to be a better one than once feared after their opening day loss to Burnley.
The Blues are starting to look like the creative and defensively strong force of last season following two big wins over Spurs and Everton and a win at Leicester City this weekend will surely be on Antonio Conte’s cards.
Leicester’s performance at Manchester United was largely respectable.
The Foxes looked to give the Red Devils a run for their money and I think based on that and their opening day performance at Arsenal, we can expect them to give Chelsea a tough day at the King Power Stadium.
Their recent record against the defending champions hasn’t been great, though. Ever since a 2-1 victory back in 2015, Leicester have failed to beat Chelsea in three of their previous league meetings.
I’m expecting this one to be thrilling, though and either side can win it, in my opinion.
I’m going for a draw, though.
Prediction: Leicester City 2-2 Chelsea