The international break came just at the right time for a few Premier League clubs, and none more than Everton, who will be looking to rekindle their damp squib of a campaign with Saturday’s lunch-time kickoff at home to West Ham United.
They say the table never lies, in which case Everton’s recent slide into the bottom three must be sounding alarm bells around Goodison Park. The pressure is mounting on Everton boss, Marco Silva, who watched his team lose all four league games between the two international breaks. An ostensibly kind fixture list has seen losses to newly promoted Aston Villa and Sheffield United plus fruitless trips to Bournemouth and Burnley, with only their 3-1 home defeat to Manchester City a game from which they might not have expected any points.
In contrast, West Ham United have enjoyed their best start to a Premier League season for many years, despite kicking it off with an emphatic 5-0 home defeat to Manchester City. Since then, however, three wins and three draws had sent the Hammers soaring into the top six, which only made it all the more frustrating for Manuel Pellegrini to watch his team squander a one-goal advantage to lose 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace last time out.
Game Tip: WEST HAM UTD +0.5AH (I OAP I Soccer) 1.92
An encounter between Leicester City and Burnley has not been one to set the pulse racing in recent seasons, but promising starts for both teams makes this clash between the fifth and seventh placed teams in the table one of the top-ranking Premier League fixtures of game week nine.
Leicester City are starting to catch the eye under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, losing just two of their opening eight games, and both of those decided by penalties at Manchester United (0-1) and Liverpool (1-2). That defeat at Liverpool just before the international break was particularly galling, coming as it did with virtually the last kick of the game. Prior to that, convincing home wins over Bournemouth (3-1), Spurs (2-1) and Newcastle United (5-0) backed up a 2-1 win at Sheffield United and a 1-1 draw at Chelsea, and with some of the big teams faltering, the Foxes are still in a deserved fourth place.
In similar vein, Burnley have overcome a patchy start to their season, remaining unbeaten between the international breaks (W2, D2) to cement a place in the top half of the table. Late equalisers earned them deserved points at Brighton (1-1) and Aston Villa (2-2), while improved defensive displays since their 3-0 home reversal to Liverpool has helped them clean sheets in successive home wins against Norwich City (2-0) and Everton (1-0) in their last outing.
Game Tip: BTTS – YES (Premier League Pro Tips) 2.05
Saturday’s early evening televised game sees Manchester City trying to close the gap on runaway leaders, Liverpool, but they will need to bring their A-game to Selhurst Park if they are to grab all three points from an improving Crystal Palace team.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson will probably have been double takes when looking at the Premier League table over the international break, happily surprised no doubt to see his team occupying a top six spot. Just two defeats in their opening eight games (1-0 at Sheffield United and 4-0 at Tottenham) have been offset by home wins over newly promoted Aston Villa Nd Norwich City. However, it is their form on the road that has been most impressive: Palace have won seven of their last ten away Premier League games, including late smash-and-grabs in their 2-1 wins at Manchester United and West Ham United.
Two defeats and a draw in their opening eight games represents a relatively disastrous start for Manchester City, who are already eight points behind league leaders Liverpool. They seemed to have put their 3-2 blip at Norwich City behind them as they found the net nineteen times in five subsequent wins, but in their last game before the international break they were first stifled by resolute defending and then sucker-punched twice on the break late on to slide to a 2-0 defeat at home to Wolves.
Game Tip: CRYSTAL PALACE +2.00 AH (ST30) 1.73
Liverpool’s trip to Old Trafford for Sunday’s only Premier League game might not have quite the six-pointer gravitas that might have carried a decade ago, but nonetheless the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry continues to attract top billing status.
United’s start to the season has been disastrous – their worst in thirty years, and they went into the international break in the bottom half of the table after winning just two of their opening eight league games. That looks even worse if you take out their opening day 4-0 romp against Chelsea, since when their only success came courtesy of a Marcus Rashford penalty to beat Leicester City 1-0. Indeed, since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s 12-game unbeaten honeymoon period, United have picked up just fourteen points from their last fifteen league games (W3, D5, L7), which is effectively relegation form. The transfer of Romelu Lukaku to Inter Milan now looks all the stranger for the fact that since the Chelsea game, United have failed to score more than once in any of their subsequent ten games, a record made all the worrying by the fact that their opposition has included the likes of Astana and Rochdale at home, and most recently their 1-0 defeat at struggling Newcastle United.
In vast contrast, Liverpool have swept all before them so far this season, with their Champions League defeat at Napoli the only blot on their copybook. That said, their eight straight league wins have not been all smooth sailing, and their 100% record would have ended at home to Leicester last time out had it not been for James Milner’s stoppage-time penalty. Only their wins at Burnley and Sheffield United have brought clean sheets, while the latter is the only game in their seventeen consecutive Premier League wins that Liverpool have failed to score more than one goal. Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester City last season remains their only loss in 47 league games, although they will remain wary of the fact that they have not won at Old Trafford in six attempts since 2014 (D3, L3).
Game Tip: BTTS – NO (Premier League Pro Tips) 2.15
The final game of the Premier League weekend brings us to Bramall Lane, where Sheffield United face a difficult in continuing their promising start to the season at home to third-placed Arsenal.
Expected by many to be the Premier League whipping boys this season, newly-promoted Sheffield United have more than held their own in picking up nine points so far (W2, D3, L3). To the frustration of Blades fans, those three defeats have all come at home, and all by narrow one-goal margins to Leicester City (1-2) and Southampton and Liverpool (both 0-1). Pinning their survival hopes on organised defending, it has so far worked, with only Liverpool conceding fewer than United’s seven goals so far.
That defence is sure to be put to the test against an Arsenal team that has scored 21 goals in their eight unbeaten games run since their solitary 3-1 reversal at Liverpool in August. Their away form is still a work in progress, with a dogged 1-0 win at Newcastle their only success so far. They contrived to squander a two-goal half-time lead at winless Watford, lost at Anfield, and might have hoped for better from their dire 1-1 stalemate at struggling Manchester United.
Game Tip: DRAW (Old Chestnut) 3.80
Everton v West Ham Utd – WEST HAM UTD +0.5 1.92 I OAP Soccer
Leicester City v Burnley – BTTS – YES 2.05 Premier League Pro Tips
Crystal Palace v Manchester City – CRYSTAL PALACE +2.00 1.73 ST30
Manchester Utd v Liverpool – BTTS – NO 2.15 Premier League Pro Tips
Sheffield Utd v Arsenal – DRAW 3.80 Old Chestnut