Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on.
The start of Mourinho’s most important month at Old Trafford
There’s an unsettling wind approaching in England, but it’s not the impending cold winter that will be chilling the bones of Premier League managers: it’s sackin’ season. It was around this time that the dominoes started to fall last season, and the man under the most pressure this time is of course Jose Mourinho. That insane victory over Newcastle before the international break might have saved him for now, but Manchester United have a month or so ahead that may well define their season and his.
They face Manchester City on Nov. 11, and between now and then there are two Champions League games against Juventus, a trip to Bournemouth and a home game against Everton. But before all of them, a game against his old team, the place he used to say he was happiest, but also the place where his decline was demonstrated so dramatically: Chelsea.
– Mitten: United, Mourinho back in the spotlight
But this is a game about more than just a manager facing his former team. It’s a game that could determine whether the Newcastle comeback was a brief sticking plaster, or the sign of a recovery. It’s a game that, on a basic level, could see United in a worse position than at the same stage under David Moyes. It’s a game that could potentially put them 10 points off the top of the Premier League and into the bottom half of the table.
And ultimately, it’s a game that could shape the most important month of Mourinho’s tenure at United. Which, unless it goes well, might be his last.
Can Liverpool improve against the Premier League’s weakest?
Here’s one for you stat fans: Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have beaten sides in the bottom three six times in 19 games. In that same time, they have beaten Manchester City six times. You could think of this as a statistical curiosity, you could think of it as a tribute to their strength against the very best, or you could think of it as a concern and something that could be a barrier to any title challenge.
As Liverpool face 18th-place Huddersfield this weekend, for the moment it has to be the latter. Klopp’s Liverpool are essentially whatever the opposite of flat-track bullies are, but to rack up the points and keep on City’s tail, they will have to improve their record against the weakest. The number of injury issues they have (Naby Keita, Mohamed Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane all suffered problems on international duty) could be a concern, but in theory they should have enough to beat a Huddersfield side who have been largely desperate this term. In theory.
Are Arsenal really back?
Unai Emery was reticent when asked about his fans chanting “We’ve got our Arsenal back” as they sauntered to a 5-1 win over Fulham last time out. Understandably so: he won’t want to give the impression that the job is already done just a couple of months into his time in England.
Things are looking pretty good, given they’ve won nine straight games in all competitions, but most of those games have been against relatively modest opposition. Monday’s opponents Leicester might fall into that category too, as will their following three fixtures (Sporting, Crystal Palace and Blackpool), but after that they face Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham inside a month. We’ll find out how good they are then, but if they go into that run on the back of 13 successive victories, they’ll be in much better shape to succeed.
Can Harry Winks become key for Tottenham?
One of the most interesting elements of England’s new, exciting generation of young players is that plenty of them seem to be passing midfielders. One of those is Harry Winks, influential in the terrific win over Spain, but while he has been on the fringes of his club side for a season or two now, he has yet to establish himself in the starting XI.
This weekend might be a key indicator of just how highly Mauricio Pochettino rates him. Winks started Tottenham’s past two games, but that was in the absence of Mousa Dembele, missing with a thigh injury. The Belgian is now back and available for selection, so it essentially seems like Pochettino has a straight choice between the two: if he opts for the Englishman, it could be a sign that Winks is in the team to stay.
Southampton are heading for a big fall
Last season saw Southampton escape relegation at the last, a couple of crucial late wins proving just enough to keep their heads above water. But it felt like delaying the inevitable, a temporary reprieve for a club that have lost their way. Their start to this season seems to have backed that up: just one victory, five defeats and they haven’t even managed a goal in their past three games. Only the incompetence of others has kept them out of the relegation zone.
A south coast team on the way down, this weekend they meet a south coast team on the way up, Bournemouth fresh from pulverising Watford last time out. Where once the Saints were seen as the model smaller club, Bournemouth look like it now: you could think of victory for Eddie Howe’s side as symbolic, a changing of the guard in that part of the world.