Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on.
Can Liverpool make a statement against Arsenal?
This has been an exceptional start to the season for Liverpool. Their victory over Cardiff last weekend briefly took them to the top of the Premier League, they haven’t lost a game yet, have dropped just four points and conceded only four goals. The sight of Jurgen Klopp’s colossal grin has been a frequent one.
They’ve had to be good, too. Because the rest of the Premier League’s elite teams have been just as impressive (more on that below), making the top of the table extremely crowded. “It’s really important to stay on track,” Klopp said after the Cardiff victory. “We will all meet each other, it’s unbelievable that five or six clubs have such a big number of points, but it only makes it even more intense.”
If the top six ultimately coalesce into their own elite mini-league, that of course makes the games between those teams even more important, which has been one of the few wrinkles to Liverpool’s league season so far. The points they have dropped have been against Chelsea and Manchester City: That might not feel like a colossal problem, but it will become more and more important as the season progresses.
This is what Liverpool were so brilliant at last season. They beat the big teams but seemed to have more problems against the smaller ones. Until recently in the Klopp era, they had won as many games against Manchester City as they had against teams in the relegation zone, an issue they seem to have fixed this term. Now though, a win against a fellow big boy, specifically Arsenal on Saturday evening, would represent a significant statement.
Can any other teams crack the top six?
The dominance of those elite teams has become a theme of this season. There have been 132 points available to the “big six” — Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester United — in games against the other 14 Premier League teams, and they’ve only dropped 17, eight of those by Manchester United. Three of the elite six have yet to lose, and only Watford, West Ham and Brighton of “the rest” have been able to record victories against them.
At the start of the season you could make cases for all except City and Liverpool being vulnerable, potentially dropping out of the Champions League places, but the opening quarter of the season has seen their collective power strengthen rather than weaken.
Is this good for the game in England? We all want to admire brilliant teams, but equally it’s enjoyable to see them knocked down a peg or two, to see some fresh competition. This weekend we look to Bournemouth, Wolves, Southampton and Crystal Palace to give the big boys a bloody nose, but do we expect them to actually do it?
Can Son Heung-min give Spurs a spark?
While the results have been fine, there’s been something just a little bit “off” about Tottenham this season: flat performances, without the zip of previous campaigns that made them so thrilling to watch.
It feels as if they need a spark, and in the absence of any significant January transfer activity, might that come from a man who is easing his way back into the first-team fold? Son Heung-min scored twice in the 3-1 Carabao Cup win against West Ham on Wednesday, a happy sight for all Tottenham fans after the start of his domestic season was disrupted by international duty.
Those were his first goals since March, and you get the sense that they were just what he needed to get started again. “It is so important for offensive players always to feel the net for himself,” said Pochettino after the West Ham game. Starting against Wolves on Saturday, might Son help Tottenham get their edge back?
How will Leicester cope with the emotions of the week?
It seems strange to be concentrating on a football game after the events of last weekend at Leicester. The horrific death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha after their game against West Ham will never be forgotten, but this week the club announced Saturday’s game against Cardiff will go ahead.
The question now is how the emotions of the last few days will impact the team. Several players were visibly and understandably extremely upset as they paid tribute to their boss — notably Kasper Schmeichel and Jamie Vardy — while presumably plenty more will have been shaken but not shown it publicly. So will this inspire them, spur them on to win the game for Srivaddhanaprabha and his family, or will it weigh them down and hamper their performance?
Even thinking about that feels crass, but Leicester must go on.
The season’s first genuine six-pointer
The game that will get the most attention this weekend is Arsenal against Liverpool, and rightly so. But the most important encounter will be on Monday night, when two of the teams at the other end of the table face each other.
It’s difficult to know how this one will pan out, as it sees a team that can’t score goals face one that can’t keep them out: Huddersfield have a frankly pathetic four to their name, while Fulham have let in a positively porous 28 in their 10 games. As such, it’s tricky to get your head around what will happen, but this is arguably the first “six pointer” of the season.
These two sides have gathered eight points from the 60 available, just one win between them and both on course for not just relegation, but humiliation. Victory won’t solve their problems, but it might at least put the winners on some sort of steady (or steadier) course.