Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on.
This is not a great time for Spurs to face Manchester City
You might well have seen the adverts for Tottenham’s new stadium, the ones that, in an act of flamboyant hubris, cheekily advertise it as: “The only place you can watch the Champions League in London.” It won’t be lost on anyone that, after the draw with PSV this week, there’s a real possibility they could get knocked out before the thing is even open.
Amusingly fate-tempting pieces of advertising aside, Tottenham’s European struggles are a problem in themselves, but they also have a knock-on effect to their domestic campaign in a couple of ways.
On a basic level, Tottenham throwing away their lead against PSV displayed some of the fragility that has dogged their season so far. Even last time out in the league — the 1-0 win against West Ham — they approached the game as if they were playing Barcelona and only just held on in the end. Throw in the possibility that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris could make a catastrophic error at any point, causing uncertainty throughout, and you’ve got a team with shaky foundations.
But the potential elimination from Europe adds further pressure onto their Premier League campaign. Arguably Spurs had a better chance of winning the Champions League than they do at home, the chances of beating the best in a knockout tournament higher than over a 38-game season. But if they are out of Europe, there’s more onus on them doing well at home.
All of which means this isn’t a brilliant time to face Manchester City, which they have to on Monday. Good luck.
Would Everton winning at Old Trafford be a shock?
Another week, another Jose Mourinho finger pointed in the direction of someone whose fault all this mess is. Obviously it’s not his — perish the thought. A feature of Mourinho’s latter-day management is to throw others under the bus, where previously he would back his men to the end, and this week he did so with his defenders, albeit more subtly than usual. “I have to say Chris [Smalling] and Victor [Lindelof] had a very positive game,” Mourinho said, all but ruffling their hair, shortly after an extended riff about how his players, basically, weren’t very good.
Confidence is unlikely to be high, then. All of which means they could be in for another shock on Sunday; or, as they’re facing an Everton team two places above them in the table, maybe a win for the Toffees wouldn’t be a shock. Marco Silva certainly seems to have found something in his team over the past few weeks, and against Crystal Palace, he showed he has the knack for changing a game too. Against a side whose belief is currently round their ankles, a bet against Everton winning, maybe comfortably, could be a good one.
Might Ruben Loftus-Cheek be a goal threat for Chelsea?
Sure, it was “only” against BATE Borisov, a team that provided Chelsea with about as much resistance as a wet noodle, but there was perhaps something from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s Europa League hat trick that Maurizio Sarri can take into domestic matters. Chelsea haven’t really struggled for goals this season (they’ve got four more in the league than freewheeling, free-scoring Liverpool), but they do have a black hole at centre-forward: Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata have two between them, both from the latter.
So they need all the goals they can get from the rest of the team. Two in his past two from Ross Barkley suggests one solution, but if Loftus-Cheek can produce that sort of goal scoring form beyond the Europa League, then that’s another option. If nothing else, Sarri, who admitted on Thursday he has a “problem” fitting Loftus-Cheek in his lineup, now has a tangible reason to pick him: Whether he does or not is another matter, but the player has at least done his bit.
Palace need to compete with the big boys
Crystal Palace’s defeat to Everton was a double kick in the pants for Roy Hodgson’s side: Not only did they lose to two late goals, but it represented their best chance to gain some points for a while. Sunday’s game against Arsenal is the first in a run that then goes onto Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United. There’s something to be said for getting the big tests out of the way in one go, but it doesn’t do a huge amount of good when that run could take them into December with just seven points.
Palace badly need a striker, maybe another winger, possibly a centre-back: general strengthening, the sort they didn’t quite manage in the summer. That might well come in January, but it won’t do them much good if they’re not at least in touch with the rest. In order to do that, they might have to pull something unlikely out of the bag in the next four games.
Huddersfield need goals and fast
With Cardiff notching their first victory of the season last weekend, only two winless teams remain. Newcastle have so many problems, it’s difficult to unpick them all, but Huddersfield’s is a little easier to identify. David Wagner’s side have managed just four goals in their nine games so far, the worst in the Premier League and a total that, unless improved upon, will almost certainly lead to relegation.
Only two teams have taken fewer shots this season, and nobody has fewer shots on target (just 21 over nine games), so it probably isn’t a surprise that their attack has been so impotent. That point is further emphasised by the fact three of their four goals have been scored by defenders. Wagner has made a virtue of his team being underdogs ever since he took over, but to be underdogs, you have to be theoretically inferior to everyone else. The chances are that will catch up with a team over a certain period of time, and sadly, it looks like it’s gaining fast on Huddersfield.