There’s nothing quite like an international break to whet the appetite for some Premier League action. Here are this weekend’s three matches that are likely to satisfy any cravings you have for elite club soccer of the English variety.
Manchester City v. Tottenham Hotspur (Saturday, October 18th – 7:45 AM ET, NBCSN)
Arsene Wenger claims that Manchester City are the most complete team in the Premier League, and I tend to agree. However, City hasn’t exactly started this season firing on all cylinders, as they lag 5 points behind runaway leaders Chelsea. Yes, champions in all sports tend to start sluggishly after winning big, frequently struggling to find the energy and motivation to tackle a grueling season after significant success. But City have been hitting the snooze button way too often this season. So often that their Champions League campaign is already in jeopardy.
A big reason for this rather uneven start to the campaign has been the indifferent form of their talisman, Yaya Touré. The man who was allegedly offended by a lack of birthday cake this past summer has been either reluctant – or unable – to take control of matches in the way that has brought City so much success since his arrival to the blue half of Manchester in 2010. However, as Aston Villa can tell you, the Ivorian is still quite deadly when given time and space:
Still, there are plenty of positives going into this match for City: first of all, they’ll be playing a team they absolutely destroyed last season. After their two matches had come and gone, the cumulative scoreline read Manchester City 11, Spurs 1. Their last match at the Etihad was a perfect tennis bagel: 6-0.
The good news for Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is that those embarrassing losses didn’t take place under his watch, given that he managed Southampton at the time. The bad news is that his Southampton side managed only a home draw against City last season – and got dismantled 4-1 at the Etihad.
On the surface, this is just a very bad match-up for Spurs and their Argentine boss’ philosophy. They’ll be trying to keep a high line and press City, even though their hosts have more difficulty breaking down sides that sit back and defend deeper in their own territory. However, Pochettino showed a more pragmatic side recently, when Spurs came out of the season’s first North London Derby against hated rivals Arsenal with an away point. Then, while Spurs seemed intent on pressing the ball as usual, they did it a little deeper in their own half, thus giving Arsenal less space to maneuver.
That same approach might work well against City, but Spurs will be facing a more coherent attacking force than the disjointed 4-1-4-1 shape Arsene Wenger threw at them at the Emirates. Manuel Pellegrini will likely go with his usual 4-4-2, and the front duo is one that has been quite a nightmare for Spurs. Edin Dzeko once scored 4 goals in one match against the north Londoners, while Sergio Agüero can boast this neat little stat:
5 – @aguerosergiokun has netted five goals in five PL apps against Tottenham – only v Norwich City (5) has he scored as many. Spurred.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 16, 2014
Just behind them will be David Silva, who is back to his delightful best. Keeping track of the Spaniard will be a tall task for the entire Spurs defense and midfield, given how Silva loves to move around the field looking for the perfect spot to wreak havoc. And it might be that one Frank Lampard will make an appearance, and he sure loves facing off against the men in white.
Spurs have been desperately seeking a seat at the adult table of the Premier League. A good result at the Etihad would be a start, even though recent history and tactical circumstances suggest such a result is unlikely. Still, anything is possible, especially if City decide to hit the snooze button again.
Crystal Palace v. Chelsea (Saturday, October 18th – 10 AM ET, NBCSN)
This year’s favorites to take home the Premier League title suffered a gut-wrenching loss last season at the hands of Crystal Palace, their London rivals, when a John Terry own goal put a significant dent in their title hopes.
But much has changed this year: Tony Pulis is no longer managing Palace, having left them a week before this season started. But more importantly, a fellow by the name of Diego Costa wears Chelsea’s colors. He’s started his Premier League career in the best possible way: 9 goals in just 7 matches. Costa has scored 4 more goals than the trio of players with the second most goals this season. Actually, he’s scored more goals than 7 Premier League teams – and the same amount as Spurs. He’s been insanely good.
Of course, the question right now is whether Costa will even play against Palace. If he does, Chelsea is as good as anybody – Palace boss Neil Warnock claims the Blues might go undefeated this year – but can he keep up his torrid pace? The man born in Brazil had suffered through an ignominious performance at the World Cup, and missed an easy chance that would’ve greatly helped his new compatriots, Spain, avoid their shock 1-2 defeat at Slovakia during the Euro Qualifying tournament. However, he finally slotted one in against lowly Luxembourg a few days later, so the “great for his club, bad for his country” narrative has been temporarily quieted.
Not that any Chelsea fan cared one bit about that quirky trend, mind you.
West Bromwich Albion v. Manchester United (Monday, October 20th – 3:00 PM ET, NBCSN)
Louis van Gaal will be searching for his first away win of his brief Premier League career when his ever-unpredictable Manchester United visit the Hawthorns on Monday. He’ll also be looking to maintain the momentum that has carried the team to fourth place in the standings after consecutive home wins over West Ham and Everton.
Any kind of momentum will be needed, given that United’s next two matches after Monday are against the consensus two best teams in the league: Chelsea at home and then the first Manchester Derby at the Etihad.
All eyes will be on United’s defense on Monday, given the traumatic events that took place in Leicester the last time the Red Devils played away from home. It doesn’t help that van Gaal won’t be able to trot out the same back four of Shaw, Rojo, McNair and Rafael for the third consecutive match, given young Paddy McNair’s hamstring injury. However, Phil Jones is available once again, and he should slide seamlessly into McNair’s slot as the right-footed central defender. At the very least, half of the projected back four of Shaw, Rojo, Jones and Rafael can claim they weren’t responsible for the humiliation of letting a 3-1 lead turn into a 3-5 deficit nearly a month ago.
Even though West Brom had more success against the Red Devils away from home last season, they’ll be poised to give United a run for their money. They narrowly lost to Liverpool recently, but can claim an impressive away win at Spurs not too long ago. An encouraging number for the Baggies is that they’ve been able to score freely at home: 75 percent of their 8 goals this season have come at the Hawthorns. Also in their favor: United stars Ángel Di María and Marcos Rojo have to be at least a little bit jetlagged after flying halfway across the planet to play a couple of friendlies with the Argentinean national team in China last week.
This is a significant test for van Gaal’s United, with two much scarier obstacles to come. A significant amount of people demand the answer to a simple question: Is United for real? The next few weeks will surely help provide an answer.