With the early-season hurdles of Deadline Day and the international break in the rear-vision mirror, the Premier League is back and destined to keep delivering its surprises.
Liverpool travel to the Etihad with top spot on both teams mind, one of Everton and Tottenham will seek to emerge from their early-season mediocrity, while Manchester United face another stern test away to Stoke.
Here is Tribalfootball’s preview of Matchday 4:
It’s the tale of the £40m man and the priceless for Liverpool, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Philippe Coutinho set to feature for the Reds following turbulent transfer windows for very different reasons.
This match shapes as a pivotal one for both sides who, locked on seven points, do not want to lose ground on league-leaders Manchester United.
Last Time They Played:
Kyle Walker will return for City following the serving of his one-match ban with the only other concern Ilkay Gundogan, who is being eased back into the rigours of top-flight English football after last season’s season-ending knee injury.
For the Reds, Jurgen Klopp has confirmed Coutinho will not start despite looking “really promising” in training and then there is the curious case of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Where exactly do the Reds fit him?
It’s reported that he has eagerness to bizarrely play in central-midfield but Liverpool are in tip-top shape there, while the team’s wingers are absolutely flying and so certainly no starting-spot there.
Adam Lallana (thigh) and Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring) are the only two regulars who are expected to miss out, while the swinging rotation of Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius between the sticks may continue with the former expected to return.
Player to Watch: Benjamin Mendy
The former Monaco man impressed in his City debut against Bournemouth last outing and received special praise from manager Pep Guardiola for his efforts, after having only been training for the club for one week. Whether he holds his spot with the returning Kyle Walker remains the question, with the Frenchman slowly becoming a player-favourite with his joking antics. Not quite as humorous will be the task of minding Sadio Mane, Mohamed Sarah and co. come Saturday afternoon.
The Reds are running rampant at the minute and the only concern on their behalf is will the international break have halted their charge? And then there are the potential disruptions of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Coutinho coming into the line-up.
City have been solid without setting the world alight but even so should not be discounted at home, a venue they are yet to make their fortress under Guardiola.
The Reds by a whisker.
Everton v Tottenham
It’s been a torrid fortnight for the Toffees. Dismantled by Chelsea and now Wayne Rooney faces some sort of disciplinary action after being charged with drink driving last week. This comes at a time when the former Manchester United had began his second spell at Everton in flying colours.
Meanwhile, the Spurs have not had the rosiest of times either. Their Wembley woes continue with just one point in two consecutive games played there but the Spurs can find solace in the fact they have not lost to Everton since December 2012.
Last Time They Played:
Tottenham 3 Everton 2 (White Hart Lane, March 5)
Ronald Koeman has insisted that while Rooney’s off-field antics were very disappointing, he will feature unless he “is not in physical or mental condition to play.” And the Toffees will need him given the fact they have nine players missing in action, headlined by summer signings Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaassen who are both not expected to be ready for the weekend’s game.
For the Spurs, Victor Wanyama will miss with a knee injury, Kieran Trippier is a doubt and new signing Serge Aurier is deemed unlikely to start given he featured in international duty for Ivory Coast.
Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney
Koeman has vowed to pick him and that is a huge leap of faith by the boss given Rooney just arrived back at the club and has so quickly slipped up. Cheshire Police arrested Rooney during the international break for driving over the legal limit, before releasing the ex-England forward on bail. He has scored twice so far in three Premier League appearances and his presence will be vital in a game featuring two sides somewhat stuck in a rut.
Prediction: Everton 1 Tottenham 2
A really difficult fixture to pick given the underwhelming form lines of both teams. In their only away trip this season, Spurs got the chocolates against Newcastle at St James Park and it has been at ‘home’ at Wembley where they have struggled, with last season’s Champions League group-stage struggles perhaps a microcosm for how they might fare at the national stadium this season.
Spurs to edge this one, without any confidence at all.
Everton 1 Tottenham 2
Riding high atop of the Premier League table,Manchester United face another early season test of their title credentials when they travel to Stoke on Saturday, who presently sit in their familiar position of middle of the table.
Somewhat of a recent bogey side for the Red Devils, Stoke have tasted defeat just once in their past five meetings against United dating back to January 2015.
Last Time They Played:
Darren Fletcher is expected to return to face his former club for Stoke, a player heralded by Sir Alex Ferguson in his prime as one of the first picked in the Man United XI. Mame Biram Diouf, Kurt Zouma and Maxim Choupo-Moting are all expected to be fit for the clash despite being under injury clouds, while £18 million signing Kevin Wimmer is expected to make his debut.
Player to Watch: Juan Mata
Unexpectedly, the Spaniard has started all three matches for United this season in favour of Ander Herrera, who had an outstanding season last campaign. The talk continues to surround Mata and the big games with the likelihood that he will not be picked for those, but he continues to sparkle in a new-look midfield anchored by the ever-so important Nermanja Matic. Licensed to roam and create, all eyes turn to Jose Mourinho and his team selection come Saturday afternoon as to whether creativity is overlooked by ‘smash & grab’ given the nature of the away trip.
A win, a draw and a loss in their first three games, Stoke have been Stoke. With that win coming at home to the disappointing Arsenal at present, its difficult to gauge their form line when you stack it up against the all-conquering, heavy-scoring Man United. Expect the Red Devils to be nullified somewhat by the dogged determination of Stoke at home, but they should have far too many opportunities not to produce a winning scoreline.