A month in to the Premier League season, the International window has come and gone, the European competitions have arrived and some teams will begin to make their move in breaking away from the pack.
Here is our preview of Matchday 5:
The local London rivals lock horns once again in a fixture that could have heavy implications on reinforcing the title early-season title credentials for either team.
The Blues have bounced back from an opening day embarrassment to Burnley, going on a fourth-match winning streak, while the Gunners have been far less convincing with hefty Liverpool and Stoke defeats.
Last Time They Played:
David Luiz and Alvaro Morata were among many to be rested from Chelsea‘s midweek Champions League tie against Qarabag, with both expected to return to the starting line-up. In another boost for the Blues, Gary Cahill has also served his suspension and will return to the heart of defence most likely in place of Antonio Rudiger.
Arsene Wenger will have the Europa League fixture against FC Köln to navigate, with many senior players rested and likely to return to the fold against Chelsea. Francis Coquelin will miss with a hamstring injury, meaning Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey will likely continue their pairing in the centre of midfield.
Player to Watch:
Alexandre Lacazette – The Frenchman has already been identified by N’Golo Kante as a big threat against Chelsea, with the man who scored 100 goals in Ligue 1 adapting well to Premier League life with goals in the Gunners’ wins over Leicester City and Bournemouth. Arsenal have not beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their past five meetings, but could Lacazette posses the physicality and dynamism to disrupt Antonio Conte’s methodical system at the back?
Chelsea are in a good place at the moment. The Blues have responded well from their opening day mishap, doing what all Conte teams do best and win their way back into form even when they seem to be slightly off the boil. They’ve scored consecutively in their past 23 matches at the Bridge, with over half of those fixtures (12) seeing them score three or more and that could pose trouble for the flakey Arsenal. You just cannot trust the Gunners yet, but then again, can you ever? This will shape as a big test of their title credentials. Pass it with flying colours and maybe some of that trust will return in leaps and bounds.
That’s how long Frank de Boer remained at the helm with Crystal Palace, who was sacked midweek following the club’s dismal first month in the Premier League, rooted to the bottom of the table with zero points nor goals for next to their name. With that the major headline throughout the week, the walking-headline himself Roy Hodgson was quickly named de Boer’s replacement and it shall be interested to see how the former England manager fares in his first outing. Interestingly, Hodgson will become only the third manager in top-flight history to take charge of a club in his 70s after Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Robson.
Meanwhile, Southampton will want to get a wriggle on themselves after just one win from their opening four matches.
Last Time They Played:
Deadline-day singing Mamadou Sakho may feature after playing 45 minutes for the club’s under-23s on Monday, while winger Wilfred Zaha remains out. Hodgson could make many a change as his side search for their first points – and goals – of the season.
Mauricio Pellegrino must decide whether to recall Virgil van Dijk for the trip to Selhurst Park, after his summer transfer saga has ended with him remaining with the club despite handing in a transfer request. The 26-year-old played first game since January on Monday night for the club’s under-23s, returning to the fold after he was banished to train alone.
Player to Watch: Virgil van Dijk
Could the central defender end his Southampton exile? All signs lean towards his likely return, whether that be from the bench or thrusted into the starting line-up. His fitness not a question, but rather his attitude. Pellegrino hinted at his return throughout the week, which would mark a major u-turn following the 26-year-old almost walking out on the club in the summer.
“Hopefully he will be getting better every single week,” said Pellegrino.
“But I am happy with that – not just about Virgil because everybody, I think, is ready to be part of the team.”
Midfielder Steven Davis, who has taken over from Van Dijk as captain so far this season, also said last month the Dutchman would be welcomed back by the rest of the squad.
Palace are on the verge of becoming the first club in top-flight history to lose their opening five league games without scoring a single goal. Suffice to say Hodgson will not want that record tarnishing his return to management, although it remains a strong likelihood.
The initial match following a change in management always throws up a surprise or two, with teams bound to make tweaks in style and personnel. At home, expect an Eagles response following a flat first month, pitted against a team who are by no means flying themselves.
Man United v Everton
It’s been a slow decline for the Toffees in recent weeks and tasked ahead of them is a trip to Old Trafford against a somewhat-rampant Manchester United.
Blown away by Atalanta in the Europa League midweek, coupled by successive Premier League defeats without scoring to Chelsea and Tottenham, and Everton have been brought back down to Earth following their opening-day win.
Conversely, despite a minor slip-up away to Stoke last weekend, United have run rampant in the league and return to the winners circle in their midweek Champions League tie against Basel.
And then there is the little narrative that is the return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford.
Last Time They Played:
While there are no fresh injury concerns for Everton, United will have to make do with life without Paul Pogba for the next six weeks or so, with the Frenchman suffering a hamstring injury against Basel midweek. It comes after Pogba reportedly ignored medical concerns over his long-standing hamstring injuries and instead received treatment via a personal trainer, to which Jose Mourinho is furious over.
Replacing Pogba could be Mourinho’s favourite son Marouane Fellaini who scored in the Champions League midweek, the out-of-favour Ander Herrera or veteran Michael Carrick could even be called upon to play alongside Nemanja Matic.
For Everton, long term absentees James McCarthy, Yannick Bolasie, Seamus Coleman, Ramiro Funes Mori and Ross Barkley all remain unavailable, while there are calls from England defender Martin Keown that £25m man Michael Keane should be dropped against his former club follow a horror show against Atalanta.
Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney
It has to be Rooney. The former United skipper returns to Old Trafford for the first time since his summer move back to his boyhood club Everton and it comes at a peculiar time for the veteran. After a flying start, Rooney has enjoyed a turbulent fortnight as an Everton player off the field despite still featuring on the field. Could this be the match in which he relieves himself of the stress that has burdened him and the team in recent times?
You can’t see Everton‘s form line turning around anytime soon with a trip to Old Trafford on the horizon. The heavy-scoring, free-flowing United of old is seemingly back and they should have the depth to account for Pogba. United have lost just one of their past 24 Premier League home games against Everton, ironically that was in December 2013 when former United and Toffees manager David Moyes was in charge. United too good at home in this tie, not without a fitting moment of Rooney magic.