Just two games into the new season and the two top teams of the Premier League era – Manchester United and Arsenal – find themselves on the back foot, with plenty of work to do, ahead of big matches at the weekend.
The preseason unrest at Old Trafford spilled onto the pitch in a big way last Sunday when United lost to Brighton 3-2 with an underwhelming display. José Mourinho, now the favourite to be sacked first, must first find a defence that’s capable of limiting a Harry Kane led forward line.
The England captain has put his August hoodoo to bed and will be confident of breaching a backline that has shipped four goals in its opening two games. Nemanja Matic and Antonio Valencia returned to training this week and could be in line to return, whilst Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera are likely to be considered after the defensive debacle at the Falmer Stadium.
Unai Emery’s start to life in England’s top flight has seen him face a baptism of fire against Manchester City and Chelsea, along with high profile criticism from former captain Tony Adams. Still to register a point in their first two games, Emery’s men face West Ham – also without a point – knowing that they could be at the foot of the table after the weekend’s fixtures.
Tony Adams questioned Emery’s team selections, as well as his tactical approach. “I wanted him to put his new goalkeeper in, work with his back four, have two screening central-midfield players, and keep a clean sheet. It was crying out for it. But I didn’t see that,” the former Gunners captain said. “They don’t want to lose the ideology of the ‘beautiful game’ . . . whatever that is.”
It is not all bad news for Arsenal though. They have faced two of the league’s toughest opponents and showed snippets of excellent football against Chelsea, before succumbing to a late Marcos Alonso strike. New Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini was backed with seven new players at West Ham and will also be desperate to put some points on the board to avoid dropping to the bottom of the league.
Elsewhere last season’s champions clash, as record-breaking Man City host Championship winners Wolverhampton; Wolves lost 2-0 last week away to Leicester, whilst Sergio Agüero’s hat-trick helped City put six past Huddersfield at home. Liverpool have also made a convincing start to the season, but will heed the warning of the Seagulls. Brighton’s deserved 3-2 win against United means that Jürgen Klopp’s men will be fully aware of the dangers ahead of them.
Another intriguing fixture sees Bournemouth welcome Everton to the Vitality Stadium. Both teams have made a vibrant start to the season, and their key players Callum Wilson (2 goals and an assist) and Richarlison (3 goals) will be hoping to continue their fine form when their teams clash on Saturday.