Okay, so for those of us who live in England and Australia; maybe International football isn’t so bad. England have qualified for the 2014 World Cup after two good wins against Montenegro and Poland, whilst Australia secured their qualification in June with a win over Iraq. Whilst this no doubt heightens our anticipation of the World Cup in Rio next summer, there’s no doubt that football fans all over the world will be keen to get back to the real bread and butter stuff this weekend: the Premier League.
Although it’s only actually been two weeks, it feels like it was a very long time ago that Man United started to get the campaign back up and running with a fortunate win against Sunderland, whilst Tottenham’s 3-0 loss at home to Cardiff has almost been lost in the annals of history.
In short, it’s high time that the most competitive soccer competition in the world is back, and in anticipation of a weekend of frenzied action, I thought we’d pick out five of the most intriguing games due to take place over the weekend.
Man United v Southampton
United have been the team to watch so far this season; not as is customary because of their scintillating football, but because they have been so laughably poor. It has been novel to see the team that has dominated English football for the last 20 years taken down a peg or two, and there will be plenty hoping that Southampton can further derail David Moyes’ side.
In stark contrast to United, the Saints have exceeded everyone’s expectations so far this season, and Mauricio Pochettino’s team lie fourth in the table; five places above United. In the past this would be a fixture that United would have expected to win easily, but now, it really is anyone’s game. It will be interesting to see how Moyes has spent his two weeks – has he established a game plan that will improve the fortunes of his ailing side? For all of the added drama that comes with United’s progress (or lack of it) I can’t wait to see United host the Saints on Saturday.
Crystal Palace v Fulham
Without wanting to sound cruel, the season really lights up when there are jobs on the line, and when Palace host the Cottagers on Monday night, the stakes will be tremendously high for both sides.
Fulham’s win at home to Stoke may have given Martin Jol a stay of execution, but there’s no doubt that Martin Jol hasn’t exactly had the desired effect at Craven Cottage. Fulham lie 17th in the table with seven points from seven games, and if Jol can’t turn things around soon, there’s every chance that the Dutchman and Fulham will part company.
The West London club travel south to face Crystal Palace, a team who are in a similar but slightly more dramatic predicament. Palace have only picked up three points from their seven games, and although Ian Holloway is a bit of a favourite in South London, a few more poor performances could see the Bristolian given his marching orders too.
The threat of unemployment should help both of these men motivate their sides, and we should see a real crackerjack of a fixture at Selhurst Park.
Swansea v Sunderland
In another basement battle, Swansea host a Sunderland side led by newly appointed manager Gus Poyet, and it will certainly be fascinating to see how the Uruguayan’s first game in charge of the Wearside club unfolds.
Poyet has no experience of managing in the Premier League, and his opposite number Michael Laudrup will be hoping to take real advantage of that as he seeks to improve his side’s league position. The Europa League appears to have hampered Swansea’s league season so far, and Laudrup will be well aware that it is crucial for his South Wales side to move up the table before they are cut adrift from the top half.
Unfortunately for Poyet, he will not enjoy a honeymoon period at Sunderland, and he must be looking to win every single game. His side are already six points adrift of safety, and he will need to hit the ground running if he wants to make a success of his biggest job yet.
Everton v Hull
There’s been a lot of praise for Roberto Martinez’s Everton side this season, but after a very bright start against Man City, the Toffees faded badly and their 3-1 loss will be something Martinez will be keen to pave over with a solid win against Hull.
Everton’s early season form has been so impressive that many have put them in the mix for the title race, and the Merseyside club will be very keen to get back to winning ways on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately for them, Steve Bruce’s Hull stand in the way.
Hull were predicted to struggle by all and sundry before the season began, and of course they may still fall away. But right now, Bruce’s men look very good, and with wins over Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham, the Northeast club will fancy themselves against most teams in the league. Whilst they will be wary of the threat Everton pose, they will certainly believe that they can go toe-to-toe with the Toffees, and this should make for a captivating contest.
Aston Villa v Tottenham
Tottenham’s impressive start came to a shuddering halt two weeks ago as they succumbed to a 3-0 loss at home to West Ham. What will have been a worry for Andre Villas-Boas is not necessarily the loss, but the manner of it. West Ham stifled Spurs and played in a way so as to counteract the threat of Tottenham’s talented midfielders, and as documented on this site previously, AVB must find a way to counteract that.
If they wish to continue to be thought of as title contenders it is crucial for Spurs to bounce back from that defeat, and they will hope to do so at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately for them, Villa have looked more solid and impressive this season than they have for a number of years, and Paul Lambert’s charges are likely to make life as difficult as possible for AVB’s men.
Nevertheless, Tottenham need a win, as a loss or a draw against a team like Villa is not the result of a title contender. The North London side are likely to throw everything at Villa, but they will have to be wary of the counterattacking threat of Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, as another loss would be highly damaging.