The season has really come to life in recent weeks, with Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all in pretty scintillating form. However, it’s not just exciting at the top of the league, and one of the best things about the English league is that there are subplots from the top of the table to bottom.
With that in mind, we thought we’d pick out five interesting questions which we hope this weekend will provide answers to:
Who will win the first ever South Wales Premiership derby?
Cardiff joined Swansea into the Premier League this season, and on Saturday we can look forward to the first ever Premier League South Wales derby. Although the Welsh are perhaps best known for their rugby, both Swansea and Cardiff are extremely well supported and there is likely to be a fantastic atmosphere at the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday.
Both sides have shown this season that they can really perform when it matters, and this crunch clash could go down as one of the games of the season. With Michael Laudrup’s Swansea dedicated to playing the game in a beautiful way and Malky Mackay’s side no strangers to attacking football, this game should see goals, and we should all look forward to a fascinating spectacle on Saturday afternoon.
Will Arsenal pass a stern test at the third time of asking?
Over the last few years, Arsenal’s Premier League campaigns have appeared to have several similarities to the film ‘Groundhog Day’ – as in, they’ve all been exactly the same. The Gunners often seem to start well, and their good start incites everyone to shower them with superlatives, with everyone failing to realise that they haven’t actually played anyone that good yet. They are proclaimed as serious title contenders, and we are told that Arsene Wenger has finally got his blend right. Cue an unravelling somewhere down the line and a regulation 4th place for Wenger’s side.
This season has started in relatively similar fashion, with Arsenal tearing it up against the Premier League’s lesser opposition. They stormed into an early lead, and have kept pace with Liverpool and Chelsea to sit snugly at the top of the league. Plenty of fans and pundits have suggested that this is Arsenal’s year, and with Man Utd underperforming and Chelsea and Man City under new management, this could well be the year when Arsenal win their first trophy for 9 years.
What this theory fails to take into account is that Arsenal have yet to play a big team in the Premier League. They narrowly defeated an out-of-sorts Tottenham early on in the season, but are yet to face anyone who could realistically be regarded as a title contender. When they have faced quality opposition in other competitions they have come up short, and ultimately, unless you can perform against the big teams, you don’t win trophies.
With this in mind we turn our attention to Arsenal’s clash with Liverpool that takes place this weekend. This is the Gunners’ biggest game of the season so far, and failure to win would put a massive dent in their title hopes. Liverpool’s SAS duo – Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge – have been on top form and will make life very difficult for Wenger’s side, but Arsenal simply must win this game if they are to graduate from perennial also-rans to genuine title contenders.
Can Tottenham perform when it counts?
Andre Villas-Boas’s side has endured a fair amount of criticism so far this season and on the face of it, this criticism seems a little unfair. Following the departure of Gareth Bale, Spurs have had to re-jig their whole system as well as integrate a whole host of new arrivals, and yet the North London side reside in 4th following their best ever start to a Premier League (points wise).
However, there is also a sense in which this criticism seems fairly justified. Whilst they have won the majority of their games, Spurs’ general performances have been pretty poor. Three of their games have been won with a solitary penalty from the somewhat misfiring striker Roberto Soldado, whilst a 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham is not a result that Spurs fans will forget in a hurry.
Although Tottenham have just about got away with some pretty mediocre performances, AVB’s side are likely to be severely tested on Sunday when they face Roberto Martinez’s in-form Everton. In contrast to Spurs, Everton have rather been performing above expectations, and they will make for formidable opposition when the two sides meet at Goodison Park. For Spurs though, this is a must win game as they strive for Champions League football after missing out last season after a mid-season collapse. Although they’ve lost Gareth Bale, chairman Daniel Levy has still sanctioned a £100m spend on new players, and he will expect to see results. If Spurs can’t see off a team like Everton, then that doesn’t bode well a possible title challenge and an assault on the top four.
Will David Moyes continue to be bold?
One of the biggest contrasts between David Moyes’ Man Utd tenure so far and that of the man who preceded him has been the level of confidence that the side and the manager exhibit.
When Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of United, he instilled a sense of confidence – even arrogance – into his charges. They were the best, better than all the rest etc etc. This ability to motivate his side had startling results, as again and again United were able to tear teams apart, thanks in no small part to their confidence levels. When they played a weaker team, they would play with a swagger that said, ‘we’re going to win’, and more often than not they would.
In stark contrast to this, David Moyes’ reign has so far been characterised by cautiousness. This was present in his first competitive game, the Community Shield, when Moyes opted to play 4-5-1 and stifle the opposition in midfield as opposed to going out and winning the game. The same was true against West Brom, as United failed to assert their dominance on the game and ended up losing to Steve Clarke’s side. This lack of confidence was again evident against Southampton, with Moyes making a string of negative substitutions when winning and also when drawing, as opposed to going out there and trying to kill the game off. When Shakhtar Donetsk entertained Moyes’ side, the Scot allowed his side to rest on their laurels when 1-0 up and the result was one point instead of three.
Moyes approached United’s League Cup game against Norwich with a different mindset and picked an attacking side, with Adnan Janujaz and Wilfried Zaha allowed freedom to roam and Javier Hernandez causing trouble in the heart of the Norwich penalty box. The result? A comfortable victory against the Canaries, and hopefully food for thought for the United manager.
Man Utd head to Craven Cottage on Saturday to play a Fulham side who really are no great shakes, and it will be fascinating to see whether Moyes has learnt from his midweek victory at Old Trafford. Player for player, United wipe the floor with Fulham, and that should be dominant rhetoric present in the managers tactics and in the players minds when they step out onto the pitch in West London on Saturday afternoon. Rather than playing with the cautious inhibition that has been so ineffective, Moyes’s side must throw caution to the wind and set out to really hurt Martin Jol’s side. Until United start playing like champions, they’ve got no chance of being champions, and the first step is to ruthlessly dispose of Fulham in similar fashion to their demolition of Norwich.
Which claret and blue side is most likely to survive?
Although both West Ham and Aston Villa survived last season, the league’s two claret and blue teams were not in the greatest of shape. Both could realistically have been relegated, and although there have been a few positive results for both sides so far this year, it very much looks like Paul Lambert and Sam Allardyce will be fighting a relegation battle once again this season.
The two sides meet at Upton Park on Saturday, and it will be intriguing to see which team lays down a marker as far as Premier League survival is concerned. It is not an easy task to distinguish who is the better side, and clashes like that often make for scintillating encounters. Here’s hoping for one of those this weekend.