Manchester City v Arsenal
Live on BT Sport 1
Arsenal look pretty hopeless right now, a litany of injuries and fitness concerns undermining any attempts by Mikel Arteta to build fluency and momentum. Inevitably, they are being out-battled and out-thought by opponents – and particularly in wide areas. Brenford’s wing-backs ran the game on the opening night as Callum Chambers struggled, before a disastrous formation selection allowed Reece James to dominate, unmarked, against Chelsea.
That is seriously worrying ahead of a trip to the Etihad, where Pep Guardiola has increasingly focused on attacks down the flanks over the last 12 months. His two free eights, likely to be Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish on Saturday, will pull particularly wide to interact with the winger and overlapping full-back to create a numerical advantage in Arsenal’s weakest area of the pitch.
Tottenham only avoided this fate a fortnight ago thanks to Japhet Tanganga’s inspired performance, because for the first 15 minutes Grealish and Raheem Sterling dovetailed brilliantly on that side. These two should pummel Chambers or Cedric Soares, and once in behind there is more than enough firepower in the City team to blow Arsenal away. Gabriel Jesus ought to build on his strong performances with a goal.
Liverpool v Chelsea
Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Unfortunately, as the German model of quick verticality and high pressing rips through the Premier League, it is causing an opposite reaction when it comes to the big games. Perhaps the return of fans in stadiums will improve the speed, but for now games like this one are likely to be cautious and low-scoring as Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp prefer to sit a bit deeper and keep it tight – avoiding carnage.
For Liverpool, this is likely to mean lots of long balls over the top of the Chelsea line to get Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in behind, but Tuchel’s 3-4-3 means he will have a five on five versus Liverpool’s front three and full-backs. Canceling each other out, and with both teams very compressed between the lines, Liverpool may struggle to score.
Chelsea, meanwhile, prefer to counter-attack on the ground and will use Romelu Lukaku as the fulcrum. There is a chance Tuchel’s inside forwards can help the visitors outnumber Liverpool through the middle, especially if Harvey Elliot is again deployed in a more creative role in the midfield three, although Klopp will show more defensive caution than that. Sadly, a low-scoring game beckons here – and both managers will be happy with a point.
Wolves v Man Utd
Live on SKy Sports Main Event
The optimism following Manchester United’s win over Leeds United on the opening weekend has evaporated following another worryingly static, sideways, and low-tempo performance through midfield in the 1-1 draw with Southampton. This is the problem that has defined Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management, and seems highly unlikely to change without a new world-class midfielder.
Wolves can surely take up where Saints left off, and while Bruno Lage has implemented a more attacking strategy than his predecessor (42 shots in his first two league games) he is likely to channel Nuno Espirito Santo for this one. There have been just seven goals in the last six meetings between the sides, reflecting just how well these players understand how to sit deep, stay compact, and force United into stagnant football.
Should Man Utd be lulled into sleepy football, then they may find Adama Traore‘s injection of energy difficult to death with. He has made an excellent start to the season from the left despite the lack of an end product, while there are question marks over how Aaron Wan-Bissaka can cope alone when Fred is his nearest ally. Whatever the outcome, there won’t be many goals.
Tottenham v Watford
Tottenham Hotspur are lucky to have a 100% record so far this season, having held the minority of possession and being completely outshot by both of their league opponents. The 1-0 win over Wolves was particularly fortunate as Nuno Espirito Santo surprisingly used very similar tactics to the cautious, counter-attacking 4-3-3 deployed in the opener against Manchester City.
The biggest flaw with the system is how the front three – which should include Harry Kane from the start on Sunday – stays remarkably high and narrow, presumably in an attempt to shut down passing lanes through the centre of the pitch. This leaves the full-backs far too exposed, and with none of the three tracking back (to stay interconnected and sharp on the counter) this is becoming a serious problem.
Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling, followed by Adama Traore, all looked dangerous. This weekend’s opponents should be even better; Xisco chiefly likes to launch quick, dribble-heavy counter-attacks down the flanks. Only Crystal Palace and Arsenal have attacked down the wings more than Watford so far this season, per WhoScored.com, with most of their play funneling through Ismaili Sarr. He should be able to get the visitors into dangerous areas down those understocked flanks.