Game-week four sees plenty of new faces pulling on unfamiliar shirts. Two of the promoted clubs face off against each other while the third heads to Old Trafford, Mark Hughes goes up against former club Manchester City, and Liverpool will hope they still have their perfect record after a trip to Swansea.
Fixture analysis: Following the international break, this weekend’s Premier League matches raise some interesting questions. Will Manchester United rediscover their goal-scoring form at home to Crystal Palace? Will Liverpool maintain their 100% start as they visit Swansea City? How will Tottenham do in their first match since that Welsh bloke’s departure?
After failing to score (or win) in their last two matches, United will see the visit of Palace as a good way to rediscover some form prior to the Manchester derby. But Ian Holloway will know the natives will grow restless should the Eagles stifle the home team, and David Moyes’ team selection could set the mood at Old Trafford after a safety-first but ultimately ineffective approach against Liverpool.
Aston Villa host Newcastle hoping to add more misery to a gloomy few months for Alan Pardew’s side; while Hull City and Cardiff City face off in the battle of the new boys, with both sides knowing these are the games that could define their season.
Arsenal go to Sunderland with a spring in their step and a superstar in their team, Tottenham host Norwich in what could be the start of a new era, with new faces but old hopes, and Everton’s home match against Chelsea could be the stand-out game of the weekend.
Player analysis: If you expect United to take out their recent goal-scoring frustrations on Palace, Robin van Persie (14.0) is a pricey but almost-certain goal-scorer. Should Moyes finally bow to the pleas of many and play Shinji Kagawa (7.6), the Japanese play-maker could be the star of the weekend after two impressive showings for his country in recent days. Although that very fact could see him benched, much to the annoyance of those all too keen to see what he can do when consistently played in his best position.
Further back, either Fabio (4.3) or Chris Smalling (5.3) are likely to deputise for the injured Phil Jones and Rafael. And should you wish to take a punt on new signing Marouane Fellaini (8.5), Moyes’ apparent intention of playing him more as a holding midfielder could sway that decision, although against Palace he could have plenty of chances to break forward and contribute from set-pieces.
As Stoke City welcome Manchester City to the Britannia Stadium, a punt on a defender or two may not be a bad move if you feel Mark Hughes has what it takes to get one over his old side.
Ryan Shawcross (5.5) is one of the highest scoring defenders so far, and another clean-sheet against City’s prolific front-line could also see a man-of-the-match performance by the 25-year-old. That said, if your money is on City it should also surely be on Alvaro Negredo (9.3) to finally start ahead of Edin Dzeko (7.8) after the Bosnian’s hit-and-miss start to the new campaign.
Matija Nastasic’s (5.5) delayed start to the season means he is something of a bargain, while Pablo Zabaleta (6.3) may be a little more expensive but he is also the fourth-highest-scoring defender thus far.
The highest scoring defender is Everton’s Seamus Coleman (5.4) but it will be interesting to see how the Toffees fare against Chelsea in Saturday’s late kick-off. It will also be interesting to second-guess Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up given the array of talent now at his disposal. Willian (8.5) and Samuel Eto’o (9.0) could both make their debuts, provided the Cameroon international – or should that be former international – is fully over the injury he suffered last week.
Tottenham could hand debuts to Christian Eriksen (8.0) and Vlad Chiriches (5.5), while Erik Lamela (9.0) could be in line for a first start following his substitute appearance against Arsenal.
Liverpool are reportedly hopeful that Daniel Sturridge (9.2) will be fit for Monday’s match against Swansea. And Reds fans will hope he can score once again while Simon Mignolet (5.7) keeps them out at the other end.
The two Liverpool players have racked up 51 points between them already, but Sturridge isn’t the top-scoring striker so far. That honour goes to Arsenal’s Oliver Giroud (8.8) and he will be hoping the arrival of Mesut Ozil (10.0) at the Emirates helps him maintain his impressive early-season form.
Captain choice: It is a toss-up between van Persie and Ozil, as I feel both players will take their fine international form into this weekend’s fixtures. But I have opted for the Dutchman, given that United cannot afford to put in another below-par performance.
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