Righto, with all that international malarkey is shelved for the time being, it’s time to plunge back into a deep warming bath of soapy Premier League action.
Here’s what’s on the box this weekend and our guide to the score predictions that will snaffle you a free Budweiser with the Premier Predictor.
Everton v West Ham
Those TV paymasters are clearly breaking us back in gently with this one. They don’t want us getting too excited too quickly at the thought of actual Premier League football to watch, which is damn kind.
I think Everton have been on our screens as many times as they have scored actual goals this season now though, admittedly, it is almost a pleasure to see the Hammers grace our 56inchers.
The foundation of Everton’s season was based around their infallible home form, based on a solid clean-sheet-keeping defence at Goodison Park. You’d be hard pressed to believe that Michael Keane plays in that backline when reading the previous sentence. But it’s true – until Sheffield United burst the Everton home bubble they were covering up their awful away form by churning out wins on Merseyside.
West Ham are currently in peak West Ham territory. They have their finest Premier League squad ever and would have gone into the international break in the European places if they hadn’t remembered their commitment to total inconsistency against Crystal Palace and barfed away 3 points at home. Expectations are higher than ever at the Athletics Stadium and this game could be dubbed the “battle of the teams believing they have a devine right to be 7th”.
OK – some actual tactical thoughts on this one. Everton are terrible at defending set-pieces so Pellegrini will be looking to Aaron Cresswell to deliver some quality at every opportunity.
In Yarmolenko they have one of the form players in Europe and they must look to get the ball to him whenever possible. Lucas Digne came off injured for France against Iceland meaning the Toffees might have to get veteran Fantasy Football stalwart Leighton Baines out of mothballs – and Yarmo could cash in here.
Yarmo did his best to take the shine off Big Ron's 700th goal.
Sebastian Haller will fancy himself up against the aforementioned Keane who has made to look a fool by far less talented footballers in Prague whilst Seamus Coleman is also likely to find several West Ham forwards clamming to attack down his side of the pitch as well.
I would mention Everton’s attacking plan, but they don’t really have one other than aiming crosses at Dominic Calvert-Lewin and I would expect West Ham’s back four to deal with that easily enough.
Marco Silva to take another step towards the abyss as West Ham ease through this game 2-0.
Crystal Palace vs Man City
I saw this one and thought, “oh, Palace have a chance here” and then realised they were playing at Selhurst Park.
It is my absolute right to try and make a case for Uncle Roy’s lot getting something out of this game and it goes something like this: Wilfried Zaha seems to have woken up from his summer nightmare and has remembered that if he is going to have any chance of getting away in January he needs to start playing like a pro again.
Gary Cahill has brought the kind of calm and order to Palace’s back four that keeps Hodgson looking young at 107. And there is always a chance that Christian Benteke might score a goal, I suppose – especially against a City defence that looks the ropiest it has been since Richard Dunne was pratfalling around in it.
Yeah, that’s all I have got.
Even though City’s squad will have been all over the world playing meaningless matches for the last ten days, I suspect whatever XI Peppy G pulls out of his magic hat will be enough to deny Palace any of the ball for 90 minutes. Guardiola’s plan to hide his lack of central defenders will to be keep the ball even more than usual and no matter how well drilled Roy will have Palace, they will succumb.
Raheem Sterling will continue to answer the racists in the best possible manner by scoring and assisting some more – as if the racists will look at this and suddenly become humane individuals off the back of a two-yard tap in after KDB picks him out at the back post.
As you have probably sussed, I don’t think Palace will win here.
City to start the kind of run that will put the wind up Anfield by winning 4-0 here.
Man United vs Liverpool
Curiously, for most of my life this has been a match between a side pushing for the title and a side that has absolutely no hope of winning the title whatsoever – and very little inbetween. You don’t need me to explain which side is which in the current pantomime order.
Up until the Newcastle debacle, I was pushing the narrative that United’s position in the table was actually a little bit false given the xG (expected goals) they should have scored and the xG they should have conceded. I even tried to explain to people they were playing better than their results would suggest.
I’ve given up on that – absolute bunkem. They were turgid against Newcastle, putting in one of the worst performances a United side have delivered in the Premier League era. The Longstaff brothers versus Fred, Matic and McTominay is hardly of the Keane vs Vieira ilk and it shows United for exactly what they currently – slow, immobile and boring.
There is an inherent danger here of blowing too much smoke up the backsides of King Kloppo’s men but there is no obvious reason why their winning start to the season cannot continue at Old Trafford. Big Jurgs could literally select Milner, Henderson and let Alisson run around in midfield to get fit and they’d be better than any selection Ole can come up with.
Mo Salah up against Ashley Young is the kind of matchup that could see the ex-England international do a Gary Neville and retire in the toilet at half-time.
I cannot imagine Virgil is losing a great deal of sleep at the thought of having to keep an eye on Marcus Rashford when he gets picked to play down the middle again – despite showing in Bulgaria what he is actually quite good at. As for Andy Robertson, I think he’ll probably feel comfortable enough to push on knowing he is only leaving Andreas Perreira unmarked if he doesn’t get back in time.
Solskjaer will talk up the historic rivalry between the two clubs and no doubt remind the press of some famous victories under Sir Alex. The problem for Ole is, he won’t be getting one here – Liverpool to dominate and win 2-0, with Sergio Romero looking like a better keeper than David de Gea.
Sheffield United vs Arsenal
Oh, good – some Monday night football to get excited about. Excited, that is, until Arsenal stink the place out.
By now, you’d think you’d be getting some idea of what Unai Emery is actually up to at the Emirates, no? Not a clue, absolutely not a clue. You know how horrible the football is when almost the entire Arsenal fanbase are demanding the return of Mesut Ozil and are prepared to overlook the fact he will do zero defending whatsoever.
It’s a shame for the Arsenal squad to be so lacking in tactical direction at this point given the talent they do actually have in Yo-Pierre, Laca (when he isn’t injured), young Saka, young Willock and young (yes he is still young) Chambers.
They should also be able to call upon Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney for this one meaning that there is no real reason for Mustafi to even have to be in the squad.
As for Sheff U, I feel Chris Wilder will be brave enough to keep his central defenders overloading the wide areas in attack which will baffle David Luiz in ways not seen since that World Cup semi in 2014.
If Dean Henderson can keep his legs shut, United could even go as far as winning this one. Their workman like midfield could keep Arsenal’s strollers quiet and I just sense a Billy Sharp late winner. 1-0 to the hosts.