It seems ridiculous to suggest there are ‘must not lose’ games at such an early stage of the new Premier League season but Chelsea can really not afford not to get at least one point from their match against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday. There is something not quite right at the club and Antonio Conte is the favourite in the Manager’s Sack Race which suggests he is the most likely boss to be fired first.
The Monday night fixture at the Etihad will tell us a great deal about how the season could pan out for Manchester City and Everton. A convincing home win would set down a marker by City but an away win would make Everton genuine contenders for a top four finish and qualification for the Champions League. Wayne Rooney would love to score for the team he supports against the rivals of the club for who he is the top scorer. Manchester United could still be the top of the league
The 4-0 win against West Ham was the best result of the opening weekend which means United are the league leaders on goal difference. The win was one of their best performances since the Alex Ferguson era and Jose Mourinho seems to have got the hang of the manager’s job at Old Trafford. Romelu Lukaku is the favourite to win the Golden Boot after his brace of goals against the Hammers.
Mourinho has a superb record of winning the league in his second season at a club. He worked the oracle with Real Madrid and Chelsea and United look in great shape to maintain his record. They drew 10 times at home in the league last season and Lukaku was signed to convert those draws into wins. United scored in the first half against West Ham and last season they looked vulnerable to being pegged back. However, the current squad are a different animal and three more goals were scored without reply.
This is Swansea’s seventh year on the bounce in the Premier League and last year’s 15th place finish was their worst effort over that spell. They had four different managers but once they settled on Paul Clement results improved. Swansea won 12 league matches last season but nine of those were when Clement was the manager and he only had 18 matches in charge. In 2017 Swansea had the 8th best record in the league and they look on track for mid table safety this time but avoiding defeat against United looks beyond them.
Tottenham are playing Chelsea at the right time. The Blues have made some strange decisions in the transfer market and the current squad is not fit for purpose. Tottenham can win their first home match at their temporary Wembley home while White Hart Lane is being rebuilt. They are a developing side who have a proven scorer in Harry Kane and the outstanding young player in Dele Alli. The club pay relatively low wages compared to the superpowers and keeping players will be key. Tottenham can challenge this season and that process can begin by beating Chelsea.
Everton have invested a significant sum to get amongst the perennial Champions League qualifiers. Rooney is the prodigal son who could give Everton two good years but the project is more than about a ceremonial swansong to his career. Everton have made some solid signings without breaking the bank and this could be the season they finish above Liverpool for the first time since 2012/13. In any case they can get a point against City next Monday night.
The Huddersfield and Newcastle fixture on Sunday is looking like a relegation related match. Despite Huddersfield’s great start the size of the wage bill suggests an immediate return to the Championship. Newcastle have spent very little in improving the squad that was promoted to the top flight last season. The financial backing has been slow and Rafa Benitez could get fed up and walk away very soon and that puts Newcastle in dire straits again.
Arsenal take their unbeaten record (after one game!) to Stoke who always finish about 11th.However, last season there were ominous signs that the nine-year stay in the Premier League could be coming to an end. Stoke must improve in many areas to survive but a defeat against Arsenal could be the start of some tough times at home and on the road. Whatever happens at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday at 10pm on Monday Man United should still be top of the league. (Not that I’m biased!).