Liverpool meet rivals Chelsea again
The Premier League’s elite have little time to lick their wounds from a series of blows in European competition as domestic action offers an immediate chance of redemption for Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.
Manchester City were the only English side to win their Champions League opener in midweek, but have problems of their own with an injury-ravaged defence exposed in a shocking 3-2 defeat to Norwich last weekend, leaving the champions five points adrift of leaders Liverpool.
Pep Guardiola’s men will be confident of cutting that gap as they host bottom-of-the-table Watford 24 hours before Liverpool travel to Chelsea on Sunday.
Both sides were beaten in their Champions League openers on Tuesday, but while Liverpool conceding twice late on to lose 2-0 in Napoli seems like a blip, Chelsea may have a long season of harsh lessons ahead with a young squad and equally inexperienced manager.
Frank Lampard has won just two of his first seven games in charge of the Blues and while his determination to give a number of youth academy graduates their chance has been embraced by fans, there are obvious flaws in this Chelsea side. A limited Valencia left Stamford Bridge 1-0 victors this week having had just one shot on target.
In the Premier League, only Norwich have conceded more than Chelsea over the first five games and Liverpool look ideally placed to pick off Lampard’s open approach on the counter-attack.
A rare defeat in Italy was only the second time Jurgen Klopp’s men have lost since January in all competitions and they are on a club record run of 14 straight Premier League wins.
“They’re playing so well at the minute. They’re the best team in the country on form,” said Lampard. “It’s a great test for us and we need to be ready for it.”
The early-season form of Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal has given hope to the rest of the league that breaking the glass ceiling of the top six is a realistic goal.
Leicester and West Ham are tied with those four on eight points from their first five games and have the chance to prove their top-six credentials at home this weekend.
Tottenham travel to Leicester after blowing a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 away to Olympiakos on Wednesday and have a quick turnaround before facing the Foxes on Saturday lunchtime.
United beat Leicester last weekend for just their second win in 10 league matches. But the Red Devils have not won away since their thrilling Champions League triumph at Paris Saint-Germain in March and travel to a West Ham side unbeaten in their past four league games.
Arsenal emerged from the summer transfer window with renewed hope and expectation of ending a three-year exile from the Champions League.
Despite significant backing, manager Unai Emery has been unable to find the right balance between defence and attack.
The Gunners let a 2-0 half-time lead slip away at Watford last weekend and were left hanging on for a 2-2 draw as the Hornets had 31 shots on goal -- the most Arsenal have ever faced in the Premier League.
A break clause in Emery’s contract means he can be let go at the end of the campaign and, into his second season, the Spaniard needs to start showing signs of progress quickly.
Aston Villa’s visit to the Emirates offers the perfect chance for a reassuring three points, but Emery can ill afford another slip-up.