Seven things to look out for this weekend in the Premier League

How will Liverpool’s defence cope at Arsenal; are John Terry’s days numbered at Chelesea?

John Terry: Chelsea’s long-serving captain  struggled at Manchester City last weekend and was substituted  at half-time by manager Jose Mourinho. Photograph: Carl Recine/Livepic/Reuters

John Terry: Chelsea’s long-serving captain struggled at Manchester City last weekend and was substituted at half-time by manager Jose Mourinho. Photograph: Carl Recine/Livepic/Reuters

 

1 A test of City’s mettle: Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Chelsea was a statement performance. The message was received loud and clear by José Mourinho: City are not planning to lie down this season. With Sergio Agüero rampant, David Silva in the mood, Yaya Touré dominant and Raheem Sterling settling in nicely, City’s attack will take some stopping.

Yet concerns remain over their defence, even though Chelsea were restricted to few clear chances and Vincent Kompany appears to be back to his best. They can still be vulnerable because of their gung-ho nature and Everton will test them. City have struggled at Goodison Park in the past, their 1-1 draw there last season allowing Chelsea to put daylight between themselves and Manuel Pellegrini’s side in January and Romelu Lukaku was in rampaging form for Everton against Southampton.

2 Could Blind be more than just a stop-gap centre back for United? By using Daley Blind as a centre half this season Louis van Gaal risked ridicule. Many critics expected a big-name defender to be brought in but instead in United’s three games so far he has chosen to use a utility player who is neither tall nor blessed with electric pace. But Blind has appeared comfortable, using intelligent positioning and anticipation to get out of awkward situations. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s not often teams play with two big strikers up front any more.

Providing a side has one big centre back and other tall players to pick up on set pieces, a smaller, ball-playing centre-back can be protected and prove invaluable when building play from deep.

“You can no longer deploy the old-fashioned, solid type of defender in these positions,” Van Gaal said of centre-backs in the 1997 book The Coaching Philosophies of Louis Van Gaal and the Ajax Coaches. “You have to use technically and tactically gifted players.”

This line of thinking more than anything perhaps explains why Nicolás Otamendi is checking in at Manchester City and not United. Maybe the tactically astute playmaking centre back that Van Gaal dreams of simply isn’t out there. If Blind performs well again against Newcastle maybe there won’t be a rush to bring in another defender before the transfer window shuts.

3 Tottenham will have to stop Mahrez: Is there a more dangerous winger in the Premier League than Riyad Mahrez at the moment? The Algerian is in the form of his life and has picked up where he left off at the end of last season by scoring three goals in his first two matches, his thumping finish against West Ham signalling his current high confidence levels.

There was a feeling of inevitability when Marc Albrighton found him in the area and as Mahrez drew back his left foot, you just knew that the ball was going to end up in the back of the net. West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell was certainly glad to see the back of him and Tottenham’s Ben Davies will not relish the arduous task of pinning Mahrez down.

Leicester’s wing play has been outstanding so far. It is not just about Mahrez’s swaggering raids inside from the right. Over on the left flank, Albrighton has not been this much of a threat since he broke into the Aston Villa team five years ago.

4 How will Shaqiri fit in at Stoke? A quick trawl through any celebrity website will show you that face-lifts usually don’t end well. By trying to do too much too soon, many a sorry recipient has overloaded their plate to the extent that it becomes a sorry mess. Mark Hughes has done a fantastic job so far in spicing up the meat and veg left behind by Tony Pulis at Stoke: Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krcic, Marco van Ginkel, Ibrahim Afellay and Mame Biram Diouf have all been exciting arrivals since he has taken over.

But by bringing in Xherdan Shaqiri – an obvious talent – is he now in danger of overloading Stoke in the attacking third and neglecting the qualities that made them such obdurate opponents in the first place? Eric Dier said his goal against Stoke came about because Spurs had targeted Hughes’s team on set pieces, pointing out that they’re not as physically imposing as they once were.

With Ryan Shawcross still out injured and Steven N’Zonzi sold to Sevilla, Hughes will have to hope that his array of attacking talent makes up for the team’s weakened spine. How he uses Shaqiri at Carrow Road may give a hint as to whether his Stoke face-lift is going to be one that works out.

5 Will Liverpool’s defence survive a real test at the Emirates? Much has been made of Liverpool’s two clean sheets against Stoke and Bournemouth but in truth there were moments in both games when they could and should have conceded.

Dejan Lovren has received glowing praise for his performances so far but he is still prone to wandering too far away from Martin Skrtel at times and Arsenal, with the fluid movement of Alexis Sánchez, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey behind Olivier Giroud, would seem best placed to exploit the space between the Croatian and Skrtel should Lovren abandon his station at the Emirates.

With Liverpool still yet to click going forwards, a resilient defensive display will be required if they’re to prevent Arsenal from sticking a pin into the bubble of optimism at Anfield. How Lovren performs will be key.

6 The beginning of the end for Terry at Chelsea? José Mourinho bristled when asked by journalists why he had taken off John Terry instead of Gary Cahill at half-time during the 3-0 defeat by Manchester City. The suggestion was that Mourinho brought Kurt Zouma on because he has more pace than Terry and speed is what Chelsea needed against such a rapid attack as City’s, regardless of whether Cahill had in fact looked the shakier defender.

It does not bode well for Terry’s future at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have been made to look vulnerable by both the pace of Swansea and Manchester City in their two league games so far and their talismanic captain, who is fast approaching 35, is not going to get any quicker. With the club continually linked with Everton’s John Stones, if Terry is left stewing on the bench at the Hawthorns – a ground Chelsea have not won at in the league since April 2011 – it might point to a rapid end to a glittering Chelsea career.

With the window still open it could be that both parties decide it is better not to endure the kind of long and distracting goodbye that Steven Gerrard went through at Liverpool.

7 Shelvey to unstitch ragged Sunderland? While André Ayew and Jefferson Montero have earned the plaudits in Swansea’s impressive start to the season, Jonjo Shelvey has diligently gone about his work in midfield, threading passes, showing neat footwork and closing down space energetically.

Shelvey has always had rich promise but at times his judgment has been questionable. His slide-rule ball for Bafetimbi Gomis’s goal against Newcastle was a sign that his football brain is maturing and he is becoming a growing creative force. Off the field too, Shelvey has made an effort to improve.

He hired a personal trainer and advertised for a live-in chef in the summer to make sure he’s eating the right kind of food after being criticised for being a bit bulky last season. Sunderland had a meeting this week to talk about how they can improve after such a terrible start. They could do with discussing how to stop Shelvey from pulling the strings.

(Guardian Service)

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