2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)

Still a work in progress but making steps of progress with each match, Arsenal look to make it seven wins on the spin Saturday when they host a Watford side trying to shake off a tough exit in the Carabao Cup.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

These sides are separated by one point and two spots in the table, with Watford (4-1-1) in fourth and Arsenal (4-0-2) sixth. The two sides are also trending in different directions – the Gunners are seeking their first seven-match winning streak since Sept. 17-Oct. 19, 2016, while the Hornets are winless in their last three overall after starting the season with the maximum 12 points in league play while winning their first five contests.

While Unai Emery’s team did not record back-to-back clean sheets, they did enough to advance to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Championship side Brentford. Danny Welbeck had a first-half brace, giving him four goals during this win streak, and Alexander Lacazette put the tie out of reach with a stoppage-time marker.

“I am very happy individually with the player. Danny Welbeck is working with this commitment and when he is playing also with a performance like today, and I think he’s helping the team and we want this,” Emery said of Welbeck, who is in the final year of his contract as both sides are reportedly discussing an extension. “Also it’s more chances for us to find the first XI for the next matches with performances like today’s.”

Cracking that first-choice lineup, however, will be a challenge since both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also are in fine form with seven goals between them in the last five matches. Welbeck has logged just 30 minutes in league play but has made the most of his starts with goals in all three competitions having also scored in Europa League.

“I’m happy with the goals, but more importantly I am happy that we have gone through to the next round and put in a good performance against a good side,” Welbeck told Arsenal’s official website. “We’re taking it game by game, but now we look ahead to Watford on Saturday in the Premier League. That is our main focus at the moment but every single game is important for us.”

All told, Emery overturned nine of his starters from last weekend’s 2-0 win over Everton that turned on a world-class goal by Lacazette and one from Aubameyang three minutes apart in the second half.

One of those changes may be in effect for this match as well with centre back Sokratis Papastathopoulous unlikely to feature due to a knee injury suffered against Everton. Rob Holding, who entered late in the first half for Sokratis and helped the Gunners record their first shutout of the season, played the full 90 against Brentford.

Watford make the short trek into London’s city limits feeling aggrieved after losing to Tottenham Hotspur on penalties after a 2-2 draw Wednesday at Stadium MK. The match was drawn as a home contest for Spurs, whose renovations at White Hart Lane are on-going and were unable to secure Wembley for use. Tottenham requested the MK Stadium venue, which was approved by the EFL over Watford’s objections, and one-time Milton Keynes product Dele Alli drew Spurs level at 1 with a penalty in the 82nd minute after a foul that resulted in a straight red card to centre back Christian Kabasele.

After the teams traded goals in the final four minutes, Alli was again decisive from the spot as both Etienne Capoue and Domingos Quina missed for Watford while Heruelho Gomes failed to stop any of Tottenham’s four attempts.

Watford manager Javi Gracia was incensed over referee Lee Mason’s decision and told The Times, “I like to respect the referee’s decisions but it’s hard to accept the penalty and the red card decision. What I saw was Dele and Kabasele fighting to win possession. We will appeal the red card.”

It will be an important appeal because Gracia has used the same starting XI for all six league contests. Central defender Craig Cathcart was the only holdover from last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Fulham, where Andre Gray scored for the second straight league match. The striker has three goals, sharing joint honours with Roberto Peryera, after totaling five in 31 matches last term.

In a bid to help Gracia keep continuity in the lineup, fellow striker Troy Deeney said he will be getting an injection during the week to deal with an ankle injury suffered in a challenge from Fulham’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah. That is in addition to the broken toes he has been playing with since late last month.

“I have to have another injection, this time in the ankle, for the weekend so I’ll be ready for Arsenal,” Deeney told the Evening Standard as he prepares to reprise his role as Public Enemy No. 1 at the Emirates – where Arsenal supporters will recall his comments last season after Watford’s home win over the Gunners in which he said Arsenal “lacked cojones.”

“There’s a bit of ligament damage in there but nothing a few injections can’t help. It’s going to take more than that to stop me playing against Arsenal.”

The Gunners had the last laugh on Deeney in last season’s corresponding fixture, winning 3-0 as the Hornets striker missed a penalty in the second half that would have made it 2-1. Watford is 3-0-8 against Arsenal in the Premier League era, but two of the wins have come at the Emirates, most notably their 2016 FA Cup quarterfinal upset.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid 4/9 favourites to make it a seventh consecutive win on the trot and have 18/5 odds to take at least one point from the match. Watford are lengthy 5/1 underdogs to record their third win in four overall matches at the Emirates.

Arsenal are also better than even money to win this game with more than 2.5 goals scored at 10/11 odds, and the Gunners get 4/1 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 victory. A low-scoring draw is a 6/1 pick, followed by a Hornets victory over 2.5 goals at 15/2 and a clean sheet for Gracia’s team via 1-0 or 2-0 win a 16/1 longshot.

Aubameyang edges out Lacazette to lead the line for first-goal honours, with the Gabon international listed at 16/5 while the France striker is 7/2 to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal. Welbeck’s stellar recent form has him listed as a third choice at 9/2, while Aaron Ramsey (13/2) and Henrik Mkhitaryan (13/2) round out the top five. Gray narrowly edges out Deeney as Watford’s top option for a first goal to the Hornets at 17/2 compared to Deeney’s 9/1 return.

The Arsenal duo of Aubameyang (5/6) and Lacazette (19/20) have better than even money odds to score during the match, and Welbeck is lurking right behind the pair at 5/4. That makes sense since the trio have accounted for all but one of the last nine Gunners goals.

Gray has 12/5 odds to score for Watford, just ahead of Deeney (5/2), while Roberto Pereyra is an intriguing listing at 7/2 to find the back of the net.

PREDICTION

Little by little, match by match, there is slowly an identity taking hold at Arsenal under Emery. The Gunners are trying to do the little things to see out matches, covering the details that seemed to not matter in the final stages of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. There has been talk of that during the week, with Cech’s comments to The Guardian about style meaning more than substance to “Le Professeur” surprising given the source as opposed to the content of the critique.

Arsenal are becoming a cohesive team with each passing match. The attack is solid, and with Welbeck coming on, there’s now options across the board for Emery to pull the trigger earlier on switches among the attacking four if he seems someone having an off-night.

The decision to bring Lucas Torreira along slowly following his summer signing has paid dividends, but one still feels the pairing of the Uruguay international and teenager Matteo Guendouzi in front of the back four is the ultimate end game for Emery, which leaves Granit Xhaka as the odd man out.

The back four is still prone to mistakes but improving as a unit. That will be challenged to a degree if Sokratis is unable to play in this match, but Holding appears light years better than the wide-eyed youngster who looked overmatched a few seasons prior.

The surprising falling apart of the contract negotiations between the club and Ramsey is a discussion for another day, but with the rumours already swirling the team is determined to get something for him in the January window as opposed to potentially losing him on a free transfer at season’s end is another sign Arsenal are adapting to modern times.

For Watford, this is an opportunity to show they learned their lesson from the loss to Manchester United. The Hornets afforded the Red Devils too much respect that day, and when they finally took the initiative to Manchester United, they were almost able to steal a point at the death.

It will be tougher doing so at the Emirates in contrast to Vicarage Road, but with Deeney setting the example of how important this match is via his choice for an injection, that kind of combativeness can be contagious in a positive way.

Watford are eager to see Kabasele’s red card overturned — something that has a strong chance of happening considering it appeared Mason reverted to the old rules regarding the “last man” defending — and that would also be a huge plus to maintaining the continuity Gracia has enjoyed in the early part of the season.

The Hornets have started brightly in recent years only to fade into mid-table obscurity by the time the holiday fixtures roll around. Watford need their left side — most notably Jose Holebas and Pereyra — to start causing mischief on the flank to help Deeney and Gray find space to operate against Arsenal’s central defenders.

Despite their 2-0 scoreline against Everton, there was not all that much separating the Gunners from the Toffees, and it can be argued Aubameyang’s goal should have been chalked off for being offsides. The Hornets are closer than many think to being in that mix of teams that will comprise seventh through 10th in the table, and getting a point here will go a long way towards that coming to fruition come May.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Watford 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 7 — West Ham United (1-1-4) vs. Manchester United (3-1-2)

For all the talk of the captain’s armband around Carrington and Old Trafford this week, a circus ringmaster’s hat may be the next appropriate piece of fashion to be discussed as the fractious relationship between Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba and manager Jose Mourinho spilled out into the open ahead of Saturday’s match’s at West Ham United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

While the two have circled round each other to varying degrees starting almost the moment after Pogba lifted the Jules Rimet trophy with France at the World Cup – aided by the words, actions and inactions of Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola and United executive chairman Ed Woodward – this week has taken the relationship, or lack thereof, to a new level or low depending on perspective.

It began with last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton which ended a three-match winning streak in all competitions for United (3-1-2). Pogba set up Fred’s first-half goal but was also responsible for the giveaway that led to Joao Moutinho’s equaliser for Wolves.

United were on the back foot for much of the match against the promoted side, something Pogba noted to the BBC post match in which he said, “We are at home, and we should play much better against Wolves. We are here to attack. … When we play like (that) it’s easier for us.”

That tweaking of Mourinho’s tactics led the manager to stripping Pogba of his vice captaincy in front of his teammates on the practice grounds one day before United crashed out of the Carabao Cup 8-7 on penalties Tuesday at home to Championship side Derby County, run by Frank Lampard — one of Mourinho’s star midfielders at Chelsea.

After the loss – in which Pogba did not play as part of a prearranged plan by the two parties – Mourinho downplayed any talk of a rift while confirming his action without explanation, saying “The only truth is that I made the decision for Paul not to be second captain any more. It was exactly the same person who decided Pau was the second captain – myself. No fallout at all, just decisions I do not have to explain.”

On Wednesday, video emerged of a tense exchange between the two at Carrington, with details later coming out Mourinho was upset over an Instagram post Pogba made that reached his social media account 30 minutes after the loss to Derby County. That, however, blew over without incident when it became clear that the WiFi at Old Trafford – which English journalists all have pointed out is notoriously inconsistent – led to the delay in the video posting in what optically looked at an inopportune time.

Yet as Mourinho put out one fire, another emerged with his surprising criticism of defender Phil Jones, whose missed penalty in the eighth round consigned United to defeat and was the only attempt among the 16 by both sides stopped. After the match, Mourinho said “Going after the sixth and seventh I knew we would be in trouble with Jones and Eric (Bailly).”

While this sideshow rages on, one point Mourinho repeated Tuesday after the draw versus Wolves rang true – United currently are lacking a killer instinct to finish teams off. The red card to keeper Sergio Romero did United no favours, and it took Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time equaliser just to get the match to penalties.

Whether Pogba is restored to the lineup is a question only Mourinho answers. “The Special One” though has issues at both right back and left wing. For the former, summer signing Diogo Dalot appears ready to supplant veteran Antonio Valencia, whose lack of effectiveness going forward is overshadowing his steady play along United’s back four.

Up front, Alexis Sanchez was an unused substitute Tuesday night – the second time in three matches he did not play, though he was left behind for United’s Champions League opener on the artificial pitch at Young Boys. With Marcus Rashford having completed a three-match ban for violent conduct and eligible to return, Mourinho may shuffle his attackers as Tuesday goal-scorer Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard are also among the options with Sanchez and Rashford to flank Romelu Lukaku in United’s 4-3-3.

The drama surrounding Pogba and Mourinho has sucked up all the oxygen in that facing what appears to be a resurgent West Ham United squad is completely secondary. After opening league play with four losses on the trot, the Irons (1-1-4) have taken four points from their last two matches and ended Chelsea’s 100 percent run with a scoreless draw last Sunday.

In fact, it can be argued West Ham should have taken all three points, but Andriy Yarmolenko missed a wide-open header late as the Irons sorely missed the presence of injured striker Marko Arnautovic.

Much of West Ham’s resurgence can be attributed to the introduction of Declan Rice in a holding midfielder role in front of the back four. There was also a strategy to lay deeper against Chelsea, something that could repeat itself again in this match given Man United’s attacking options.

“It is obvious that we have improved, otherwise we would not have taken four points in these last two matches,” midfielder Pedro Obiang told the club’s official website. “We have to improve more to meet the expectations that we have about us. We are doing it little-by-little, week-by-week.

“The expectations with the new signings and the new coach are very big. We had a bad start and now we have to organise ourselves little-by-little.”

That organisation on the offensive side finally came to fruition Wednesday when West Ham demolished last-place League Two side Macclesfield Town 8-0 at home. Grady Diangana had a brace in his senior Hammers debut while Ryan Fredericks, Robert Snodgrass and Lucas Perez all added their first goals with the club.

“We played with intensity and we tried to continue playing in the same way,” a pleased Pellegrini said. “A lot of the time when you play against a lower league team you don’t play with the same pace, and you think you can walk to victory but we were very professional.”

Arnautovic is expected to be restored to the starting XI, with Michail Antonio the most likely candidate to make way for the Austria international. Arnautovic has combined with Yarmolenko to score all five of West Ham’s goals in league play.

Manchester United took four points in last season’s means, including a scoreless draw in the corresponding fixture. West Ham United are winless in their last five (0-2-3) in all competitions versus the Red Devils and have not scored in 358 minutes in league play against them since Diafra Sakho’s goal  a 1-1 draw Nov. 27, 2016.

West Ham have just one win in their last 19 league matches (1-5-13) against Manchester United, a 3-2 victory at Upton Park on May 10, 2016. The Irons, though, are 1-4-2 in the last seven top-flight matches between the clubs.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are comfortable 4/5 favourites to return home with three points. The odds of a draw at 13/5 are slightly better than West Ham pulling off a surprise win at 13/4.

Oddsmakers believe there will be goals scored as Manchester United are 7/4 favourites to win with more than 2.5 goals scored compared to 17/5 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline. A 0-0 or 1-1 draw has 15/4 odds, while an Irons win over 2.5 goals is listed at 6/1 odds and a victory for the hosts under 2.5 checks in with 8/1 odds.

Lukaku leads the line for first-goal scorers at 10/3, with Rashford getting 5/1 odds to make it 1-0 upon his return to the fold. Martial (11/2) has moved ahead of Sanchez (6/1) on United’s pecking order for the first goal of the match, and the Hammers have both Arnautovic and Chicharito listed as 6/1 odds to get the home side off to a positive start.

For those who think Manchester United can get a 1-0 lead via penalty and are willing to take a flyer on Pogba, the France international is getting 15/2 first-goal odds.

Lukaku is near even-money to score over the course of the 90 minutes at 23/20, with Rashford lurking at 17/10. Martial and Sanchez have 2/1 odds to beat Irons No. 1 Lukasz Fabianski, with West Ham strikers Arnautovic and Chicharito at 2/1.

PREDICTION

Before all the breathless speculation about who will emerge as the winner of this cage match between Pogba and Mourinho, one thing needs to be said straightaway: This is not that big of a deal unless Pogba is dropped from the starting lineup. THEN the argument can be made about Mourinho possibly losing the plot and the dressing room.

Talk all you want about where Pogba may go in the January window in the unlikely event Woodward acquiesces to Raiola’s wishes, refresh the toteboard on the odds of Mourinho’s survival as often as you like, if No. 6 is out there Saturday afternoon, how much has really changed for Manchester United?

In some respects, Mourinho’s side have become a poor man’s Tottenham Hotspur — United are a team with a defined ceiling that right now can be argued will not be good enough to finish in the top four.

Crashing out of the Carabao Cup is in irritant mostly restricted to Mourinho because he likes pointing to silverware as proof positive he is coaching United the right way. Losing to Lampard is an additional aggravating factor. About the only certainty regarding United is they play their best when challenged — evidenced at Burnley, evidenced at Watford.

This is a team that needs to be away from Old Trafford this weekend and are fortunate enough the schedule-makers aligned in their favour.

It is too early to buy on West Ham, solid back-to-back games aside. Pellegrini played a smart tactical game against Chelsea considering he did not have Arnautovic available, and the two low banks of four removed the issue of Noble’s lack of pace that could have been a factor had the Irons tried to stand toe-to-toe with their derby rivals. There is never any shame in taking a point, but lament for failing to grab all three is understandable.

Arnautovic does return, but it will be interesting to see just how effective he is as a hold-up forward since West Ham are lacking a defined playmaker without the injured Jack Wilshire to get him the ball. The matchup on the right as West Ham attacks between Yarmolenko and Luke Shaw will be one to watch given how Manchester United are still not a completely cohesive unit at the back and rely more on De Gea’s shot-stopping skills than actual defending.

A better opponent could have caught out United on this game amid the media circus, but even with their mini resurgence, West Ham are not that side at this moment. It will be another day Mourinho keeps the wolves at bay, but whether Pogba helps is the million-pound question.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, MANCHESTER UNITED 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 7 PREVIEWS:

Arsenal (4-0-2) vs. Watford (4-1-1)
Newcastle United (0-2-4) vs. Leicester City (3-0-3)
Wolverhampton (2-3-1) vs. Southampton (1-2-3)
Chelsea (5-1-0) vs. Liverpool (6-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

No lead may be safe Sunday at the Emirates, where in-form Arsenal look to win a fourth straight match on the bounce against an Everton side who regain the services of pacey attacking winger Richarlison.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (3-0-2) started their second successive Europa League campaign on a positive note, easing past Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava 4-2 on Thursday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace with goals on either side of halftime, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assisted on two goals as the Gunners have now racked up 14 goals in their last five matches after starting the season with a 2-0 home loss to reigning champions Manchester City.

“It was an important victory and it was a bit tough in the first half, but thankfully we scored before we went to the dressing room at the end,” Mkhitaryan told Arsenal’s official website after staking his claim for more playing time. “In the second half it was easier because they started to play football, started to have the ball and started to attack, so we had more spaces in behind their defensive lines.

Summer signing and No. 2 keeper Bernd Leno made his Arsenal debut and the £20 million man came within 13 minutes of a clean sheet, but a breakdown by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner led to a goal before Vorskla snatched a second in stoppage time. The Gunners have yet to post a clean sheet, and that detail did not escape Aubameyang.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes,” the striker noted.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery turned over eight players from the side that edged Newcastle United 2-1 last weekend, with the lone holdovers Aubameyang and left-side defenders Nacho Monreal and Sokratis. Summer signing and midfielder Lucas Torreira also received his first start as Emery tweaked his formation to a 4-3-3 after using a 4-2-3-1 throughout league play.

Emery lifted the Uruguay international in the 57th minute as a precaution after a knock, but teenager Matteo Guendouzi was in line to be restored to the starting XI for this match regardless of the outcome.

The north London side are expected to also bring back regulars Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin to the back four on the right, and they could be the ones with the primary responsibility of containing Richarlison.

The Brasil international makes his return for Everton (1-3-1) after serving a three-match ban for violent conduct for a headbutt on Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Richarlison — who scored three goals in the Toffees’ first two contests — made good use of his unexpected additional free time, making his debut for the Selecao during the international break and scoring his first two goals for them in a friendly versus El Salvador.

But Toffees manager Marco Silva may move the 21-year-old from the left wing to a centre-forward position for this match. That is because summer signing Bernard was the only attacking player to distinguish himself in their 3-1 home loss to previously winless West Ham United last weekend. Everton conceded twice in the first half-hour, and while Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back right before halftime, any hopes of a fightback were thwarted when they conceded a third just after the hour.

Richarlison, though, appears ready to move out of his comfort zone to get his compatriot on the pitch to get Everton going again, though it would make striker Cenk Tosun the odd man out in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Bernard is an agile player. He is really fast and scores a lot of goals,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com. “With his speed, he gets behind players and is a danger in the box. His ability pushes opponents back and causes them problems.

“He is highly thought of in Brazil. He is known as ‘Joyful Legs,’ so he is the type of player who will bring joy to the Everton fans. He will be popular here and, hopefully, have a great season and be a big influence on Everton.”

Something that would also bring joy to Everton fans would be a tightening of their side’s defence. The Toffees also have yet to record a clean sheet, which is slightly more surprising than Arsenal’s inability to do so since Everton have England No. 1 keeper Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

But in Pickford’s defence – or lack thereof – Everton already have an entirely different back four from the one that started the season. Lucas Digne has been credible at left back since supplanting Leighton Baines, but talisman Phil Jagielka has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fellow central defender Michael Keane just returned to practice after suffering a small skull fracture, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury playing for Ireland.

Mason Holgate and Kurt Zouma have paired in central defence the last three matches overall, but there is hope summer signing and Colombia international Yerry Mina could finally be ready for his Toffees debut, possibly at Holgate’s expense. Jonjoe Kenny continues to hold down the right back spot.

While much of the focus is on Richarlison, ex-Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will return to the Emirates for the second time as an opponent. Walcott, who has two goals in Everton’s first five matches, broke in with the London side as a 17-year-old in 2006 and totaled 65 league goals in 170 starts and 270 top-flight matches.

Arsenal did the double in emphatic fashion last term, scoring five goals in each victory. The 5-2 rout at Goodison Park last October marked the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Everton and started the whirlwind courtship of Silva, much to Watford’s protest. The Gunners followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates as Aaron Ramsey bagged a hat trick and Mkhitaryan assisted on three of those markers.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce over Everton overall and carry a 23-match home unbeaten streak (19-4-0) in all competitions. The Toffees have yet to win at the Emirates, losing their last five and going 0-4-9 since its opening in 2006.

Everton’s lone victory at Arsenal in the Premier League era is a 2-1 win Jan. 20, 1996, at Highbury on goals by Graham Stuart and Andrei Kranchelskis.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 4/9 odds, while Everton are 11/2 underdogs to end their hoodoo at the Emirates. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 18/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring in this match as the Gunners are 10/11 favourites to win while there being more than 2.5 goals. While they still pick Arsenal to win a low-scoring contest, it is a decent 4/1 return the final score is either 1-0 or 2-0. A draw with a total of under 2.5 goals is 6/1, and a deadlock over that threshold is 10/1. A Toffees victory of 2-1 or better is listed at 10/1, with little faith being put in their defence being able to ride out a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 16/1.

Aubameyang unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 16/5, with Alexander Lacazette second at 7/2. Denny Welbeck, who scored in the Europa League win, rounds out the top three options at 4/1, and the Arsenal playmakers — Mkhitaryan, Ramsey and Ozil — are all in step form from 11/2 to 15/2. Tosun is listed as Everton’s best bet to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 8/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (17/2) and Richarlison (9/1).

Aubamyeang is better than even money to grab a goal during the 90 minutes at 5/6 odds, and Lacazette is level. Richarlison appears to offer a decent 5/2 return on finding the back of the net for the Toffees, and ex-Gunners winger Walcott checks in at 3/1 to put one home against his former mates.

PREDICTION

Eleven months ago, Arsenal decimated the blue part of Merseyside, setting in motion the chain of events that bring us to his match. Everton underwent a drastic overhaul, arguably overspending for their shiny new toys, but one in which they went out to change the culture of the club and remove the “sleeping giant” label.

Silva’s side are still a mess defensively, evidenced by the home loss to West Ham last weekend. Throwing Mina into the fray this weekend has an air of desperation, but at the same time, there is a sense the Colombia international’s presence cannot make the situation any more dire in terms of breakdowns in front of Pickford.

In attack, moving Richarlison out of this comfort spot on the left is also a big risk. He obviously has the size and the pace to be a centre forward, and he can most certainly give a questionable Arsenal defence fits, but at what cost does it come for Everton chemistry in the final third?

The Toffees have yet to be held off the scoresheet, and there is no shame in being held to one goal in two of the three matches without your best attacking option. There’s little doubt Bernard will find his way into the starting XI, sooner rather than later, and there’s also the issue of what to do with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored three goals in all competition during Richarlison’s ban.

Arsenal offered no clues to their consistency with Thursay’s win over Vorslka, though it did show that Emery was right in tabbing Cech over Leno for Premier League duties. There is still a sense keeper is the last position where the Gunners have to rip off the band-aid to commit to this rebuild, but their defence is not good enough where Cech’s shot-stopping skills are to be dismissed.

The Torreira-Xhaka debate will continue to rage until Xhaka gets sent off or picks up his fifth yellow card and sits a match, which is something that could happen by the next international break. It is nice to have depth in which Emery can rotate all three midfielders, but Torreira and Guendouzi are the future in front of the back four.

The middle third is going to be a no-man’s land of sorts — whichever side can pin the other’s holding midfielders back likely will emerge as a victor in this game. And right now, that looks to be the Gunners by virtue of having a (slightly) better defence and finishers in a bit better form than the Toffees at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

Chelsea maintained their 100 percent start in beginning their Europa League adventure with a victory, but Maurizio Sarri wants his side to be closer to perfection as they resume Premier League play Sunday with a London derby at West Ham United.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Blues (5-0-0), who lead the Premier League on goal difference over Liverpool, kicked off play in the second-tier continental tournament with a 1-0 victory at Greek side PAOK on Thursday. Willian’s goal in the seventh minute stood as the match-winner with Chelsea dominating the proceedings, but the lack of finishing beyond the Brasil international’s goal left Sarri pondering his attacking options going forward.

“We were in control of the match for 90 minutes,” Sarri told Chelsea’s official website. “We had a lot of opportunities, we missed them, so I am really happy with the three points and the performance but not the result, because when it is time to kill the match, we have to kill the match.”

Some of the lack of finishing can be attributed to Alvaro Morata, who led the line but failed to put any of his seven shots on target. The Spain international’s lone goal came against Arsenal on Aug. 18, and it would not be surprising to see Olivier Giroud restored to the starting XI after he assisted on pair of goals in last weekend’s 4-1 romp past Cardiff City.

“Morata has to gain confidence with one, two or three goals. I am not able to give him confidence,” Sarri noted. “In this game he had three or four opportunities, he was unlucky. I hope in the future I can try to help him, but the confidence comes only with goals.

“But I have to say also that for the first time this season he was very ready in the box. He was on the ball, he was active.”

Also expected to return to the starting lineup is Eden Hazard, who did not make the trip to Greece along with central defender David Luiz and midfielder Mateo Kovacic. Luiz should also return to the back four, but Kovacic was forced off versus Cardiff with a knee injury, which makes room for either Ross Barkley or Ruben Loftus-Cheek to join Jorginho and N’Golo Kante in the midfield.

Though Pedro suffered a shoulder injury late in a collision with PAOK keeper Alexandros Paschalakis, Sarri said the injury was minor and the Spaniard should be available. If not, Willian would slide into the right forward role in Chelsea’s 4-3-3 formation.

West Ham United (1-0-4) relieved some of the pressure on Manuel Pellegrini last weekend with a 3-1 victory at Everton, moving off the foot of the table and into 16th place. Andriy Yarmolenko justified his manager’s faith in being given his first start with a first-half brace, and Marko Arnautovic sealed the win with a goal just after the hour.

“I said at the start that Andriy needs a few weeks to get used to playing in the Premier League,” Pellegrini said at his Thursday news conference. “He has a lot of quality, we know that, but in this league you can’t just play with quality. You need pace and be prepared tactically to be an important part of the game.

“He demonstrated against Everton that it was the correct moment. He did it very well. After this performance, we must demand him to give more, because he’s able to be a top player for us.”

The Ukraine international may have to lead the line since Arnautovic is carrying a knock to his knee and may be relegated to the reserves list for this game. Fellow striker Chicharito Hernandez is still feeling the effects of a virus and also unlikely to feature, and midfielder Jack Wilshire is out due to an ankle injury.

Wilshire’s absence led Pellegrini to use a 4-1-4-1 set-up in which teenager and Ireland international Declan Rice played in front of the back four, forming an effective midfield triangle with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang. Another option for this derby would be to start Michail Antonio as the lone forward and keep Yarmolenko underneath.

“A derby has a little bit more importance, of course,” Pellegrini said. “I know, here in London, there are a lot of derbies with different teams. Our first at home is against Chelsea, the team at the top of the table, so I think that is one more motivation to try to beat them.”

West Ham took four of the six points between the sides last term, including a 1-0 victory at London Stadium on a goal by Arnautovic six minutes in. The Irons have just three wins in the last 24 league matches between the teams (3-5-16).

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are solid favourites to continue their perfect start as they are listed at 6/10 odds to win. A draw is a 3/1 option while West Ham are longshots to protect their pitch at 17/4 odds.

Oddsmakers fancy a Chelsea win with more than 2.5 goals, listing it as the most likely outcome with 6/5 odds. The Pensioners also have 15/4 odds to win the contest by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline, while a draw with either zero goals or two returns 19/4 odds. For those liking the Irons, there are 13/2 odds for a win over 2.5 goals and longer 12/1 odds they will post a clean sheet while winning 1-0 or 2-0.

The Chelsea trio of Hazard, Morata, and Giroud are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 4/1, with Pedro lagging behind them at 11/2. Despite his injury, Arnautovic remains the top choice for the Hammers at 13/2, sharing those odds with Willian. Yarmolenko is listed at 17/2 to stake West Ham to a lead for the second straight contest.

Oddsmakers are all but convinced Hazard will continue his goal-scoring run as he leads the line with 23/20 odds for a marker over the 90 minutes. Morata and Giroud are right on his heels at 5/4, while Pedro (13/8) and Willian (2/1) round out Chelsea’s usual suspects. Arnautovic is the top pick for West Ham at 19/10, trailed by Chicharito (2/1), Lucas Perez (12/5), and both Yarmolenko and Antonio (13/5).

PREDICTION

Chelsea are the only team in Premier League history to have won their first five league matches and claim the title, doing so in 2005-06 and 2009-10. This time around, it will obviously be more difficult given the class of both reigning champions Manchester City and Liverpool, but the early returns on the Pensioners are they are at least viable for a top-four finish and could give the aforementioned squads a run for the trophy.

Sarri took no chances in Greece, fielding as strong a side as possible given his decision to leave Hazard, Luiz and Kovacic behind. Playing Barkley the full 90 minutes with Kovacic injures was an interesting decision by the Italian, more so in light of Pedro’s injury, even if it is not deemed serious. An intriguing option would be to play Willian behind Hazard in the 4-3-3 set-up if Pedro is healthy, but given how Sarri appears comfortable plugging in players at certain spots, it would not be surprising to see Barkley remain the starter and have Ruben Loftus-Cheek see his first action as his understudy.

This has the feel of match where Giroud finally moves the goal meter, having played a brilliant hold-up role last weekend versus Cardiff City while Hazard ran riot. Given the back line issues the Irons have had all season, Chelsea would be wise to funnel their attack through the pair. The France international’s low-maintenance ways and the Belgian’s nous in the final third have given Sarri all the time he needs to unlock the riddle of getting Morata going.

One wonders if Pellegrini will tinker with what worked after the Irons looked so appealing in thrashing Everton at Goodison Park. Arnautovic’s knock could throw a spanner into the works, but the Chilean at least does not lack for replacement options thanks to the £100 million spent in the offseason. Yarmolenko will have to be at his best to help keep Marcos Alonso from roaming forward from his left back position, and Anderson will at least need to be cognizant of Cesar Azpilicueta’s long-ball skills on the other flank.

While Rice performed well as the holding midfielder in front of the back four versus the Toffees, it would not be surprising to see Pellegrini shift to a 4-2-3-1 set-up in which the Ireland international teams with Noble or Obiang to form a bulwark against the Chelsea middle three.

This should be an entertaining derby, but Chelsea look too irresistible right now, especially against a West Ham back line that have yet to prove themselves in back-to-back matches and yet to record a clean sheet.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: West Ham United 0, CHELSEA 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)

Looking for back-to-back victories for the first time this season, Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace look to extend the miseries of Newcastle United on Saturday when they host Rafa Benitez’s side at Selhurst Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Zaha is instrumental in any success the Eagles (2-0-3) have had to this point. Much has been made of the fact Palace have lost their last 11 games without the striker dating back to last term after their 2-0 defeat to Southampton a fortnight ago, but Roy Hodgson’s team has also leaned heavily on the Ivory Coast international in the early going.

Zaha has scored three of Crystal Palace’s four goals in league play, and his stellar individual effort that led to a goal in the 38th minute lifted the Eagles to their 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town last weekend. With that talent, though, comes defenders willing to do whatever it takes to stop Zaha from getting through to goal.

The Palace striker is tied for second in the Premier League with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard with 14 fouls suffered. In the win over Huddersfield, Zaha picked up his third yellow card of the young season before his goal responding to a challenge by Florent Hadergjonaj. After the match, Zaha told BBC’s Match of the Day: “I feel like before anyone gets a red I’d have to get my leg broken or something. That’s why I lose my head. Why am I getting different treatment from other players?

“It makes you not want to go on a run because someone will come through the back of you, and it doesn’t allow you to express yourself.”

Zaha was referring to an incident in Palace’s 2-1 loss at Watford in which Hornets midfielder Etienne Capoue was fortunate not to be sent off on a poor challenge from behind. The team has filed a complaint to the league about their striker not getting the benefit of the doubt for some calls, and Hodgson is doing what he can to keep his forward level-headed.

“He’s getting better and better at that,” the gaffer told Palace’s official website. “He’s got to come to terms with that he’s the type of player that is so good at running with the ball, and we see it with Manchester City and Liverpool players who are quick and good at running with the ball and get fouled.

“Unfortunately, Wilf has a strong sense of justice and doesn’t think that people should treat him that unfairly, but he’s learning quickly.”

Hodgson is expected to keep Jordan Ayew up as part of a 4-3-3 formation that is a slight variance of his traditional 4-4-2. Christian Benteke is expected to miss his second straight league contest with a knee injury. The Belgium international has scored only three goals for Palace since the start of last season after bagging 15 in 2016-17.

Newcastle United (0-1-4), meanwhile, arrive at Selhurst Park ahead of only Burnley on goal difference and happy to be done with a murderous stretch of opening fixtures that saw them claim only a point in a draw against fellow winless side Cardiff City. The losses read off like a list of who’s who among the Premier League: Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, and the hope in Tyneside is the Magpies can finally kick on with their season and move out of the bottom three while playing similar-calibre teams.

“We know it’s very important,” defender Federico Fernandez told Newcastle’s official website. “We have a couple of games against teams who are maybe middle of the table now. It’s no excuse, but in these five games we knew it would be very difficult, against top teams.

“But we’ve approached them well, we’ve played like a team, but we didn’t take anything. Now we need to start taking points, because that’s what we need.

Newcastle have lost four on the trot in all competitions, and their gauntlet ended with a third consecutive 2-1 league loss last weekend at home versus Arsenal. While the Magpies did not bunker and put five in the back like they did in defeats to champions Manchester City and unbeaten Chelsea, they failed to unlock a creaky Arsenal defence until defender Ciaran Clark scored in second-half stoppage time.

One reason for the lack of offence was the absence of playmaker Jonjo Shelvey, who missed his second straight match due to a thigh injury and is questionable for this game. Losing defender and talisman Jamaal Lascelles to an ankle injury did the Magpies no favours either as both Arsenal goals came after he was replaced by Clark at halftime.

Salomon Rondon is expected to be restored to the starting XI after being an unused substitute last weekend. The Venezuela international was second choice to Joselu after his late return from international duty despite contributing an assist in Newcastle’s loss to Manchester City and bagging a brace in a friendly versus Panama.

“We have to get the three points,” Rondon said. “I think, in my opinion, you have to get just one win to get the confidence back. We know it’s a difficult game for us away at Palace, but we have to improve and do our best.

“Everyone knows, with Crystal Palace, how they play. They have quality players, but we have to impose our game and be efficient when we create chances and score goals.”

The teams played to a 1-1 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture as Luka Milivojevic’s penalty 10 minutes after the restart canceled out a first-half goal by Mohamed Diame. Newcastle have taken points in 12 of the 14 previous Premier League clashes (8-4-2) between the sides.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Palace are comfortable favourites at 23/20 odds, with Newcastle United checking in at 5/2 underdogs. The odds of the teams splitting the points is slightly better than a Magpies victory at 11/5.

A Palace win with three or more goals is the leading option at 27/10 odds, closely followed by a draw and under 2.5 goals (29/10). Oddsmakers also believe in Palace’s defence or the lack of Newcastle’s offence as an Eagles win by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline is right behind a draw with 10/3 odds. Rafa Benitez’s side are 5/1 to win the match with three or more goals and 11/2 with fewer.

Zaha is an expected favourite for first-goal honours at 5/1, but surprisingly joining him atop the list is Benteke despite his questionable status. Ayew and Palace reserve striker Alexander Sorloth are joint-third at 11/2, with Newcastle’s duo of Rondon and Joselu next in line at 13/2 to open the scoring.

Zaha edges out Benteke for any-time goal-scoring at 9/5 compared to the Belgium’s listing at 19/10. Ayew is listed at 2/1, while winger Andros Townsend returns an intriguing 16/5 payout. Joselu and Rondon are again drawn together, this time with 5/2 odds, with Matt Ritchie at 4/1 and Kenedy at 7/2.

PREDICTION

Everyone wants to talk about Newcastle’s daunting stretch to open the season, but now that it has come and gone, with one point to show for it (though they should have had three), the question now begs… now what?

Benitez did what he could to mitigate the damage and give the Magpies a chance to win three of those four games against last year’s top-six opponents (it is interesting to note the Arsenal game was the one where they fared the worst after moving back to the traditional four-man defence), but how do Newcastle kick on?

Rondon was a surprising omission versus the Gunners, and it is difficult to chalk it up simply to jet lag from North America because DeAndre Yedlin also played in the U.S. and made it back Thursday in time to play the full 90.

Palace have the in-form player of the moment in Zaha, and rage over lack of respect from the officials aside, he has to be the difference-maker for the Eagles to get going at home. Hodgson’s team has lost both their home games thus far, and they need Selhurst Park to be a cauldron to maintain at least a mid-table level.

The Ayew or Benteke debate will be one to watch, with Ayew deserving of at least one more start due to his industry at Huddersfield. If he can find a way to score, it takes some of the pressure off Zaha, though that is also something Andros Townsend should be looking to do.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: CRYSTAL PALACE 1, Newcastle United 0.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)

Burnley again look to find the cure for their Europa League hangover Saturday when they host in-form Bournemouth trying to avoid a fifth loss on the trot.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Clarets (0-1-4) are at the foot of the Premier League table entering this weekend’s matches, trailing Newcastle United on goal difference while joining Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town as the top flight’s only sides without a win. While much was made of Burnley’s first European adventure in a half-century as they got to the brink of the Europa League group stages, Sean Dyche’s side has yet to pull out of what he described as a “fog” mentally.

“I think it’s a mentality thing. Some of it can be worked at on the training ground of course, but I call it bottoming out; a collective moment when a group of players bottom out,” Dyche explained to the club’s official website after their 1-0 loss at Wolverhampton last weekend.

“When we got into the Europa League there was this immediate noise about it being tough. People ramp it up and say ‘there you are, I told you.’

“Well, we have to find a way through that and I remind them they are roughly the same group of players who finished seventh last season. Players will get back to their form and confidence, but you have to earn that right.”

The goal that consigned Burnley to defeat was the type of goal they conceded so rarely last term – Wolverhampton cycled the ball on the right side before midfielder Johan Berg Gudmundsson failed to track Matt Doherty’s run, and that started a chain of rotational reactions one-half step late as Raul Jimenez beat Joe Hart inside the left post on 61 minutes.

The loss overshadowed a strong effort by Hart, who made six saves as Wolves peppered Burnley’s goal with 30 shots. The former England No. 1 thinks the team needs a coming together to avoid the first five-match losing streak at the Premier League level in club history.

“The past is the past for everyone, including myself and we need to start living in the now with this squad,” Hart said. “We’ve got to be real with each other, real with the manager and we move forward. We’ve got good quality, good desire and good team spirit and we have to start translating that.”

Burnley have gone 229 minutes without a goal in league play since Jack Tarkowski netted late in the first half of their 4-2 defeat at Fulham on Aug. 26. Midfielder Steven Defour could be among the reserves for this match after playing 60 minutes midweek for the Under-23 side in his first action in eight months following knee surgery and a calf injury.

If Dyche wanted to shake things up in the front, he could let Matej Vydra lead the line over Sam Vokes and Chris Wood. Vydra has come off the bench in the last three matches and scored the equaliser in Burnley’s 1-1 draw in their second-leg tie versus Olympiacos in their Europa League playoff.

Bournemouth (3-1-1) look to be one of the sides who can supplant Burnley as the best of the rest in the Premier League beneath the “Big Six.” The Cherries’ lone loss came in a respectable 2-0 defeat at unbeaten Chelsea in which the match was scoreless until the 72nd minute, and they stormed out of the international break to a 4-2 home victory over Leicester City last weekend.

Ryan Fraser had a first-half brace and assisted on a goal by Adam Smith while Joshua King converted a penalty for Bournemouth, who conceded twice late with the result well in hand. After struggling to score goals in league play last term and finishing with 45, the Cherries have already potted 10 while scoring at least twice in every contest save their loss to Chelsea.

“He can go wherever he wants to go, with his age, attitude, he has a really bright future,” Cherries coach Eddie Howe said of Fraser to the club’s official website. “The key thing for him is believing how good he is and he’s reinforcing that himself with his goal and performance.”

The 10 points through five matches have the Cherries fifth in the table – two back of fellow surprise package Watford for the final Champions League spot – but Howe is warning his team against complacency after equaling the point total it took 11 matches to achieve last term.

“I’m really pleased but it’s just the start. In this league, the minute you get comfortable, it becomes very difficult,” Howe told the Bournemouth Echo. “The next game is the thing to focus on and we know how tough that is going to be.

“It’s all hands to the pump ahead of Burnley now.”

Fraser – the pocket Scot who stands all of 5-foot-4 — has been tormenting opponents and factored on seven of Bournemouth’s 13 goals in all competitions. Callum Wilson has been part of five – scoring two and assisting on three others – while King has converted twice from the spot and set up two more.

The teams have split their league matches in each of the last two seasons, but the road teams were victorious in 2017-18. Bournemouth rallied to win last term’s corresponding fixture as King and Wilson scored in the final quarter-hour to offset an early goal by Wood.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Bournemouth’s recent form has made them slight favourites at 6/4, with Burnley 9/5 underdogs. The draw is the longshot of this contest, with 11/5 odds on the team’s splitting the points.

There are 3/1 odds for Bournemouth to win with a total goal haul above 2.5, while there are also 3/1 odds for a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. A Burnley victory with three or more goals has 15/4 odds, while a Bournemouth clampdown and win under 2.5 goals checks in at 17/4. Oddsmakers are not overly sold on a tight low-scoring Clarets victory, with a home win under 2.5 goals at 24/5.

Bournemouth’s Wilson and Burnley’s Wood are joint-favourites to score the first goal of the match at 5/1 odds, while Cherries reserve striker Jermaine Defoe and Burnley’s Sam Vokes are close behind joint-third at 11/2. The Burnley duo of Vydra and Barnes are bracketing Bournemouth’s King at 6/1.

Wilson and Wood also lead the line for any-time goal-scorers at 9/5 odds, with Defoe and Vokes at 2/1. Barnes, who is 21/10 to grab a goal, edges out Vydra and King (9/4) to round out the top five.

PREDICTION

From a distance, this match has the feel of one team (Bournemouth) trying to usurp the other (Burnley) for the title of best of the rest. A back-handed crown to wear? Perhaps. But this is how the Premier League has broken off in the big-money era, in which the race for sixth — and by extension seventh since one of the big six almost always win either or both domestic cups — becomes a de facto consolation prize unless a side rides lightning in a bottle the way Leicester City did.

Bournemouth have been an exciting surprise package similar to Watford, minus the fanfare of playing lights-out defence. The Cherries have been the side everyone wants to see do well because they are aesthetically pleasing more than they are blue-class, which is Burnley’s identity and a style that earned the Clarets the reward of European play during the early part of the season.

It is difficult to tell if the Clarets are fatigued from their continental adventures, though they have played 11 matches already compared to other sides logging just six. To his credit, Dyche has noted it is on him and his players to snap out of this funk. But the goal they allowed to Wolves is something that just didn’t happen last term. And Bournemouth have arguably better options up front in the trio of Fraser, Wilson and King to continue making things miserable for Burnley.

This will also be a game about Bournemouth’s maturity. They admittedly shut off late against Leicester City after racking up four goals, and both the 4-0 margin and 4-2 final did not indicate the relatively even play between the sides in the first 45 minutes. But sometimes that happens. A good performance here for Howe’s team should result in no worse than a draw. Whether that happens, of course, is another matter.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Burnley 1, Bournemouth 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)

It is a case of protégé versus mentor Saturday when Nuno Espirito Santo brings promoted and in-form Wolverhampton to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho and an equally sharp Manchester United squad.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

 

 

Nuno was the second-string goalkeeper at FC Porto, where Mourinho’s coaching star took off with a UEFA Cup title in 2003 and Champions League title the following season. During his time as a player, the coaching bug bit Nuno, who made it a point to soak up the managerial style of “The Special One” while also serving as his eyes and ears in the locker room for his gaffer.

The 44-year-old had three coaching stops – Rio Ave, Valencia and his old club Porto. While he enjoyed success with both Rio Ave and Valencia, his one season at Porto was devoid of silverware and he was fired despite a runners-up finish. Nuno then took over Wolverhampton last season, guiding them to promotion from the Championship in style as they clinched a move up with four matches to spare and the league title two matches later.

Nuno explained Mourinho’s influence on him to Soccer AM earlier this month, explaining that, “In that moment, what we had, the group of players we had, the way Mourinho manages and made us believe that it was possible to do what we did as a squad. We won everything, and it was absolutely fantastic.

“You take from everyone. When you have such success it’s because you do things right. Of course you learn a lot as a player when you pay attention to managers when they speak to you.”

When Manchester United (3-0-2) were struggling last month and many thought Mourinho was going through his customary third-season troubles that would result in him leaving Old Trafford, Nuno was quickly put up among his potential replacements, reports he quickly shot down by telling The Express, “I completely ignore it.”

Wolverhampton (2-2-1) are unlike almost any promoted team previously in the Premier League era because of their unusually high talent level. Part of that is by design – super agent Jorge Mendes, who counts both Nuno and Mourinho among his clients along with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo – was essentially a de facto advisor to the club following Nuno’s hiring and has been able to steer many Portuguese players to the club in that span.

The most important player may have come with Wolves promotion as Portugal No. 1 keeper Rui Patricio signed after a fan attack due to unrest with the club dealings at Sporting FC. Patricio has posted back-to-back clean sheets and conceded only five goals, one of which was an own goal.

Wolves, though, took the match to Burnley last time out, winning 1-0 on Raul Jimenez’s goal just after the hour mark. Wolverhampton finished with 30 shots, putting seven of them on frame, but Nuno is calling on his team to be better finishers ahead of this high-profile clash.

“It’s hard to build the way we build and stay organised in the shape,” the manager said post-match. “It could have been a different result but how we played is more important at this stage of the season. The scoreline could have been more. The way we create those chances requires the last touch, but things will come if we stay organised and are more clinical.”

With no injuries to report, Wolverhampton are expected to maintain the starting XI that has served Nuno throughout the club’s first five league matches.

United, meanwhile, are finally starting to resemble a top-tier side. Whether that is good enough to hang with the likes of reigning champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea is yet to be determined, but there is definitely progress being made.

Mourinho’s charges are looking for a fourth win on the bounce in all competitions after opening Champions League group play with an impressive 3-0 road win over Swiss side Young Boys on Wednesday. Paul Pogba put in arguably his finest performance since his £90 million signing last season, recording a first-half brace before assisting on Anthony Martial’s first goal of the season.

“Yeah, I am happy,” Pogba told MUTV. “Very happy to score, very happy to help my team and very happy with the result as well. We had the result that we all wanted. It was a very good start for us and we have to carry on like this.”

“He was solid, class, giving the team the pace that we need sometimes,” Mourinho said of his midfielder. “To increase the pace, keep the possession and just keep control of the tempo. Of course he scored a very good goal and the penalty showed personality, because when you miss a penalty you have doubts about taking the next one, but there were no doubts for him.”

Martial got the nod over Alexis Sanchez in part to playing the match on an artificial pitch, which was why Antonio Valencia did not make the trip. It is uncertain if Martial would get a second straight start, but at the very worst he will move up the pecking order since Marcus Rashford will serve the second of his three-match ban for a violent conduct red card given against Burnley.

Mourinho also will not have the services of midfielder Nemanja Matic, who was sent off late against Watford for his second booking. Marouane Fellaini, who appeared as a substitute late versus Young Boys, would likely slide into that spot between Pogba and Fred.

Valencia may have to fight off Diogo Dalot for his spot at right back after the 19-year-old and former Porto starlet made his long-awaited United debut Wednesday. Luke Shaw was restored to his left back spot after missing the win over Watford due to a concussion suffered while playing for England.

This is the first top-flight meeting between the clubs since United rolled to a 5-0 victory at Molineux in the 2011-12 season to complete a double in which they won by a combined 9-1. Wolves have yet to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, losing four league matches and two League Cup ties by a combined 14-4 scoreline.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester United are heavy 4/7 favourites, with Wolverhampton 5/1 underdogs to continue their fast start and steal away three points from Old Trafford. The odds of the teams sharing the points are 3/1.

United are also 7/5 favourites to pick up a win with the final tally being over 2.5 goals, and a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline for the hosts returns 14/5 odds. A draw under 2.5 goals is listed with 4/1 odds, while a Wolves victory over 2.5 goals gets a healthy 9/1 return. A 1-0 or 2-0 victory or Wolverhampton is listed at 11/1 odds.

For first goal-scorers, Lukaku leads the line at 7/2 odds, while a relatively well-rested Sanchez edges out Anthony Martial at 5/1, with the French youngster at 11/2. Given Pogba’s mid-week effort, there may be value at 6/1 considering he is United’s penalty taker.

Jimenez is Wolverhampton’s top option to make it 1-0 at 8/1, with Leo Bonatini behind the no goal-scoring option at 10/1.

Lukaku is also the favourite to score at any point over the 90 minutes, just below even-money odds at 23/20. Sanchez and Martial are joint-second at 9/5, followed by Pogba (21/10), then Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata (23/10). Jimenez is again the top option for Wolves at 13/5, though lurking for them at 4/1 is reserve Adama Traore.

PREDICTION

Crisis? What crisis? There has been a collective exhale throughout the red side of Manchester as United have looked the parts of title contenders the past three matches with professional wins in each contest. They put together their most complete effort in Bern against Young Boys, the challenge is now to kick on to that next level which puts them behind early frontrunners City, Liverpool and Chelsea to begin building for that final step.

Wolverhampton, or “Portugal Lite” for the snarky among us, has already shown all the makings of a side that will be mid-table at worst and lurking outsiders for a European spot if they can also kick on to a higher level. All the talk of protege versus mentor with Nuno versus Mourinho aside, this will be Wolves’ first measuring-stick match since their only other match against a top-five side was against Everton while having a man advantage for the final 50 minutes in a 2-2 season-opening draw.

Nuno hopefully took an important lesson from United’s victory over Watford in which the Hornets afforded Mourinho’s team far too much respect in the opening 45 minutes, and the Red Devils dutifully made them pay with those two first-half goals in quick-fire succession. Wolves are not going to have the majority of possession as they did last weekend versus Burnley — they will be fortunate to get near one-half of the 31 shots attemped versus the Clarets — which makes Patricio the man of the moment.

If the Portugal No. 1 matches his Iberian counterpart De Gea save for save (there may be no keeper in the Premier League more underappreciated than the Spaniard for the quality of saves he makes when called upon), Wolverhampton may be able to escape the Theatre of Dreams with a point. Otherwise, this is a game were United should begin flexing their muscle to start a climb up the table.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: MANCHESTER UNITED 3, Wolverhampton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)
Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)