EPL Weekend Preview: A Complete Guide to All the Games
Even after just one week of play (OK, Chelsea got a head start due to their upcoming UEFA Super Cup match against Atletico Madrid in Monaco next Friday), the top four in the English Premier League bear a thoroughly intriguing look.
The Blues sit first, riding high on six points after coming from behind to defeat a very impressive Reading side 4-2 on Wednesday, with Swansea City, Fulham and West Brom hot on their heels with three points apiece.
It is Swansea and Fulham who perhaps provided the biggest surprises of the opening weekends, showing terrific attacking displays to hammer Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City, respectively, 5-0.
Then, with Manchester City struggling to cope with the threat of an engaging Southampton unit on Sunday and Everton defeating a new-look Manchester United side 1-0 at Goodison the following day, we emerged from the first round of games in something of a daze, but thoroughly happy in the knowledge that we have yet another season of captivating football on our hands.
Because there's nothing quite like the furious flurry of Premier League action on a weekend morning, afternoon or evening.
Doesn't quite matter when or where you're watching, just as it doesn't matter if you tune into the game with coffee or a Corona.
The action is incessant, and persistent. Here's to another weekend of top-notch stuff.
Swansea City vs. West Ham United
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Heading into last Saturday's season opener against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, new Swansea manager Michael Laudrup must have been hoping for a good display and perhaps a vital point on the road.
Traversing the rocky road of the Premier League becomes an infinitely more precarious endeavor in a promoted club's second season at that level, which is exactly where Swansea find themselves this season.
Against a QPR side once again boasting a bevy of shiny new signings, Laudrup's club put on an absolute masterclass of an attacking display, flummoxing the hosts on the way to a 5-0 victory.
Braces from new signing Michu, one of the top players on Saturday, and Nathan Dyer paced the Swans, who now turn their attention to the weekend's game against West Ham United.
They'll be thankful to be back in the boisterous climes of the Liberty Stadium, which is sure to be rocking for Saturday's early game.
Neil Taylor has spoken of the importance of keeping the momentum generated last weekend ahead of the tie, and you can expect Laudrup will want to make an impression for the home faithful.
Striker Danny Graham nearly got on the scoresheet last weekend and will be keen on compounding his stirring preseason form, which saw him net six goals in Swansea's final three games.
Sam Allardyce's West Ham side emerged victorious from their opener against Aston Villa at Upton Park last weekend, showing the sort of mettle that allowed them to secure promotion from the Championship a season ago.
There is attacking prowess in the ranks, typified by the glitzy Ricardo Vaz Te. Swansea's defense, still incorporating new signing Chico into the ranks at center back, is not their strongest area, and Allardyce might fancy his side's chances of poaching a goal.
Chico missed training on Thursday and could be a late fitness test ahead of Saturday's match. Scott Sinclair continues to train with the side amidst heavy rumors linking him with a move to Manchester City, and Laudrup has said he will pick the winger for the game. (Update: BBC reports that Swansea have indeed sold Sinclair to Manchester City.)
Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins revealed that the club had agreed on a fee for Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yueng. The transfer was completed Friday morning—it's rumored to be a club record—and Laudrup has hailed the move, saying that Ki is a "perfect fit" for the Swans' style of play.
Aston Villa vs. Everton
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Fresh off their terrific 1-0 victory over Manchester United last Monday, Everton travel to the Midlands to take on Paul Lambert's Aston Villa, who were narrow losers on the road against West Ham United last weekend.
Villa struggled for goals against the Hammers, but with Darren Bent in the attacking ranks, there is always the potential for an explosion.
Lambert conceded that providing the England hit man with better service will be a key component in Villa's match against the Toffees, and with the new boss hoping to make a good impression on the club's fanbase, a positive result against David Moyes' side would be a perfect start.
The former Norwich manager will have to do without the likes of key attackers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Marc Albrighton, which could further isolate Bent up front.
Stephen Warnock, banned from first-team training this week, is reportedly on the way out at Villa Park.
Lambert's imprint, so finely embedded within Norwich last season, has already been seen at Villa, who played some excellent football against West Ham on Saturday.
Karim El Ahmadi, signed this summer for just £2 million, earned plaudits for his play against West Ham and will be looking to improve upon his debut this weekend.
Expect more fluid build-up from Villa, who will be looking to continue their transformation. A win might be a bit too tall of an order against what is shaping up to be a very, very good Everton side, however.
Moyes' men, perennially competitive despite lacking a big budget, showed a stout defense against United on Monday, coupled with some terrific attacking play.
Set pieces are always a danger, and it was no coincidence that Marouane Fellaini headed home the only goal of the encounter from a Darron Gibson corner kick.
Fellaini is in terrific form, building upon his prowess from last season. It would seem that a positive result will be difficult for Villa to obtain. Everton win this one.
Manchester United vs. Fulham
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The worries in defense continue for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, who will likely be without the injured Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones for the second consecutive game.
That means a makeshift defense will once more be a necessity, with Michael Carrick likely to reprise his role in central defense alongside Nemanja Vidic and Antonio Valencia a probability at right-back.
Vidic has exhorted his teammates to be "more clinical" this weekend and believes United will rebound from their disappointing 1-0 loss to Everton at Goodison Park on Monday.
Expect to see more from new signings Shinji Kagawa—who was excellent for large portions of Monday's match—and Robin van Persie, who enjoyed a 23-minute cameo in which he was uncharacteristically ineffective.
Van Persie doesn't often endure long gaps between goals, and when he did get on the ball against the Toffees, he looked his old dangerous self. Whether Ferguson decides to start him in some manner alongside Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford could be quite interesting.
Either way, both new players will be looking to endear themselves to their new fanbase.
To do so, they'll have to cope with the menace of a Fulham side flowing with confidence after a weekend that saw them put five past Norwich City at Craven Cottage.
Fulham manager Martin Jol is still ironing out his new-look side and will likely have to do without last season's leading scorer Clint Dempsey, as the American attempts to force through a transfer away from the club.
The Dutch boss told the club's official website that with the likes of Hugo Rodallega and Mladen Petric up front, it's hard to tell where the goals will come from.
Last weekend they came from Petric, who joined Fulham this summer on a free transfer. Though he's 31, it's looking like a savvy bit of business, as the Croatian was involved in three goals against the Canaries, scoring two and setting up a third.
Jol had to have been pleased with Petric's sparkling debut but is exuding caution ahead of Saturday's tricky fixture. "One swallow does not make a summer," he told the official site. "Hopefully (Petric can score) at more difficult places."
The Croat has made a believer out of former Fulham defender Rufus Brevett, however.
"You couldn’t help but be impressed by Mladen Petric," Brevett wrote in his weekly column for the official website. "It’s important for any striker who joins a new club to get off the mark early on so for him to score two goals and claim an assist on his debut was a very good way to introduce himself."
The task becomes considerably more difficult, however, to recreate that prowess at one of the cauldrons of English football. Fulham came close to obtaining a result in their trip to Old Trafford last season but ended up 1-0 losers.
"Last season [at Old Trafford, United] scored one goal out of nothing," Jol said. “But in the second half we were better and we could have scored—we should have scored—and we should have had a penalty but we didn’t get it so we lost 1-0.
"But hopefully we can play our own game—that is the most important thing. We have to try and play our football and create chances and if you score one or two goals then you’re always in with a chance of a result."
Revenge will certainly be on the minds of the new-look side, and as fortune would have it, they might be heading into Manchester with a perfect storm brewing. A point might not be out of the picture.
Norwich City vs. Queens Park Rangers
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Two teams that let in a combined 10 goals in their season opener converge at Carrow Road on Saturday hoping to get their campaigns back on track.
Norwich are still finding their feet under new manager Chris Hughton after finishing 12th last season.
Both teams were promoted alongside each other in 2011-12, and while Norwich enjoyed a better debut, Queens Park Rangers have certainly one-upped them in terms of spending power in the transfer market.
Players continue to trickle into Loftus Road, with ex-Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung among the biggest names this summer.
The new names failed to fire against Swansea City last weekend, however.
New signings Javier Garrido (on loan from Lazio) and Sebastien Bassong (Tottenham) have bolstered the defensive ranks for Norwich ahead of the weekend fixture, which will see Norwich attempt to bounce back as well.
Both Garrido (2007-10 with Manchester City) and Bassong (spells with Newcastle United, Tottenham and Wolverhampton Wanderers since 2008) have experience playing in the Premier League, and while Hughton would not commit to playing either this weekend, for the time being they will provide competition at the defensive positions—something Hughton was keen to address in the final days of the transfer window.
"We have to pick up morale, and that hasn’t been difficult here, because it’s a good group of players," Hughton told the club's official site.
The boss says he expects "responses" this weekend, noting that QPR will be raring to atone for their own misfiring.
“Defeats like last week are always hard to take, but these are things that you have to bounce back from," Hughton said. "They are setbacks you have to overcome, and the good thing is that we have an opportunity to do that."
Both Nedum Onuoha and Djibril Cisse have issued similar statements of intent from a QPR perspective.
"(The Swansea match) was the type of defeat that will haunt me for the rest of my career, but I've got every confidence that we will bounce back," Onuoha told the club's official site.
"(Norwich) will be smarting like we are after their opening day defeat, so it's a game we know we'll have to be at our best at to get a positive result from."
"We must show that it was just a mistake and that accidents like this can happen," Cisse told the official site. "I am sure that we will show a different face on Saturday."
Jose Bosingwa, signed this past week from Chelsea, should contend for a starting spot in defense and gives QPR the added benefit of another player steeped in Premier League experience.
Southampton vs. Wigan Athletic
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Nigel Adkins had every right to come away from last Sunday's season opener proud of his charges.
Southampton showed tremendous nerve, coupled with some incisive attacking play, to take a 2-1 lead over Manchester City at the Etihad with just over 20 minutes to spare.
Their advantage would be negated by goals from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri, but the fact that the Saints continued to push for a third goal—while looking very likely to do so—augurs well for the upcoming season.
This weekend they turn their attention to Wigan Athletic, one of the most impressive teams in last season's run-in, who started their new season off with a dull 2-0 defeat to Chelsea.
Adkins drew criticism for his decision to play club-record signing (£7 million) Jay Rodriguez on the wing against City, which left last season's leading scorer Rickie Lambert on the bench.
“Jay has played a lot of games for Burnley out wide of a front three and coming inside onto his right foot, and he scored some good goals for Burnley doing that," Adkins told the club's official site.
"He enjoys playing out there as well as up front so there are a couple of positions that we know he is very good at. I think everyone here is understanding that different formations, different personnel are going to be used all the way through and we have to do what we are good at to win games of football."
Lambert should be in contention for a starting role against Wigan after coming off the bench to score a very good goal.
Jack Cork is still out with an injured ankle suffered in a preseason match against Bristol City on Aug. 7. The midfielder, who made 49 appearances for the Saints last season, has resumed light training this week.
Striker Tadanari Lee played 60 minutes for the U-21 side on Monday and should be angling for a spot in the matchday roster.
Wigan will be looking for a much better display than the one that saw them go down two goals to Chelsea before 10 minutes had gone on Sunday afternoon.
Shaun Maloney (dead leg), James McArthur (back) and Jean Beausejour (minor hamstring tear) are all injury worries for the match, with Beausejour the biggest doubt.
Roberto Martinez wants a better start from his side this time around, noting that Chelsea punished their lack of intensity.
Wigan have talent, especially in their attack, and will be looking to re-create the stirring form that made them one of the most impressive sides to end last season.
The two sides last met in 1986.
Sunderland vs. Reading
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Tired legs could be a worry for Reading manager Brian McDermott, whose side will play its third game in just seven days on Saturday.
McDermott could take a number of positives away from his side's 4-2 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday and could feel rightly chagrined at a missed call by the linesman that allowed an offside Fernando Torres to punch home Chelsea's third goal in the encounter.
The Royals fired back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 advantage thanks to a powerful Pavel Pogrebnyak header and Danny Guthrie free kick (Chelsea keeper Petr Cech was at fault on that one).
Adam Federici, culpable for a severe blunder on Gary Cahill's swerving equalizer, has the backing of his manager heading into Saturday's match.
"I'm not concerned about (Federici) at all," McDermott said. "He's got fantastic mentality."
Those fears will only be allayed with some savvy saves, and Federici will have to be at his best to cope with the new attacking flair on display at the Stadium of Light this season.
Louis Saha is already on the books, and Friday saw Martin O'Neill bring in Wolves striker Steven Fletcher on a £12 million transfer. Adam Johnson is also a rumored target.
Suffice to say, things are looking very interesting indeed for the Black Cats this season, who are coming off a very impressive 0-0 draw at Arsenal last weekend.
This will mark the first time the two teams have met in Premier League play since the 2007-08 season.
Tottenham vs. West Bromwich Albion
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Tottenham open up their home account on Saturday, welcoming a West Bromwich Albion side brimming with confidence after last week's 3-0 win over Liverpool at the Hawthorns.
Manager Steve Clarke heaped out praise for that victory, noting the contributions of the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Zoltan Gera (both goal scorers), but he saved some of his biggest compliments for striker Shane Long.
The 25-year-old Ireland international suffered through an injury-riddled debut season for the Baggies (he had a nasty bone chip problem in the fall of 2011), but he was terrific leading the line in Clarke's new-look 4-2-3-1 formation Saturday.
Clarke told the club's official site that Long has "a point to prove," referencing his blighted campaign, and praised his striker for his dogged work against the Liverpool back line.
Long was a constant pest, nipping in to steal possession. His industry led to two penalties for Albion, who converted the second.
Tottenham suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United last weekend, which saw them done in by a penalty from Hatem Ben Arfa.
It was hardly the debut newly appointed manager Andre Villas-Boas would have hoped for, but he could certainly take away positives from the fixture.
Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon were both dangerous charging down the flanks, and striker Jermain Defoe looks to be in fine goal-scoring form. (He scored a goal for England against Italy three days before he opened his Premier League account against Newcastle.)
Defoe will be joined by Emmanuel Adebayor, finally signed this week from Manchester City. One would think Villas-Boas will go with Defoe at the lone striker position, given his form, but Adebayor seems certain to play some role in the fixture.
New signing Gylfi Sigurdsson showed glimpses of his terrific attacking prowess at St. James Park but will need to be more consistent this week.
Chelsea vs. Newcastle United
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The last time these two teams met in the dying end of last season, Newcastle striker Papiss Demba Cisse scored the wondergoal that puts most other wondergoals to shame.
The January signing's brace powered the Magpies to a 2-0 victory over Chelsea, a rare occurrence in this past season's final weeks, when Chelsea embarked upon the coursing run of form that eventually saw them get their paws on the Champions League trophy.
The Blues will have some of the same worries facing Reading when it comes to squad fitness.
Roberto Di Matteo made just one change in midweek from the side that started the opener against Wigan, and tired legs could well be an issue—particularly when it comes to new signing extraordinaire Eden Hazard.
The Belgian wunderkind has made good on the considerable hype in these first two matches to start the Premier League season, providing five assists (!) while showing some absolutely sublime flashes of individual skill.
Newcastle will need to be at their resilient best to stem Hazard's threat, not to mention that of this entire Chelsea side, which is showing a desire to play some excellent football this season.
Di Matteo welcomes new right-back Cesar Azpilicueta to the fold. The Spaniard's transfer from Marseille was just finalized, and he may be named to the team sheet on Saturday.
Wigan winger Victor Moses also appears to be on the way, although the transfer has yet to be finalized, as Ashley Cole was only too happy to note.
The battle in midfield between these two sides will be fierce. Hazard's threat notwithstanding, the guile of Juan Mata will be on full display for the Blues, who will be making their second consecutive appearance at Stamford Bridge—in the span of four days, to boot.
Mata was brilliant to start Wednesday's Reading fixture, threading passes with aplomb, but he faded as the match wore on.
Newcastle central midfielder Cheick Tiote will be tasked with negating his threat, and Yohan Cabaye will be expected to be far more influential than he was last weekend against Spurs.
Looking up top, Chelsea will have been worried to see Newcastle striker Demba Ba nab his first league goal since February last Saturday. The Senegalese striker is a class apart when on form, as was seen so convincingly early on last season, when he scored two hat tricks and two braces for Toon.
That he pairs with Cisse only compounds the threat for Alan Pardew's side.
Speaking of Pardew, the manager will be on his best behavior this weekend after being charged for improper conduct by the Football Association.
Disgusted by a call during the Tottenham match, Pardew had pushed the assistant referee on his side of the field, an action which resulted in his immediate dismissal.
Stoke City vs. Arsenal
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Arsenal received a huge boost ahead of their Sunday trip to the Britannia after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was ruled fit after missing last weekend's season opener with an ankle knock picked up while on international duty.
Oxlade-Chamberlain participated in the club's Friday training session and will be fighting for a spot in the starting lineup.
Laurent Koscielny was not so lucky. The Frenchman will miss Sunday's match as he continues to recover from a calf strain, meaning that Per Mertesacker will reprise his starting spot alongside Thomas Vermaelen in central defense.
All eyes will be on Santi Cazorla in midfield. The new signing from Malaga was sensational in his Premier League debut at the Emirates, completing 72 of his 77 passes (many of them at a high level of difficulty) while firing three shots as well.
He'll need the industry of Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby, who will need to be at their defensive best to stem the counter attacks of Stoke City.
Peter Crouch's height will be a worry—the England striker scored against Arsenal last season at the Emirates and has proved a constant thorn in their side in recent seasons, particularly from free kicks and deliveries into the penalty area.
It has become a rivalry, whether the two clubs will admit to it or not, typified by crunching challenges and a stark philosophical difference between the two managers.
Arsene Wenger is unlikely to deviate from his passing philosophy even on the road, meaning that the midfield and attacking trio will have to be at their best.
Olivier Giroud may start alongside Lukas Podolski, giving Wenger an added modicum of physicality in the opposing area. The French striker's 6'3" stature and ability to link up with players in the final third could prove an added boon.
Given that Podolski often plays on the left wing for Germany as well, one wonders whether Wenger will shift him out wide.
Cameron, who was excellent for the United States in a 1-0 friendly win over Mexico nine days ago, believes he "passed another test" at Stoke.
The 27-year-old enjoyed an excellent debut in a friendly 1-1 draw against Greuther Furth on Aug. 10 and says that his new teammates saluted him for his play.
Cameron is relishing a potential league debut against Arsenal.
Liverpool vs. Manchester City
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The bad taste left from that thorough 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend will have lingered with Liverpool all week.
An exploit against last season's title winners would go a long way toward endearing new Reds manager Brendan Rodgers among the Anfield faithful, however.
The Northern Irish boss will have been pleased to see his side emerge 1-0 winners away to Hearts in a Europa League group stage qualifier, with new signing Fabio Borini putting pressure on defender Andy Webster, who bundled a low cross from Martin Kelly into the back of his own net.
Borini struggled to make an impression in his league debut against Albion, but Liverpool were positively rampant during the first half before being undone by a bit of brilliance from Zoltan Gera.
Luis Suarez did everything but score, as the Uruguayan was at his ubiquitous attacking best against the Baggies' defense.
Rodgers will want to see No. 7 pick up right where he left off and put some goals in the back of the net against City.
Daniel Agger misses the match after picking up a red card against Albion, meaning that Jamie Carragher will likely slot into his spot in central defense.
Manchester City will be without Sergio Aguero, who will likely be sidelined with injury until after the upcoming September international break.
The Argentine will be missed, but given that fellow strikers Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko both got on the scoresheet in last Sunday's 3-2 victory against Southampton, Roberto Mancini can breathe a little easier.
It doesn't hurt having Mario Balotelli on the bench either.
Last season's Premier League winners endured a nervy display against the Saints, with Samir Nasri enjoying a sterling display in midfield.
The Citizens' susceptibility on the counter was truly exposed on goals from Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis, and one thinks that Suarez will be licking his chops to run in behind City's defense.
This promises to be a terrific encounter and should provide a fitting close to the weekend's action.