It is with great sadness that I bring to you, dear reader, the final edition of Premier League storylines to watch out for before that bloody World Cup in Qatar that absolutely nobody – nobody – is excited for. Except, of course, for the Brewdog marketing team, who continue to enhance their brand’s already glowing reputation as effectively as Sideshow Bob managed to avoid stepping on rakes.
Without further ado, here are seven storylines for this weekend’s fixtures, including not one but two new managerial additions to the Barclays, neither of which are Sean Dyche. I know. I’m as frustrated as you are.
After nearly four years in charge, Ralph Hasenhuttl was finally put out of his misery like a tired, old racehorse in a baseball cap at Southampton, where Luton Town s***housery-conductor Nathan Jones now takes charge.
Given that he managed just six wins in 38 games after making the rather significant step up to, er, Stoke City manager before returning to the Hatters with his tail between his legs, only to then leave them again at the very first opportunity, it’s difficult to envisage this appointment going particularly well.
Good thing, then, that his very first game in charge is away at Anfield, with Liverpool having rested their entire first team during the penalty-shootout victory over Derby County in midweek in the Carabao. Cue the Ralph Wiggum chuckling ‘I’m in danger’ meme.
Yes, you are, Nathan. You really are.
Speaking of new managers, welcome to the wonderful city of Wolverhampton, Julen Lopetegui. It’s not quite Seville, but you’ll get used to it. May I recommend Lupo Lounge on Dudley Street, where you can sit in something akin to a cavernous Victorian living room, stare at odd paintings clumped together on the wall and play Scrabble. They even do Estrella on tap, Julen.
Anyway, it was a smart decision to make your first game in charge the one against League Two side Gillingham in the Carabao Cup and not, in fact, Premier League-league leading Arsenal at Molineux. With one win (1-0 against Nottingham Forest) in their last eight games, Wolves have it all to do to turn the tide and stay in the division. Can they put up a fight with their new possession-based overlord watching on from the stands?
Actually, Wolves do know he’s not Portuguese, don’t they? Don’t they? They have checked that information?
One team is bang in form. One team isn’t. Eddie Howe’s tricky Magpies have won four on the trot in the Premier League in impressive fashion, while Graham Potter’s confused pensioners haven’t tasted victory in as many games, drawing twice and losing the other two.
Should Newcastle keep their hot streak going with a win at the ground formerly known as the Sports Direct Arena, they’ll put a nine-point cushion between themselves and Chelsea in the race for Champions League, although the Blues will have a game in hand. Everyone expected them to get there eventually with the limitless wealth of a sovereign desert nation propping them up, but Newcastle look way ahead of schedule so far. They haven’t even splurged £30m on Robinho yet.
Side-note: Miguel Almiron somehow absorbing the powers of prime Lionel Messi like the little aliens in Space Jam is this season’s most unexpected (and fun) plot twist. After the title parade slander and with only a single league goal to his name this season, DJ Grealo is currently squarely in the mud. You hate to see it, you really do.
Credit where credit’s due, Leicester looked dead and buried a few weeks ago. Three huge wins against Leeds United, Wolves and Everton later, however, and suddenly everything looks fine again for Brendan Rodgers, a man the club quite literally cannot afford to sack.
This is largely down to the transcendent form of James Maddison, who is a majestic footballer when he’s playing like this, all liquid confidence and braggadocio that belies both his hairline and the fact he’s had to work his way to the England squad after playing for the likes of Coventry, Aberdeen and Norwich.
The sad news is he likely won’t see a minute of action in Qatar such is Gareth Southgate’s personal resistance to joy, but Leicester supporters won’t care as long as he keeps the show going in the Premier League. West Ham away is never an easy game but with David Moyes’ team slightly out of sorts, it could mean another vital three points for the Foxes.
After a scintillating 3-1 victory over Manchester United in his debut as Aston Villa manager, Unai Emery has already eradicated the dreary memory of Steven Gerrard lingering around Villa Park.
While his side lost to the same opponent on Thursday night in the Carabao Cup – mostly due to the continual goalkeeping disaster that is Robin Olsen – there was enough attacking threat in the second half to suggest the Villans have made one hell of an appointment.
Emery’s credentials will be put to the test away at Brighton this weekend, who have now won three games in a row under Roberto De Zerbi. In Kaoru Mitoma they also look to have unearthed a serious player. Expect plenty of goals in this one as both sides look to push further up the table.
Tottenham Hotspur never feel far away from a mini-crisis at the best of times and it’s no surprise to see them firmly embracing one now just before the World Cup. A 2-1 home loss to Liverpool was followed by a 2-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. Sure, they looked absolutely terrible and got bossed by the worst team in the league but at least Richarlison and Dejan Kulusevski might start against Leeds on Saturday!
And quite frankly, after two dramatic late wins in the Premier League in a row, it’s about time someone put a stop to Jesse Marsch and Jesse Marsch’s general enthusiasm for life. There’s no man better to do that than Antonio Conte, who I want to watch scowl across the dugout at his American counterpart for the entirety of the 90 minutes as his team scrapes an undeserved 1-0 (Harry Kane pen, 79′) win.
For their Carabao Cup tie on Tuesday, Bournemouth interim manager Gary O’Neil rested his entire starting lineup other than Mark Travers and Chris Mepham, while Everton boss Frank Lampard fielded what looked like a pretty strong team, despite making 11 changes. It will therefore come as no shock to learn that the final score was 4-1 in Bournemouth’s favour, as the likes of, er, Jamal Lowe and Junior Stanislas ran riot.
Lampard has the chance to enact revenge on Saturday against a team that have lost four games on the bounce in the Premier League, although his side’s performance against their second string is hardly a cause for optimism going into the fixture.
Key players such as Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gueye and James Tarkowski will all return and you’d hope to see a much-improved performance from the Toffees who, other than a shock 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, have been stinking out the joint for the past month or so. Both teams desperately need a win so don’t expect a classic at the Vitality Stadium, but the result should give us a clearer indication towards who will be struggling to beat the drop this season.