Game of the weekend
The job that Maurizio Sarri has done at Chelsea so far this season should not be underestimated. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke for many when he said that the transition from Antonio Conte to the former Napoli manager was the “biggest I ever saw in such a short space of time”. When you consider that Conte actually took Chelsea’s first few pre-season training sessions and Sarri was not installed as his successor until the middle of July, the Blues’ unbeaten start looks even more impressive.
Saturday’s visit to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur is arguably their biggest challenge yet, however; Chelsea have already faced Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, but all of those games came in front of their own fans at Stamford Bridge. Spurs have hitherto not really convinced in terms of performances, but they continue to grind out results and will climb above their London rivals in the table with a victory here. It should be a fascinating encounter and one which will reveal plenty about where these two teams are at.
All eyes on
Claudio Ranieri worked miracles by winning the Premier League title at Leicester City in 2015/16; by comparison, lifting Fulham out of the bottom three looks like a rather straightforward task. There is plenty of talent within the ranks at Craven Cottage, but Slavisa Jokanovic was unable to create a balanced collective capable of punching its weight in the top flight.
Fulham are yet to keep a clean sheet this season and have shipped a league-high 31 goals. Tightening up the team’s rearguard will therefore be Ranieri’s principal objective, with the west Londoners likely to go back to basics when Southampton arrive in the capital this weekend.
Man in form
Bournemouth may have lost to Newcastle United last time out, but they have still been the story of the Premier League season so far. Eddie Howe continues to do a marvellous job on the south coast, and victory over Arsenal on Sunday would move the Cherries to within one point of their opponents in the standings.
Callum Wilson deservedly made his England debut in the recent triumph over the United States, while Wales international David Brooks has made a fine start to life at the club following his summer switch from Sheffield United. It is another Brit who has been Bournemouth’s most impressive performer up to now, though: Ryan Fraser, the diminutive Scottish winger, has been directly involved in nine goals this term, a tally bettered only by Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard, Raheem Sterling and team-mate Wilson. No player in the division has provided as many assists as the ex-Aberdeen man, whose battle with Hector Bellerin could be key to determining the outcome of Sunday’s showdown at the Vitality Stadium.
One to watch
Kadeem Harris was in danger of becoming Cardiff City’s forgotten man. The London-born midfielder made just three league appearances in the club’s promotion campaign last time out, and had spent just 36 minutes on the pitch in Neil Warnock’s men’s opening 11 Premier League encounters this season.
Harris was then handed a surprise start by Warnock in the clash with Brighton and Hove Albion immediately prior to the international break – and he did not disappoint. The 25-year-old was superb in a crucial 2-1 win, setting up his side’s opening goal and delivering a fine all-round performance. Harris was praised by his manager after the game – “he’s been the best player in training for the last six weeks” – and now has a chance to establish himself as a regular starter for the Bluebirds.
Manager under pressure
With Jokanovic having departed Craven Cottage last week, Mark Hughes is the new favourite to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post. The former Stoke City honcho dragged Southampton away from trouble at the end of 2017/18 but has failed to keep them clear of the drop zone so far this campaign, and the recent exit of vice-chairman Les Reed and technical director Martin Hunter shows that the club’s hierarchy are not resting on their laurels.
With just one win and eight goals to their name thus far, Saints desperately need a positive result against fellow strugglers Fulham on Saturday. A seventh loss of the season would probably see them slip into the bottom three and could push Hughes closer to the exit door.
(Greg Lea of thesetpieces.com).
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