W2W4 previews the weekend’s Premier League fixtures and highlights five key storylines.
Pep Guardiola unfazed despite knee-jerk talk of a crisis
Six games without a win and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is all washed up. You see, his team are apparently deep in crisis, because nothing screams the end of days like a side exiting the oh-so-defining EFL Cup. Hang on a second. City are top of the Premier League and have won 10 of their opening 16 matches under a new manager who is working to implement his very specific football philosophy. While all crises are relative, maybe, just maybe, we should take a step back before making any definitive conclusions on Guardiola’s management. The same should go for his counterparts, too.
Unsurprisingly, Guardiola was not exactly panicking in the wake of Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United, even though he has gone six games without a win for the first time in his managerial career. In three of those matches, City have failed to find the back of the net — heck, they didn’t even have a shot on target at Old Trafford. The solution to this problem, and therefore their form, is for someone to be clinical in front of goal. They have the ideal player to do that in Sergio Aguero, but the Argentina international has not scored in a month. City need the scintillating Aguero from the start of the season, when he scored 11 goals in six appearances, for Saturday’s trip to West Brom. Crisis or no crisis, City require a pick-me-up ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match at home to Barcelona. Gulp.
Jose Mourinho needs a chance to heal Man United’s ills
As much as Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho perhaps wouldn’t like to hear it, he is indeed in the same boat as Guardiola. He, like Pep, needs time to do his very different thing at Old Trafford. There was an image of exhausted relief on the face of Mourinho after his side’s victory over their rivals. Possibly not so much because United had reached the quarterfinals but rather that it allowed Mourinho to soothe some of the wounds inflicted by the 4-0 loss at Chelsea. This was a performance far removed from that defensive abomination. This was disciplined and committed. This was more like a Mourinho team. There is still a helluva lot of work to be done at United — so let one of the game’s most successful bosses do it. United, only six points off the top remember, host Burnley on Saturday.
Sunderland must seize on any Arsenal complacency
Watching Sunderland has been painful viewing so far. Sure, the football has incited grimaces, but it’s the agony befalling manager David Moyes that really stings. He looks, on his return to the Premier League following a year at Real Sociedad, deflated and defeated. Rooted to the bottom of the table and five points from safety after nine games played, there has been little evidence that the Black Cats’ nine-year stay in the top flight is not going to come to an end — their nine lives look to be up. Saturday’s lunchtime meeting with Arsenal at the Stadium of Light looks like a particularly uninviting fixture give them circumstances. But if any side is capable of gifting hopeless Sunderland their first league win of the season it is surely the Gunners, who predictably followed a 6-0 win with a goalless draw last weekend.
Ronald Koeman has work to do at fragile Everton
Everton are a respectable sixth in the table, but their form is stuttering. Without a win in their last four Premier League games, the late 2-1 loss to Burnley last time out confirmed the Ronald Koeman effect is still very much in its infancy at Everton. With the Toffees wavering, their weekend opponents, West Ham, are rising after a tough start to the season. Back-to-back league victories, followed by disposing of Chelsea in the League Cup on Wednesday, have relieved mounting pressure on manager Slaven Bilic. Koeman led his previous side Southampton to sixth last term, a point above Bilic’s West Ham. That sort of finish is exactly why the Dutchman was brought to Goodison Park in the summer. It’s up to him to transfer that mentality to a team still showing signs of their fragility under ex-boss Roberto Martinez.
Mike Phelan looks to have an impossible job at Hull
Since finally being appointed full-time Hull City manager, Mike Phelan’s side have conceded eight and scored once in the subsequent two Premier League fixtures. In fact, Hull have not won in the top flight since the second match of the season on Aug. 20 which unsurprisingly sees them in the relegation zone. As expected going into 2016-17, the Tigers are in for a testing campaign. The news gets worse for Hull, too, with key midfielder Robert Snodgrass ruled out for a month with an ankle injury. A trip to a Watford side who have settled well under new manager Walter Mazzarri is probably not what the doctor ordered for Phelan. Remarkably, we’re in a position where his reign at Hull looks precarious just two weeks after pen was put to paper, despite the club being about where you’d expect them to be considering the resources available.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.