John Brewin previews the weekend’s action and highlights five key storylines to watch in Premier League W2W4.
Klopp, Liverpool in need of win at Leicester
Jurgen Klopp is in the most vulnerable position yet of his tenure at Liverpool. September so far has failed to bring a single victory, and on Tuesday, Liverpool’s 2-0 loss at Leicester was the month’s second defeat. However, exiting the Carabao Cup was far less of a problem for Klopp than the repetition of defensive mistakes that have plagued his team in the Premier League.
A similar outcome against the same opponents at the same venue in Saturday evening’s match and the pressure will only be increased. At the King Power, Klopp admitted he was “sick of conceding goals like this,” but as he approaches two years at Anfield, such nausea has been a constant that Liverpool have never been able to shake.
Klopp faces accusations of an inability to organise a defence, and keeping faith in the likes of Alberto Moreno and Dejan Lovren goes against the judgement of many fans. The reputation of Virgil van Dijk, the signing that got away, grows ever more on Merseyside as the players he was supposed to supplant or play alongside make those mistakes.
Liverpool’s current run is beginning to bring back memories of his final season at Borussia Dortmund. Not nearly so dramatic — Dortmund dropped into the Bundesliga relegation zone ahead of the winter break in the 2014-15 season — but Liverpool cannot afford to lag behind the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs, forging ahead of them in the table.
For now, the pizzazz has gone from the heavy metal showman, and Klopp’s trademark beaming grin no longer shines so bright as when Liverpool are captivating the Kop. Perhaps this is a temporary blip, it might be even be the curse of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose arrival from Arsenal has coincided with his new club’s winless run, but Liverpool badly need to get back on track at Leicester or else the clamours of discontent will keep getting louder.
Man United goal machine heads to Southampton
For Manchester United, the goals are raining down. In their eight matches played so far this season, Jose Mourinho’s team have rattled in 24 strikes, a total that dwarfs the return of their past four campaigns.
By this point in 2013-14 and 2015-16, United had scored 14 goals, and in 2014-15 and 2016-17 they had notched just 13. Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat of Burton Albion reminded that Marcus Rashford, a scorer of two goals, is a striker by calling, though he plays on the wing to serve Romelu Lukaku in the Premier League.
Anthony Martial, who notched one for himself, was even better Wednesday, and United fans are beginning to wonder when Mourinho might throw off the shackles and try an attacking trio of Lukaku, Martial and Rashford together. Southampton have scored in only two matches this season, and hung on a little during last week’s 1-0 victory over scoreless Crystal Palace, but will probably not be the opponent Mourinho tries that trio against. The other end of the pitch, where United have conceded three all season, remains just as important to him, and with Manchester City expected to beat Crystal Palace, he is unlikely to take chances.
London rivals on collision course
Tottenham have not much enjoyed their recent trips to West Ham, winning just once there in the past five seasons. Spurs’ maiden voyage to the London Stadium in May ended in bitter defeat, when a 1-0 loss via a Manuel Lanzini goal all but ended hopes of chasing Chelsea down in last season’s Premier League title race.
On Thursday, West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was highly complimentary of Saturday lunchtime’s opponents. “For me they are the team that plays the most attractive football,” he said, while also warning that “we always put a special kind of performance” against Spurs.
Having lost their previous London derby 2-1 to Chelsea at Wembley and then drawn home matches with Burnley and Swansea, Maurico Pochettino needs to escape East London with victory to stay within touch of United and City. “We will try to stay and be ready to compete, fight and be aggressive,” Tottenham’s boss said on Thursday. “For all the excitement and desire they show to beat us we must show the same.”
Palace face Man City music
Last week’s 6-0 win at Watford touched perfection for Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. “I am so happy,” he said. This time, his catchphrase did not drip with sarcasm. With Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus sharing 11 goals between them, as they feast on the sumptuous service provided by David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, Crystal Palace look lambs headed to slaughter at the Etihad.
Roy Hodgson got off to winning ways with Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat of Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup, but City are a proposition from another dimension. Palace are still without a point; their getting one Saturday would register as one of the shocks of the season so far.
Hughton the Geordie hero
Chris Hughton led Newcastle to promotion from the Championship in 2009-10, just as Rafa Benitez did last season. Like Benitez, Hughton was celebrated as an adopted Geordie on Tyneside. Until Benitez arrived at St James’, Hughton, sacked by owner Mike Ashley six months after achieving promotion, was the last manager that Newcastle fans approved of, by contrast to unpopular successors Alan Pardew and Steve McClaren.
Those hardy, committed Toon Army fans who make the 350 mile trip to Brighton for Sunday’s sole Premier League match will no doubt hail a Londoner still in their hearts.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.