A huge weekend of action awaits, with key fixtures including the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park and a Premier League “Classico” between Arsenal and Manchester United. Both games are set to be fraught, unpredictable affairs with mistakes aplenty, so managers will need to exercise their imaginations to the fullest extent in order to gain ground on rivals.
Manchester City are a wounded animal, and at present there seems to be no better opposition to vent frustration at than Newcastle United. The Magpies fought Chelsea with all their might, but the two points dropped will be a huge blow to dressing room confidence.
Maxing out on City players is strongly advised, but here are six more players that look set to make an impact in GW8.
1. Pape Souare – vs West Brom (H)
Throughout the previous decade, certain teams were famed for a solid defence – most notably Chelsea in 2004/05 and the Manchester United team of 2007-09. In the present day, no team can truly claim to be a master of defence, with previously in-form defence Manchester City conceding six goals in their last two games.
Clean sheets are now a very unpredictable part of the fantasy football game, but perhaps the best bet for a clean sheet this weekend is Crystal Palace at home to West Bromwich Albion. Palace performed well as a defensive unit in the traditional mould against the passing game of Watford, and their clean sheet is a testament to the Eagles’ progress under Pardew.
While Scott Dann continues to be (statistically) the best defender at the club, a more cost-effective (but equally viable) alternative can be found in Pape Souare, who has adapted well to life at Selhurst Park since moving in January.
2. Jonathan Walters – vs Aston Villa (A)
Simply put, the Aston Villa XI is a team in turmoil. Since the departure of Fabian Delph, the midfield has lost what remained of its cohesion, and a visit from Stoke City could be yet another nail in the proverbial coffin of Tim Sherwood.
The Potters will arrive in Birmingham full of confidence after claiming their first win of the season, against Bournemouth, a result which moved them out of the relegation zone at Villa’s expense. Jon Walters has started the last two games and produced two goals, and he should be an influence yet again if the Villa midfield continues to be so ponderous.
Mame Biram Diouf will, as ever, be the target man for Stoke. Based on current form a clean sheet from the Villa defence is unlikely, so he could prove a worthy inclusion.
3. Diafra Sakho – vs Sunderland (A)
Sunderland fans are already fearful that this season could see the club break its personal worst points tally of 15 from 38 Premier League games. Eight years ago, Derby County set the all-time record with 11, but even by this point the Rams had registered a win, and this is a stat which can only deepen the misery on Wearside.
Slaven Bilic’s swashbuckling West Ham squad takes to the road again having executed three perfect away wins, countering effectively as a unit to stun the opposition. Logic would indicate a goal (or two) for main frontman Sakho, and captaincy should also be a serious consideration for the Senegalese shooter.
4. Jamie Vardy – vs Norwich (A)
Vardy’s rise to the very top of the game is now taking something of a meteoric appearance. Two strikes against Arsenal, his second coming when defeat was inevitable, show the full extent of his fighting spirit.
A trip to Carrow Road will be a stern test of the Leicester squad’s resolve after their unbeaten start to the season was ended in chastening fashion, but the Foxes have enough skill and expertise to dispatch the newly promoted Canaries. For all their own endeavour, Norwich are still without a clean sheet this season, failing to hold out at Upton Park when a priceless away win was within grasping distance.
There is still a clear lack of confidence at the back as far as Norwich are concerned, and Saturday’s game in East Anglia represents a golden opportunity for Vardy to continue his rich vein of form.
5. Steven Naismith – vs Liverpool (H) / 6. Phillipe Coutinho – vs Everton (A)
In September 2001, a young Steven Gerrard came into full derby fruition for the first time, destroying the blues with a man of the match performance. From that day forth, Gerrard goals became a regular feature in the Merseyside Derby.
The man who fuelled Liverpool’s remarkable run of eight Goodison wins from a possible fifteen has since departed for the lights of LA, and it will be curious to see how his absence affects the flow of proceedings on Sunday.
Derby matches rely on good leadership as much as fighting spirit, and this time it will be an Everton captain (Phil Jagielka) that boasts the greater amount of derby experience. As such, the 225th Merseyside Derby represents a decent opportunity for the blues to register their first triumph over the reds in five long years.
The source of points is set to be something of a lottery, but if anyone can break Everton’s derby curse once and for all it is Steven Naismith. The underrated Scot evidently thrives against stronger teams, having netted a hat trick against Chelsea, and his workrate will be a huge asset to Everton in the intense battle which unfolds.
For their part, Liverpool barely scraped over the line against Aston Villa on Saturday, and huge improvements will be needed in defence when they visit Goodison Park. That said, Liverpool have a habit of poaching goals at Goodison, having done so in three out of the last five occasions.
Although a physical encounter is inevitable, the diminutive Coutinho arguably has more flair than Everton’s entire midfield put together. Forebodingly for the blue half of the city, Everton have not opened the scoring in a derby since April 2012 and, should Liverpool open the scoring in the early minutes, Coutinho will certainly thrive off the confidence that arises in front of a hostile Goodison Park.