Here are the major storylines to look out for this weekend in the Premiership
Saturday programming alert: Watch Manchester United v Stoke City on Sportsnet, West Brom v Manchester City on Sportsnet World, and Norwich City v Arsenal on Sportsnet. Live coverage begins at 9:30 am ET/6:30 am PT
Sunday programming alert: Watch Sunderland v Newcastle and QPR v Everton on Sportsnet World. Live coverage begins at 7:30 am ET/4:30 am PT
Tottenham vs. Chelsea – Saturday @ 7:30 am ET
1. AVB revenge
This matchday gets off to a rollicking start early on Saturday morning as Andre Villas Boas faces his former team for the first time.
Spurs are on a roll, undefeated since opening day, and the club hasn’t lost at home in a London derby since 2007, going undefeated in 20 matches (13-7-0).
There’s no question Roberto di Matteo has gotten more out of Chelsea. He has a winning percentage north of .600, while Villas-Boas’ sat around .480 when he was sacked.
2. On the rise
Clint Dempsey seems to be hitting his stride. He scored in Tottenham’s historic win at Old Trafford in late September, and earned an assist in the club’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa before the international break.
And on Tuesday, Dempsey was magnificent for the United States, picking up two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win over Guatemala.
Manchester United vs. Stoke City – Saturday @ 10:00 am ET
3. Different season
One year ago, the two Manchester clubs were unquestionably the class of the Premier League.
Through seven games, the clubs dropped just four points. The Red Devils outscored its opposition by 19 goals, while the Citizens’ goal differential sat at plus-18.
This season, the landscape is noticeably different. The two teams have dropped 12 points, and their combined goal differential is just plus-15.
4. Are diamonds forever?
One of the big talking points following Manchester United’s 3-0 win over Newcastle two weeks ago was the team’s formation. A long-time proponent of the 4-4-2, Sir Alex Ferguson unveiled a diamond midfield formation with Michael Carrick as the deep-lying midfielder, and Wayne Rooney at the tip of the diamond.
But this is a team that has made legends out of wingers (Cristiano Ronaldo anyone?), and with Nani soon to return, will the diamond last, or will the club go back to its familiar ways?
West Brom vs. Manchester City – Saturday @ 10:00 am ET
5. Sigh of relief
David Silva pulled up after just ten minutes of play during Spain’s match against France on Tuesday. A tight hamstring was the reason, and luckily, he is expected to only miss a couple of matches.
There are only two clubs in the Premier League with an unblemished home record: Chelsea and West Brom. The Baggies are off to their best start at home since 1919, and it hasn’t come easy either. Two of the victories have come against Liverpool (3-0) and Everton (2-0) respectively.
Of note, this fixture produced a 0-0 draw last season.
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Norwich City vs Arsenal – Saturday @ 12:00 pm ET
7. Sophomore Slump
Two teams going in opposite directions meet in Saturday’s afternoon match. Over their last 12 matches, Arsenal has one loss, and Norwich has one win.
It’s been a tough start to the campaign for Norwich, one of the darlings of the 2011-12 season. At this point last year, they were in the top half of the table, and Grant Holt and company were a revelation.
This year, only QPR’s retched start is keeping them out of the cellar, and their scoring has disappeared.
8. Newcomer of the Year?
Santi Cazorla has been a dynamic player for Arsenal this season. His midfield combination with Mikel Arteta is the main reason why the Gunners have become perhaps the most aesthetically-pleasing club in the league.
But while his passing and creativity is superb, it may surprise you to learn that he has nine goals from outside the box since the start of last season. That total is the highest of all players in the top five European leagues.
Liverpool vs. Reading – Saturday @ 10:00 am ET
9. Tough injury
Fabio Borini broke his foot training with the under-21 Italian team last week. He is expected to miss three months with the injury.
One of the questions emerging from the setback is this: Will the Reds recall Andy Carroll from West Ham in January?
Sunderland vs Newcastle United – Sunday @ 8:30 am ET
10. Unbalanced scoring
These two teams have played a combined 13 games this season. In those 1,210 minutes of play, three players have scored for these clubs: Steven Fletcher, Demba Ba, and Hatem Ben Arfa.
Queens Park Rangers vs Everton – Sunday @ 11:00 am ET
11. Baines for England left back?
Everton’s strong play this season (and certain poor behaviour from Ashley Cole) has increased calls from the media and public that it’s time for England to make a change at left back.
Leighton Baines was the PFA’s choice as left back on the team of the year for 2011-12. He has created 30 chances from open play this season (the most in the top five European leagues). And he has completed 267 passes this season (the most by any defender in the league).
And the fans are starting to move on this as well: A London telegraph poll shows over 60 per cent of respondents think Baines should start at left back for England.
In my humble opinion, should Everton keep up their strong play this season, Baines deserves consideration for player of the year.