Black on BPL: The starting eleven

These are some of the storylines to watch this weekend in the English Premier League:


Watch Chelsea v Norwich on Sportsnet, Wigan v Everton on Sportsnet World, and West Ham v Arsenal on Sportsnet. Live coverage begins at 9:30 am ET/6:30 am PT.



Sunday programming alert: Watch Southampton v Fulham and Newcastle v Manchester United on Sportsnet World. Live coverage begins at 7:30 am ET/4:30 am PT.


MANCHESTER CITY VS SUNDERLAND – SATURDAY @ 7:45 AM ET

1. Battle of Undefeateds

There are three teams in the Premier League that have not lost this season, and two of them will be on the Etihad pitch on Saturday. However, while Chelsea and Manchester City are both among the top five in the table, Sunderland is all the way down in 13th (though they have played one fewer game than most clubs).

2. Fletch Lives

A big reason for Sunderland’s success: Steven Fletcher. The former Wolves striker is the first Premier League player in two seasons to score in his first four games with a new club. And making Fletcher’s performance even more impressive is the fact that his five goals have come from just five shots on target.

CHELSEA VS NORWICH CITY – SATURDAY @ 10 AM ET

3. Hot streak

Juan Mata was my favourite Premier League player last season. Listed at five-foot-five inches, (which I think is generous), he played with a flair and creativity that was very unique in English football (Santi Cazorla is bringing much of the same to Arsenal this season).

He’s been Chelsea’s best player during a four-game winning streak in all competitions. The Blues have outscored the opposition 13-1 in that time, with Mata picking up four goals and four assists.

WIGAN VS EVERTON – SATURDAY @ 10 AM ET

4. Turning the corner (in opposite directions)

These two teams both surprised with their play to close out the 2011-12 season. Over the last 10 games of the campaign, Wigan had a joint-best seven wins, while Everton had just one loss (tied with Manchester City for fewest).

As this season nears the opening 10 game mark, it’s clear that one club has maintained that success, and one club hasn’t.

This is Everton’s second Premiership campaign with 13 points through six games. The last time it happened was in 2004-05, and they happened to qualify for the Champions League that season.

Meanwhile, Wigan’s four-point start is their worst in the top flight. From what I saw from the Latics last season, Victor Moses was vital to their late season success. It wasn’t whether he scored or not, but the pressure he applied to opposing teams that was unrelenting. Losing him over the summer to Chelsea was a blow to this team that they have yet to recover from.

SWANSEA CITY VS READING – SATURDAY @ 10 AM ET

5. Quick reversal of fortunes

Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City side was an early-season revelation, winning their first two matches with exciting, high-scoring, high-possession play.

But it seems as if teams have figured out the Swans. While their passing and possession remains high, they have stopped generating quality chances in going winless since those opening victories. The team hasn’t even scored since September 1.

But the Swans need results in the next two weeks. They host Reading and Wigan in the next two matchdays before facing Manchester City and Liverpool on the road, followed by Chelsea at home.

WEST BROMWICH VS QPR – SATURDAY @ 10 AM ET

6. Road Woes

I have to admit, I was sucked in by QPR’s moves in the off-season. The club invested over 20 million pounds in the summer bringing in the likes of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, Park Ji-Sung, Jose Bosingwa, Fabio, and Junior Hoilett.

Now, that isn’t to say I expected QPR to compete for spot in the top five, but I also didn’t expect them to be at the bottom of the table through six matches.

Here’s the good news: They are not as bad as advertised. Rangers have had the toughest schedule so far among all Premiership clubs. In one three-week stretch last month, they played at Manchester City, home to Chelsea, then at Tottenham. That doesn’t excuse a 5-0 loss to Swansea City to start the season, but it’s a mitigating factor when considering their performance.

Here’s the bad news: West Bromwich is off to its best ever Premier League start through six games (11 points).

Here’s worse news: QPR has taken just three of its last 48 available points on the road (0-3-13).


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WEST HAM VS ARSENAL – SATURDAY @ 12:30 PM ET

7. Road Warriors

I mentioned the three undefeated clubs this season earlier, and there is a fourth that has yet to lose on the road.

What makes this note especially impressive for Arsene Wenger’s side is the competition. The Gunners have drawn at Stoke City (never an easy place to get a result), won at Anfield, and drawn at the Etihad. The draw against Manchester City was just the third time in the last 32 home games that City did not earn a full three points.

SOUTHAMPTON VS FULHAM – SUNDAY @ 8:30 AM

8. Goals, goals, goals

There have been 28 goals scored in Southampton’s matches this season (1st in Premier League). There have been 22 goals scored in Fulham matches (3rd in the league). You know what this means, right? Expect a 0-0 draw on Sunday morning.

NEWCASTLE VS MANCHESTER UNITED – SUNDAY @ 11 AM

9. Don’t sit on that lead

It is very likely that the Magpies could be enjoying an early 1-0 lead thanks to a Demba Ba or Papiss Cisse marker on Sunday.

They shouldn’t sit back and try to hold onto that lead, though.

The Red Devils have been behind in five of their six games this season, but still sit among the league leaders because they’ve managed to earn nine points in those five games.

LIVERPOOL VS STOKE CITY – SUNDAY @ 10 AM ET

10. Suarez shines again

Luis Suarez was spectacular in earning a hat trick last week, and he followed it up with a great set piece marker in Europa League play on Thursday.

And there are signs that Suarez is really beginning to get aggressive with his shot taking. He leads the league with 36 shots, and given how Liverpool relies on him, I think there’s a case to be made that he could end up winning the scoring race at the end of the season.

TOTTENHAM VS ASTON VILLA – SUNDAY @ 10 AM ET

11. No rest for the weary

Undefeated in all competitions since an opening loss to Newcastle, it would have been perfectly fine for Andre Villas-Boas to rest some of his stars in a Europa League clash in Athens against Panathinaikos this week. But the manager who won the 2010-11 Europa League crown with FC Porto had Jermain Defoe, Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey all in his starting XI, and still the club only managed a 1-1 draw.

What made the lineup really surprising was that the team was coming off an exhausting 3-2 win at Old Trafford. I say “exhausting” because United’s possession was somewhere in the 70 per cent range in the second half as Spurs desperately clung on to its lead.

How this affects Spurs’ veteran players moving forward will be interesting to see. Dempsey in particular has logged a lot of miles over the last few seasons, and I’m not so sure he can withstand a season with so many midweek fixtures.