Black on BPL: The starting eleven

Here are the major story-lines to look out for this weekend in the Premiership.

Saturday programming alert: Watch Aston Villa v Norwich (Sportsnet World at 7am ET), Stoke City v Sunderland (Sportsnet World at 9:30am ET), Arsenal v QPR (Sportsnet at 9:30am ET)and Manchester City v Swansea City (Sportsnet World at noon ET).

Sunday programming alert: Watch Chelsea v Manchester United (Sportsnet World at noon ET)

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City – Saturday @ 7:00 am ET

1. Lambert hosts former club

Paul Lambert hasn’t exactly left Norwich City for greener pastures. In fact, a win on Saturday would move the Canaries four points ahead of Lambert’s current club.

It’s been a tough run for Villa. Let’s see how many ways we can explain why that they haven’t played very well of late:

— Four home wins last season was a new franchise worst (pretty bad when your history dates back to 1888).

— Five points through eight games this season is their worst ever Premier League start.

— Over the last 24 Premier League matches, Villa has two wins (lowest in the league among teams in the top flight both last season and this season).

Arsenal vs. QPR – Saturday 10 am ET

2. Potential Canadian content, part 1

Brampton-born David Hoilett has been on a roller coaster this season for QPR. He started in the club’s opening two games (a loss and a draw). Over the next five matches, Hoilett started once, subbed in twice, and was an unused sub twice (while the club lost four times). He returned to the starting eleven last week, scoring QPR’s lone goal in an encouraging draw against Everton.

3. Trying times

This was supposed to be an encouraging week for Arsenal. League fixtures with Norwich and QPR with a home Champions League match against German side Schalke midweek.

Losses to the Canaries and Schalke have now made this a must win for Arsenal.

It should be noted though that Arsenal sat in a very similar position through eight games last season. This season, they sit in ninth place; last season they sat in tenth and wound up third.

However, that has been an all too familiar result for Arsene Wenger’s side. They have finished either third or fourth in the league for seven straight seasons.

Stoke City vs. Sunderland – Saturday @ 10 am ET

4. Home Potters

Back in February, James McClean scored the lone goal in a 1-0 Sunderland win at Britannia Stadium.

The Potters haven’t lost at home since.

In ten home matches, they’ve faced each of Manchester City and Arsenal twice (four draws), while also keeping Liverpool, Everton, and others away from the full three points.

With Stoke’s next six games coming against Sunderland, Norwich, QPR, West Ham, Fulham, and Newcastle (with four of those coming at home), expect Tony Pulis’ side to be making a move up the table heading into December.

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Manchester City vs. Swansea City – Saturday @ 12:30 pm ET

5. Garden of Edin

Edin Dzeko scored twice after coming on as a sub to help Manchester City defeat West Brom last weekend.

It’s part of a larger pattern, as Dzeko’s last four goals have all come as a substitute.

If you look at the league’s top seven scorers (who have all potted either five or six goals), all of them are regular starters except for Dzeko. In fact, Steven Fletcher, Luis Suarez, Jermain Defoe, Michu, Demba Ba, and Robin van Persie average roughly 585 minutes of playing time this season. Dzeko has less than half of that (284).

Does he deserve more? Absolutely. Will he be as effective as a starter? Tough to say. His physicality in the box is so effective in part because the opposing defenders are usually exhausted from chasing around City for the better part of an hour or more. Nevertheless, expect Dzeko to get a starting nod this weekend.

6. Potential Canadian content, part 2

Jonathan De Guzman is another player Canadians have been salivating over for years. He had two assists in Swansea’s 2-1 win over Wigan last week (while also being the Swans’ primary point man on corners).

De Guzman and the rest of Michael Laudrup’s side will have a tough test over the next few days. After this game against Manchester City, they visit Anfield in the League Cup midweek, followed by a matchup with top of the table Chelsea next weekend.

Everton vs. Liverpool – Sunday @ 9:30 am ET

7. Seeing red

There are plenty of storylines to watch in this match. Luis Suarez’ continued aggression (leading the league in shots) and Everton’s great play from the left side are two I will be keeping an eye on.

And one thing you should definitely keep in mind is this: In the Premier League era, there have been 20 red cards in this fixture, six more than any other fixture in the league.

Newcastle United vs. West Brom – Sunday @ 11:00 am ET

8. Flip flop

At this point last season, West Bromwich Albion was in 12th place, while Newcastle was undefeated and sitting in fourth. Today, the Magpies are in 11th, while West Brom is all the way up in sixth.

Whether West Brom can keep this up is another question. They are third in the league in goals allowed (9), but their opposition has fired a league-high 142 shots.

Chelsea vs. Manchester United – Sunday @ Noon ET

9. Stamford struggles

It’s been over a decade since Alex Ferguson celebrated victory at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. The Red Devils have picked up just four of the 30 available points in those games.

Last season, Chelsea looked well on their way to another victory in this fixture, but United scored three times in just over half an hour to earn a 3-3 draw.

10. More Mata!

There are three players in the Premiership that have at least three goals and three assists this season. Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez, Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, and Chelsea’s Juan Mata.

11. Missing midfielders

Frank Lampard is out for two weeks, while United’s Shinji Kagawa is out upwards of a month, both because of midweek knocks.

It is especially disappointing to see Kagawa injured because Alex Ferguson rested him last week against Stoke. With Kagawa out, it is almost certain that United will not unleash the midfield diamond that looked so good against Newcastle a few weeks ago.

As for Lampard, he has been marginalized this season with the Blues becoming Mata and Eden Hazard’s club. Four of Lampard’s last five goals have come from the penalty spot.


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