Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Burnley vs. Man United
Man City vs. Stoke
Newcastle vs. Crystal Palace
QPR vs. Sunderland
Swansea vs. West Brom
West Ham vs. Southampton
Everton vs. Chelsea
Aston Villa vs. Hull
Tottenham vs. Liverpool
Leicester vs. Arsenal
Weekend battle: Tottenham vs. Liverpool
The shock! The horror! Tottenham Hotspur are looking all right. They are sitting pretty at the top of the table after two matches, for what it's worth. That 20-year-old centre-back Eric Dier scored a 90th-minute winner in Mauricio Pochettino's first Premier League match in charge of Spurs at rivals West Ham indicated the "gut" former boss Tim Sherwood had demanded may exist among the squad after all -- they just needed the right manager to find it.
Pochettino followed up that result with a 4-0 shellacking of Queens Park Rangers, who are managed by ex-Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp -- more on him later below. As downright awful as QPR were at White Hart Lane last weekend, Spurs were impressive, with their swarming the opposition of particular note. Heck, their new Argentina coach has even drawn form from forgotten 30 million-euro man Erik Lamela.
Should Brendan Rodgers start Mario Balotelli in Liverpool's match at Tottenham?
Of course, a spoonful of constraint is required, for these are early days and in football it takes but one defeat to turn the mood from euphoric to foreboding. And if any team will serve as a reminder of one of last season's dark days it is Liverpool, who travel to North London on Sunday. In last campaign's corresponding fixture, Liverpool were rampant as they put five past the hosts, who went into the match unbeaten in five, leading to Andre Villas-Boas' sacking.
Considering the respective starts Tottenham and Liverpool (an unconvincing win and a loss) have made to the 2014-15 season, a repeat of such a humiliation seems unlikely, certainly as the Reds are now without Luis Suarez, who was pivotal on that day. Indeed, the Reds' attacking fluency of last campaign has so far been lacking. Perhaps the abundantly talented Mario Balotelli, who for modest-by-today's-standards 16 million pounds is hardly the "gamble" some have suggested, will provide the spark.
Without the free-flowing football that culminated in 101 top-flight goals in 2013-14, Liverpool look vulnerable, as taken advantage of by Manchester City in their 3-1 win on Monday. Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has attempted to address his team's defensive issues with the summer arrivals Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno, but personnel alone will not a solid side make. Fortifying and understanding takes time, meaning revenge could be had by Tottenham, who are looking a balanced outfit under Pochettino.
Under pressure: Harry Redknapp
On Wednesday a rather peculiar story emerged claiming that Harry Redknapp is in line for a contract extension at QPR. To do such a thing at such a time would be odd, to say the least. The reason being that their return to the Premier League has, thus far, been discouraging. A 1-0 loss at home to Hull City was followed by the aforementioned limp display at Tottenham, in which the away side's players looked unsure of their roles within a 3-5-2 system and, more troublingly, lacked the intensity required at this level.
As is the perma-caveat with all conclusions at this stage of the season, there's still plenty of time. That being said, a failure to perform in their home game to Sunderland on Saturday would compound concerns at Loftus Road that this campaign will be more of a slog against relegation than first thought. Indeed, this third round of fixtures is followed by a monotonous two-week international break, leaving much time to stew over whether a contract extension for a 67-year-old really is the right move.
Finding form: Swansea
A promising start for Swansea is one that they can be optimistic of building on when welcoming (does a team actually ever "welcome" an opponent?) West Bromwich Albion to the Liberty Stadium, where the Swans made it back-to-back wins last weekend with a 1-0 victory over Burnley. This after Garry Monk's side deservedly defeated Manchester United on the opening weekend of the season, when, as their manager pointed out, few had given them a chance.
It was not a certainty that Monk would get the permanent gig at Swansea after a run of nine matches without a win last season suggested that at 35 years of age he had come by the job too soon. However, four wins from their final seven games of the campaign convinced the powers that be to reward the former defender with a three-year contract. Speaking like a true disciple of modern football, Monk said after the win over Burnley: "It's the best start we could have had, but we know we are only two games from being on your back and getting dragged down."
At the time of writing, seven signings have been made by Swansea this summer, but arguably their best piece of business -- subject to a late so-called swoop -- has been keeping Wilfried Bony, scorer of 16 league goals during his debut season in England. Although Bony has yet to open his account this term, it is likely only a matter of time for the Ivorian, considering the ammunition supplied by the erratic Jonjo Shelvey, the neat Ki Sung-yueng and the forward-thinking Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Statistically speaking (via @PCarrESPN)
* Liverpool return to White Hart Lane for the first time since winning 5-0 there last December. That was Liverpool's largest-ever away win against Tottenham and biggest win in the series since 1978.
* Tottenham lead the league with two wins and a plus-five goal difference, but there's room to improve. Tottenham have completed only three crosses this season, tied for fewest in the league, and their cross completion percentage of 8.8 percent ranks dead last in the Premier League.
* Everton defeated Chelsea 1-0 at Goodison Park last September, via a Steven Naismith goal. That is Jose Mourinho's only loss in 10 career games against the Toffees.
* Manchester United are winless in three games in all competitions entering Saturday's game at Burnley. The last time United were winless in four straight to start a season was not so very long ago: 2007-08, when United bounced back to win the Premier League and Champions League.
* Queens Park Rangers host Sunderland Saturday, having lost both opening league games by a combined 5-0, plus a 1-0 League Cup loss at League Two Burton on Wednesday. This marks the first time in club history that QPR have lost and been shut out in their three opening games in all competitions, and QPR have never lost their three opening league games in a season.
Any other business: Giroud-less Arsenal
Even before Olivier Giroud suffered a long-term injury that was bizarrely caused by the ball merely striking his foot, Arsenal needed to sign another striker. It's a drum that this column will continue to bang. A lack of backup to Giroud was Arsenal's undoing last season. Bang! Yaya Sanogo is not yet ready to be fully relied upon. Bang! Arsenal boast numerous players who can play off a striker but few who can lead a line in a lone forward system. Bang!
Regardless of whether Arsene Wenger delves late into the transfer market to cover for Giroud's absence, the point remains that the business should have been done earlier in the summer, not with days remaining before Sept. 1, when top-quality strikers are at a premium and the prices at their highest. Arsenal may cope just fine in the months to come, but why take the risk? Why does each transfer window feel like an opportunity missed for the Gunners? Fortunately, away to Leicester City on Sunday should in theory be one of the matches in which Giroud's flawed but telling presence will not be missed.