Manchester derby hinges on whether City are in the mood against United
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's fixtures and highlights the key points to keep an eye on.
Aston Villa vs. Swansea
Leicester vs. Crystal Palace
Norwich vs. West Brom
Stoke vs. Watford
West Ham vs. Chelsea
Arsenal vs. Everton
Sunderland vs. Newcastle
Bournemouth vs. Tottenham
Man Utd vs. Man City
Liverpool vs. Southampton
Battle of the Weekend: Man United vs. Man City
The outcome of Sunday's Manchester derby depends largely on which Manchester City side turns up. Will it be the one that has scored 11 goals in its past two Premier League matches? Or will it be the one that lost 4-1 at Tottenham, not to mention were beaten by West Ham at home in September? Manuel Pellegrini's team has toyed with brilliance in the early part of this campaign but has also displayed some glaring weaknesses not expected from a Premier League title contender.
We know what we're going to get with Louis van Gaal's Manchester United, however. They'll play slow, plodding football that is very dull, however controlled it can look. Granted, it can get results, but it's unbefitting of a club famed for its attack, attack, attack approach. However, considering City's devastating potential in attack with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling flying forward, Van Gaal's play-it-safe policy might not be a bad idea, especially in the opening exchanges. It's whether they can make that hogging of possession count and use it to get at City's defence.
Manuel Pellegrini's men have looked super when everything has clicked. The £54 million spent on De Bruyne in the summer doesn't exactly resemble a bargain, but it does look like money well spent. The former Wolfsburg player is genuinely brilliant and already has five goals and four assists from nine City appearances in all competitions. His eye for a through ball is startling, and that's something United will need to restrict the flow of, especially as Sterling -- a hat trick hero against Bournemouth last weekend -- has fantastic off-the-ball movement.
Both clubs claimed encouraging results in the Champions League on Wednesday to set them up decently for the game at Old Trafford. United, having responded well from a shocking performance at Arsenal with a 3-0 win Saturday at Everton, were typically sluggish before Anthony Martial underlined the bright future he has with a header that sealed a tough-earned point against CSKA Moscow. It was, however, another bad outing for Wayne Rooney, whose position in the starting XI must surely be under serious threat, especially with Martial in form and Ander Herrera excellent too.
City, meanwhile, left it late once more to overcome Sevilla, thanks to that man De Bruyne. Defensively, though, there were issues, and the Spaniards exploited the flanks time and again. Should Vincent Kompany return to the side, then the captain should provide extra communication to a back line that is far from impenetrable, despite looking so earlier in the season, when they opened with five clean sheets. Further up the field, the absence of David Silva and Sergio Aguero would hurt any XI in the world, while there are still questions over whether Wilfried Bony is cut out to lead the line for an elite side.
Under pressure: Tim Sherwood
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood's face is looking increasingly forlorn, with the worry lines deepening. Ours would too if the side we were in charge of had lost seven of nine Premier League matches this season. That number is the highest in the division, and they sit second from bottom because of it. Their 2-0 defeat at Chelsea was, in isolation, a result not unexpected or to be too downhearted about -- even against Jose Mourinho's men in their current uncertain state. But the manner of it, through individual and naive errors, did little to suggest there is a resolve about Villa to stave off relegation this campaign.
"I want to go out on the front foot, and if I die, I die on my sword," Sherwood said after the result at Stamford Bridge in which goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who at 31 should know better, needlessly blasted the ball at Joleon Lescott to aid Chelsea's opener.
Sherwood continued: "Why do we need to be more pragmatic? I would never be pragmatic. I've done it a few times, but I don't like myself for it."
Regardless of this very risky ideology, his issues are rife. His team are defending poorly and haven't scored in three of their past four league games. This is the doomsday formula. Next up? It's Swansea, then Tottenham, City and Everton.
Finding form: Arsenal
Hold the phone. It's the time of the season when Arsenal do something good and get their fans' hopes up. Wins over a solid Manchester United and an outstanding Bayern Munich have understandably got some a little excited. This is, quite clearly, an Arsenal squad with a lot of talent, and these types of results should become the rule, rather than the exception. The aforementioned wins were founded on a willingness to forego possession and, vitally, taking chances when they came. These are two facets of the game they have struggled with in recent years.
This Saturday evening, they host an Everton side that failed to turn up against United the latest time out. Arsene Wenger will be without Aaron Ramsey, which, in spite of his squad's depth, is a significant setback. The Welshman provides protection for the gifted yet still raw Hector Bellerin, and this makes it a big couple weeks for Ramsey's usual deputy, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Star man Alexis Sanchez could also miss the match, as he seems to be approaching the red zone. With his side on the crest of a wave, Wenger could do without another hamstring going pop.
--Sunday is the Manchester derby, and no player has scored more goals in this fixture in all competitions than Wayne Rooney's 11. However, Rooney has scored only once in his past five matches against City, going into Sunday.
--If Rooney can break his skid against City, he will also break a tie with Andy Cole and take sole possession of second place in the Premier League's all-time scoring list. He is currently at 187 goals.
--Manchester United and Manchester City are 1-2 in the Premier League in passes completed, but where they're being completed is very different. Sixty-two percent of Manchester City's completed passes have come in the attacking half. That's more than any club in the Premier League. Meanwhile, only 52 percent of United's passes have been completed in the attacking half, seventh in the league.
--Jurgen Klopp makes his home debut in league play with Liverpool on Saturday. Liverpool's attack at home has led to 13.4 chances created per 90 minutes, third in the Premier League, but only 1.2 goals per 90 minutes, 11th in the league.
--Sunderland is the only team in the Premier League seeking its first win of the season. Sunderland has gone 10 matches into a season without a win only twice in history in the first league, 1969-70 and 1976-77.
For more stats previewing the Premier League season, check out Paul's team-by-team notes here.
Any other business: Wear-Tyne derby
This should be fun, even if the football isn't pretty. With the Stadium of Light the only ground to not witness a home victory so far this season, the loyal supporters -- expect in excess of 40,000 in attendance -- are ravenous for three points, in particular against their North East rivals. That Sunderland have won each of their past five meetings with Newcastle increases the expectation on new manager Sam Allardyce, whose first game in charge last weekend was marred by a goalkeeping error from Costel Pantilimon that the former West Ham boss blamed on the referee.
Sunderland host Newcastle at an unideal moment in time, for Steve McClaren's men got their season up and running in some style Sunday. Their 6-2 win over Norwich City was much-needed on Tyneside, while the four goals scored by Georginio Wijnaldum only reiterated what a coup it was to sign him from PSV Eindhoven in the summer. Granted, Norwich's defending was nightmarish, but 45 minutes against City and 90 against Chelsea had indicated the Magpies were headed in the right direction. Should they build on that this Sunday and beat Sunderland, expect the atmosphere on Wearside to turn toxic.
James Dall is an associate editor at ESPN FC. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesDallESPN.