Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's topflight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Moyes might furrow his brow
SPOILER ALERT: What'll happen here, friends, is that Manchester United, off the back of their dreadful performance in Sunday's derby at City, will return to Premier League action and comfortably beat a very average West Bromwich Albion team and then people will be all like "Crisis? What crisis?" -- and not even in the this-once-semi-decent-gag-has-run-its-course-but-what-the-heck kind of way.
No, in a serious manner, because what was all the fuss about anyway? And David Moyes is just fine, thanks very much, as demonstrated by an important, if not convincing, midweek League Cup win over Liverpool.
Thing is, despite this column (self-reference!) farting just a couple of weeks ago that it is premature to get giddy on canisters of panic gas so early in the season, Moyes has done not a great deal to convince that he's poised to rectify the mistakes the Premier League champions are making -- despite his vow that he will "fix it." For example, he's persisted with Ashley Young, despite the winger looking good for nothing but practising the art of diving.
Furthermore, the Scot has revisited the shtick that the nasty fixture computer had an anti-United gremlin inside of it and subsequently spat out an unfavourable start to the season. Check this, via the Manchester Evening News: "I said at the time I wasn't convinced, the way the balls came out of the Premier League bag, and I'm still not." This is plain embarrassing now.
Granted, Sir Alex Ferguson used to wheel out this type of nonsense as a diversion tactic for a shoddy display/result, but as a serial winner he had earned that right -- Moyes hasn't quite. And there's more from the current incumbent, who has also said perhaps the squad ain't as dandy as he suggested during a very sorry summer. It makes one wonder just how grand a job Ferguson did last season by winning the title by 11 points with this motley crew.
Tottenham clicking into gear
Tottenham look good. Second in the table and having conceded just once in their opening five league matches, the only real negative on paper is that they've scored as many goals as Hull City, who have Danny Graham playing up front. Yet, after initial concerns about their creativity were tempered by the additions of Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, as well as the gradual reinvolvement of Lewis Holtby, it feels as if a glut of goals is a-coming in the top flight for Andre Villas-Boas' side; in the League Cup, it has already arrived, with a 4-0 thrashing of a much-changed Aston Villa.
Of course, it is unlikely that will happen in this weekend's lunchtime kickoff against Chelsea, but Spurs have good cause for believing they can claim the three points. The Blues are still to convince, despite seeing off uninspiring Fulham (more on them later), as the exclusion of the lovely Juan Mata in the league continues to distract, with Jose Mourinho needing little invitation to chastise the club's player of the year two years running. As Mourinho is being sort of vindicated by the impressive form of Oscar, perhaps the attention should be on the loaning out of Romelu Lukaku, who looks a far more potent attacking threat than Chelsea's remaining strikers.
Sunderland's lack of foresight
What a shambles. Man with reputation for being volatile in "upsets players shocker." Paolo Di Canio's sacking, just five fixtures into the 2013-14 season, was unsurprising yet surprising. He was the favourite of many to be the first to get the chop, yet even his biggest hater would have a tough time arguing that a squad augmented by 14 new players this summer should have jelled by this stage.
Granted, the Arsenal performance aside, the displays have been woeful, while a win column that wails "zero" helps nobody. But, following Di Canio's first managerial job at Swindon, the Sunderland hierarchy surely can't have been taken aback when reports emerged that some players were unhappy under the Italian's tutelage. The whole sequence of events pangs of a lack of foresight from the very top. No need to worry, though, for the perhaps-not-so-passive Gus Poyet is the favourite to succeed Di Canio.
Life in the Premier League without Di Canio, with caretaker Kevin Ball at the helm, begins at home to Liverpool, for whom knees have gone wobbly. A solid, if not spectacular, start to the campaign offered Merseysiders a sip from the naughty cup containing optimism, meaning their usual levels threatened to spill over. But after they got Jonjo Shelvey-ed in the 2-2 draw with Swansea, Brendan Rodgers' players did an even worse thing by getting beaten at home by Southampton.
Without the craft of the injured Philippe Coutinho, the Reds were toothless against the Saints and thus fell to the type of poor result they slipped to last term, after Rodgers had only recently blurted: "now we are just churning out wins." Still, Suarez is back, and only good things can come of having a world-class player back at your disposal. Can't they?
Benteke-less Aston Villa
After three straight losses (two of which were versus Chelsea and Liverpool, in fairness), a return to winning ways was just what the doctor ordered for likable manager Paul Lambert at his former side Norwich City. But the victory came at a price as star player Christian Benteke limped off and has since been ruled out for six weeks. The onus is now on the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, and summer signings Nicklas Helenius and Libor Kozak, to share the burden carried by the very broad shoulders of the Belgium international, starting at home to Manchester City this weekend. Gulp.
These two sides are not lighting anyone's fire right now. A number of interesting recruits during the transfer window for Norwich had suggested excitement might be coming for Carrow Road, yet that has so far not been the case, with last weekend's failure to offer anything resembling a rousing fight back versus Villa a case in point -- or a case of no points, if you will. Fulham, meanwhile, who were at times the neutral's choice last term with their sexy football, have played in prudish fashion, not sultry, in spite of bringing in Adel Taarabt. Anyway, better will be expected of both when Norwich travel to Stoke and Fulham host Cardiff.