Top Flights This Weekend In The Premier League Clashes


Ronaldo may be just what Manchester United need

Cristiano Ronaldo is good at football. That seems like a strange thing to write, but the certainty with which some have proclaimed his return to Manchester United a likely failure makes it a point worth revisiting. Of course there are reservations – will he press? Is Ole Gunnar Solskjær prepared to leave him out or take him off? – but these do not outweigh the realities.

Premier League

Over the past few seasons, United have struggled to score tap-ins, headers and in the biggest games, problems that perhaps the greatest ever goal machine might address, just as the addition of a monomaniacal winner might benefit a callow squad.

It is already clear that Ronaldo’s arrival has inspired his new teammates, but his effect on opponents who know they are likely to be outmatched should not be underestimated. Starting with Newcastle on Saturday, those who have to actually play against Ronaldo will not be so dismissive. DH

Manchester United v Newcastle, Saturday 3pm (all times BST)

2) Stats are cause for Leeds concern
The team that have conceded the joint most shots on target this season (Leeds with 18, level with Arsenal) play the team that have had the most shots (Liverpool with 20, more than double Leeds’ nine) at Elland Road on Sunday.

No team have been less accurate with their shots than Leeds (22% on target) but this game should feature the two most progressive passing players in the league. Leeds’ Luke Ayling has played the most passes that have significantly improved his team’s position. His opposite number, Trent Alexander-Arnold, is second on this list but has made far more passes into the opposing penalty area (11 to Ayling’s one).

The game will be played on the first anniversary of the teams’ opening-day meeting at Anfield last season – Leeds won their next two after that; this year they have two points from three fixtures, and are in search of momentum. SB

Leeds v Liverpool, Sunday 4.30pm
Leeds full-back Luke Ayling is top of the progressive passing stats.

The Leeds full-back Luke Ayling is top of the progressive passing stats. Photograph: Malcolm Bryce/ProSports/Shutterstock

3) Torres lays claim to City’s forward role
Manchester City’s well-documented lack of a proper No 9 has not caused too many issues in their past two games, in which they have scored 10 and conceded zero. Ferran Torres is the man who has nominally been given the central role in a front three. The Spaniard arrived at City as a winger, impressing at times in his first season in the Premier League.

He needs to adapt to this new role and under Pep Guardiola, things are not just as straightforward as slotting into position in Football Manager style. Torres will need time and games to learn the intricacies required of him.

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The international break may have slowed the momentum he picked up against Norwich and Arsenal, so a chance to prove himself against testing opposition in the form of Leicester could be the perfect challenge. WU

Leicester v Manchester City, Saturday 3pm

4) Alli leads rebooted Spurs midfield
Perhaps the succession of summer rejections left them with little choice, but Nuno Espírito Santo seemed a strange appointment for Spurs, many of whose supporters hated José Mourinho’s fearful football.

At Wolves Nuno built a squad boasting the creative talents of João Moutinho, Rúben Neves, Adama Traoré, Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence and Raúl Jiménez, only to constrain them with a placid strategy.

The early portents are good at Tottenham, though, with their three league wins so far coming via narrow margins (all 1-0) that do not necessarily reflect a team playing enterprising, imaginative football. Central to that has been the form of Dele Alli, whose reinvention is a notable triumph. Though he is a talented scorer and provider, Alli’s temperament and physique is that of a general, forever involved in the game. With Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg he forms a well-balanced midfield trio that Crystal Palace must disrupt. DH

Crystal Palace v Tottenham, Saturday 12.30pm

5) Will Tomiyasu bolster Arsenal’s defence?
Arsenal and Norwich have one goal and zero points between them after three games, so there is plenty to watch out for at the Emirates on Saturday. The Canaries already look destined for a relegation battle after an admittedly tough start to the season, while Arsenal need to recover from being thrashed by Manchester City to climb off the bottom of the table.

New signings have arrived at both clubs since their last outings – Norwich have loaned in the Schalke defender Ozan Kabak – but Arsenal’s business may not satisfy disgruntled fans. The Japanese defender Takehiro Tomiyasu signed on deadline day from Bologna as a replacement for the outgoing Héctor Bellerín. The Spaniard has declined but was still dependable, and leaves the newcomer with a gap to fill. Tomiyasu is a versatile defender but Arsenal need him to nail down the right-back spot because Cédric Soares looked out of his depth at the Etihad. The new arrival is under pressure. WU

Arsenal v Norwich, Saturday 3pm

6) Villa offer threat to Chelsea serenity
In 1998 France won the World Cup in relatively unimpressive style, their excellence in the final aside. But their level soared thereafter, the team fortified with the kind of the confidence that only results can generate. A similar situation is developing at Chelsea.

They did superbly in finding a way to win the Champions League, and now there is a new serenity about them – they know they can win the biggest games, and so does everyone else. Villa, though, will pose an interesting threat. Dean Smith can call upon two proper centre-forwards – Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins – who, if deployed in tandem, might disrupt Chelsea’s three-at-the-back system, while the 17-year-old midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka is a future superstar.

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Whether Villa’s defence is strong enough to contain Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount remains to be seen, but their attackers should cause Thomas Tuchel problems. DH

Chelsea v Aston Villa, Saturday 5.30pm
Danny Ings has enjoyed a spectacular start to the season for Aston Villa.

Danny ings
Danny Ings has enjoyed a spectacular start to the season for Aston Villa. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

7) Watford and Wolves seek winning runs
For both teams, this fixture starts a potentially season-defining period in which points simply must be accumulated. Wolves, one of three teams without a point, play Watford, Brentford, Southampton and Newcastle in their next four league games. Bruno Lage’s side have lost 1-0 to Leicester, Spurs and Manchester United.

They play only one other side from last season’s top eight in their next 11 games – West Ham at home, in late November. Watford’s friendly run of matches is shorter – a trip to Norwich and then a home game against Newcastle. September will be crucial for a promoted side whose prospects remain unclear.

Wolves will be encouraged that Watford could be without their most reliable centre-back, Chile’s Francisco Sierralta, while Wolves may have to make do without their best striker, Mexico’s Raúl Jiménez, both caught up in the Premier League-Fifa Snafu. SB

Watford v Wolves, Saturday 3pm

8) Cucurella can be key addition for Seagulls
Having a stint at La Masia on your CV is a decent start for any budding footballer. The new Brighton signing Marc Cucurella had to leave Barcelona, however, to make his name.

He has proved himself as a capable, versatile left-back with Eibar and Getafe, earning a Spain cap earlier this year. Now he has taken the plunge in the Premier League under Graham Potter, who has previously deployed the likes of Dan Burn at left wing-back.

The 6ft 6in tall defender took on the role manfully but Cucurella is certainly an upgrade on Burn and with Tariq Lamptey on the other flank (when fit), he could make Brighton a very dangerous prospect on the break. Cucurella is used to a high-energy press from his time working under José Bordalás at Getafe, and a similar level of stamina will make him important to Potter’s style of play. WU

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Brentford v Brighton, Saturday 3pm
Brighton fans will be eager to see deadline-day signing Marc Cucurella in action.

Brighton fans will be eager to see deadline-day signing Marc Cucurella in action. Photograph: Paul Hazlewood

9) Moyes must forge new Hammers style
Certain managers are good at certain things, so it is no great surprise to see David Moyes succeeding at West Ham following failure elsewhere. His current role allows him to deploy one of his special powers: identifying, motivating and organising talent that is a rung or two below the elite.

But with West Ham now a top-six club, the question is no longer whether he can keep them up but whether he can keep them moving up. With opponents now wary of getting hit on the counter, Moyes has to find a starting lineup able to dominate possession.

The early signs are good: Declan Rice is starting to dictate tempo, Pablo Fornals is improving, and Michail Antonio is an all-purpose centre-forward still exploring the outer limits of his talent. Saturday’s game at St Mary’s will be a good barometer of how far West Ham have come. DH

Southampton v West Ham, Saturday 3pm

10) Burnley venture into European market
Maxwel Cornet is the first senior player Burnley have signed from continental Europe since Steven Defour arrived in an £8m deal from Anderlecht, five years ago. Cornet, a versatile wide player, has become the club’s record signing for a fee of around £15m. Sean Dyche’s squad have looked threadbare in recent times, lacking quality and variety, something the former Lyon man is supposed to solve.

The core of the Burnley squad is full of Premier League experience but sometimes a player from a different background can provide new impetus. Defour did this when he came to Turf Moor, operating calmly in midfield. Defour had to adapt, however, to play the Burnley way. Cornet will need to integrate first. He faces a fitness test before Monday’s game at Goodison Park after playing for Ivory Coast this week. WU

Everton v Burnley, Monday 8pm
Pos Team P GD Pts

1 Tottenham Hotspur 3 3 9
2 West Ham 3 5 7
3 Man Utd 3 5 7
4 Chelsea 3 5 7
5 Liverpool 3 5 7
6 Everton 3 4 7
7 Man City 3 9 6
8 Brighton 3 1 6
9 Leicester 3 -1 6
10 Brentford 3 2 5
11 Aston Villa 3 1 4
12 Watford 3 -2 3
13 Southampton 3 -2 2
14 Crystal Palace 3 -3 2
15 Leeds 3 -4 2
16 Burnley 3 -3 1
17 Newcastle 3 -4 1
18 Wolverhampton 3 -3 0
19 Norwich 3 -9 0
20 Arsenal 3 -9 0


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