1) Ivanovic the terrible?
Don’t tell José Mourinho, but exasperating loyalty to under-performing players is a distinctly Arsène Wenger-esque trait. Actually, do tell Mourinho, as that may be the best way to convince him to drop Branislav Ivanovic this weekend. The Serb is one of the Premier League’s finest defenders of recent times and has given years of excellent service to Chelsea but he has been utterly hapless so far this season, much more so than the benched John Terry. It has been almost painful to watch a once-great defender be targeted by every opponent. Continually picking him does not appear to be doing him any favours and certainly isn’t helping the team. If Ivanovic plays this weekend, expect Sadio Mané and Dusan Tadic to take turns tormenting him, with the fit-again Ryan Bertrand raiding forward to join in the fun on a regular basis. The solution is not merely staring Mourinho in the face, it is grabbing him by the lapels and bawling “Cesar Azpilicueta on the right, Baba Rahman on the left” at the top of its voice. Mourinho’s refusal to pay heed is mystifying. PD
2) Is Liverpool’s rotation doing more harm than good?
Liverpool prepare to visit Goodison Park with question marks over the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, who has made just two first-team appearances after a five-month absence through injury. As it happens the last time Liverpool prepared to visit Goodison Park, in February, there were question marks over the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, who had made just two first-team appearances after a five-month absence through injury. On that occasion Sturridge came on with a little over half an hour to play and failed to break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw, but this time he will certainly start. Last week he scored two fabulous goals in a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa, and given his side’s current form, and bearing in mind his absence from Thursday’s Europa League game against Sion and the 13-day gap between the derby and their next match, a visit to Tottenham, Brendan Rodgers cannot ignore him. There were few positives in Liverpool’s display against Sion: it was a disjointed performance, producing their second 1-1 draw in as many European games, and all the changes – there were seven in all from the team that beat Villa – are certainly not aiding the team’s cohesion. Liverpool’s first Europa League fixture, in Bordeaux, prefaced a 1-1 draw at home to Norwich (four of their last five games have finished 1-1), and it would be a pity for any momentum and goodwill created by the Villa victory, their first in over a month, to be so swiftly and voluntarily wasted. More encouragingly, perhaps, Liverpool have drawn their last three games at Goodison, and lost just one of their last eight. SB
3) Can Mertesacker and Gabriel handle United’s attack?
Per Mertesacker, always so honest when Arsenal suffer one of those capitulations they have turned into an art form, did not hold back after the Olympiakos shambles. “We should have done much better, especially having come back and had a lot of possession in the second half,” the Arsenal defender said. “After we scored it looked like we were not ready to win this game. There was a lack of concentration, a lack of discipline. We need to do much better defensively on these occasions because these occasions decide more and more games in modern football.” It keeps happening and there is bound to be another fraught inquest into Arsenal’s failings if they play with the same lack of focus and organisation against Manchester United. Mertesacker always says the right things when Arsenal implode but they never seem to learn from their mistakes and United, who are slowly but surely clicking in every area of the pitch, look primed to capitalise on their diminished confidence. Juan Mata was influential against Wolfsburg and Anthony Martial caught the eye again, so it is concerning for Arsenal that they could be without the hamstrung Laurent Koscielny, their best defender. Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista have started only two games together since the latter’s arrival in January and they did not cover themselves in glory when Alfred Finnbogason scored Olympiakos’s winner. Still, at least Petr Cech should be back in goal. JS
4) Can Mitrovic ruffle City’s defence?
Aleksandar Mitrovic has certainly made his presence felt as he acclimatises to English football, sometimes too vigorously and with not enough regard for the wellbeing of opposing defenders, but Newcastle United’s burly striker put his physicality to good use against Chelsea, his impressive performance demonstrating that he can be a force in the Premier League when he stays out of trouble with referees. The Serb gave Newcastle an outlet which had previously been sorely lacking when Papiss Cissé was leading the line and he bullied Chelsea’s defence at times, reinforcing the impression that he is not a character who will be easily intimidated against the big teams. He will relish the opportunity to test himself against Manchester City, whose defending has been shoddy without the injured Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala. While Martin Demchelis never convinces, Nicolas Otamendi is still adjusting to his new surroundings and once again Joe Hart spared City from taking a pummelling on a big Champions League night on Wednesday. Hart was exposed too many time in the win over Borussia Monchengladbach and his saves spared Manuel Pellegrini from having to answer some awkward questions. Newcastle have a terrible record in the league at the Etihad Stadium. Can Mitrovic change that? JS
5) How will Bournemouth cope without Wilson?
As they battle to establish themselves in the Premier League there is something particularly meaningful about matches between recent promotees. Bournemouth have already played, and lost, one of them, going down 3-1 at Norwich last month, and now face a Watford side that has lost just one of their last 12 away league games, and that at Manchester City. Both sides have shown the potential to keep their places in the top flight, though the way they are going about it could hardly be more different: Watford’s last six matches combined have featured precisely as many goals as Bournemouth’s rip-roaring 4-3 win at West Ham. Only one of the two, though, appears to be battling fate. After losing £15m of summer signings in Tyrone Mings and Max Gradel, Bournemouth’s top scorer Callum Wilson this week became their third victim of long-term anterior cruciate ligament injuries this season. Whether Eddie Howe can somehow convince his players to see this as a challenge rather than a curse remains to be seen, but it will certainly make their lives harder against opponents whose defensive record is bettered only by Manchester United and Tottenham. Watford, by contrast, are almost cruelly injury-free so far this season, and haven’t been given any reason to consider the world slanted against them since they last visited the Vitality Stadium in January, when their centre-back Gabriele Angella was wrongly sent off (the red card was later rescinded) after just 28 seconds and they lost 2-0, the only defeat in their last six league meetings with the Cherries. SB
6) Sunderland should sit back against West Ham
West Ham United’s away form has been surprisingly excellent this season, with wins over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, and they will be expected to continue that run at Sunderland, but in a perverse way playing against a side who they are expected to beat could negate their counterattacking qualities. West Ham’s speed in attack means that they are at their best when they win the ball and break quickly, which is why they are content to sit back, concede possession and bide their time until the moment is right for them to pour forward. It is measured football which has brought them success on the road. Yet at home they have played in bursts, often starting slowly and conceding an early goal – or sometimes two – before rousing themselves. They laboured again in the draw with Norwich, who dominated for long spells, and if Sunderland approach this game counter-intuitively, they could benefit from Slaven Bilic’s search for the right balance between proactive and reactive football. West Ham will want Sunderland to pour forward. They will attempt to lure them in and Sunderland must take care not to fall into their trap. Instead, even though convention dictates that the home side should take the initiative, they should sit back and play West Ham at their own game, force the visitors out of their natural comfort zone, while also making sure not to overcommit even when their caution causes the crowd at the Stadium of Light to grow edgy. Sunderland have been terrible and Dick Advocaat sounds like he is running out of patience but rationing their attacks could bring them their first win. JS
7) Will Pulis tighten up Baggies?
West Bromwich Albion have kept 17 clean sheets in the 31 matches for which Tony Pulis has been in charge. But they have had a couple of leaky spells in that period. Last season they shipped three goals against Manchester City and Leicester City either side of an absurd 4-1 home defeat by Queen Park Rangers – and then they went to Selhurst Park and got back to their stingy ways, shutting out Crystal Palace en route to a 2-0 win. They will be seeking to do the same thing on Saturday having conceded three against both Norwich and Everton in their last two outings. A lot will hinge on the condition of Gareth McAuley. If the Northern Ireland defender is fit enough to play, then the Baggies should be tighter – they have conceded in only one of the six matches that he has played this season. Even if McAuley is unavailable, Pulis is sure to have his players primed to defend. Palace will have to excel to find the space that they exploit so well in away matches. PD
Gestede can propel Villa out of the bottom three
It is too early for Aston Villa to panic. Tim Sherwood has a young side and there is time for them to grow and improve. Nonetheless Villa’s record since their win over Bournemouth on the opening day of the season is cause for concern. They have picked up only one point since then and the lower end of the table will make for grim reading for them if they lose to Stoke City on Saturday. After defending fairly well in their first two league matches, Villa have conceded at least two goals in five of their past six outings and the manner of their collapse from 2-0 up against Leicester City three weeks ago encouraged the suspicion that Sherwood’s side do not possess enough mettle and defensive nous. Yet at least Villa are finding ways to score. Rudy Gestede devoured two crosses in last week’s defeat at Liverpool and the powerful striker could profit similarly against Stoke, who have lost some of their defensive solidity. JS
9) Swans need to find their wings
Swansea have neither won nor scored from open play in four matches, with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s successful penalty at St Mary’s last week their only goal in a curiously dodgy spell. Their last two away outings – at Watford and Southampton – were alarming, as the team looked uncharacteristically feeble for most of those games. Garry Monk has to ensure such rotten form does not contaminate home displays, otherwise a worrying rut could be dug. With Jefferson Montero not starting, nor rediscovering his form of the first few weeks after being sprung from the bench, Swansea have suffered from a lack of width, their full-backs seemingly unable to provide regular service to the frontline. Son Heung-min may be injured but this is not an ideal time for Swansea to be facing a Tottenham side who are looking increasingly secure at the back and now have Harry Kane back in goalscoring form. PD
10) Ranieri’s riddle
Claudio Ranieri’s approach at Carrow Road will be fascinating. He has tended not to tinker so far this season and has embraced the adventurous style with which Leicester won survival last term. But Arsenal mercilessly exploited their openness last week, racking up a score from which even Leicester could not come back. Other sides had already threatened to do that this season and Ranieri surely knows there is a risk that Norwich could do so on Saturday. So how will the Italian react? Change personnel? Deploy the back three that Nigel Pearson used towards the end of last season? Or carry on gungho and keep hoping his team will outgun rivals?