John Dykes’ Premier League Preview

So, the Premier League returns from an international break dominated by clashes of old rivals with, yes you guessed it, a clash of sworn enemies.

As Manchester United and Arsenal prepare to meet at Old Trafford in Saturday’s early game, it’s tempting to bill it as the focal point of Round 12. But is it? It’s been some time since this was a meeting of two potential titlists and instead much of the focus will instead be on the managers.

The resumption of Mourinho-Wenger hostilities usually gets the media smacking its lips in anticipation of more insults and the potential for touchline argy-bargy featuring grey-haired men who should know better. But is Jose-Arsene still the biggest fight on the card?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand they are in danger of being eclipsed by Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino. Mourinho in particular has been characterized in some quarters as being an old-fashioned spoiler rather than a progressive go-getter. As for Arsene, he again has to prove he can once more sustain a title challenge and not see Movember again get as hairy as P.J. Roberts’ upper lip.

On the other hand, both can reassert their relevance on Saturday: Wenger by finally defeating his nemesis and taking Arsenal to the top of the table, Mourinho by dealing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s absence (and Wayne Rooney’s unraveling) to pull United level with Spurs. That would again see them involved in what might just turn out to be the best title race we’ve ever seen in this league.

At the top, four of the top five play away from home and that should offer Spurs a chance to get right back in the mix after four straight draws. It’s a London derby at White Hart Lane though and Slaven Bilic’s West Ham can be dangerous in that context.

Elsewhere, can Southampton, who allowed Hull to score twice last time out, stop Liverpool? Ten different players have scored for the Reds in the league this season, Klopp’s men are on a run of winnable fixtures and we could see them at the top of the table all the way through to the New Year.

If Eden Hazard is fit for Chelsea, he’ll travel to the Riverside anxious to team up once more with Diego Costa. The pair have scored 16 goals between them and it will take all of Middlesbrough’s defensive powers to once again frustrate highly-fancied opposition.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa

Manchester City will hope to be more efficient in front of goal as they take on Crystal Palace, a team that has taken just 24 points from its last 32 games. Below them in the table are Sunderland and Hull City, who meet in a huge clash at the Stadium of Light. Even after just 11 games it looks like Sunderland absolutely must win for a second-straight game. If they do, Swansea will become the real “crisis club” and their trip to Goodison Park is another hugely-significant clash this Premier League weekend.

John Dykes