A heavyweight clash between Man City and Liverpool, three points separating FIVE teams at the top and Everton’s response to a 10-point deduction against Man United… why we’re excited for the Premier League’s return
- Premier League returns this weekend after the last international break in 2023
- The thrilling slate of fixtures begins with Liverpool’s trip to Man City on Saturday
- Everton players will be fed up with the owners – listen to It’s All Kicking Off
The final international break of the 2023 interrupted a pulsating Premier League campaign, exemplified by the thrilling send off that was Chelsea’s 4-4 with Manchester City.
This weekend’s action kicks-off with an equally reverting match-up, regardless of the strange timing, as the defending champions welcome Liverpool to the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime.
There’s also the clash between Everton and Manchester United on Sunday afternoon that has taken on greater significance following the Toffees’ 10-point deduction last week.
Elsewhere, Bramall Lane hosts a relegation six-pointer and Tottenham attempt to avoid the ignominy of a third-straight defeat when their host Unai Emery’s Aston Villa.
Mail Sport takes a look at ten reasons to be excited or the return of the Premier League.
Everton will play their first game since last week’s dramatic news of their 10-point deduction
Tottenham fell to fourth in the table after their late loss to Wolves left them three points off the top
Sheffield United showed encouraging form in their two games before the international break
The promise of a title race
Three points separate the top five teams in the Premier League after 12 games. That scenario has happened on just three previous occasions, with two resulting in a three-horse race going into May.
While many will still expect Aston Villa and Tottenham – in fifth and fourth respectively – to eventually fall away, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City look well equipped to maintain a title charge for the whole campaign.
Pep Guardiola’s side remain the overwhelming favourites and can assert their dominance against their old foes Liverpool on Saturday, but the fragility they showed against Chelsea before the break will give the front runners hope of getting their hands of the title this year.
Adding to the intrigue is this weekend’s fixture list that, as well as Liverpool’s trip to City, sees Spurs welcome Villa.
Not since 2001 have so many teams been so close at this stage of the campaign and time will ultimately tell whether the sides can match one-another stride for stride.
Manchester City sit top of the league after 12 games, with four sides in hot pursuit
Man City v Liverpool
What better way to kick-off the weekend’s action than a match-up between the two dominant sides of the last half decade.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have made a better start than expected following a summer of revolution that saw the departure of stalwarts of the German’s first successful side.
Saturday lunchtime’s trip to Manchester marks one hell of an examination of their progress, in a stadium where wins have proven hard to come by even during their recent glory days.
Their task is made harder by the quick turnaround for the likes of Alisson, Alexis Mac Allister, Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez, who have all been in action for their national sides in South American World Cup qualifying.
City have their own selection headaches with Erling Haaland, Ederson, Nathan Ake and Rodri all forced to miss recent international games with a range of ailments.
The marquee clash between Man City and Liverpool begins the Premier League’s return
Sean Dyche’s side have won as many games as Chelsea, conceded fewer goals than Brighton and have recorded three victories in their last five games. Yet, following last week’s 10-point deduction, they find themselves in 19th place.
The Toffees are expected to appeal the Premier League’s decision after they were found guilty of breaching Profit and Sustainability Rules, while the threat of a further deduction looms amid Burnley, Leeds and Leicester’s plan to bring a lawsuit against the Merseyside club.
It means that after recovering from a slow start, Everton are back in serious need of points and their first opportunity comes on Sunday when they welcome a topsy-turvy Man United to Goodison Park.
Despite seeming to constantly teeter on the edge of calamity, Erik ten Hag’s side have won four of their last five league games to climb to sixth in the division, five points behind Spurs in fourth.
They too have their off-field distractions as Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s impending minority purchase prompts changes in the club’s hierarchy. The trip to Liverpool also sees the Red Devils begin a hat-trick of away days that could define their season.
After Everton comes Galatasaray in a Champions League game they dare not lose, ahead of a trip to St James’ Park to take on fellow Champions League-chasers Newcastle.
Everton would have hoped for an accommodating opponent in their first outing after a week from hell and despite not being in top form, United and their manager need the points just as much as they do.
Man United trip to Liverpool also sees the Red Devils begin a hat-trick of away days that could define their season
Luton’s reprieve from the bottom three
The Hatters were the immediate beneficiaries of Everton’s sudden plunge into the bottom three, emerging above the dreaded red line with more than a third of the season gone.
Luton fans would likely have taken that offer before the campaign began and their performances have shown that pre-season 2008 Derby County comparisons were misplaced.
Rob Edwards and his side will be well aware of the fact that Everton’s points deduction has brought another competitor into the mire – for the time being at the very least. And if they can start turning their promising performances into wins they’ll invite a whole load of pressure on the sides around them.
Despite their position in 17th place, Luton are only two points off the bottom and that too will weigh heavy on the mind of the Hatters boss. But Saturday’s welcome of Crystal Palace offers another chance to clinch their maiden home win of the campaign and foster realistic aspirations of survival.
Rob Edwards and his side will be well aware of the fact that Everton’s points deduction has brought another competitor into the mire
Can Chelsea maintain their progress?
Are Chelsea out of the race for Champions League qualification? Ahead of tough clashes with high-flying Spurs and Man City, it certainly seemed so.
But a few weeks and four points later, the Blues return to league action believing their assortment of high-potential youngsters are ready to mount a charge up the league table.
However, the tricky fixtures don’t end and this weekend sees a trip to Newcastle on Saturday in another test of their progress. Within a month Chelsea also face Brighton, Man United and Everton at Goodison Park.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side thrilled in their 4-4 draw against Man City, showing a level of determination absent from Chelsea performances over the last 18 months. But ultimately it was still a draw, and their win against Spurs came amid a calamitous 15-minute spell for the hosts and two red cards.
Saturday will provide some answers to whether this latest Chelsea revival is for real.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side thrilled in their 4-4 draw against Man City, showing a level of determination absent from Chelsea performances over the last 18 months
Will Tottenham’s slump continue?
The international break came at just the right time for Tottenham, who had been brought back down to earth in the most unceremoniously way possible.
Ange Postecoglou’s side was riding high atop the table, the fairytale story of the young campaign before reality struck against Chelsea. Then the manner of their defeat to Wolves was almost as cruel, having led at Molineux for the entire game only to be hit with two goals in injury time.
Back-to-back defeats saw Spurs fall to fourth, yet they are only three points off the top. Qualifying for the Champions League seemed a stretch ahead of the campaign before their unbelievable start – the club’s best in the Premier League era – had fans dreaming of a title tilt.
But as they welcome Unai Emery’s dangerous side to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, there is a real threat their blip could become a slump.
Spurs will take comfort in Villa’s poor performances away from home, as well as their confident displays for the majority of matches against Chelsea and Wolves. The tough thing for Tottenham is that after Villa, Man City, West Ham and Newcastle await.
Two defeats could easily become six if they’re not able to stop the rot this weekend.
Tottenham suffered a gutting 2-1 defeat against Wolves, their second in as many games
Relegation six-pointer at Bramall Lane
Two of the league’s bottom five go head-to-head at Bramall Lane on Saturday as Sheffield United host Bournemouth.
As with Luton, both these sides will be delighted to see another club dragged into the relegation fight and will be making their case to secure survival this term. Both teams also enjoyed some good results going into the international break.
The Blades earned their first win of the season against Wolves at the start of the month before snatching a draw against Brighton at the Amex, while the Cherries turned in a dominant performance against an exhausted Newcastle side.
The game offered the first glimpse into what a Bournemouth outfit molded in the vision of Andoni Iraola can truly become and it gave confidence that more matches will bring more improvement as players become better versed with his tactics.
It’s highly likely that at least one of these teams will find themselves in the Championship this time next year, making Saturday’s clash vital for survival.
Dominic Solanke scored a brace in Bournemouth’s 2-0 win against Newcastle before the break
Will Vincent Kompany survive another home defeat?
Pre-season predictions had Burnley achieving Premier League survival with ease after romping to the Championship title last term.
However, after 12 games they sit bottom of the top-flight and look up to see two sides whose tally they bettered by 10 and 21 points respectively last season. But the good news for the Clarets is that they are still in touch with the pack.
One win could see them climb up to 17th in a congestion Premier League base. Though, that also provides some peril for Burnley boss Vincent Kompany, who could quickly become the only answer to ‘what can Burnley do to change their fortunes?’
He brought a revamped playing style when he arrived at Turf Moor last season and certainly has credit left in the bank but defeats have a habit of reducing goodwill, especially at home.
Burnley have lost all six Premier League matches played in front of their home fans as they look forward to visits from West Ham and Sheffield United in the next two weeks. Can the Belgian afford to lose a seventh or eighth?
Burnley have lost all six Premier League matches they have played in front of their home fans
Arsenal’s title credentials tested
Mikel Arteta’s side have not thrilled yet this season. They’ve not produced the exciting attacking play they showed last term. They’ve already lost, draw at home to Spurs and were lucky to get a point at Chelsea.
But they’re still only one point off the top and are taking on Brentford this weekend while the other top five sides duke it out against one another.
Arsenal’s 3-0 win at the Community Stadium last September was proof of their development, having come unstuck at the home of the Bees the year prior.
Thomas Frank’s side provide another litmus test this time around after proving particularly stubborn to unseat in west London.
The away side will take confidence from their League Cup win in September but make no mistake it could be defining weekend if Arsenal end it on top of the league.
Arsenal’s 3-0 win at the Community Stadium last September was proof of their development
No international break until the new year
No more international fixtures until March 18. Get ready for the brutal Christmas schedule, the climax of the group stages of the European competitions, the manic New Years Day action, the draw for the knockout stages of the Champions League and Round of 16.
There’s plenty club football before Gareth Southgate picks his final squad ahead of the 2024 European Championship.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.
It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.
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