1) When will Sturridge get his next Liverpool chance?
One of the marvellous things about football is that you can quite easily leave your best player out of the team and still strengthen it, through little fault of their own. It might be a bit of a stretch to call Daniel Sturridge Liverpool’s best player, but he’s certainly their best striker, and the most natural finisher they have. If he could keep himself fit for long enough, he’d easily be a 20 goals a season man, but Liverpool have such an exceptional front four at the moment that he – or indeed any traditional centre-forward – is not required. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and Adam Lallana are doing very nicely indeed without him. Sturridge popped up and scored twice against Tottenham in the EFL Cup on Tuesday, at least reminding Jürgen Klopp that he remains a very good striker indeed. “I’ve never been in doubt about him,” said Klopp, but will the kind words translate to a place in the team? One wonders if it’s more frustrating or less for Sturridge that he is not in Klopp’s first-choice team, but really due to no fault of his own. NM
2) Another tough opportunity for Moyes to get off mark
There was a touch of David Brent to David Moyes last week when he said: “My job is to win and I would say my biggest strength is to find a way of winning. If you asked me about my strengths I’d say: ‘Put David Moyes in charge of a team and he will win.’” Well OK, maybe he will – but when and against whom? This weekend against Arsenal? That seems highly unlikely given how comprehensively awful Sunderland have been so far this season – a habit of conceding late goals reflects badly on their mentality and the manager’s substitutions, and the early signs are that so far Moyes has got the three crucial Ts wrong: transfers, tactics and talking. Maybe Sunderland can look to Arsenal for a glimmer of hope, as Arsène Wenger’s team, who only managed a draw at the Stadium of Light in April, have been decidedly edgy in their recent Premier League outings. They could have lost rather than drawn at home to Middlesbrough last week, came close to throwing away victory against Swansea in the previous league match, and only overcame Burnley in the match before that thanks to a freakish late goal by Laurent Koscielny. Maybe this will be the weekend when luck turns against Arsenal and in favour of Sunderland, and Moyes finds a way to win in the league at last. This is not a tip. PD
3) Mkhitaryan to return from his Old Trafford exile?
José Mourinho can’t seem to catch a break at the moment. No sooner has he broken his club’s domestic winless run (which stretched, it should be remembered, to just three games) then people start asking questions about how he did it. Or, more specifically, which players didn’t do it. Or more specifically still, why the heck Henrikh Mkhitaryan wasn’t one of those in the matchday 18 for the City game. Mourinho, arch-contrarian that he is, might just sling the Armenian straight into the starting XI against Burnley simply to show that everyone was making a fuss about nothing. But if, as seems more likely, Mkhitaryan’s exile continues (his last appearance saw him dragged off at half-time in September’s Manchester derby) and particularly if United remain stilted in attack (they may have won in midweek but were largely unimpressive against a shadow City XI) then the sense that all is not quite right between the manager and his £30m summer signing will intensify. The Manchester press this week have suggested that it could be a character issue, with Mourinho favouring the more brash personalities in his squad to the relatively reserved Mkhitaryan. JA
4) Okazaki central to Leicester’s improvement on the road
Leicester’s Premier League away record so far this season is: played four, lost four, goal difference -10. Admittedly their assignments have mostly been tough – they’ve been to Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and, er, Hull City – but that run is atrocious by anyone’s standards, let alone the defending champions. They go to White Hart Lane, however, on the back of last weekend’s victory over Crystal Palace, hailed by Claudio Ranieri as their best performance of the season. The manager could do worse than stick with the same lineup or, at least, sticking with Shinji Okazaki, who has enough dynamism to help out in midfield, where Leicester risk being overrun by Spurs. PD
5) Guardiola ends rough week at the Hawthorns
Six games without a win, then, for Pep Guardiola. It’s a disturbing statistic for the Manchester City manager, even taking into account the fact that he wasn’t really bothered about the EFL Cup game in midweek (“It’s the last competition in terms of importance,” he said minutes before the game and, to be fair, he’s not wrong). Nevertheless, it’s been a rough week. Guardiola could do with a winning end to seven days that began with a 50-minute dressing room inquisition afterSunday’s draw with Southampton, tumbled into midweek with an admission that he was still learning about the energy-sapping nature of English football and reached a nadir with that derby defeat. West Brom provide the opposition on Saturday afternoon and only Everton have escaped The Hawthorns with three points this season. On the flip side, only West Ham have gone home empty handed. JA
6) Adaptable Redmond a symbol of Saints’ mentality
In amongst all the criticism of John Stones, Claudio Bravo, Pep Guardiola and whoever else people wanted to blame for Southampton’s goal against Manchester City last weekend, it was easy to forget what a terrifically taken goal it was. Nathan Redmond had to have the speed of thought and feet to nip in and intercept Stones’s pass – all part of Claude Puel’s plan to press the City defence as much as possible to induce just this sort of mistake. Listening to Redmond this week, it’s easy to see why the Frenchman’s tenure seems to be going well so far. “He [Puel] made it clear he wasn’t going to play with wide players,” said Redmond, about his new role up front, “but he also made it clear that he’d watched me before and seen me play, so he knew I had the potential to play up front … it was either adapt and learn or sit on the sidelines.” The way Redmond put it, it seems obvious, but we can all think of a few players whose attitude perhaps wouldn’t be quite so constructive, and might have viewed the sidelines as preferable to playing somewhere unfavourable.
7) Will the EFL Cup give Hull a lift?
The effectiveness of the ‘new manager bounce’ does tend to be lessened when the ‘new manager’ is actually the old manager who’s been there for a few months but the club just hadn’t bothered to sort his contract out. Hull provided a pleasant surprise at the start of the season when, with a team that gave ‘hodge-podge’ a bad name, managed to beat the defending champions and chivvy out a few respectable results. Alas, since then things have gone south, and last week’s defeat to Stoke was their fifth in a row as they gently bump their way down the table. Still, they did beat Bristol City in the EFL Cup, so could that give them a pep-up for the trip to Watford this weekend? “It has been quite gloomy when you’re getting beat week in and week out,” Mike Phelan said this week. “But you can see in the dressing room that a win’s a win and it does mean a lot.” Alas, that looks like a long shot. NM
8) Bony needs to score against old club to boost his new one
Stoke made a worse startto the season than Swansea, but held their nerve and kept their manager. Mark Hughes’ side are now unbeaten in four matches; all is not yet rosy but Stoke have definitely played with greater cohesion and drive in those games. As injured players return, the team can start looking upwards – but cannot be truly confident of winning more matches than they lose until they start scoring more. Wilfried Bony scored on his two appearances for Manchester City against Swansea, and scoring against his old club again would be an overdue opening to his account for Stoke. PD
9) Middlesbrough must improve their home form
It’s a tough gig, staying in the Premier League. It’s even tougher when you can’t seem to win a game at home. This season Middlesbrough have just a single point from their four games at the Riverside, jarring rather with their previous form: they had the best home record in the Championship in each of the last two seasons, winning 31 of their 46 games in that time. What’s perhaps more concerning for Aitor Karanka is those four home encounters this term have been, with the exception of the game against Tottenham, entirely winnable, but that single point came on the first day of the season against Stoke.
10) Koeman faces conundrums in attack and defence
Ronald Koeman started at Everton by addressing the problem that Roberto Martínez was apparently never able or inclined to resolve: defensive fragility. It seemed at first that the Dutchman had succeeded in instilling new solidity, but that gain was lost last week as Everton defended badly in the defeat at Burnley. They remain particularly vulnerable in the air, which is one reason why Michail Antonio may thrive when West Ham visit Goodison Park on Sunday. Gallingly for Everton fans, the team’s attacking seems to have deteriorated or at least not improved, as Romelu Lukaku relies extensively on Yannick Bolasie or Idrissa Gueye for service, rather than the erratic decision-making of Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu. Questions about Koeman’s decision-making were raised last weekend when he replaced Gueye with the bland Tom Cleverley. Everton and their manager need a performance to restore confidence. PD