The Capital One Cup provided a welcome and interesting distraction during the week, and one can only hope it was only the appetiser to a, hopefully, succulent main course in the shape of Premier League football this weekend.
Two Portuguese managers going head to head in North London, Sunderland hoping to bounce back and United looking to cut back the gap from the top, here’s what we can expect from the weekend.
1) Can Spurs push on?
Saturday’s early kick-off is undoubtedly the fixture of the weekend. After losing against Arsenal earlier this month, Spurs have increasingly resemble a well-oiled, ruthless, machine and enter tomorrow’s derby full of confidence, despite having won only three of their last 42 Premier League games against Chelsea.
The goal they conceded at the Emirates was the only time Spurs’ back four were beaten in all competitions this season, while Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado have ensured the transition from a Gareth Bale-centred team was smoother than many thought possible.
Chelsea, on the other hand, despite a solid start have so far failed to impress and Jose Mourinho’s team selections have puzzled many, with Juan Mata and David Luiz struggling to get into the starting XI.
With 32 matches left after Saturday’s game, it’d be easy to overestimate the importance of the clash at White Hart Lane but should Spurs emerge with three points, their credentials will have to be taken seriously
2) The post Di Canio era begins
Bottom of the table with one point after five games and a goal difference of -8, that’s not where Sunderland were supposed to be.
The Paolo Di Canio revolution never got off to the ground and the Italian’s only achievement this season was to leave a disgruntled camp behind him and ketchup sellers in Sunderland just as unhappy.
However, with the former Swindon man now gone and a new manager looming large, Sunderland should still have too much quality to be left in the doldrums of the relegation zone.
Sunday’s match against Liverpool is hardly the perfect springboard for the Mackems, but the Reds have lost their last two games and will be under pressure themselves and Kevin Ball will hope to be the latest in a list of successful Premier League caretakers.
3) Hooper for England?
Having lost two of their opening five games for the first since the 1990/91 season, Norwich were booed off the pitch last week, as fans expressed their discontent for Chris Hughton’s ultraconservative approach.
A 3-2 win at Watford in the League Cup partially placate the rumblings of discontent and the Norwich manager must have been pleased to see Gary Hooper, one of Hughton’s summer signings, opening his account for the club.
The former Celtic man scored twice at Vicarage Road having finally recovered from a pre-season injury and his goals could help Norwich overcome their stuttering start, beginning with Saturday’s trip to Stoke.
The goal-shy canaries have scored only three times so far but Hooper, who scored 82 times in 138 games for Celtic, offers Hughton a different option up-front and the 25-year-old man is determined to enter the England fray.
4) No prisoners at the Liberty
Arsenal and Swansea arrive at Saturday’s late kick-off at the Liberty Stadium in contrasting moods. The Gunners top the table after five games, the only club to score in each fixture, and progressed through a tricky away tie at West Brom in the Capital One Cup.
Swansea, meanwhile, were knocked out by Birmingham on Wednesday and have the third-joint worst defensive record in the league, something of a worry considering they’ll have to deal with the in-form Mesut Ozil on Saturday.
Having ridden the wave of excitement generated by Ozil’s arrival, Arsenal face arguably their sterner test since the transfer window shut on September 2 and their performance is likely to shed a lot of light on Wenger’s men credentials.
5) United back on track?
Sunday’s 4-1 shellacking at the hands of Manchester City was David Moyes and United fans’ worst nightmare coming true, as their team showed all their limits on their local rivals’ turf.
Having lost at Anfield and drawn with Chelsea earlier this month, the knives were out for David Moyes, but a professional performance on Wednesday night saw United even the score with their old foes from Merseyside and gave their manager some much needed breathing space.
Moyes’ team selection against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup pleased many as the United manager included Shinji Kagawa and Nani in place of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, while Javier Hernandez made the most of Robin Van Persie’s absence.
The fire within Wayne Rooney that had seemed gone last season, is back in the United striker and with Kagawa and Nani providing much creativity and flair, United can now leave their troubled start behind them.
West Bromwich visit Old Trafford on Saturday, the first of five winnable games – United face Sunderland and Fulham away with home games against Southampton and Stoke sandwiched in between – for United in the lead up to Arsenal visit on November 10. David Moyes knows he must aim for 15-point return over the next six weeks.