The final round of matches before the international break sees two blockbusters, with Everton strikers Romelu Lukaku and new signing Samuel Eto’o playing against the club where they were deemed “surplus to requirements”, Chelsea. And Sunday evening sees Liverpool travel to White Hart Lane, where they won 5-0 last season – although with Pochettino’s Spurs side clicking last weekend this one should be a much more even contest.
EVERTON V CHELSEA (Sunday 31/8, 2:00am AEST)
Referee: Jon Moss
Everton entertain Chelsea at Goodison Park following two successive draws in fixtures they really should have taken all three points. They let a 2-0 lead slip in the last 10 minutes of the match against Arsenal last weekend, and won’t be able to afford similar defensive lapses against the unbeaten Blues. The Toffees were in the same position at this stage last season and it was the victory at home against Chelsea that gave Roberto Martinez his first as Everton manager.
This Chelsea side is a different proposition, however, with Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas fitting in seamlessly and adding attacking prowess that only City can compete with. The Blues have taken maximum points from their opening fixtures but Everton have won four of the last five against Chelsea at Goodison.
Samuel Eto’o should make his debut for Everton in his first appearance since leaving Chelsea on a free in the off season. There are doubts over Romelu Lukaku and Costa with reports earlier this week suggesting the latter could be out for up to as many as 6 weeks, but I expect both to line up. With Torres heading to Italy to have a medical with AC Milan, Didier Drogba could make his first start since returning to the club he carried to a Champions League title if Costa misses out. Andre Schurrle picked up a injury in the 2-0 win against Leicester, so Mourinho might hand Willian a starting role on the right.
Expect both sides to line up in a 4-2-3-1 but with both teams’ fullbacks always to get forward, this one is unlikely to prove a tactical stalemate.
TOTTENHAM V LIVERPOOL (Sunday 31/8, 10:30pm AEST)
Referee: Phil Dowd
Mario Balotelli will make his debut at White Hart Lane against top of the table Spurs in what is probably the match of the weekend. Liverpool routed Tottenham 5-0 last season in London on their way to a 9-0 aggregate across two fixtures, but this Spurs side won’t have to deal with the magic of Luis Suarez, now at Barcelona.
Mauricio Pochettino has Spurs playing with the sort of freedom not seen since Harry Redknapp led them to consecutive fourth placed finishes. Last season’s signings Lamela, Chadli and Bentaleb are starting to find some form. However, with Spurs’ victories coming against a diabolical QPR and an injury time winner against West Ham, its hard to take their table position too seriously.
Liverpool picked off a plucky Southampton at Anfield, before losing 3-1 away to last season’s champions Manchester City. The Reds’ first half was encouraging but City were ruthless in attack and put the game to bed relatively comfortably. A front six of Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, Balotelli, Sterling and Sturridge is as good as any in the Premier League (and where do you fit in Coutinho?!), but Liverpool have problems defensively. They paid £20m for centre half Dejan Lovren in the summer but he’s struggled so far, and his miscommunication with fellow new signing Alberto Moreno gifted City their pivotal opener last weekend. Perhaps what manager Brendan Rodgers will be more concerned with is his back four’s inability so far to keep the same distance between them when they are faced with lateral movement. Lovren has been a serial offender in this regard.
Tottenham are still without Kyle Walker, but Eric Dier’s early season form should be soothing for Pochettino. Liverpool welcome Adam Lallana into the squad for the first time since his summer move from Southampton, but Rodgers is without defenders Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Jon Flanagan. Moreno and Martin Skrtel are also under injury clouds with ankle problems.
These sides have perhaps the most progressive managers in the league, and this could be an absolute goalfest.
Elsewhere, Burnley host Manchester United and will be hoping for a similar result to the last time the Red Devils went to Turf Moor in the Premier League, when a Robbie Blake wonder-goal earned them the spoils. United and Louis Van Gaal will probably take anything after their midweek horror show against MK Dons.
Stoke make the trip to Manchester City after yet another slow start to the season. The Champions have suffered no such problems, collecting full points in their opening matches including an impressive victory over Liverpool.
Neil Warnock returns to manage Crystal Palace this weekend, who are joint-bottom, and they face Newcastle at St James’. Jason Puncheon returns for the Eagles from suspension.
QPR will be looking for their first points of the season as they welcome Sunderland, who performed impressively against Manchester United in a 1-1 draw. Glenn Hoddle, the 3-5-2 master, will have had little time to work on the R’s formation problems, as they played midweek and lost 1-0 to Burton Albion.
Swansea are level with fellow league leaders Chelsea, Spurs and City and could continue to stay in the European places as they host West Bromwich Albion. Alan Irvine is still looking for his first win as the Baggies’ manager.
West Ham won at Crystal Palace last weekend and entertain Southampton, who make the short-ish trip to Upton Park.
Aston Villa are at home to Hull, who were knocked out of the Europa League qualifying stages midweek, albeit with a team containing few of their starting XI. Villa are unbeaten so far in 2014-15.
Finally, Arsenal travel north to face Leicester, who were another Premier League casualty in the Capital One Cup during the week. Esteban Cambiasso sealed his move to the Foxes just days ago but it is not known whether he’ll be eligible to feature this weekend.