Pedro, Rooney and more: Five things to look out for this weekend
Ross Cannon previews the Premier League weekend, including Pedro Rodriguez's second Chelsea appearance
Rodgers and Liverpool
Monday night at The Emirates showcased a Liverpool team that has begun to show signs of a club that is in a positive transition. The same back-four were retained for the third game in a row, the same back five if you include Simon Mignolet. Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren provided the central ballast, while Nathaniel Clyne and 18-year-old Joe Gomez worked their channels tirelessly in both directions, with the latter putting in a fantastic display at left-back. This defensive unit look incomparable to the one that conceded 50 league goals two seasons ago. As Merseyside says ‘bye-bye’ to Mario Balotelli, Christian Benteke looks set to be Rodgers’s first-choice striker. The Belgian offers far more industry, intelligence and most importantly, goals than his former Italian counterpart. While Firmino is yet to fire, Phillippe Coutinho is blazing a trail and was unlucky to see a curling effort tipped away by the fingers of Petr Cech. Liverpool play host to West Ham Saturday at 3.00, their defensive cohesion and new attacking nous should see Rodgers and his band of merry men march on to another clean sheet and their third win of the season.
Not even three full days had passed since Chelsea announced the signing of Pedro and the Spanish international had inspired the Blues to a 3-2 win against West Brom at The Hawthorns. It has been a tumultous start to the defence of their Premier League title for Chelsea this season, both on and off the pitch. After three games in the league last season, the Blues had won three games back-to-back and had scored 11 goals in the process. This time out, Jose Mourinho’s men have had to fight tooth and nail to earn their first win with almost a month of the Premier League gone. Pedro has arguably been the catalyst for the slight rejuvenation, and in the driving rain in the West Midlands, it was the Spaniard who was the driving force behind the Blues, as he picked up an assist and a goal on his debut. Pedro’s incisive forward runs, coupled with his outstanding dibbling and close control make him a delight to watch but a nightmare to defend. Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace are up next and as they take the short trip to Stamford Bridge in an attempt to stop the flying Spaniard.
Bournemouth v Leicester
These two Premier League new boys have given fantastic accounts of themselves so far this season, with the two going head-to-head on Saturday as Bournemouth host the Foxes at Dean Court. It was goals galore midweek as the two teams were in action in the league cup, scoring eight goals between them, easing both into the third-round of the league cup. Back in the Premier League, Bournemouth will feel unlucky to be sitting as low as 13th place, a 1-0 loss on the opening day to Villa was followed up with an unlucky 1-0 loss away to Liverpool after a dubious goal from Benteke was not flagged for off-side. Last time out Eddie Howe’s men were involved in a seven-goal thriller against West Ham and it resulted in the Cherries picking up a historic first-ever win in the Premier League. Howe has his team playing a fearless brand of football, one that is based on attack regardless of who the opponent is. Leicester City are playing a similar attacking style of football which sees them sitting pretty in second place. Claudio Ranieri has picked up seven points out of a possible nine, with standout player Riyad Mahrez having netted four goals in three games. Both teams will be buoyed by their recent form and it should set-up for an intriguing and high-scoring encounter.
Rooney is back
What a better way to hit back at those critical of your scoring prowess than by scoring a hat-trick, which is precisely what the United captain did, the only caveat being it was against a rather depleted and subpar Club Brugge. Nevertheless, Rooney, criticised for his poor start to the season which culminated in a 10-game drought, answered the naysayers in the only way he knows how, on the football pitch. Like Memphis Depay before him who starred in the tie’s first-leg by grabbing two goals and an assist, Rooney was on hand to fire United into the Champions League proper after a one year absence, with three goals of his own. It will be interesting to see if Rooney can carry his mid-week form into the weekend, something Depay was unable to do, which resulted in a lacklustre 0-0 at the Theatre of Dreams last Saturday. United face an inform Swansea on Sunday and a side who beat United in the same fixture in February.
Stones, Martinez and Chelsea
With the transfer window still open, the drama it conjures continues. The latest plotline to develop comes in the form of highly-rated Everton centre-half John Stones. The 21-year-old has been subject of three bids from Chelsea, with the latest offer reportedly in the region of £30m. Everton boss Roberto Martinez has stood firm on the matter, despite the England international submitting a transfer request. Speaking Wednesday night after the clubs extra-time win over Barnsley in the league cup, Martinez stated: “John is not for sale and he will remain a highly-valued member of our first-team squad”. The most telling sign of the saga may come on Saturday at 5.30pm, when Everton travel to London to face Spurs. Should Stones be absent, it may be the clearest indication that Everton have failed to keep their prised asset.