Giroud can sink Sunderland
Ian Brindle and Chris Hammer preview Saturday's eight games in the Barclays Premier League.
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The Premier League returns after its international hiatus this weekend, with defending champions Manchester United getting the action under way on Saturday lunchtime against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
That is one of four games which our Chris Hammer has previewed and he just can't see the Eagles posing a meaningful challenge, despite David Moyes' tricky start as Red Devils boss.
Ian Brindle examines the other four contests, including the live Sky game at Goodison Park where he expects Chelsea to pick up a narrow victory over Everton.
David Moyes hasn't enjoyed the flying start to his reign as Manchester United manager that he would have hoped for while his recruitment policy - or lack of it - during the summer transfer window has already prompted critics to question his suitability for such a huge job. However, rather than get bogged down and distracted by the premature debate about whether Moyes, whose coaching methods have also been scrutinised in the press, will one day achieve a level of acceptable success at Old Trafford - let's focus on what should be one of their most routine victories of the season against Crystal Palace. Now the Eagles do make the trip north on the back of a morale-boosting victory over Sunderland which followed back-to-back defeats but it doesn't need me to tell you how much tougher this assignment will be for Ian Holloway's side. United, who are no bigger than 2/9 to pick up all three points, may only have four points from three games but one of those was against Chelsea while we can't forget how they so easily brushed aside Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on the opening weekend. I think the best way to go is pick a couple of scorelines like 3-0 and 4-0, which are 15/2 and 12/1 respectively, but overall this is a game I'm going to swerve.
Verdict: Manchester United 4 Crystal Palace 0 (CH)
Crystal Palace have collected just 25 points from their last 24 league games away from home (excl. playoffs).
At Old Trafford, Manchester United last failed to score in consecutive home games back in August 2007.
Bolton Wanderers (2-1 in 2001/02) were the last newly-promoted side to win at Old Trafford in the Premier League.
Aston Villa v Newcastle (1500)
Aston Villa couldn't have asked for a much tougher opening start to the Premier League season so to have three points from games against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool heading into a much easier clash with Newcastle this weekend is cause for optimism - even though two of them ended in narrow defeats. Having deservedly shocked Arsenal at the Emirates on the opening day, they were extremely unlucky not to take a point from their controversial trip to Stamford Bridge while some would argue they didn't deserve to end up on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline against the revived Reds. So while they are one point behind Newcastle in the lower half of the fledgling league table, Paul Lambert's side are understandably favourites to pick up all three points and I'll certainly be snapping up the odds-against prices on a home win at Villa Park. Newcastle head to the Midlands on the back of a 1-0 win over Fulham - their first of the season - which has merely papered over the worrying cracks which have appeared at St James' Park. Alan Pardew endured a difficult summer which started with the controversial appointment of director of football Joe Kinnear and ended without a single permanent signing being made during the transfer window. Keeping Yohan Cabaye was a plus point but having seriously flirted with relegation last season, the Magpies really needed to bolster their squad more than just the loan arrival of Loic Remy. The Magpies' only away game so far resulted in a 4-0 hammering at Man City and I'm doubtful whether their recent victory will have boosted confidence too much ahead of visit to a side who have shown genuine signs of potential.
Verdict: Aston Villa 3 Newcastle 0 (CH)
Newcastle have failed to score in five of their last seven Barclays Premier League games, netting just three goals overall in this run.
Newcastle have won just two of their last 21 Premier League games on the road (D7 L12).
Papiss Cisse has failed to score in his last nine Premier League appearances.
Fulham v West Brom (1500)
West Brom went into the two-week international break bottom of the table after picking up just one point from the opening three games, which hadn't looked too taxing on paper. They managed to earn a creditable 0-0 draw at an Everton side still finding their feet under Roberto Martinez but two home defeats against Southampton and Swansea without even scoring a goal suggests the Baggies could well be in for a season of struggle despite last term's lofty eighth-placed finish. Obviously they're missing the goals of Romelu Lukaku, who struck 17 times for them in the Premier League last season before his return to Chelsea, and although Nicolas Anelka is clearly not the striker he once was, head coach Steve Clarke has brought in forwards Stephane Sessegnon and Victor Anichebe since that loss to the Swans. Meanwhile Fulham have hardly inspired anyone during a pretty lifeless start to the season which started with a smash-and-grab 1-0 win at Sunderland before back-to-back defeats to Arsenal and Newcastle either side of a penalty shoot-out triumph over Burton in the League Cup. With all this in mind, both sides will see this as an opportunity to kick their respective seasons into life and it's not an easy one to call by any means. If pushed, I'd say the Baggies can sneak victory but I think this is one game to avoid.
Verdict: Fulham 1 West Brom 2 (CH)
Fulham have lost eight of their last 11 Barclays Premier League games, winning just seven points overall (W2 D1) in this period.
No goalkeeper has made more saves than David Stockdale (14) so far this season.
Fulham have lost each of their last five home league matches; their longest such run in the Premier League.
Hull v Cardiff (1500)
If I had a free ticket to any Premier League game this weekend then I'm afraid to say this would certainly be at the bottom of my preferences. If this clash now ends up being a seven-goal thriller or something similar then I'll have no qualms about eating my words but the signs do point towards a low-scoring affair with very little goalmouth action. Anyone who read my outright relegation preview will know I see no escape for the Tigers and although they have managed to win a game so far this season, their return of one goal from three league matches highlights their lack of potency up front. Sure, their two defeats to nil came away at Chelsea and Manchester City but they hardly even troubled the goalkeeper in either game. Their solitary strike in the 1-0 victory over Norwich came from the penalty spot while it took them until the 107th minute of their League Cup clash at League One Leyton Orient to find the net. As pointed out in the Opta stats below, Cardiff are languishing near the very bottom of the "shots attempted table" and all three of their top-flight goals so far came in that remarkable 3-2 victory over Manchester City. Although this clash between last season's top two in the Championship comes very early in the season, both sides will be desperate to avoid defeat and I expect an extremely cagey affair. I feel Cardiff have a touch more class about them and would suggest backing Malky Mackay's side to win by just a single goal at the KC Stadium.
Verdict: Hull 0 Cardiff 1 (CH)
Hull City have attempted fewer shots than any other side in the Barclays Premier League so far this season (16; excl. blocked).
Only Fulham (17) and Hull (16) have attempted fewer shots than Cardiff City so far this season in the Premier League (20).
Both teams were promoted last season from the Championship despite not boasting a single player to reach double figures for goals scored.
Stoke v Manchester City (1500)
Stoke City are likely to be a work in progress this season but a return of six points from the first three games will have silenced some of Mark Hughes' doubters, and there's a fair argument to suggest that they were unlucky not to come away with a point from Anfield on the opening day of the season. Having met Manchester City five times at the Britannia since their return to the top tier, Stoke have held the Blues to four 1-1 draws and took their scalp with a 1-0 victory back in 2009. Manuel Pellegrini may be a qualified civil engineer and while some fans have worried about shaky foundations at the back since the enforced absence of Vincent Kompany, they made their class count against a determined Hull outfit. There's no doubting that the loss of their captain is a big negative for them, but these are the sort of games that will decide whether they can bridge the gap between themselves and their neighbours at Old Trafford. Alvaro Negredo did at least give them a cutting edge against Hull and he's as low as Evens to score at anytime. Stoke's gameplan is likely to rely upon heavy retention of the ball though an away win appears the percentage call.
Verdict: Stoke 0 Man City 1 (IB)
Stoke City have not won back to back Barclays Premier League games at home since the end of November 2012.
Since the start of 2012-13, no side have kept more clean sheets in the Barclays Premier League than Manchester City (20).
Mark Hughes has lost three of four Premier League clashes with Manchester City since he was fired by the club (D1).
Sunderland v Arsenal (1500)
Paolo di Canio's tenure at Sunderland has seldom been out of the headlines and the visit of Arsenal should show just how far they have come since the Martin O'Neill era. Any points that the Black Cats can glean from this fixture can go some way to atoning for a disappointing performance against Crystal Palace. Despite playing an attacking brand of football - Sunderland's failure to convert chances has clearly irked the manager. They had 20 shots against Fulham on the opening day of the season without success and their conversion rate was little better against Palace. Di Canio couldn't help but lay the blame at his strike force though his decision to publically rebuke Ji Dong-Won for a perceived lack of "heart" is unlikely to foster much in the way of team spirit. That said, the return of Steven Fletcher was a positive as the free-scoring Scot made his first return since sustaining a serious ankle injury. Arsene Wenger found himself under pressure after his Gunners fired 23 unsuccessful shots when the teams met at the Emirates last season, but after an initial blip, things have been much more agreeable for the veteran manager. Olivier Giroud has shown just why the club paid £9m for his services last season, and despite his fine start to the season, he is still a good price to be the first goalscorer on the day. With Lukas Podolski injured, it will be interesting to see whether new signing Mesut Ozil will be in the starting eleven. The outcome of the game is likely to be decided by what goes on in the middle of the park and Arsenal's passing approach has proved the difference in their Premier League victories so far.
Verdict: Sunderland 0 Arsenal 2 (IB)
Sunderland have won just eight points from their last 17 Barclays Premier League games against the Gunners.
The last six Premier League matches at the Stadium of Light have produced just nine goals.
Sunderland have won just one of their last nine home games against Arsenal in the Premier League (D3 L5).
Andre Villas-Boas will be relieved that the saga of Gareth Bale's move to Real Madrid is over and Norwich will be the first to test Tottenham Hotspur in the post-Bale era. Chris Hughton's men were fortunate to take all three points against Southampton but nobody at Carrow Road is likely to be complaining. Ironically the 1-1 draw that Norwich secured at White Hart Lane was one of the highlights of a horrific early season campaign for the Canaries last season but it's worth remembering that the result obtained at a time when Spurs seemed hellbent on playing a lone striker despite its obvious drawbacks. The Europa League will place an additional workload on their squad in future weeks so points on the board will be at a premium and though defeat against Arsenal will have created some angst on the terraces, they fashioned enough chances to suggest that they should be too strong this weekend.
Verdict: Tottenham 2 Norwich 0 (IB)
Tottenham have won 10 of their last 14 home games in the Barclays Premier League, losing just one (D3).
Norwich City have won only one of their last 11 away games in the Barclays Premier League (D2 L8).
Only against Manchester United (9) and Liverpool (8) have Norwich lost more games in Premier League history than against Tottenham Hotspur (6).
Everton v Chelsea (1730)
Everton take on Chelsea in the televised evening kick-off. The home side begin life without Marouane Fellaini and while he will be a big loss to them, the blow has been cushioned by a substantial transfer fee and the retention of Leighton Baines. Roberto Martinez has acted quickly to shore up the midfield with the acquisitions of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy although a lack of firepower could be a problem on Saturday as Romelu Lukaku is unavailable and Victor Anichebe is no longer at the club. Chelsea have few such problems in terms of personnel and Fernando Torres, who scored a wonder goal against the Toffees when they met at Stamford Bridge last season, will be keen to force his claims if getting the nod to start and he's a general 13/2 chance to find the net first. Everton registered 15 draws last season (a figure matched only by Stoke) but Chelsea were the only team to beat them at home. Prior to that 2-1 victory, the home side had collected all the points on their previous three encounters at Goodison Park but it will be a big ask for them to beat Jose Mourinho's raiders here.
Verdict: Everton 0 Chelsea 1 (IB)
Only West Ham (6) and Everton (5) have allowed fewer opposition shots on target than Chelsea (8) so far this season.
Roberto Martinez has won just one of his last 11 games as a manager in the Barclays Premier League (W1 D6 L4).
All 10 of the scoring opportunities Eden Hazard has created for his team-mates this season have come from open play.
- Manchester United v Crystal Palace is live in the UK on BT Sport while Everton v Chelsea is on Sky Sports 1 HD