Often underrated and always scores goals Olivier Giroud is facing a decision over his future. After all, It is imperative that the French World Cup winner plays regular football in order to secure his place in his national side for next year’s Euros.
The 34 year old has appeared just six times this season for Chelsea and this week France manager Didier Deschamps spoke out about the striker who has been an integral part of his plans in recent times despite being on the fringe at Stamford Bridge.
Giroud scored twice in midweek for France against Sweden to move him to within seven goals of the nations record goal scorer Thierry Henry – a mark of the forwards credentials.
However, with the plethora of striking options available to Chelsea boss Frank Lampard, Giroud has been on the periphery of matters in West London this term, leading to plenty of speculation around a move in the upcoming January transfer window.
Fellow Premier League club West Ham are believed to be interested, whilst a host of Serie A sides have also been credited with interest, including a reunion with former manager Antonio Conte at Inter Milan.
The cultured French striker who’s attributes stretch to beyond his prowess in front of goal with his ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play will be desperate for one final hoorah on the internationals stage in the rearranged Euros next summer – therefore may need to move on to pastures new.
France boast a host of high-quality forwards who will all be hoping to oust the tall striker from Deschamps’ plans. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezzmann, Anthony Martial, Moussa Dembele, Ousmane Dembele and Marcus Thuram are all in with a shout of leading the line.
With competition for places at the attacking end of the France squad as such, it is inconceivable Giroud could expect to be picked without regular football behind him.
At 34 years old and with Timo Werner and Abraham clearly above him in the pecking order, a mid-season move seems the most viable option in order for the cultured frontman to get the football he needs for the rest of the season.
Steve Bruce’s Magpies have been typically inconsistent so far this term without setting the world alight. However with the attacking threats of Ryan Fraser, Allan Saint Maximin and Callum Wilson, they can be confident of stopping the visitors heading to the top of the table.
Tottenham v Manchester City Saturday 5.30pm
A huge test of Tottenham’s early title credentials as Jose Mourinho’s men look to seize the opportunity to reach the summit of the table, albeit potentially for just 24 hours.
Spurs have been a tough team to beat this season and with the likes of Harry Kane, Gareth Bale and Heung Min-Son in attack they pose a danger to any team.
Pep Guardiola, fresh off the back of a new contract, will be looking for more consistency from his side as they look to close the small gap to the league leaders. Gabriel Jesus is likely to be available whilst Sergio Aguero is a doubt.
Manchester United v West Brom Saturday 8.00pm
United went into the break on the back of a morale boosting victory over Everton, a victory that arguably saved Ole Gunnar Solskjær from a difficult conversation over this job.
Slaven Bilic’s Baggies meanwhile are desperate for points already as they flounder in the relegation zone without a win in their opening eight matches.
Leeds United v Arsenal Sunday 4.30pm
Perhaps evevery neutral’s favourite side to watch, Leeds United have made for enthralling viewing this season, unless you’re a fan of stout defending.
Marcelo Bielsa’s charges are a fast flowing bunch who always look to play on the front-foot, occasionally to their detriment. The Yorkshire side have already shocked the big boys this season, taking a point from the game with Man City.
Mikel Arteta’s Gunners could almost do no wrong until they came unstuck in a big way against Aston Villa before the break. The North Londoners sit 11th in the table and will be desperate to start clawing their way up.
Liverpool v Leicester City Sunday 7.15pm
Arguably the game of the weekend as the reigning champions host the current leagues leaders at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s side come into this game with almost an unprecedented amount of injuries with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez out for the majority of the season at least. Captain Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara, Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold are all major doubts for the clash whilst Fabinho has returned to full training.
The Foxes, not without their own injury concerns, must fancy their chances of taking a positive result back to the Midlands as former Reds boss Brendan Rodger’s pits his wits against Klopp.
Wolves v Southampton Monday 8.00pm
The weekend’s action rounds up at Molineux as this seasons surprise package Southampton head to Wolverhampton hoping to continue their positive start.
Ralph Hassenhutl’s Saints sit fourth in the table heading into the weekend after a 2-0 victory over Newcastle before the international hiatus. The visitors are likely to be without talismanic striker Danny Ings however as he recovers from a knee issue.
Wolves meanwhile haven’t quite hit the heights perhaps many expected this term so far as they struggle to get going with a host of new signings in their ranks. Nuno Espirito Santo will be hoping this period can bring about a new level of consistency from his talented squad.
Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion Saturday 3.00pm
Fast forward to the middle of November and it is now Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton who are competing with the early pace setters in the top flight.
Where are the Saints in the current Premier League table?
Indeed, it maybe early days but the Saints have been mightily impressive, they finished last season brilliantly having lost just one of their Project Restart games.
Despite losing their opening two matches, against Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur, they have since gone on a run that has seen them win five and draw just one of their next six matches. This is including their latest 2-0 win over Newcastle United.
Southampton currently in fourth place, having briefly led the table for the first time since 1988 and are just two points behind league leaders Leicester City.
2019/20 League Low point
It seems certainly remarkable to contemplate that just over a year ago that Hasenhuttl was left to pick up the pieces from what was one of the darkest days in the Saints Premier League history, where they suffered a 9-0 reverse against Brendan Rodgers’ current league leaders.
This proved a significant moment in the Austrian’s reign as manager as it was the not only the biggest ever victory by an away side in the top flight, but it was also Southampton’s biggest ever defeat in their history.
That day saw a hat trick each for both Jamie Vardy and Ayoze Perez following an early red card for the Saints left back, Ryan Bertrand.
The following day, the Austrian was understandably close to sack, but after some constructive talks what resulted was a getting back to basics approach.
Indeed, Hasenhuttl took on board both players and coaches’ feedback and what came about was the Austrian reverting back to his favoured 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 formation.
What transpired from this tactical alteration was an encouraging 2-2 draw at Arsenal, which ultimately began their revival.
Not only that but the players have also now understandably got more use to Hasenhuttl’s methods. His preferred tactics is modelled on that of his former club RB Leipzig and involves: high energy, pressing and front foot defending.
The players who Hasenhuttl has undoubtedly had a positive impact on has been James Ward-Prowse.
Ward-Prowse is now not only the club captain but also figured prominently in the most recent England squads for Euro Qualifiers and The Nations League.
One of the standout performances that demonstrate Ward-Prowse’s quality that immediately comes to mind was at Villa Park in the 4-3 win over Aston Villa where he scored two stunning free kicks.
While another who has flourished is Ward Prowse’s fellow England international, Danny Ings, who scored 22 goals in all competitions last season and has already managed four goals in six, games this time around before his most recent knee injury.
In addition, Che Adams has stepped up in a big way since the unfortunate injury sustained by Ings. Adams has scored three goals in his last four appearances, having had to wait until his 30th appearance to grab his first Saints goal.
Not only that but Adams has since been nominated for the PL Player of the Month award following some of his recent impressive displays.
At the back, meanwhile, Danish centre back Jannik Vestegaard is rapidly becoming one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League after overcoming a rather shaking start to life in the top flight.
Where next for Hasenhuttl’s rejuvenated side?
The big question for Saints fans and Hasenhuttl is can they keep their impressive run going?
Well they do have two potentially tricky fixtures against Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolves and the rather unpredictable Manchester United. There is, however, certainly no reason why they could not maintain their impressive start to the campaign with subsequent games against Brighton and current strugglers, Sheffield United.
After all, in this strange 2020/21 season, the side from the South Coast could perhaps start dreaming of a top six finish or more?
Where do you think Southampton will finish this season? Feel free to leave predictions in the comments below….
Champions Liverpool travel to the Etihad on Sunday to take on Manchester City in a mouthwatering test of both sides’ title credentials.
Liverpool currently sit top of the table on sixteen points after last weekend’s hard fought 2-1 victory over West Ham. City meanwhile, are down in 10th with eleven points having played a game less than the Reds, but having already dropped points against Leeds,West Ham and Leicester.
A win for Liverpool against City would see them open up an eight point lead over their rivals and would secure their first win at the Etihad in a domestic game in five years.
Nat Phillips picked up the man of the match award for his performance on his Premier League debut against the Hammers, but the 23 year old is set to drop down to the bench as Klopp has the experienced Joel Matip available again after injury.
The Cameroon defender has been absent since picking up a knock in last month’s ill-tempered Merseyside derby, but Klopp confirmed in his press conference that Matip had returned to training this week and it is therefore likely he will partner Joe Gomez at centre back.
One man who is still working his way back to fitness after the Everton game is new signing Thiago. He sustained a knee injury in the 2-2 draw after Richarlison’s lunging tackle on him, and although he played the full 90 minutes the Spain international has sat out their past five games.
He was spotted at Melwood this week doing some individual training and Klopp has assured fans that the injury is not a serious one, but he will again be missing for the trip to Manchester, the manager told the media today.
Virgil Van Dijk and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are longstanding absentees whilst Fabinho is also ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Liverpool warmed up for this weekend’s crunch trip in ideal fashion, thumping Atalanta 5-0 in Bergamo midweek in the Champions League with the man of the moment Diogo Jota netting a hat-trick.
He has now scored seven goals in just ten games in all competitions from Wolves and his performances have given Klopp a selection headache going into Sunday’s game.
On current form, the Portuguese international must start, especially when you consider he has more goals for Liverpool than Roberto Firmino has this year despite plying far less minutes.
The Brazilian has been a key cog in Jurgen Klopp’s front three for the past few seasons but his form at the end of last year and the start of this season has tailed off alarmingly.
He looks a shadow of his former self and given that Liverpool are likely to struggle at the back with the absence of Van Dijk, attack may be the best form of defence for the Reds and the inclusion of Jota adds to their attacking prowess alongside Salah and Mané who are still scoring goals.
Liverpool have responded well since their 7-2 drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa, winning their last five games in all competitions to bolster their quest to regain the Premier League title.
Sunday’s trip provides the sternest challenge yet, with Pep Guardiola’s men dispatching the Reds 4-0 on their last visit to Manchester after the restart. The Citizens are currently on an eight game unbeaten run in all competitions and have defeated Liverpool at the Etihad in each of the last three seasons. They will be hoping to make it four to kickstart their title charge this campaign.
City will be without striker Sergio Agüero for Sunday’s game. The Argentine has been nursing a hamstring issue since the draw with West Ham and has missed last three games. There was hope that he could feature from the bench against the Reds, but the game has come too soon and Guardiola confirmed in his press conference that he will be missing. His full return is expected after the international break.
They are still unable to call upon Fernandinho, who was forced off against Porto in the Champions League opener with a leg injury and Benjamin Mendy who is suffering from a muscle problem. Both players are eyeing up City’s game against Tottenham after the international break for their return.
City also enjoyed a comfortable Champions League win during the week, putting three past Olympiakos without reply. Gabriel Jesus marked his return to action with a goal whilst Phil Foden and Ferran Torres also impressed in that game.
Jesus should come in from the start against Liverpool to give City a focal point up top which they have lacked in his and Augero’s absence. Who he will replace is anyone’s guess given Guardiola’s constant rotation, the most likely candidate being Torres, allowing Sterling to move back out to the wing with Mahrez on the other side.
The City boss is also likely to revert to the back four who started last weekend’s victory over Sheffield United with Laporte, Dias and Cancelo coming in for Ake, Stones and Zinchenko who started midweek and Kyle Walker retaining his place.
Rodri will also be restored to the starting eleven alongside De Bruyne and Gundogan in midfield as the Citizens look to add some steel to thwart Liverpool’s devastating counter attacks. Foden is set to provide a spark from the bench if called upon alongside Bernardo Silva and the aforementioned Torres.
There are a number of intriguing match ups to watch out for in the game. Joao Cancelo up against Mo Salah will be one of them. The Egyptian has started the campaign like a house on fire, clinically scoring seven goals in seven games.
Cancelo, a right back by nature, has found his feet on the left side of Guardiola’s defence this season and has impressed going forward, but he will need to be switched on defensively to cope with Salah’s strength and direct running as well as Alexander-Arnold’s overlaps on the right flank.
Henderson against De Bruyne will see another battle between last year’s two outstanding players in the league. In the absence of Fabinho, captain Henderson has reverted to a deeper lying role and he will be tasked with picking up the Belgian De Bruyne and stop him from spraying passes out wide and from darting late into the box to get on the end of crosses.
Similarly De Bruyne will be keen to prevent Henderson having the time and space to launch Liverpool’s counter attacks when City are in transition.
Another key tussle will be Jesus up against Joe Gomez. The Brazilian starts City’s press from the front and will be alert to pounce on any little mistake from the England defender when attempting to play out from the back.
He’s also very comfortable taking players on one vs one and Gomez will have stand tall and marshal him in these scenarios, avoiding diving in as Jesus will take it past him punish him.
Gomez is one of the quickest centre backs in the league however, so will have no qualms about catching Jesus if he makes a run in behind.
Guardiola is under no illusion of how difficult a game this will be considering City’s inconsistent start to the season, telling reporters, “ When you play against teams like Liverpool you always have moments where you have to suffer. We know it, we have to do it and try to use our strength as much a possible.”
He played down the notion that the game is season defining, however, comparing the fixture to the race for the Presidency in the USA, stating:
“It is an important game but, like the presidential elections in the USA, all the votes must be counted – there are a lot of points to play for.”
His opposite number Klopp echoed these sentiments, telling the media that Sunday’s game will be:
“The most difficult game in the world of football.“
“It’s a very difficult game, hopefully for both teams. So many things are different this year, nothing can be compared with last year or the year before. I enjoy these kind of games, I enjoy the preparation, but it doesn’t make it easier, it’s just a really tough task.”
Prediction: Man City 1-2 Liverpool
Given the weaknesses in both back lines it is hard to see either side keeping a clean sheet. Chances are likely to be in abundance on Sunday as a result, and it should be the case of whoever is most clinical will take home all three points.
Liverpool have made a knack of scoring crucial goals and grinding out important wins even if they aren’t playing well, and it seems hard to overlook them edging this one if their front three have their shooting boots on.
City will cause them problems going the other way and Robertson and Alexander-Arnold will have to put in a shift defensively to prevent Sterling and Mahrez from wrecking havoc out wide.
It is sure to be a great game of football and you can watch all the action on Sky Sports with the game kicking off at 4:30 pm.