Dave Tindall looks ahead to the Premier League weekend’s talking points, with Liverpool having the chance to strike a blow to their top-four rivals.
To Hull and back
It’s a well-worn cliché the one that asks whether superstar players who strut their stuff on the big stage will ‘fancy it’ on a cold evening in Hull. And, in many ways, we have a classic example this Saturday with iconic instant hits Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba heading across the M62 to the KC Stadium. Will these prima donnas get a wake-up call against a Hull side in confident mood after unexpectedly starting the Premier League season with two wins out of two and another in the League Cup? Or is it just resorting to lazy half-truths to think that United, and those two in particular, won’t quite be up for it?
An extra angle? Caretaker boss Mike Phelan spent many years at Old Trafford and would take much pride in outfoxing Jose Mourinho and putting one over his former side. A caveat? The temperature for 5.30pm in Hull (Saturday’s kick-off time) is forecast to be a pleasant 17 degrees. Hardly a freezing winter evening. If you want some actual evidence of how United get on in this fixture, they’ve returned to Manchester with a win in three of the last four visits.
Tottenham title trauma to resurface?
Others have made flashier starts but it’s been a perfectly acceptable opening for Spurs with a come-from-behind 1-1 draw at Everton and 1-0 home success over Crystal Palace. There will be more fluidity and flair down the line but, for now, Mauricio Pochettino will be happy to accumulate points steadily.
But a potential setback awaits on Saturday lunchtime with Liverpool the visitors. The worry for Pochettino is that, so far, his strikeforce is firing blanks. It’s not a new phenomenon for Harry Kane who, believe it or not, has never scored a goal in the month of August. New signing Vincent Janssen has impressed with his attitude but he’s missed a couple of sitters already and Jurgen Klopp’s men are a dangerous animal when playing away against the big teams.
Defeat here and the heavy disappointment of last year’s failed title bid may cast a cloud over White Hart Lane that could just linger.
Can Reds Rebound?
Beating a Champions League rival before losing to a side expected to be in a relegation fight is a habit Liverpool can’t yet shift. But after following up the excitement of a 4-3 win at Arsenal with a head-scratching 2-0 loss at Burnley, there are still plenty of positives for Jurgen Klopp.
Sadio Mane, who missed the defeat at Turf Moor, is fit again and played a starring role in the 5-0 romp at Burton in midweek. Additionally, in contrast to Spurs, all Klopp’s attacking players are in the goals. Daniel Sturridge (2), Philippe Coutinho (2), Mane, Firmino, Divock Origi and Adam Lallana have all found the net in Liverpool’s opening games and no team has scored more goals in the Premier League in 2016 than the frequently rampant Reds.
Despite the Burnley wobble, if Liverpool can win at Arsenal and Tottenham in their first three matches of the campaign, they are making a statement. And who knows how important those six-point swings could be when the battle for top four slots is decided at the end of the season.
Onwards Christian soldiers
He announced he’d signed for Burnley (well, that’s what his Twitter page said before he blamed it on an admin error), so Christian Benteke may feel extra keen to get the Crystal Palace fans onside when he makes his debut for Alan Pardew’s men on Saturday.
After seemingly playing in a daze for much of his short-lived time at Liverpool, Benteke will surely be fired up for this and the good news is that he’s known for making fast starts at new clubs. He scored debut goals for both Aston Villa and Liverpool and the latter came in a home game against Bournemouth, Palace’s opponents on Saturday. The Selhurst Park side are crying out for someone to put the ball in the net and it would be no surprise if a refreshed Benteke bursts out of the traps and knocks one in on his very first start.
Lukaku to end sticky spell at Toffees?
Talking of Belgian strikers, Romelu Lukaku thrived for much of last season with Everton and looked a strong contender to win the Golden Boot (he eventually finished fourth with 18 and registered 25 in all competitions). But if scouts from the bigger clubs he/his agent feels he belongs had been viewing him in every game since March 19, they would have failed to see Lukaku score a single goal or even register an assist. That run stretches over 10 games. Everton’s raging bull has lost its horns.
New boss Ronald Koeman isn’t concerned – “I am not worried because he missed some minutes in pre-season” – but Everton fans have seen Lukaku’s dip over a longer period and are less forgiving. The good news for those waiting on the striker to wake up is that Lukaku scored three times in two games against Saturday’s opponents Stoke last season. That included two at Goodison Park, a game that Everton actually lost 4-3.
Hull have surpassed early-season expectations so far but Manchester United look a good bet to burst the bubble on Saturday evening.
Jose Mourinho’s men looked organised and efficient on their last road trip at Bournemouth and United to beat Hull by a margin of two or more goals (i.e. -1 on the handicap) is 7/5. That looks well within reason.
I’ll have a close eye on Belgian duo Christian Benteke and Romelu Benteke this weekend but I’d much rather back the former to get on the scoresheet.
Some strikers (Stan Collymore was one) have a habit of scoring on debut and, after doing so with Aston Villa and Liverpool, Benteke has the perfect chance at home to Bournemouth. Take the generous 9/4.
I’ll take the draw in Spurs v Liverpool if having a bet.
Manchester United (-1) to beat Hull at 7/5 (Paddy Power)
Christian Benteke to score anytime v Bournemouth at 9/4 (Bwin)