Premier League weekend preview: What to look out for

24 Aug 2023
Young, Everton

Alex Keble on how neither Everton nor Wolves can afford to lose and a stern test for Liverpool's Endo

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Alex Keble analyses where the weekend's matches could be won and lost, including:
- Why Forest are timely opponents for Man Utd
- Six-pointer between Everton and Wolves
- Can Kompany's tactics upset Villa?
Endo's challenging full debut at Newcastle

Forest's shape gives Man Utd the chance to stabilise

Manchester United, wobbling unexpectedly, need a fixture like this one.


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Nottingham Forest are among the Premier League’s most conservative, backs-to-the-wall clubs, when it comes to defending against stronger teams.

The nature of Arsenal’s 2-1 win on the opening weekend, when Forest camped on the edge of their own box for long periods and ended the match having held only 22 per cent possession, fit a longstanding trend.

That’s good news for United supporters who might be starting to worry about what 2023/24 has in store.

Against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur, they looked surprisingly passive in midfield and, as we highlighted a week ago, chaotic in their new high press, which is leaving them open to counter-attacks.

This looseness – a decompression that presents as a brittle midfield – is borne out in the stats.

Man Utd are top of the League charts for take-ons against - both attempted (64) and successful (36) - and top for progressive carries against (59). They are also top for loose balls recovered (123) and third for loose balls recovered by the opposition (118), indicating a general lack of controlled possession in their matches.

Spurs dribbles v Man Utd

That’s pretty remarkable for a club of United’s stature, hence why there is some relief about how this weekend’s encounter should go.

Steve Cooper’s side will sit deep and allow the hosts to hold the vast majority of possession, therefore affording them with a chance to get their foot on the ball and find their rhythm.

While Mason Mount's injury is unfortunate, it may have a positive knock-on effect, signalling the restoration of last year’s midfield three, with Christian Eriksen the natural replacement.

Of course, it would be naive to suggest that United dominating possession signals a home win. Forest want to play on the counter-attack and, with serious pace in their front three, there is always the risk that Man Utd’s counter-press (pressing in a swarm as soon as they lose the ball) will open them up to Forest suddenly breaking in behind.

That’s what happened on more than one occasion at Arsenal, where Cooper’s side came close to equalising late on. And here’s another stat to scare United fans: Forest scored twice from Serge Aurier crosses last weekend, while United have allowed more crosses against them (39) than any other side so far this season.

Six-pointer for Everton and Wolves

It is far too early in the season to make bold statements about a crucial six-pointer at the bottom of the table, but when the season ends in May, it will be matches such as these that fans of relegated clubs will look back on and think, "That’s the match we could have won, but didn’t. Those are the missing three points that sent us down."


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Neither Everton nor Wolverhampton Wanderers anticipated a relegation battle a couple of weeks ago.

The former were eager to draw a line under last year’s close shave and the latter looking forward to their first full season under Julen Lopetegui. How quickly things change.

Everton and Wolves have both lost their opening two fixtures, but it’s the deeper stats that make supporters groan. The Toffees are yet to score this season and have won only one of their last 25 matches in which they have conceded a goal. Wolves are without a win in nine on the road and have failed to score in each of their last four.

One goal should win it, then. Wolves fans are perhaps the more optimistic following their energetic performance at Old Trafford on the opening weekend, especially considering that Everton’s goalscoring woes are increasingly matched by their defensive ones.

Everton have conceded 34 goals in 20 League matches under Sean Dyche and were riddled with mistakes in last weekend’s 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa. They also have the second-worst Expected Goals (xG) against in the division so far this season (4.4), behind only Fulham.

Still, scoring is their bigger issue. They and Wolves are joint-bottom for xG difference (goals minus xG), with -3.3, but at least Gary O’Neil’s side have struck once, while only Brighton have had more shots on goal than Wolves’ 39.

Dyche and O’Neil will both take comfort in the fact their sides create chances, despite being so wasteful in front of goal, but there is only so long that feeling can hold. Defeat on Saturday would seriously deepen the sense of woe.

There is one final stat worth sharing that nudges momentum towards the visitors. Wolves have won in each of their last two visits to Goodison Park.

Burnley could be reeled in by Villa

Two weeks on from Manchester City’s visit on the opening night, Burnley supporters may feel their campaign starts here, with the first realistically winnable match at Turf Moor.


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It will certainly be more instructive regarding the plausibility of Vincent Kompany’s tactics at Premier League level.

In the Championship last season, he showed himself to be a Pep Guardiola disciple both in possession and pressing, while a 6-0 defeat to City in the FA Cup evidenced Kompany’s unwillingness to adapt to a more cautious approach against superior opposition.

The pattern was mimicked in the 3-0 defeat two weeks ago, when Burnley’s aggressive man-to-man press – though initially successful in breaking Man City’s rhythm – ultimately left too much space behind for the stronger team to blow them away.

Burnley man-to-man

In 2022/23, they topped the Championship charts for Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA)  with 10.1, shot-ending high turnovers (65), and goal-ending high turnovers (14). Following the manner of their defeat to Man City, it’s clear Burnley are not going to adjust their style. What’s less is clear is whether it can work.

Unfortunately for Burnley fans, Aston Villa are almost uniquely set up to exploit a man-to-man opposition press.

In fact Unai Emery’s tactics are specifically designed to lure the opposition forward in the press before (via one-twos and third-man runs, via sudden changes of tempo) spinning behind and charging into the final third.

Hibernian pressed wildly in midweek and were soundly beaten 5-0 in their UEFA Europa Conference League playoff first leg, and although Burnley are a significantly better side, their commitment to pressing Villa bodies is likely to prove naive.

Then again Burnley only lost one home match in the Championship last season and, with Villa potentially tired from  Wednesday's win, an optimist would argue this is a good opportunity for Kompany’s side to prove their progressive playing style can work.

Most teams adopt a more conservative stance upon promotion, but Kompany has no intention to do that. Whatever the result, it will educate us on Burnley’s chances for the season ahead.

Endo’s baptism of fire

After missing out on Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, Liverpool have finally landed a No 6 and there is a decent chance that Wataru Endo, signed for a reported £16 million from Stuttgart, is a better fit for the Reds than either of the midfielders who chose Chelsea.


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Losing Fabinho and Jordan Henderson meant losing power and bite in midfield, but also leadership and experience, qualities the 30-year-old Japan captain certainly possesses.

Endo is an underrated talent in the No 6 position. As reported by Opta Analyst, he completed more duels (1274) than any other midfielder across his three seasons in the Bundesliga and is the league runner-up for possession wins (706) and attempted tackles (207).

Endo/Fabinho/Henderson defensive stats 2022/23
Player Tackles Interceptions Recoveries
Endo 2.2 0.8 7.1
Fabinho 2.2 1.3 6.1
Henderson 1.4 0.9 7.1

*Per 90

Endo can be a big hit at Anfield, but he is set for a baptism of fire at Newcastle United, where snapping challenges in central midfield tap into the raucous St. James' Park atmosphere, in the hope of taking advantage of attacking transitions.

It is likely to create a meeting similar to Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, when vertical passes and quick counters were far more common than calm passages of possession.

To illustrate the point, Liverpool rank second in the Premier League for progressive passes against them (92) while Newcastle place third for progressive carries against them (46).

With Sandro Tonali looking to build on his debut goal against Villa, Dominik Szoboszlai fresh from a brilliant performance in the 3-1 victory over AFC Bournemouth, and Endo set to make his full debut, all eyes will be on central midfield – and a battle that could be sheer chaos.

See: Will Klopp tweak his midfield ahead of stern Newcastle test?

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