Sportscasting Big 6 Picks: Premier League Matchday 9
While it’s been a few weeks since we’ve had a normal Premier League matchday, English soccer is back in a big way this weekend. Not only do we have a full slate of games, but there are two big-time derbies. Arsenal and Spurs battle for North London supremacy (and a place atop the table) on Saturday, while Manchester City and Manchester United meet on Sunday. Whether you have a rooting interest or simply want to watch the fireworks, it will be worth tuning in.
In that vein, we don’t need to wait any longer. Without any further ado, here are Sportscasting’s Big 6 Picks for Premier League Matchday 9.
Manchester United vs. Manchester City:
Joe Kozlowski: Raphael Varane– With Erling Haaland on the other side, Manchester United’s defenders will have their work cut out for them. Lisandro Martinez will also be in the spotlight, but I’d argue that Varane is more suited to handle Haaland’s blend of size and speed. It won’t be easy to keep the Norwegian quiet, but that will be United’s big challenge on the day.
Mike Calendrillo: Lisandro Martinez – Manchester United have won 21 times against Manchester City in Premier League play – no fixture has been won more times by the away side in league history. With the two clubs separated by just four miles and City’s ground affectionately known as the ‘Emptyhad,’ this is my upset special of the week. Having conceded a league-high 75% of their goals in the opening 45 minutes this season, the diminutive but mighty Lisandro Martinez will need to play to his strengths – staying grounded and keeping control of the ball when/if Erling Haaland escapes the pressure of the larger Raphael Varane.
Tim Crean: Christian Eriksen – The Manchester Derby will be won or lost in the midfield. Rodi, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, and Phil Foden will be the driving forces behind the City attack. On the other side, Bruno Fernades is the main man, but Fernandes recently said that veteran midfielder Christian Eriksen “makes my game easier.” If the Great Dane can do that on Sunday, the red midfield can keep pace with the blue.
Liverpool vs. Brighton:
Joe: Trent Alexander-Arnold – At this point, we know the good and bad that comes along with slotting TAA into your lineup. After seemingly losing his grip on his spot with the English national team, though, it will be interesting to see how the right-back responds at club level. Can he put in an all-world performance? Or will he continue to struggle on the defensive side of things, giving his critics more ammunition?
Mike: Mohammad Salah – Through six matches, Brighton sits in fourth-place on 13 points, having allowed just five goals. While Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have conceded once more, they have tallied only nine points and are eighth in the table. Wild, I know. Losing just one of their last 10 EPL matches to the Seagulls (seven wins, two draws), the Reds need Mohammad Salah to rediscover his consistent goalscoring ways. Considering the Egyptian has been directly involved in 11 goals in his 10 league games versus Brighton (six goals, five assists), Saturday’s action offers the perfect jumping-off point.
Tim: Darwin Nunez – Liverpool’s big summer signing, Darwin Nunez, only has one goal so far, but he’s had some great chances and is often in the right position. The forward has a new haircut after the international break, so hopefully that will help his finishing (maybe he’s more aerodynamic or something). Whatever makes it happen, Liverpool needs Nunez to start scoring soon to get the offense back up and running.
Arsenal vs. Tottenham
Joe: Thomas Partey – Partey gets flagged here for two reasons. First, we have to see if he’ll even be fit to play. Second, he’s the lynchpin that holds the Gunners together. Especially against a counter-attacking team like Tottenham, the Ghanaian will be crucial to keeping the back door closed. If he’s out or otherwise ineffective, it could be a long day at the Emirates.
Mike: Aaron Ramsdale – Arsenal haven’t kept a clean sheet in any of their previous eight league matches but have won six in a row at home. Spurs have yet to taste defeat this season and are second in the league with 18 goals – something has to give. Therefore, keeper Aaron Ramsdale will look to prove to England manager Gareth Southgate that he deserves a shot between the sticks come World Cup time – considering the uninspiring effort of Nick Pope against Italy (1 goal allowed) and Germany (3 goals) during recent Nations League play.
Tim: Granit Xhaka – I picked Harry Kane as the key player for Tottenham in the North London Derby. And what is the best way to stop Kane from dominating the derby? Stop him from getting the ball from the Spurs’ midfield. That job goes to Granit Xhaka, and if he can muck up the middle so Kane and the other forwards can’t get breaks, Arsenal can win.
Chelsea vs. Crystal Palace:
Joe: Kai Havertz – The German scored twice against England and will return to Chelsea for a first league match under Graham Potter. When the Blues last hit the pitch (a Champions League tie with Red Bull Salzburg), Havertz was one of two starting strikers. If he retains that role and plays with some newfound confidence, he could make quite the impression on his new boss.
Mike: Kai Havertz – Chelsea are averaging 11.7 shots per game in the EPL this season (70 shots across six matches). That’s their lowest mark on average in a season since 1997-98. Whether you want to point the finger at ownership for failing to secure a No. 9 outside of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or the tactics of the since-fired Thomas Tuchel, new manager Graham Potter needs someone to start finding the back of the net with regularity (in this, his first league match in charge). I’m not sure that person is currently in the squad, but at least Kai Havertz scored an 87th-minute banger for Germany in Nations League against England – so perhaps the 23-year-old can build off that momentum.
Tim: Edouard Mendy – With a new manager, there will be moments in the match where everything falls apart. Those are the moments that Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha thrives on. In this match, there will be at least on occasion (and probably several) where Graham Potter’s system will break down for his new team, and it will be up to Chelsea’s keeper, Edouardo Mendy, to bail them out.
Manchester City vs. Manchester United:
Joe: Rodri – It’s safe to assume that City will have plenty of possession, which will shine the light on their holding midfielder. When United beat Arsenal, they played on the counterattack and exploited the absence of Thomas Partey. Rodri will be tasked with plugging that hole in the center of the park, mopping up loose balls, and committing tactical fouls. It won’t exactly be exciting to watch the Spaniard, but he’ll play a key part in Pep Guardiola’s plans.
Mike: Erling Haaland – City are looking to win their third consecutive Premier League match against their crosstown rival for the first time since a run of four between April 2013 and November 2014. And while Haaland has scored a hat trick in each of his previous two EPL home games against Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest, no player in league history has ever notched three straight hat tricks at home. So, no, I don’t believe Haaland will set that mark against an inspired United back four, but there is still plenty of time to surpass Sergio Aguero’s single-season record (2018-19) of three hatters inside The Etihad.
Tim: Manuel Akanji – When Manchester City brought in CB Manuel Akanji this summer from Borussia Dortmund, many pundits called it typical City overspending. Why would City buy another center-back with Ruben Dias, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, and Nathan Ake already on the roster? Well, now Stones and Laporte are hurt, and Akanji will likely start the Manchester Derby. Seems like Pep Guardiola and director of football Txiki Begiristain still know what they’re doing after all.
Tottenham vs. Arsenal
Joe: Son Heung-min – Harry Kane is more or less a known quantity at this point, but the version of Son Heung-min who shows up on Saturday could change the course of the North London Derby. Will we see the South Korean who’s out of sorts in front of goal and unable to make an impact? Or the winger who torched Leicester and found the back of the net on international duty?
Mike: Harry Kane – Having scored more league goals against Arsenal than any other player (13), Kane shines in the North London Derby. And now that his partner in crime, Son Heung-min, has gotten off the snide with a hat trick in his previous league match versus Leicester, Kane can play with much more freedom knowing that both his wingers (Richarlison being the other) are full of confidence – especially since Sonny has been involved in six of his last five against the Gunners (four goals, two assists). With this being the first matchup between Spurs and Arsenal where one of the sides is top of the league since December 2007, I expect an old-school knock-down, drag-out 90-minute affair that could be decided right before the final whistle.
Tim: Harry Kane – Big players need to step up in big games, and the games don’t get any bigger for Tottenham than the North London Derby. Especially at the Emirates, Spurs needs its biggest star to step up, and that’s Harry Kane. On a side note about Kane, this stretch — from now until the end of the World Cup — will be the most important of his career. The 29-year-old is a great player but still not among the small handful of the world’s best. With a big three-moth-plus stretch that includes a killer World Cup, that could change for the trophy-less wonder.
Joe (2-3 record): Gabriel Martinelli – I’m admittedly picking a bit with the heart here, but looking at Spurs’ style of play suggests that Arsenal will either need to score by attacking before their defense is set or with a moment of brilliance inside the box. The young Brazilian has gotten off to a hot start this year, and, with some much-needed rest behind him, he’ll come out flying on Saturday.
Mike: (4-1 record): Antony – The only Brazilian player to score his first two Premier League matches was Robinho way back in September 2008. That is until Antony gets on the board for United in his second game at the club.
Tim: (4-1 record): Erling Haaland – I’ve been kicking myself all week for picking someone else (curse you, Raheem Sterling) to score last week after riding Erling Haaland to a 4-0 record. The big Norwegian did score for his home country during the break, and there’s no reason to think his blazing hot streak will cool off in the Manchester Derby.