Red Light, Green Light: What To Look Out For As The EPL Recommences
“The eighth game will begin shortly. Let me repeat. The eighth game will begin shortly”.
As Johann Strauss’ ‘Blue Danube’ rings through the metaphorical speakers, the Premier League’s 20 combatants have emerged from a two-week slumber to resume their own version of the ‘Squid Game’.
No, this isn’t a game of literal life or death but just like the hit Netflix television series, the emerging storylines promise to enthral and captivate.
For some coaches and teams, however, the next slate of fixtures may actually be their own game of ‘Red Light, Green Light’ with one wrong move ultimately deciding their fate.
While for others, it’s the beginning of a new era which leaves us with more questions than answers and like any classic television show trope, a fan favourite who we thought may have been gone for good has returned from hiatus.
Let’s take a look at some of the major storylines to keep an eye on over the next month of Premier League action.
Can Ole steer United through its arduous schedule?
There are tough runs and there are tough runs.
Now that we’ve gotten our Lionel Hutz impersonations are out of the way, let’s cut to the chase.
Manchester United’s schedule over the next four weeks is arguably the most torturous of all their Premier League rivals.
Despite public backing from the board, the next month may well and truly make or break Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future as coach.
United will need to run the gauntlet in order to stay in the title race, of which the Stats Insider futures model is presently giving them a 7.3% chance of winning it all. To kick things off the Red Devils go on the road to play Leicester this weekend before hosting Liverpool a week later.
A trip south to face Tottenham and a home Manchester Derby rounds out a gruelling month. This isn’t even including crunch Champions League contests against Atalanta interspersed throughout.
Despite the difficulty of the fixtures, there’s still reason to believe they can still somewhat weather the impending storm.
Although their form has sputtered, especially at home, the Red Devils have not lost in 29 straight games on the road and have a knack of picking up points against more-fancied oppositions in ‘must-win’ games – becoming somewhat of a running theme throughout Ole’s tenure.
However, has Solskjaer’s luck run dry? The next month may tell the full story.
Newcastle’s new overlords
Love it or hate it. Newcastle United are officially the richest club in world football.
After 18 months of speculation surrounding whether the proposed takeover would officially come to pass, the deal was signed-off during the international break for the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to become the club’s majority owners thus officially bringing Mike Ashley’s disastrous reign to an end.
However, it ultimately ushers in a new era which comes with a lot more questions than answers – especially surrounding the potential for sports-washing.
That aside, and despite the promise of greater days ahead from their new overlords, their current on-field problems, particularly in the back-half need immediate rectifying given they’re still winless and in danger of being a fat cat stuck in the Championship, with the Stats Insider model assessing them as a 42.2% chance of demotion.
The next month will not only be telling for their under-fire boss Steve Bruce but also the playing group who are essentially playing for their futures on Tyneside – as the club are almost certainly set to undergo an enormous turnover in the next 12 months.
How much of a buoy does the off-field excitement provide and will it be enough to steer the Magpies away from the drop zone?
Magpie Millions: How Newcastle United Should Spend All That Money
The Fixer is back
Just like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, Watford have sacked another coach.
Coinciding with the much-vaunted ‘swooping season’ of Australia’s spring months, ‘sacking season’ at Vicarage Road has arrived earlier than anticipated. When Xisco was dismissed as Hornets coach despite a relatively ‘okay’ start to life back in the Premier League – it came to the surprise of literally no-one.
Just like ‘The Wolf’ in Pulp Fiction, Claudio Ranieri has been appointed by the Pozzo family as Watford’s fixer.
A no-fuss, classy operator and fan favourite in his own right, Ranieri is no stranger to being thrown into the pressure cooker.
Although the Italian boss struggled in his most recent Premier League tenure at Fulham, he earned strong plaudits for his work in his latest role at Sampdoria.
Ranieri took over the Doria after they had lost six of their opening seven games and were sitting at the foot of the Serie A table – ultimately driving them to safety and to an improved ninth placed finish a season later.
For the ‘Tinkerman’s’ style to translate into results, he will need a change in mentality from the Watford players as his tactics demand playing on the front-foot and forcing quick turnovers through aggressive pressing.
Ranieri’s Sampdoria forced turnovers in the attacking third 181 times last season, the fourth highest in Serie A while Watford rank third-bottom in the Premier League this season having only done so 20 times in seven games thus far.
The Italian has already promised to give the fans “a very good show” and will be faced with the task of extending the Hornets top-flight stay beyond a solitary season.
His first test, however, doesn’t get much harder in the form of Liverpool before tricky tests against Everton, Southampton and Arsenal – the exact challenges Ranieri relishes.
Arsenal and Spurs playing catch-up
The best way to describe their seasons to date is that they’re seemingly sitting on opposite ends of a see-saw – only rising while the other falls.
At the end of August, Spurs went undefeated and were top while Arsenal went winless and were bottom. After the last break, Arsenal won three in a row then drew; Spurs lost three in a row then won.
As Thanos described in Avengers: Infinity War, their relationship is “perfectly balanced, as all things should be”.
However, putting coincidences aside, despite their respective uninspiring starts and current positions on the Premier League table – both teams are still well and truly in the mix for a European birth.
Mikel Arteta’s undefeated September has seen the dark clouds over the Emirates begin to slowly disperse – taking the Gunners from the foot of the ladder to only four-points off fourth placed Manchester United (9.9% chance of top four).
The Spaniard has kept the hounds at bay, albeit momentarily, but the next month will be telling especially if he can build off their pre-international break green shoots and capitalise on a favourable fixture.
Arsenal play three out of their next four games at home and all against teams they’d fancy themselves against in Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Leicester and Watford – along with a home Carabao Cup tie against Leeds.
Similarly, to Arteta, Spurs’ win over Aston Villa before the break has bought Nuno Espirito Santo more time in charge all while keeping his side within touching distance of the top four (18.6% chance per Stats Insider).
Ultimately, their next month will be the determining factor as to not only how long Espirito Santo has bought at the helm but whether they can make any inroads on the sides above them.
Spurs are set to endure a torrid run of fixtures throughout October, only playing one of their next four league games at home.
A trip north to Newcastle awaits this weekend, with their solitary home affair against Manchester United wedged between a London derby against West Ham and a stop in Merseyside to take on Everton.
Oh, and we didn’t even mention the Carabao Cup clash at Burnley and two Conference League fixtures against Vitesse sprinkled in between.
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