1. The Chelsea player caught yawning by Conte
IT WAS THE straw that broke the camel’s back.
After watching his side get beaten comprehensively 3-0 in Rome during a midweek Champions League tie, Antonio Conte was not in the best of moods as it was.
According to The Telegraph, Kenedy then exacerbated the Italian coach’s frustration after the youngster was caught yawning during a subsequent team meeting.
It is not the first time the 21-year-old has found himself in hot water at Chelsea — the Brazilian’s future at the club appeared to be in doubt after a number of ill-advised remarks on social media during the summer led him to be sent home from the Blues’ tour of China.
This latest incident is unlikely to do Kenedy’s hopes of regular first-team football at Stamford Bridge any favours, not that he had been faring particularly well anyway, with just two EFL Cup starts under his belt since the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign.
‘Yawn-gate’ is the kind of issue that would probably have gone unnoticed had it not been for the palpable discord at Chelsea right now.
Conte’s decision to openly criticise his players following the Roma loss spoke volumes, as did some of the team’s defending midweek, with the inept display prompting the substitution of captain Gary Cahill after only 56 minutes.
Yet for all their problems, the season has by no means been a disaster for the London club so far — they are still in a very strong position to qualify for the Champions League knockout stages while domestically, they are just a point behind third-place Tottenham in fourth.
That said, given their woeful performance on Tuesday, Man United may be facing the reigning Premier League champions at the ideal time.
2. Mourinho set to shut up shop again?
A win over a side as good as Spurs would galvanise plenty of teams, but expect few surprises from Man United this weekend.
Despite facing a Chelsea team who — as mentioned above — are not in great spirits currently, Jose Mourinho’s team will likely play the game in a cagey fashion.
Their away record against fellow top-six teams contains some noticeable trends. In their last nine away games against these opponents, United have scored just one goal and have failed to pick up any wins.
It is ironic that Mourinho was the man who originally introduced the term ‘parking the bus’ to the Premier League lexicon in order to criticise an opposition manager (then-Tottenham boss Jacques Santini), given that the Portuguese coach has effectively adhered to this approach of late when up against a top side on the road.
The Special One would love to come away from Stamford Bridge with a win against his former team, however, if his recent tactics are anything to go by, a draw seems the more likely outcome this Sunday.
3. Big test of Man City’s title credentials
Man City’s start to the season has been hugely impressive.
In addition to sealing a place in the Champions League knockout stages with an impressive win over Napoli during the week, Pep Guardiola’s side have picked up 28 points out of a possible 30 domestically, with Everton the only Premier League team to avoid defeat against the Etihad outfit so far this season.
Yet a strong case could be made that it is premature to already declare City as champions-in-waiting, as so many critics seem to be doing.
Of their 10 league games so far, only two have come against fellow ‘big six’ sides — the 5-0 win over Liverpool and the 1-0 defeat of Chelsea.
And as Gary Neville pointed out on Sky earlier this week, the Christmas period, with its inevitable bad weather and a hectic schedule of games, tends to be the true test of aspiring champions’ mettle.
Nevertheless, City would go some way towards silencing the doubters by beating an Arsenal team that have won four of their last five Premier League games.
The Gunners played Guardiola’s team three times last season — they drew one and lost one of their Premier League fixtures, but perhaps most significantly, Wenger’s side earned a surprise 2-1 victory over their rivals in the FA Cup semi-final back in April.
4. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could finally be handed chance to impress
It is fair to say Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s start to life at Liverpool has been underwhelming.
After making a £35 million move from Arsenal on the final day of the summer transfer window, the England international has yet to start a league game for his new club.
One of the reported reasons for his dissatisfaction in London was the lack of opportunities being afforded to Oxlade-Chamberlain in central midfield, with Arsene Wenger invariably opting to play him out wide.
But chances have hardly been plentiful since the 24-year-old opted to make the big-money switch, with Liverpool hardly short of options in midfield as it stands.
However, this weekend could finally see ‘The Ox’ get an opportunity to impress from the start, as an ankle injury has rendered Georginio Wijnaldum doubtful for Saturday’s evening kick-off away to West Ham.
The Hammers will be looking to make amends following a morale-sapping draw last week against Crystal Palace, in which some “unprofessional” play in the words of goalkeeper Joe Hart saw them concede a last-gasp equaliser.
Slaven Bilic’s team showed decent resilience to come from 2-0 down to beat Spurs 3-2 in a League Cup game prior to the Palace match, and they will need to show similar self-belief in order to take anything from the game against Jurgen Klopp’s team tomorrow.
5. Trophies all that matter for Pochettino
There has been plenty of hyperbole surrounding Tottenham after their convincing 3-1 defeat of reigning European champions Real Madrid during the week.
Nonetheless, amid all the noise, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has remained calm and composed as ever.
One of the 45-year-old coach’s great strengths is that he seldom gets carried away, regardless of his side’s result, be it positive or negative.
So following the famous win over Ronaldo and co, the Argentine manager was typically cerebral, challenging his team to do something he has yet to experience as a manager — win a major trophy, as a means of having something to show for their excellent overall form these past two seasons.
And with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen linking up brilliantly against Real on Wednesday, it could be a long afternoon for bottom-of-the-table Crystal Palace on Sunday against their in-form opponents.
Premier League fixtures (all games kick off 3pm unless stated otherwise):
Stoke City v Leicester City (12.30)
Huddersfield Town v West Brom
Newcastle United v Bournemouth
Southampton v Burnley
Swansea v Brighton
West Ham v Liverpool (17.30)
Tottenham v Crystal Palace (12.00)
Manchester City v Arsenal (14.15)
Chelsea v Manchester United (16.30)
Everton v Watford (16.30)
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