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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 17 April 2021

Conte and Guardiola face off for the first time and the Premier League talking points

Elsewhere, Alan Pardew looks set for the axe at Crystal Palace while Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan stakes his claim for a starting place.

Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola.
Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola.
Image: Press Association

1. Two new managers lock horns

HAVING REPLACED MANCHESTER City as the early Premier League pace-setters, Chelsea travel to the Etihad Stadium to kick off the weekend’s games at lunch-time Saturday.

Pep Guardiola’s side stormed into the lead by beginning the season with maximum points from their first six matches, but opposing manager Antonio Conte has got to grips with English football in recent months and the Londoners hold a one-point advantage at the top thanks to their seven-game winning run.

The Italian has named the same starting XI in six of those fixtures and their 3-4-3 formation has worked a treat with wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso shining in particular.

City, on the other hand, have been chopping and changing personnel due to the additional demands of Champions League football. It promises to be an intriguing battle of contrasting styles between two of the world’s best coaches — both in their debut season in the Premier League and meeting for the first time as managers.

19-year-old Brazilian sensation Gabriel Jesus landed in Manchester this week to spend some time at his new club but the striker, who agreed a £27 million (€31m) move from Palmeiras last summer, won’t be available to play until January.

2. Pardew’s days numbered at Palace?

Reports in the media this week have suggested Alan Pardew’s time at Selhurst Park is about to come to an end.

The ex-Newcastle and West Ham boss started life so well back at the club he made over 100 appearances for as a player — guiding them to a club record tenth-place finish in 2015 and the FA Cup final last season.

However, results have been pretty appalling in the league this calendar year. Despite spending over £50m on transfers in the summer, they only sit outside the relegation zone due to their superior goal difference.

Palace are on a run of six straight losses and defeat against Pardew’s former club Southampton on Saturday is likely to signal his sacking.

3. London derby at the Olympic Stadium

Two sides who went out of the EFL Cup in midweek — West Ham and Arsenal — contest Saturday’s late kick-off at the Olympic Stadium.

While the Hammers lost to Manchester United, a second-string Gunners side was overcome by Southampton so both clubs will be aiming to get back to winning ways. Arsenal are currently fourth and hot on the heels of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool but West Ham’s campaign has been hugely-disappointing thus far.

After claiming seventh and qualifying for the Europa League under Slaven Bilic last term, they’ve picked up just 12 points from their opening 13 matches this time out.

The move from Upton Park to their new home hasn’t gone particularly smoothly either and the behaviour of fans will come under the microscope again for the visit of another London club.

4. Welcome boost for Klopp

Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana have been two shining lights for Liverpool in recent times. While Brazilian is arguably the Reds’ best player right now, Lallana’s energy has been crucial in making the team tick under Jurgen Klopp.

The German will be without Coutinho until the New Year at least due to his latest ankle problem, but the good news is England attacking midfielder Lallana has returned to training this week after picking up an injury in last month’s friendly against Spain.

Liverpool, who qualified for the EFL Cup semi-finals with victory over Leeds earlier in the week, are on the road for a trip to Dean Court to face Bournemouth on Sunday.

The last time these two met in this fixture back in April, Daniel Sturridge scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 away win. It was hoped Sturridge would be fit to feature here but Klopp has confirmed the striker will miss out.

5. Man United’s forgotten man seizes opportunity

Big things were expected from Henrikh Mkhitaryan when last year’s Bundesliga Player of the Year joined Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund  in July for £26.3m (€31.1m).

After three cameos off the bench in the opening games, the Armenian attacker got the nod for the Manchester derby in September. However, he was whipped off at half-time alongside Jesse Lingard after a disappointing 45 minutes, with Jose Mourinho questioning whether the 27-year-old was ready for the demands of the Premier League.

Mkhitaryan has had to bide his time since recovering from a thigh muscle strain that kept him out for a month and only featured in a couple of Europa League outings before playing his first league game since that defeat to City in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with West Ham.

But it was in Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie with the Hammers that he produced his finest display in a red shirt yet — showing wonderful vision to create several chances and set up goals for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Anthony Martial.

Posted by on Saturday, 17 April 2021

United face Everton on Sunday and surely he has done enough to keep his starting place along with Martial, who appears to have rediscovered the form that made him the club’s top scorer last season.

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Ben Blake

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