Belfast Telegraph

5 talking points ahead of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures

The 56-year-old Jose Mourinho begins his tenure against West Ham.

Jose Mourinho is preparing for his Premier League return (PA)
Jose Mourinho is preparing for his Premier League return (PA)

By PA Sport Staff

Jose Mourinho takes charge of Tottenham for the first time when Premier League action resumes following the international break.

The Portuguese, who replaced the sacked Mauricio Pochettino as Spurs boss on Wednesday, begins his tenure with Saturday’s London derby at West Ham.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the major talking points ahead of a busy weekend of football.

Big day for Jose

All eyes will be on Mourinho during Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off following a whirlwind few days in north London. The former Chelsea and Manchester United boss was swiftly appointed by Spurs just hours after the shock departure of Pochettino. Mourinho believes a title challenge is possible next season and will be eager to make a winning start to appease disgruntled supporters feeling disheartened by the abrupt departure of his popular predecessor and unhappy at his Stamford Bridge connections. The fixture could also be a defining moment for under-fire Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean – a long-term rival of Mourinho, who he described as ‘not my friend, but not my enemy’ – has mustered only two points from the last 18 available.

City seeking a response

Arguably the game of the weekend takes place at the Etihad Stadium, where Manchester City host in-form Chelsea. Reigning champions City have had plenty of time to stew on their damaging and controversial defeat at Anfield which saw title rivals Liverpool take an eight-point lead at the top. Pep Guardiola’s side have already lost more times in the opening 12 games of this term than during their entire 100-point campaign in 2017-18 and slipped to fourth, below Frank Lampard’s visitors. The trip to the north-west will be a big test for Lampard’s youthful Blues. The west London club have won six league games in a row but are yet to record a statement victory over a top-six rival.

Return of the Xhak?

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Granit Xhaka was recently stripped of the Arsenal captaincy (John Walton/PA)

Granit Xhaka could be back in action for the first time since being stripped of the Arsenal captaincy after telling supporters to “f*** off” as he was jeered while being substituted last month. Gunners boss Unai Emery has hinted at an imminent recall for the Switzerland midfielder, who has sat out the last four games, which may prompt a frosty reception from fans at the Emirates Stadium. Spaniard Emery is desperate for a result at home to struggling Southampton following just two wins from 10 league games which have led to serious questions about his future, with opposition boss Ralph Hasenhuttl also under severe pressure due to his side’s alarming slump.

Leaders prepare for Palace trip

League leaders Liverpool take their impressive unbeaten record to the scene of one of their most painful recent failures. A late collapse at Selhurst Park in May 2014, during which Brendan Rodgers’ Reds conceded three times in the final 12 minutes to draw 3-3, effectively ended their chances of becoming Premier League champions that season. Under Jurgen Klopp, the Merseyside club appear far more formidable in their quest for a first title in 30 years. Liverpool have won on their previous four visits to Palace and, after the elation of seeing off City, will be confident of extending that run to pile further pressure on their rivals.

Can Solskjaer quash Pochettino talk?

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Mauricio Pochettino, left, was reported to be a target for Manchester United before the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Mike Egerton/PA)

The sudden availability of former Spurs boss Pochettino may have caused a few other managers to shift uncomfortably and question their own job security, not least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Argentinian was reported to be a long-term target of Manchester United before the appointment of Solskjaer. Despite a dreadful end to last season and a far from convincing start to this, the Old Trafford board have kept faith with the Norwegian but will no doubt have been interested by the events of this week. Solskjaer can only silence his critics by winning football matches, starting with Sunday’s tricky trip to high-flying Sheffield United. Remarkably, just over two years since leaving League One, Chris Wilder’s fifth-placed Blades are bidding to retain their status as the top ‘United’ in the country.

PA

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