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Friday Hoddle of Coffee: Weekend Preview, October 21, 2016

Jose Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge

Chelsea v Manchester United - Premier League Preview Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Our eyes will, of course, be on Tottenham and Bournemouth in the early match on Saturday as we look to continue an undefeated start against Eddie Howe’s fun Cherries side. But the match of the weekend comes on Sunday in the late game as Chelsea hosts Manchester United in what will be Jose Mourinho’s first Premier League trip to Stamford Bridge as the visiting manager.

Here are three fixtures to watch this weekend and three key storylines in each game:

Bournemouth v Tottenham

Typically the teams that give Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham the most trouble are the teams that bunker down and challenge Spurs to unlock a packed defense. Bournemouth will... not be doing that. Eddie Howe’s side belongs to the same school as Blackpool, Wigan Athletic, Swansea, and the Cherries’ south coast rivals Southampton. They are small, up-and-coming Premier League clubs chasing midtable permanence and who hope to get there with thrilling, attacking football. They’ll try to take the game to Spurs this weekend—and on the evidence of their performances so far this season they may actually be capable of doing it.

  • How will Spurs manage their first league test without Toby Alderweireld? They’re facing an attack-minded club full of confidence after last week’s hammering of Hull City. Will the Dier-Vertonghen partnership hold up against the Bournemouth attack?
  • How much will Spurs miss Danny Rose down the left flank? Ben Davies has put in a few good performances this season, but his lack of pace means that he typically is capable of defending well or attacking well but not both since he is unable to down the wing fast enough. Watch to see if Spurs once again play Erik Lamela on the left to try and support Davies.
  • Will Mousa Dembele return to the match day XI? If he does, I expect we see something more like last season’s 4-2-3-1 but with Dier in defense and Victor Wanyama again in midfield. That said, this is the sort of game that sets up well for Tottenham’s more vertical 4-1-4-1 attack. It will be interesting to see which way Poche goes.

Liverpool v West Bromwich Albion

We know Tony Pulis teams are terrible. They’re violent. They don’t give a crap about actually playing football. And they grind out results like no one else in the top flight. They just frustrated us last weekend—can they do the same at Anfield against Jurgen Klopp’s impressive Liverpool?

  • Will Liverpool’s pace carry them past the Baggies or will they break against West Brom’s physicality? Liverpool is full of fast, clever attacking players and their chaotic style maximizes the value of that pace. In an earlier test against Hull, the Reds were able to fly through a packed defense. That said, Hull City is to West Brom what wet cardboard is to the Great Wall of China. We’ll see if Liverpool can speed past West Brom.
  • Will Liverpool’s inconsistent defending cost them? The Reds aren’t great against set pieces and their midfield can sometimes be too open. If West Brom can launch quick counters and put Liverpool’s defense under short bursts of pressure, they may find a goal.
  • The Reds usually create good chances. Can they finish them? When you’re playing a Tony Pulis team you should figure on getting 2-3 decent looks at goal for the whole game. You have to bury them. But Phillipe Coutinho can be extremely profligate in front of goal as can Sadio Mane. If Liverpool doesn’t finish their chances, this could turn into a classic smash-and-grab for West Brom.

Chelsea v Manchester United

Chelsea is stabilizing under Antonio Conte after a slow start and downright bizarre sacking rumor published last week. United is still finding their footing under Mourinho and summer-signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan wasn’t even included in the squad against Fenerbahce in yesterday’s Europa League match.

  • Who will the battle between bruising, immobile strikers and central defenders? There’s a good chance that either Gary Cahill or John Terry will start for Chelsea with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line for United. Will the (likely) three Chelsea central defenders be able to control Ibrahimovic or will the bruising Swede strike again for United? This will be a fun matchup to watch.
  • Mourinho will try to kill the game—but how will he cope with the likely 3-4-3 formation Chelsea will throw at him? Chelsea’s 3-4-3 is a tricky formation to defend. With Cesar Azpilicueta as one of the defensive three and Marcos Alonso opposite him, Chelsea can shape-shift with relative ease between a 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1—Alonso drops off, Moses pushes forward to join Pedro and Hazard, and Kante and Matic remain the midfield anchors. This sort of fluidity can be difficult to cancel out. We know Mou will try to do it—but how? It’s likely we’ll see a similar XI to the one he trotted out against Liverpool. Look for Paul Pogba to be a defensive number 10 again and pay special attention to the midfield battle between Ander Herrera and N’Golo Kante.
  • Will Hazard’s revival continue against his former boss? Eden Hazard had a nightmare last season, but so far this season he’s been in good form. He already has three goals and has looked much more confident this year. In these games where Mourinho opts to just strangle play and make the thing unwatchable, an individual moment of genius can be the difference. If that moment will come for Chelsea, it’s likely to come through Hazard or Willian.

Happy watching y’all. Enjoy the weekend!