Moyes must keep faith with Nani
Even though the Stretford End bellowed his name during Manchester United's victory over Liverpool on Wednesday night, David Moyes has not done a lot right since replacing Sir Alex Ferguson. In an age where patience is almost non-existent, Moyes has had to learn on the job at United, where standards are incomparable even to the impressive ones that the Scot set at Everton, and the chastening defeat by Manchester City last Sunday shone a light on the flaws that were not corrected in the champions' squad during the summer.
Then again, United are the champions. Moyes has hardly inherited a collection of chancers, rather a side that had the title wrapped up by April last season, and as much as Ferguson, Robin van Persie and even Roberto Mancini masked United's various weaknesses, the support cast remains strong. The goalkeeper, David de Gea, possesses enviable reflexes and potential, the defence has enough if rotated properly and United have the best striker in the league.
They are, of course, less sure in central midfield but an area of equal concern so far has been in the wide positions, where Moyes's prosaic selection of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia against City suggested he is not a manager who trusts what he cannot control. At his best, Valencia was strong, quick and could cross accurately; there was a game against Chelsea in May 2011 in which he beat Ashley Cole any way he desired – with strength and with skill, inside and outside. But now he has lost confidence, form and the No7 shirt, he resembles a one-trick pony without the trick, while any defence worth its salt knows what to expect from Young: in-swinging crosses from the left, an enduring, embarrassing, indefensible struggle with gravity and a cowardly streak not befitting a United player (when England lost to Italy at Euro 2012, a colleague correctly predicted before kick-off that Young would miss a penalty if the match went to a shoot-out).
However defences are on shakier ground against Nani, who is surely the best winger at United. In his brief appearances this season, he has shown more initiative and gumption than Valencia and Young combined and even though he can be frustrating, selfish and unreliable, he can decide a match with a flash of class – in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, he often inspired United. Like Shinji Kagawa, Nani needs a run in the team. Both have a streak of individual brilliance that can relieve the pressure on Moyes. JS
Goals are not over-rated
Where have all the goals gone? After five rounds of games, the 20 clubs in the Premier League have managed just 107 goals between them, compared to 137 at the same point last season and 132 the season before. In 2010-11 the first five rounds of fixtures yielded 143 goals, a comparatively paltry return when put beside the ridiculous 159 in 2009-10. The previous season? 140, at which point we got tired of counting. Oh, go on then: in 2007-08 it was 117 goals, 10 more than this season and that with 270 minutes fewer having been played.
Whether it's down to better defending, worse marksmanship or a combination of both, it seems remarkable that with every top flight team having played five times, just two of them have scored more than seven goals. Manchester City lead the scoring charts with 12, ahead of Arsenal on 11. Indeed, such is Tottenham's on-field economy that an average of exactly one goal per game has been enough to leave them level on points with their north London rivals at the Premier League summit with 12 from a possible 15 points.
While it would be fallacious to suggest that certain goal-free stalemates are not without merit, even the kind of people who pretended to enjoy the dross served up by Chelsea and Manchester United because they mistakenly think it makes them sound hip must be at least slightly concerned by this season's paucity of goals thus far. A weekend of four, five and six-goal thrillers through the card is long overdue. BG
Henderson deserves chance to prove he can be central to Liverpool's plans
From a Liverpool perspective, the most notable aspect of Wednesday's Capital One Cup defeat to Manchester United was, of course, the return of Luis Suárez. Yet in the 67th minute came a moment which could also provide the team with a surge of energy. With the visitors trailing 1-0 at Old Trafford, Brendan Rodgers, took off Lucas Leiva, brought Martin Kelly on and moved Jordan Henderson, who had been playing wide-right, into central midfield. It was a switch which many Liverpool fans have been calling on the manager to make for some time.
Despite what has generally been a positive start to the season, it has been alarming to see Liverpool's performance levels dip after half-time – they have yet to score in the second-half of any of their seven matches so far, albeit two goals were secured in extra-time of their Capital Cup second-round victory over Notts County in August – with Lucas and Steven Gerrard, the two men Rodgers has regularly selected in centre-midfield, looking particularly worn around the hour mark. Late September it may be, but already there is a sense that the pair need rest and rotation, with Henderson an obvious candidate to come into the fore. The 23-year-old is suited to playing in that role and has levels of energy and aggression that could considerably help curtail Liverpool's second-half lagging. Next up is Henderson's former club, Sunderland – surely the perfect opportunity for Rodgers to give the player the chance to prove his worth in the heart of the action. SN
The prospect of Mourinho v Villas-Boas is mouthwatering
Considering their victory against Manchester United last season ended a well-documented 23-year wait for victory at Old Trafford, it might surprise neutrals to learn that it is Chelsea who happen to be Tottenham Hotspur's top tier bogey team. The north London club have won just three of 42 Premier League encounters against Chelsea, all of them at home, but must surely be confident of making it four by the end of the first, most mouthwatering fixture of the weekend to be played early on Saturday afternoon.
The season remains in its infancy, but there's plenty at stake for both teams, not least because this fixture pits José Mourinho against his former apprentice André Villas-Boas for the first time since they teamed up at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. And while Villas-Boas has tried to deflect inevitable comparisons with his former mentor by pointing out they didn't work particularly closely together and are quite different "in terms of personality, way of working and communication", a victory that would propel his side clear at the top of the table for a couple of hours at least would be a source of immense satisfaction for the young Portuguese. It would also go some way towards displaying Tottenham's credentials as genuine title contenders. An unhappy spell at Chelsea and Mourinho's possibly mischievous suggestion that his long-time associate Rui Faria (clubs managed: none) is the second best Portuguese coach around ought to provide the Tottenham Hotspur manager he considers to be "a mini-Mourinho" with all the motivation he needs. BG
Hooper can lift Norwich
There was relief for Chris Hughton on Tuesday after Norwich fought back from 2-0 down to win at Watford in the Capital One Cup , a victory that brought him some breathing space before Sunday's trip to Stoke City. But it will take more than beating a Championship side for Hughton to gain the support of Norwich's fans, who feel that his natural caution and negative tactics are harming the side's progression, especially after the insipid defeat to Aston Villa at Carrow Road on Saturday. There were positive signs against Watford though. The comeback was sparked by a stunning goal from Josh Murphy, with the youngster thrilling in a sparkling cameo, but it was Gary Hooper who provided the finishing touches, scoring an equaliser in the 90th minute and the winner in extra-time. Norwich backed Hughton in the transfer market this summer and he did make some expansive signings, but this was the first time he was able to start Hooper since his move from Celtic. Perhaps Hughton deserves the benefit of the doubt until he has picked Hooper alongside Ricky van Wolfswinkel in attack. JS
Wilshere needs to prove his worth again
Amid the frenzy of excitement that has surrounded Mesut Özil's arrival at Arsenal it has perhaps been lost on some that Jack Wilshere is currently operating on the left of the team's advanced three-man midfield. In his programme notes ahead of the victory over Stoke last Sunday, Arsène Wenger spoke of how Wilshere was prepared to "sacrifice himself for the team" and was currently operating in the "[Santi] Cazorla role", which points to a considerable shift in Wilshere's value to the team. This, after all, is a player who Arsenal were ultimately going to be built around, but following Aaron Ramsey's excellent start to the season, the arrival of Özil and the obvious importance to Wenger of Cazorla, who remains sidelined with an ankle injury, the 21-year-old has become somewhat periphery, seemingly filling in for an injured colleague.
In fairness, Wilshere was not stuck out on the left against Stoke and was given the licence to come inside and swap positions with Özil, but his ability to influence the team has undeniably been reduced. Arsenal's visit to Swansea provides the player with a key opportunity to prove to his manager that he remains fundamental to the side and, even, deserves to keep a starting place once Cazorla is back in contention. SN
Southampton have the defence – now for the attack
Perhaps it was not such a great surprise that Southampton won at Anfield given that they beat Liverpool last season, while also accounting for Chelsea and Manchester City. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton have flourished against the bigger sides, while struggling to break down teams whose first instinct is to stifle and frustrate. Having drawn their first two home matches against Sunderland and West Ham, the onus will be on Pochettino's attack to click against Crystal Palace, who will probably be content to take a point from St Mary's. Unlike last season, Southampton's defence has not been the problem. Artur Boruc has been solid in goal, Dejan Lovren has excelled in central defence and they have conceded twice in their first five games. But they have suffered at the other end, with all three of their goals coming from set-pieces – Lovren's winner against Liverpool came from a corner, José Fonte headed in a James Ward-Prowse free-kick against Southampton and Rickie Lambert scored a penalty against West Brom. The sense is that Pochettino is unsure about his best formula up front and he may find that Southampton have more balance and creativity if only one of Dani Osvaldo and Lambert starts. Perhaps, too, this is a game where Jack Cork should start instead of Victor Wanyama in midfield. JS
It is a fairly uninspiring round of fixtures
On a fixture list with few stand-out match-ups, neither Fulham v Cardiff City nor Hull City v West Ham is likely to quicken the pulse but they have the potential to turn into humdingers ... we hope. Fulham have never beaten Cardiff in the top flight – in either of their previous meetings and with a recent Premier League home record (DLLLLL) that could scarcely be worse if it was made of vinyl and featured the caterwauling of a Norwegian industrial metal band, Martin Jol's side are already in dire need of a win. By contrast, Cardiff City have not won away from home in the top flight since November 1961 and will never have a better chance to rectify this situation and build on the promise of their fine early-season victory against a jittery Manchester City and get another three points in the bag.
At the KC Stadium two resolutely old school English managers will stand in opposing technical areas when Hull City entertain West Ham and considering the bright start to the season enjoyed by Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce, there is every reason to suppose this could be a decent game. Many people's idea of relegation certainties after the first half-hour of their season-opener against Chelsea, Hull have been quietly impressive ever since, even in undeserved defeat at the hands of Manchester City. Indeed, were it not for Danny Graham's splendidly bizarre goal drought they would almost certainly be higher up the table. Away from home, the Hammers have not scored in three or conceded in two. We are predicting a high-scoring free-for-all on the decidedly spurious grounds that the law of averages suggests that something has to give. BG
Goodison visit could be bad news for Pardew
Now that the Premier League's sacking season has officially begun, one can only wonder who will follow Paolo Di Canio for the chop. Look, perhaps, no further than at the other of the north-east's top-flight clubs. It has been an inconsistent and tricky opening to the campaign for Newcastle and although hardly alarmingly, bad enough for the unease which characterised last season to grown further. Matters, of course, have not been helped by the arrival of Joe Kinnear as director of football, an appointment which remains one of the most baffling in English football history, and the sense that he is causing more harm than good to Alan Pardew's position. Next up for Newcastle is a visit to in-form and flying Everton, and should the visitors suffer what would be a third league defeat this season, few would be particularly surprised to hear that Pardew had been sacked/resigned and replaced by the man who boasts about being able to call Arsène Wenger at any time of the day. SN
A different approach from Villa without Benteke
With their wonderful three-man attack, Aston Villa are one of the most entertaining sides in the league but while there is plenty to admire about the diligence of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann, it is Christian Benteke whose goals grab the headlines. He has scored four of their goals this season, so the news that he will be out with a hip injury for six weeks comes as a crushing blow, putting pressure not just on Villa's other forwards but also a defence which is hardly renowned for its solidity. At least Benteke's replacement, Libor Kozak, scored the winner within minutes of coming on against Norwich last Saturday but the 6ft 4in Czech striker is less mobile than the Belgian and Villa's game is largely based around speed, especially on the break. Without his biggest goal threat, Paul Lambert may have to curb his attacking instincts and opt for a more cautious approach against City, whose defeat at Cardiff proved that they can toil against deep defences. Their best hope may be that City have one eye on the visit of Bayern Munich in the Champions League next Wednesday, though. JS