Premier League: Story Lines to Watch as Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal Return to Action

The Premier League returns on Saturday following the international break, promising the resumption of some delectable narratives—at least for neutrals.

At the top of the table there is a momentous clash between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium. At the bottom, Crystal Palace and West Ham United face pivotal fixtures, even this early in the season.

Here is Newsweek’s guide to the weekend’s fixtures.

Can José Mourinho keep Manchester United’s perfect record intact?

United, yet to concede a goal in three games so far in the Premier League, travels to Stoke City on Saturday evening, knowing it could establish an already significant lead on its nearest challengers.

Against West Ham United, Swansea City and Leicester City, United combined ruthless efficiency with an artfulness missing from its play over the past few seasons. It also has gained increased production at the start of the season from Paul Pogba, its marquee player (although no longer the world’s most expensive, following a wild summer in the transfer market).

At some stage, United is going to run into adversity. It probably won’t be against mid-table Stoke.

Awful Arsenal needs a quick rebound

Arsenal’s slow start to the season took a horrible turn against Liverpool at Anfield on August 27: a 4-0 drubbing in which many of its best players seemed disinterested at best. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the underperformers, departed soon afterward for Anfield, although Alexis Sánchez stayed.

Arsenal is already six points behind United. More significant in terms of its current prospects could be the four points that separate it from Manchester City in fourth, the final Champions League qualifying place.

Against Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium, Arsenal has a chance to rebound and release some of the pressure on Manager Arsène Wenger. Much will depend on the mood of Sánchez, and whether Mesut Özil can reproduce his international form on the club stage. Anything but a win, and the jeers for Wenger may turn into howls and screams.

Mauricio Pochettino feels the heat at Spurs

Defeat to Chelsea at Wembley, the Spurs’ temporary home for the season, was hardly disastrous; a 1-1 draw with Burnley at the same venue was much more damaging. Now Tottenham faces a difficult trip to an Everton team that harbors ambitions only one notch or so below its own. Seven points from four games would be an acceptable start. Four from four would not.

Philippe Coutinho returns for titanic clash

Manchester City versus Liverpool should be an aesthetic treat, even without Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian is back in training following the saga of his transfer to Barcelona that never became reality, though Liverpool Manager Jürgen Klopp is in the handsome position of having a smoothly functioning team even without his best technical player.

Sadio Mané, Robert Firmino and new signing Mohamed Salah have formed the Premier League’s slickest attack so far. City has looked impressive in bursts but needed the latest of goals to beat Bournemouth. Something—either Liverpool’s attacking verve or City’s ability to extricate itself from bad situations—must give here. Which probably means it will be a draw.

Frank de Boer and Slaven Bilic approach last-chance saloon

Neither de Boer, who is new to the Premier League, or the seasoned Bilic has collected a point so far this season. De Boer may be given longer by dint of being a newcomer; Bilic hangs more precariously, having bought Marko Arnautović and Javier Hernández in the summer after a disappointing first season in the former Olympic Stadium.

De Boer’s Crystal Palace faces a trip to Turf Moor against Burnley. Sean Dyche’s team is one of the best in the league at its home ground. West Ham entertains upstart Huddersfield in front of the Sky television cameras on Monday. A defeat, and an embarrassing showing against David Wagner’s commendably organized team, could leave Bilic hanging on to his job by a fingertip.