Premier League: The key questions facing the top flight's big six

Ahead of the Premier League's return from the October international break, what are the big questions facing the title contenders?

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The Independent Football

Manchester City

Can they rely on their defence?

It was supposed to be so easy. In fact, for the first six games of this new Premier League season, it was. Pep Guardiola’s side swept aside all who stood before them in those opening weeks, but then came that defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.

The clues were there. After all, Manchester City had just one clean sheet to show for their early-season dominance and it had come against Bournemouth, who have shown a tendency to roll over against the league’s elite.

John Stones, meanwhile, remains a work in progress, Nicolas Otamendi is yet to fully convince and with Vincent Kompany out, Aleksandar Kolarov is third-choice centre-back.

Guardiola’s attacking talents have picked up his methods quickly. Time for his defence to catch up.

Tottenham Hotspur

Can they cope with the fixture congestion?

What could the Premier League’s sole unbeaten side have to worry about as we return from the October international break?

Well, to be victims of their own success would be typical Tottenham.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are fighting all-out on two fronts at this stage of the season for the first time under his tutelage and he is a demanding taskmaster.

After last season’s title challenge fizzled out, the Argentinian will be hoping that a rotation policy will help keep his players fresh.

The way that Harry Kane and Eric Dier’s respective hamstring and ankle ligaments snapped in the final stages of the victory of Sunderland, after three games in the previous eight days, did not inspire hope.

Arsenal

Is the ‘old Arsenal’ going to rear its ugly head?

Since the defeat to Liverpool, Arsenal’s season has been one of quiet, steady progress, sprinkled with glimpses of just how good this team can be.

This weekend, they face Swansea City, another side that have had their fair share of joy against Arsène Wenger’s men in recent years.

Arsenal have taken an average of just 0.8 points from matches on home soil against the Swans, their worst record against any top flight side.

If Wenger’s men drop points on Saturday, it will not come as a surprise. If they do not, however, the three points will lend further credence to those who claim that they are starting to turn a corner.

Liverpool

Will Loris Karius adapt quickly enough?

karius.jpg
Karius looked shaky last time out at Swansea (Getty)

Until Georginio Wijnaldum’s injury on international duty with the Netherlands this week, the prevailing question about Liverpool’s excellent start was whether they would continue to play without a recognised defensive midfielder.

However, with Wijnaldum a doubt for Monday’s meeting with Manchester United, Emre Can should slot back in to Jürgen Klopp midfield and provide the protection that his defence has, at times, needed.

Attentions therefore turn to the goalkeeping situation which remains up in the air despite Loris Karius’ introduction.

The summer signing from Mainz replaced Simon Mignolet for the victories over Hull City and Swansea City, but never looked totally assured between the sticks, especially when coming for crosses.

The understandable nerves of a Premier League novice, maybe, but Karius will need to adapt to his new surroundings quickly if he is to retain his first-choice status.

Manchester United

How should they balance their attacking talents?

Despite planning his summer transfer business like a military manoeuvre, Jose Mourinho is still struggling to get his troops in formation.

It took a month to find a suitable midfield partner for Paul Pogba and questions remain about those directly in front of him.

Wayne Rooney has finally been removed from the equation, but even after the club captain’s demotion, five into three attacking positions will not go.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the first-choice frontman, but any of Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford could slot in behind.

And that’s forgetting Memphis Depay. Then again, many Manchester United fans would not mind doing just that.

 Chelsea

Is Antonio Conte too cautious?

Each time Chelsea have dropped points this season, and even in a couple of matches where they have picked up maximum points, a slow start has put them on the back foot.

Liverpool did not dominate at Stamford Bridge solely through their own brilliance, but mainly because Antonio Conte allowed them to; Arsenal likewise.

The former Juventus coach’s preference to play cautiously is putting too much pressure on an already-debilitated defence, which has at times lacked organisation.

N’Golo Kante powers at soaking up pressure and breaking down attacks may be immense, but unless Conte adopts a more proactive approach, he may start to feel overworked.

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