Premier League, Week 4 preview: Marquee matchups are overrated

Clive Mason

With the dumbest international break of the season behind us, the Premier League returns, with all 20 teams in action once again. It’s a weekend light on “big” games, but that just means it’s a weekend light on chances to let everyone down.

Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace

Old Trafford; Saturday, 12:45 GMT/7:45 AM ET

Crystal Palace turned some heads in their 3-1 victory over Sunderland, the first win for the Eagles in their current Premier League spell. Things will be a bit tougher for this go around, and United will certainly be pleased to see Palace after facing Chelsea and Liverpool in consecutive weeks. It's a hard row to hoe for Ian Holloway's men, but on the bright side Palace did manage to sign Barry Bannan before the deadline, so, uh, that's something.

Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United

Villa Park; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

In a battle of the two biggest clubs to most recently fall from grace, it is Newcastle that hold the bragging rights (if they can be called that) having edged a 2-1 victory at Villa Park in January, a loss that marked the most desperate point of Paul Lambert's first season in Birmingham. Since then it's been Villa that's enjoyed the (nominally) better fortunes, with their performance down the stretch enough to secure their Premier League status and their showing in a difficult opening three fixtures turning heads. Still, it's Newcastle that enters the game higher in the table, and on paper there isn't all that much to separate the two sides. Villa has a chance to make a real statement of intent in the first game of the season they'll be given much chance to win-ahead of time, at least-but a result for Newcastle could easily shift perceptions of both sides.

Fulham vs. West Bromwich Albion

Craven Cottage; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

While both of these teams will be desperate to turn around their recent poor form, the stakes are a bit higher for a West Brom side that's yet to score a goal this season. After missing out on bringing Romelu Lukaku back for another season at the last minute the question of just where those goals are going to come from will remain, and until the Baggies can give anyone a reason to think otherwise they'll look very much like a side that's going to struggle to avoid the relegation battle. The good news for West Brom, and Fulham for that matter: there's still more than enough time to give people a reason to think otherwise.

Hull City Tigers vs. Cardiff City

K.C. Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Despite sitting in 18th, Hull City has actually looked quite decent so far this season; their two losses have been respectable 2-0 defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Manchester City, while their 1-0 win against Norwich was genuinely impressive. Cardiff has likewise been more formidable than might be expected from a newly promoted side, holding Everton to a 0-0 draw last week and stunning Manchester City with a 3-2 win the week prior. Still, it's reasonable to expect both of these teams to struggle as the season wears along, and in the end these are the games that will be important. A win for either side isn't just three points on their own final tally, it's three points that aren't added to their opposition's final tally. We know that because math is a thing that exists.

Stoke City vs. Manchester City

Britannia Stadium; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

A somewhat popular opinion early on this season has been that Stoke City, free of Tony Pulis, is an altogether different side than they've been in the past. It's not true. They're still horrible in every way. Somewhat amusingly, the same is true of Manchester City. What I'm saying here is don't bother.

Sunderland vs. Arsenal

Stadium of Light; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

In spite of enduring the dismissal of a once (briefly) beloved manager, contesting a relegation battle, hiring one of the most unpopular men in the sport, and spending a good deal of money, Sunderland is still pretty bad. And not in the way Arsenal fans complain about being "bad" either; actually, genuinely bad. I suppose that it's possible they'll find a way to sneak some kind of result in this game because the Gunners do have a way of tripping over their own proverbial shoelaces at inopportune moments. Sunderland should probably hope that this is one of those moments.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Norwich City

White Hart Lane; Saturday, 15:00 GMT/10:00 AM ET

Having signed all of the players over the summer, Andre Villas Boas will unleash for the first time his innovative "two dudes stacked on top of each other in an oversized trenchcoat" tactical system. Somehow, Norwich City will still be better in the air.

Chelsea vs. Everton

Stamford Bridge; Sunday, 17:30 GMT/12:30 PM ET

The Roberto Martinez era is off to, well, a start at Everton, with three draws from three games and back-to-back 0-0 results heading into this one. That's not the worst three-game stretch for any team, but coming as it does right off the bat it's inspired some degree of grumbling. Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea has gone a bit better, the Blues unbeaten in their first three and grinding out the kind of maddening 0-0 draw that the Special One likely watches 394 times afterward against United in their last game. Still, Chelsea's looked far from invincible to this point, and it's not the craziest thing to believe that Everton could nick a point from this one. Winning, however, seems far-fetched, as that requires scoring a goal.

Southampton vs. West Ham United

St. Mary's Stadium; Sunday, 16:00 GMT/11:00 AM ET

Southampton are generally an enjoyable side, with some exciting attacking talent and a defense just fragile enough to keep things interesting. But West Ham will ruin them. Because West Ham ruins everything. Why in heaven's name is this the only Sunday fixture? It's just cruel to do that kind of thing to people.

Swansea City vs. Liverpool

Liberty Stadium; Sunday, 20:00 GMT/3:00 PM ET

Luckily, there's a palate cleanser on Monday; after receiving a 4-1 pasting from United and putting up little fight in a drab 1-0 to Spurs, the Swansea of old reemerged in their last game in a 2-0 win over West Brom. Liverpool currently sit top of the table, the only club in the Premier League with a perfect record, and though they've done it was consecutive 1-0 wins they've shown a refinement and purpose that was often lacking last season. The Reds are clearly the favorites, but if Swansea can show the quality that was on display against West Brom it won't be an easy test in the least. But if Liverpool can live up to expectations and start off the year with four straight wins, it could make things at the top of the table quite interesting. At least for awhile.

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