London (AFP) – Juan Mata has warned Manchester United not to underestimate Hull ahead of their trip to the surprise high-flyers, while Claudio Bravo’s footwork will be in the spotlight if Manchester City’s new goalkeeper makes his debut against West Ham.
Going into the third round of Premier League fixtures, there is nothing unexpected about three of the four teams with 100 percent records.
Leaders City, revitalised by new manager Pep Guardiola, and second placed United, already bearing the unmistakable stamp of Jose Mourinho, have quickly drawn the battle lines in their expected duel for the title, while fourth placed Chelsea are resurgent under the leadership of new boss Antonio Conte.
But the one unexpected sight at the business end of the table is the presence of troubled Hull in third spot, making their encounter with Mourinho’s star-studded line-up at the KCOM Stadium one of Saturday’s most intriguing clashes.
Hull, promoted from the second tier last season, have enjoyed wins over champions Leicester and Swansea in their opening two matches despite the shock departure of manager Steve Bruce, who quit in protest at a lack of signings, fan protests against controversial owners the Allan family and injuries that left caretaker boss Mike Phelan with only 13 fit senior players.
Phelan, a former United player and coach, is in line to get the Hull job permanently as a reward for steering his squad through such a turbulent period and United winger Mata is well aware of the potential threat posed by the Tigers.
“We have a tough game ahead at Hull. They are back in the Premier League this year and are having a surprising start. We will try to win and keep our good streak,” Mata said.
After last season’s struggles at the end of the unlamented Louis van Gaal era, Mourinho has lifted spirits at United, with new signings Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eric Bailly already making strong impressions.
But Mata struck a cautious note, saying: “It’s still August and that means we are still working on a few adjustments.
“We know there’s still room for improvement. We are laying the foundations of the team for this season.”
– Statement of intent –
On Sunday, Guardiola could give an immediate debut to Bravo two days after paying £17 million to sign the keeper from Barcelona as a direct replacement for England international Joe Hart.
In his most significant statement of intent since arriving from Bayern Munich in the close-season, Guardiola has axed Hart and turned to Bravo because he believes the Chile captain will more successfully fulfil his desire for a ‘sweeper-keeper’ who can keep possession as well as make saves.
Bravo has signed in time to face the Hammers at Eastlands and it will be fascinating to see how he fares if Guardiola selects him ahead of deputy Willy Caballero, who started City’s league wins over Sunderland and Stoke.
“Claudio is a fantastic goalkeeper and an excellent addition to our squad,” Guardiola said.
“He has experience and great leadership qualities and is in the prime of his life.”
Chelsea’s renaissance under former Juventus and Italy boss Conte has been aided by the predatory instincts of Diego Costa, whose late goals have secured wins against West Ham and Watford.
Costa had been linked with a move back to Atletico Madrid after a tempestuous second season in England, but Conte has so far brought the best out of the volatile striker.
Next on Costa’s hit list are Burnley, who visit Stamford Bridge on the back of an impressive 2-0 win over Liverpool and then a woeful League Cup exit at fourth tier Accrington.
“We got a win against the odds, and then lost against the odds,” Burnley boss Sean Dyche said.
“We know there’s a group of teams that’s more difficult to get points against, particularly away from home, and Chelsea come into that.”
At White Hart Lane, Tottenham host Liverpool in a clash between two clubs hoping to gatecrash the Manchester duopoly at the top of the table.
Liverpool duo Emre Can (ankle) and Divock Origi (cramp) are struggling to be fit in time.
Saturday (1400 GMT unless stated)
Chelsea v Burnley, Crystal Palace v Bournemouth, Everton v Stoke, Hull v Manchester United (1630 GMT), Leicester v Swansea, Southampton v Sunderland, Tottenham v Liverpool (1130 GMT, Watford v Arsenal
Manchester City v West Ham (1500 GMT), West Brom v Middlesbrough (1230 GMT)
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