There are only so many teams who truly care about the EPL Cup, especially in its early stages as we're in at this point. Clearly, we're not talking about the big boys when we're talking about match weariness and fitness problems, but this weekend could be one where the top teams shine as the little guys give it their best shot to keep advancing in the one cup they actually have a shot to win.
Take a team like Stoke City, for example. The Potters tend to play out cup ties as hard as they can, and they'll have to play against Bristol City on the road on Tuesday before coming home to play against Chelsea. Granted, Mark Hughes won't go all out against a non-Premier League team in the early stages of the EPL Cup, but you never know if that's going to be a big problem. Antonio Conte, meanwhile, couldn't care less about the EPL Cup and his match against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Manchester United and Manchester City continue battling at the top of the table. Both teams have blinked once this year with draws. The two teams are level on points and goal differential United took care of Everton at home on Wayne Rooney's emotional return to Old Trafford. The Red Devils now have eight goals scored this year in the last 10 minutes of play, more than 16 of the other 19 EPL clubs have in totality.
Both of the Manchester squads are playing in the standard 10 a.m. hour on Saturday. The Red Devils will travel to Southampton to face a Saints team with a mixed bag of results this year, while City will host Crystal Palace.
For the Eagles, this isn't a great chance to get off to mark this year. There's a long way to go for Crystal Palace, and relegation isn't a certainty at this point. But eventually, the team is going to need to get off to mark and get on the board. Let's remember that "Plucky Palace" did go to Stamford Bridge last year and steal three points that effectively helped keep them up. This challenge at the Etihad, though, just seems far too daunting.
Sunday's showcase could end up being a relegation six-pointer. Brighton & Hove has gotten off to a reasonable start in the top flight, picking up a win to show for its first five games of the year. But Chris Hughton's side has really struggled defensively. Just as Hughton's last Premier League team, Norwich City struggled at the back, this is posing a big problem again for Albion. If Newcastle can hold the fort at the back as it has for the most part in its first five games this season, it could snare three points on the road for the second time this season and keep its standing as a shocking top four team early on in the campaign.
We've got some Monday action this week in the EPL as well. Arsenal continues to be nothing more than a mid-table team, though it should snare all three points at home against West Brom.
The Gunners gritted out a scoreless draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend, a match in which Alexis Sanchez was a healthy scratch and Mesut Ozil was out injured. That's two of Arsenal's top players, one who was voluntarily left on the bench, and the other of which was out of the fold. There's a reason why Arsene Wenger can't seem to get this team together after a disastrous end of the transfer window that saw Sanchez stay and the team bumble all sorts of potential transfers in.
The Baggies enter this one sitting on eight points, one more than Arsenal, though obviously, they're decided underdogs on the road. Arsenal has won both of its matches at the Emirates this season.
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