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Premier League W2W4: Can Liverpool really challenge Man City? Desperation at Old Trafford

ESPN FC's Stewart Robson gives his take on why the referee will take centre stage in this weekend's Premier League clash between Liverpool and Man City.
Stewart Robson shares his perspective on Jose Mourinho's situation at Man United, asserting that it's only a matter of time before he gets the sack.

Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on.

1. Are Liverpool favourites to beat Manchester City?

It was clear from the start of the season that, if we were to see anything like a title race, Liverpool would have to fulfill their potential to keep up with Manchester City. In their opening seven games, they've certainly suggested they could: six straight wins followed by that terrific draw with Chelsea last weekend, plenty of goals and the joint-best defence in the league.

Now, we will see just how close they actually are as Liverpool should present Manchester City with their greatest test of the domestic season. In fact you could almost make a case that Jurgen Klopp's men are favourites.

You can start with their record last season, when they beat City in three of their four encounters, including in the Champions League quarterfinal. The first leg of that tie was also one of those games where Pep Guardiola showed he was wary of his opponents by over-thinking his starting lineup: they didn't play with a left-back, only one proper winger and Raheem Sterling was left on the bench. Liverpool won 3-0.

And then this season. City, while unbeaten in the league, have been troubled by the one team to attack them with a bit of gusto (Wolves), something that Liverpool are more than capable of doing, and probably will. All of which means we should be in for a brilliant game. Cancel all other plans.

2. Desperate times at Manchester United

It was just over five years ago that, just ahead of a visit to Old Trafford by Newcastle, Manchester United manager David Moyes noted that his team were "going to make it as difficult for them as we possibly can." For United fans still coming to terms with the post-Alex Ferguson era, it was jarring to hear their manager talk about Alan Pardew's Newcastle as if they were some sort of cross-generational Barcelona team with a forward line of Johan Cruyff, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

There were echoes of that statement in Jose Mourinho's assessment of another visit by the same team, commenting that "it would be really good for the team if we beat Newcastle." This, of course, is a Newcastle team who have yet to win a game this season and are in nine types of crisis, but such is the current state of things at Manchester United. They have to take what they can.

Incidentally, the result of that game back in 2013? 1-0 to Newcastle.

3. Giroud could do with a goal

Olivier Giroud has managed to carve a niche for himself as a striker who doesn't need to score goals to make himself useful. He did it for France at the World Cup, playing in all of their games but failing to find the net, while he hasn't scored for Chelsea since one against Liverpool in May, meaning he's gone 557 competitive minutes without scoring for his club.

Undeniably, Giroud is a plus for this Chelsea team, providing what Antonio Conte used to call a "point of reference" for the myriad attacking talents around him. But for all the tactical benefit he brings, it's not ideal to have a centre-forward who doesn't actually score any goals. Last season Giroud managed four goals in three games against Southampton, Chelsea's opponents on Sunday. Another this time would be nice.

4. Will one of the surprise duo stick?

The Premier League's overachievers meet at Vicarage Road on Saturday. In Watford and Bournemouth, we have two teams who finished in the bottom half of the table last season but begin this weekend on the fringes of the Champions League places. Of course, unexpected teams have started seasons strongly before, eventually fading away and ceding to the financial status quo.

But these two are interesting because, not only is there the potential to be this season's Burnley and qualify for Europe, but also there is enough weakness in the established top six to think one team could break into it. Given that they have both started the season well (and identically -- four wins and 13 points from seven games), Watford and Bournemouth are the most obvious candidates to produce a surprise. Even more so, should one win on Saturday.

5. Can Brighton cope without Gross?

It's been a tough few weeks for Brighton. They have taken two points from their past five games, which can be excused to a point because the three defeats were against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City. But it's probably not a coincidence that they have been without Pascal Gross for the past month, what was initially thought to have been a kick on his ankle turning into something more problematic.

Gross was the bargain of last season, after Brighton paid just £3 million for a playmaker who became one of the most influential players in the Premier League. But in the three league games he's missed Brighton have struggled to replace him, broadly because there isn't really another natural No. 10 available to Chris Hughton, who has opted for a five-man midfield in games when they weren't expected to make the running. So might he try something more adventurous in a game, at home to West Ham on Friday night, where the onus is on them to be more proactive?

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