Mikel Arteta needed only to spread the love, while the likes of David Moyes, Steve Cooper and Brendan Rodgers have had their work cut out during the international break.
Here’s the most pressing issue each manager has had to address over the last fortnight. Or in some cases, four weeks…
Arsenal – keeping everyone fit and happy
“There is no weak position in the team,” says Arsene Wenger so presumably Mikel Arteta has spent the international break with his feet up while praying none of his players come back knacked in any way. Which didn’t work when it came to Thomas Partey. Aside from keeping things ticking over, with the mood at the Emirates buoyant, Arteta might also have lavished some attention on his peripheral players. Eight have started every game for the Gunners in a settled side so far this season. As the campaign goes on, Arteta will need the players currently sat on their backsides, like Eddie Nketiah and Marquinhos, to be ready and motivated.
Aston Villa – finding the right attacking formula
Despite the injury to Diego Carlos, Steven Gerrard has found ways to tighten up his Villa defence. Now he has to remedy his struggling forward line, with Philippe Coutinho’s form a particular concern. Gerrard seems to have taken the view that a change of scene would do the Brazilian some good after being left out of Tite’s squad. Villa need to hope Coutinho returns from Mauritius refreshed and ready to rediscover some form. If Gerrard has settled on a preferred formation while he’s been away, all the better.
Bournemouth – finding a manager
The Cherries’ biggest concern during the international break has been finding a new permanent manager. They haven’t got very far, though a looming takeover hasn’t helped the recruitment process.
Brentford – tightening up at the back
The Bees have enjoyed a positive start to the season, with Ivan Toney in flying form. Which is fortunate because Thomas Frank’s men haven’t been quite as impressive in defence. Their only clean sheet came against the worst Manchester United performance in living memory while the four games since have seen them ship 10 goals. Aside from the bottom two, only Bournemouth have conceded more, largely because they were battered by nine at Anfield.
Brighton – getting to know their new manager
The Seagulls have had four weeks off, with their two Premier League games before the break postponed. In that not-so-mini break, they’ve lost their manager and appointed a new one. But Roberto De Zerbi will have met many of his players only briefly before his first game at Liverpool on Saturday with 11 Brighton players away on international duty.
Chelsea – getting to know Brighton’s old manager
Brighton’s need for a new manager came from Potter’s decision to accept Chelsea’s offer. At least the new Blues boss has tasted a matchday with his new club, having been able to acquaint himself with the Stamford Bridge dug-out during the Champions League draw with RB Salzburg. In the fortnight and a half since, Potter has met one-on-one with every member of his new squad before 15 of them disappeared on international duty.
Crystal Palace – solve shape puzzles before Chelsea
Like Brighton, Palace have had an extended break after the A23 grudge match was postponed a fortnight ago. Not since a 0-0 draw at Newcastle on September 3 have they been troubled to play a game. Unlike the Seagulls, Palace haven’t had to deal with a change of manager so Patrick Vieira has had four weeks to get ready for Chelsea, with a back-three and Jordan Ayew in midfield among the options for the Eagles boss if he wishes to spring a surprise on Potter.
Everton – switching focus to attack
Fair f***s to Frank Lampard. He’s made Everton much tougher to beat this season, with the Toffees holding the second-best defensive record. Going forward, though, Everton haven’t been quite so impressive. They have an xG of eight from seven games but they have netted only five times. Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s absence has undoubtedly been a factor but the centre-forward’s recent injury record means Lampard has to find ways of making Everton less reliant on the England star.
Fulham – consider a source of goals other than Mitrovic
For a brief period during the international break, Fulham feared the worst: an injury to Aleksandar Mitrovic. The Serbia striker, who has scored six of Fulham’s seven goals this season, limped out of the Nations League clash with Sweden, but was declared fit to face Norway earlier this week. Good news, but it highlighted the Cottagers’ reliance on Mitrovic, if it wasn’t already glaringly obvious. While the top scorer was away, Carlos Vinicius played in his stead in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Watford. Fulham won 2-1 with the former Spurs striker netting both.
Leeds United – cut out individual mistakes
“We have to get better defensively,” said Jesse Marsch, saying what we all saw, after the 5-2 defeat at Brentford. Leeds have generally been structurally sound this season but still too often shoot themselves in the foot. Marsch has had two weeks with his squad before the international break to drill the errors out of them.
Leicester – defend set-pieces
Maybe Leicester are destined never to be secure at set-pieces. It was a huge weakness last season and even after spending ‘hours’ on it before the Tottenham trip, they still gave up a couple from corners in a 6-2 humping. Their new set-piece coach has his work cut out before a huge clash with Nottingham Forest on Monday.
Liverpool – reset, refocus and rediscover some intensity
Jurgen Klopp might point to injuries as mitigation for a wretched start but that was only part of the story. Now many of those injuries are clearing up, the Reds have to look upon August and September as a false start and use the Premier League’s return as a turning point, especially ahead of a manic October.
Manchester City – go up through the gears
City have done things slightly differently during a season different to any other, with a World Cup plonked slap bang in the middle of it. With many of his players disappearing to Qatar in November and December, Pep Guardiola was concerned about possible burn-out, so City have tapered their preparations for the campaign, with a view to easing into the season rather than sprinting out of the blocks. Their pre-season was more limited than their rivals, which perhaps explains a couple of draws in their first seven games. Now October is here and the demands are ratcheted up a notch or two, City need to go through the gears to put themselves in a strong position by the time the World Cup rocks up.
Manchester United – formulate a plan to stop Haaland and City
The Red Devils were in a crisis to rival the Tory government’s barely a month ago. Now, after beating Liverpool, Southampton, Leicester and Arsenal, everything seems serene – on the pitch, at least. But, as ever, it’s a delicate calm at Old Trafford, one that will be ruined with another derby-day humiliation. A quiet revolution has taken place since the last one, but Erik ten Hag really needs to go toe-to-toe with City to maintain the momentum they have built up. Which means getting to grips with Erling Haaland. You’d back United to cause City problems on the counter-attack but they have to make sure they stay in the game, unlike last season’s derby demolitions.
Newcastle – find a way to break opponents down
Despite all the euphoria on Tyneside over the last year, Newcastle went into the international break on something of a downer after being held by another opponent willing to sit in and invite pressure. The Magpies failed to break down Bournemouth and Palace in their last two home games and Eddie Howe needs to inject some invention and creativity into his side when chasing three points against sides content with one.
Nottingham Forest – tease some form from their big signings
When you sign 22 players in one summer, you know some will be duds. Unfortunately for Forest, their grandest signings, Jesse Lingard and Morgan Gibbs-White, have been among those to struggle. Steve Cooper has tweaked Forest’s formation to try and get the best out of both attackers but it hasn’t yet worked, to the point that Lingard was benched against Fulham. He might be rusty after inactivity at Manchester United but Lingard needs to remember he’s playing for another contract or, most likely in his mind, a bigger move.
Southampton – plot an indirect route to goal
Ralph Hasenhuttl might just be happy to make it into and through the international break given many (among us too) had him pinned at the start of the season as the manager in most danger due to the timing of the hiatus. But much of Saints’ early-season encouragement was taken from a direct style of play. Aston Villa sussed this and dealt admirably with the long pass into the vicinity of Che Adams. Saints had no response and no Plan B.
Tottenham – plot Arsenal’s downfall
Prior to the last half an hour of their last game, this would have been all about how to help Son Heun-min rediscover his mojo. Then he came off the bench to score a hat-trick against Leicester. The question remains, though: does that mean Son starts at Arsenal? Possibly not. Antonio Conte needs to decide whether to match up with the Gunners in midfield and decide which wing-backs he plays in a derby which will set the tone for a crucial period between now and the World Cup.
West Ham – shape up, sharpish
The Hammers need a swift improvement, if only for David Moyes’ job prospects. Apparently, the alarm bells aren’t ringing just yet but Moyes and his Irons are preparing for a pivotal four-game run, starting at home to Wolves, which needs to show a significant upturn in form. Moyes needs to find a way to better and more swiftly integrate his big summer signings, and help the likes of Jarrod Bowen rediscover some of last season’s form. Bowen’s World Cup hopes depend on it, if nothing else.
Wolves – find a cure for attacking impotency
Wolves and West Ham meet on Saturday vying to leave the other with the worst scoring record in the Premier League. Both are currently tied on three goals in seven games – an abject haul for sides with their ambitions. Wolves have been impotent around the box and they seem to be relying on Raul Jimenez to rediscover the kind of form he hasn’t consistently shown since prior to his head injury, or Diego Costa getting his eye in immediately having not played competitively since January. Both might long shots. So Bruno Lage needs to fund alternative sources of goals from the undoubted quality he has in other departments.