September’s international break may be viewed as little more than a needless pause to top flight action by Premier League fans, though it does give the competition’s leading managers time to address their early season worries.
Four fixtures into the new campaign and Premier League bosses will have some indication of their respective side’s strengths and weakness, but what issues need to be solved ahead of the return of their players from international duty?
Here are the major questions facing each top six manager after the international break…
Unai Emery – Arsenal
Who should be the club’s new leader?
Laurent Koscielny’s pre-season strike and subsequent departure to his native France has left Arsenal with a vacancy to fill, though the club appear to have no outstanding candidates to captain the side going forwards.
Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka captained the side in last weekend’s draw with North London rivals Tottenham, though the 26-year-old’s stupidity in gifting Spurs a penalty almost cost his side a point.
Arsenal showed character to fight back from two goals down to secure a draw, though Xhaka’s reckless tackle on Son Heung-Min demonstrated again why his temperament can and should be questioned.
It was the sort of challenge expected of a novice player, not an experienced international who has been tasked with leading the club forward.
Arsenal need characters and leaders as they bid to compete at the highest level once more, though Xhaka seems unlikely to be that man.
Frank Lampard – Chelsea
How to stop squandering leads?
Frank Lampard’s inexperienced Chelsea side have won just one of their opening four Premier League fixtures, though their results could be much improved with some know-how in how to preserve a lead.
Chelsea dropped points at home to both Leicester and Sheffield United after leading, whilst they were fortunate to escape from Norwich with victory after twice allowing the newly-promoted Canaries to equalise at Carrow Road.
Lampard’s side have looked short at the back with Kurt Zouma in particular struggling, whilst Andreas Christensen and Fikayo Tomori are yet to convince.
German international Antonio Rudiger’s imminent return to first-team football could solve their issues, the 26-year-old having featured for the development side recently as he recovers from a long-term knee injury.
N’golo Kante’s ongoing fitness problems have also hampered their hopes, and Lampard will hope the French midfielder can return from his latest injury quickly to offer some much needed protection in front of the back four.
Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool
Is there tension between Liverpool’s star forwards?
Liverpool have enjoyed a perfect start to the new Premier League season with four consecutive wins, though Sadio Mane’s furious reaction when substituted at Burnley raised eyebrows.
The Senegal international was calmed by teammates in the dugout after an angry reaction, believed to be over the selfish play of fellow forward Mohamed Salah.
Liverpool’s forward line work brilliantly in tandem with Roberto Firmino, in particular, the man who links the play, though Salah can tend to possess tunnel-vision when within scoring range.
Mane’s reaction indicated he believes Salah sometimes fails to reciprocate his own unselfish approach, and Jurgen Klopp will hope the mini-spat is quashed quickly as he bids to lead Liverpool to further silverware this season.
Pep Guardiola – Manchester City
How to replace the injured Aymeric Laporte?
The Premier League champions look in impressive form, though the serious injury suffered by defender Laporte looks to have left Guardiola’s side short of centre-back options.
City were believed to be in the market for a new central defender this summer following Vincent Kompany’s departure, though they baulked at Harry Maguire’s world-record price tag and the England international moved to rivals Manchester United instead.
Their failure to replace Kompany and subsequent long-term injury to Laporte leaves them short of options, with England defender John Stones also currently recovering from a thigh injury.
That leaves Nicolas Otamendi, effectively fourth-choice last season, as their only fit central defender and could see the likes of Fernandinho and Kyle Walker utilised in an unfamiliar position.
Laporte looks likely to be out until the New Year at the very least, and Guardiola will have to find a way to navigate an often hectic festive fixture list with his defensive options depleted.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United
What is Manchester United’s best midfield?
Manchester United have problems. That much is clear.
Their opening day thrashing of Chelsea now seems a distant memory after three games without a win, and whilst issues such as Marcus Rashford’s wastefulness and a shortage of set-piece goals harbour, their lack of midfield balance is one that desperately needs to be solved.
Having seen Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera depart over the past year, their failure to secure midfield additions seems illogical.
Paul Pogba remains inconsistent, though the Frenchman is the one United midfielder who has the ability to flourish if used correctly. The 26-year-old seems wasted in a deeper-lying role this season, playing alongside youngster Scott McTominay when his attributes are surely suited to a position higher up the pitch.
Jesse Lingard has been utilised in an advanced role this season, though the England internationals has struggled for form and he lacks productivity.
McTominay is a Solskjaer favourite but is raw and not ready for the highest level, whilst veteran Nemanja Matic’s best days seem behind him.
Andreas Pereira has also failed to prove he belongs at this level, likewise with £52m signing Fred, and a lack of quality midfield partners has hampered Pogba’s ability to shine.
Solskjaer must find his best trio until January at least, or United’s struggles may continue.
Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham
What to do with Christian Eriksen?
Tottenham manager Pochettino has spoken of an unsettling start to the new season, with the future of star midfielder Eriksen having dominated headlines throughout the summer transfer window.
The Dane has shown no indication he will sign an extension to his deal that expires next summer, though with the transfer window now closed Pochettino must decide whether to include the playmaker in his plans.
Eriksen is a Spurs player until January at least and remains one of the best creative talents in the Premier League, his ability to make chances having been key in the North London side’s recent success.
If the 27-year-old’s can return his focus to life at Tottenham for now, he must surely be included regularly as the club look to arrest a worrying run of form that has seen Spurs fail to win a Premier League away game since January.