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Is the Thursday-Sunday Curse Real?

Four Premier League teams find themselves in the second week of a demanding pattern of playing Europa League or Europa Conference League games on a Thursday night, before a quick return to league action on Sunday afternoon. This scheduling quirk is largely regarded as one of football's toughest tests, but is it really as bad as it seems?

Liverpool, Brighton and West Ham are all in the group stages of the Europa League this season, whilst Aston Villa beat Hibernian to qualify for the Conference League group stages.

In the past few seasons, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have all had to battle these Thursday-Sunday weeks. But for all their criticism, the stats at least don't back up the negative reputation.

Last season, Arsenal and Manchester United both competed in the Europa League, with Arsenal playing eight times in the competition and United twelve. The Red Devils played on Sunday after eleven of these games and won seven. Arsenal were even better, winning seven and drawing one of the eight games they played directly after European matches.

It's a similar start for this season's Thursday clubs. Whilst Liverpool beat West Ham (a game between two of the Europa League teams), Brighton and Aston Villa both won, and won well. Brighton comfortably beat Bournemouth whilst Aston Villa beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

There is a little more to it than three wins from three though (Liverpool and West Ham obviously couldn't both have won).

The fixtures both Aston Villa and Brighton had weren't exactly the most testing. Bournemouth still haven't won a Premier League game this season, and Chelsea have just two wins and seven goals from seven games.

This weekend will however a far sterner test for both sides, and in fact for West Ham and Liverpool. The Hammers, having lost only to Manchester City and Liverpool this season, welcome Newcastle United to the London Stadium.

West Ham put on a good show at St James's Park last season, fighting hard for a 1 - 1 draw. But it wasn't anywhere near as enjoyable hosting Newcastle, as the Tynesiders thrashed West Ham 5 - 1.

On top of that, David Moyes' side will now be coming off the back of an away day in Germany, instead of the straightforward 3 - 1 home win they had against Backa Topola on Matchday 1. Moyes was able to rotate his squad against the Serbian side, but will have to field a stronger team away to Frieberg on Thursday night.

Aston Villa face a demanding test this weekend as well. The Villains are in the form of their lives at the moment, having just demolished Brighton 6 - 1 at the weekend. They host Zrinjksi Mostar of Bosnia & Herzegovina in the Conference League, before travelling to Molineux on Sunday.

Zrinjski Mostar shouldn't present too much of a challenge to Villa, and Wolves hadn't been getting results up until last weekend either. But they turned it all around with a shock 2 - 1 victory over Manchester City. The atmosphere at Molineux in what will be Wolves' first game since that famous win will certainly provide a test for Unai Emery and Aston Villa, especially off the back of a European game.

The biggest test for the Europa League sides though is once again against one another. Liverpool travel to the Amex Stadium to take on Brighton.

Despite the extremely controversial defeat to Tottenham last weekend, Liverpool will be in high spirits. They've made a good start to the season and should be two-for-two in the Europa League by the time they arrive in Brighton, given that Union Saint-Gilloise will go to Anfield on Thursday night. The Belgians are a good team, but shouldn't pose too much of a threat to Jurgen Klopp's side.

The Seagulls are more in need of a result. Having lost their Europa League opener to AEK Athens, they must get a result in France against Marseille or risk falling out of contention for a place in the knockout stages. After that, they need to try and reverse some of the damage done to them at Villa Park by Unai Emery's rampant Villains last weekend.

Brighton, for the first time in almost two years, are in desperate need of a result. Their start to the season, especially the win over Newcastle, was electrifying. But Robert De Zerbi may be starting to struggle without one or two of those big-money Summer departures.

This is where the Thursday-Sunday week can make or break. In the next three days, Brighton could turn everything around. A smash-and-grab victory away to Marseille would put them right back in the running in their group, and a win over Liverpool could, if other results go their way, lift the Seagulls to third in the Premier League.

But if they lose both games, they're suddenly six points off the pace in their Europa League group and would have lost five out of six in all competitions. Their next game after Liverpool? Manchester City at the Etihad.

The Thursday-Sunday weeks were manageable for both Arsenal and Manchester United last season, but it's worth remembering that both teams made a whole host of changes for their Europa League games. The academy and squad players were good enough to get through the group stages and give both clubs a chance in the knockout stages.

But whilst Liverpool will likely do the same, Brighton, West Ham and Aston Villa don't have that luxury if they want to progress. The league fixtures these teams had after Matchday 1 were fairly kind, but that's far from the case this weekend. It's also worth noting that the Europa League fixtures themselves for Brighton and West Ham are far tougher than they were on Matchday 1.

By the end of the week, there'll be a far clearer picture as to whether or not these clubs can manage the quick turnaround, or if they'll fall victim to the Thursday-Sunday curse.

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