For teams with momentum, international breaks are an unwanted distraction. For teams struggling, the layoff can be a godsend, changing the mood of the place. For Liverpool, in the relegation zone and firing blanks, it's a case of the latter. Can the Reds turn it around this weekend when they visit Sunderland?
Here are our predictions for this weekend's Premier League games.
Sunderland vs. Liverpool
The whole of the Premier League knew Liverpool needed another striker after shipping Andy Carroll on loan to West Ham. But nothing, it seems, is too strange for Anfield these days. The open letter written by owner John Henry in the aftermath of the transfer blunder did little to calm Liverpool fans.
Through three games, Liverpool has scored two goals under Brendan Rodgers, and expensive Italian striker Fabio Borini doesn't figure to be ripping up opposing defenses anytime soon. Just as worrying is the form of keeper Pepe Reina.
Sunderland under Martin O'Neill won't need any extra motivation, given that Liverpool is coming to town, yet a first league home game -- Sunderland versus Reading was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch -- will indeed provide an extra boost.
Beach ball or no beach ball, Sunderland has won two of its last three at home against Liverpool.
Prediction: 2-0 Sunderland
Stoke vs. Manchester City
Before a visit to the Special One's Real Madrid in the Champions League for Manchester City comes not-as-fashionable Stoke.
As if to whet the appetite, City might run into a former Galactico at the noisy Britannia Stadium in Michael Owen, a big name who has done little in the past three years. Owen, though, did score a memorable injury-time winner against City when playing for Manchester United in 2009.
A start Saturday for Owen would be a surprise, but his potential partner up front, Peter Crouch, accounted for Stoke's goal at home against City last season with a brilliant 25-yard volley that had to be one of the top three strikes of the season.
City hasn't yet been able to unlock Stoke at the Britannia, drawing three times and losing twice in all competitions since the Potters were promoted in 2008.
City manager Roberto Mancini will welcome the return to fitness of Sergio Aguero, but the Italian has two strikers in form in Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko.
Manchester United vs. Wigan
Another feature of the international break is managers worrying about the fitness of players when they return. Robin van Persie has come back injured from international duty before, and the Dutchman suffered another knock in the Netherlands' 4-1 win over Hungary on Tuesday.
Fortunately for van Persie and United, the thigh problem wasn't serious, and he and Shinji Kagawa, who was questionable with a back injury, are in the squad to face Wigan. Van Persie has settled quickly at United, sparing his team's blushes against Southampton and scoring four goals in two starts.
Wigan stunned the Red Devils at home at the end of last season as part of its late charge to stay up and has, unusually, made a decent start to the new campaign. But at Old Trafford, Wigan has been outscored 24-1 in the Premier League.
Prediction: 2-1 United
Arsenal vs. Southampton
They're the great entertainers. And we're not talking about Arsenal.
Already Southampton, with its all-out attacking ethos under Nigel Adkins, has become a favorite for the neutrals, just as Blackpool and Burnley were when they were promoted to the Premier League.
Blackpool and Burnley, however, didn't last more than a season in the top flight, and Southampton will suffer the same fate if it doesn't start defending. Adkins splashed out on offensive talent in the transfer window but steered clear of reinforcements -- with Premier League experience -- at the back.
Southampton is the only side in the league without a point, and the trend is set to continue. Arsenal hasn't conceded in three games, and new boys Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla got off the mark two weeks ago against Liverpool. Now it's the turn of French international Olivier Giroud, who was booed by French fans in midweek as his slump continued.
Prediction: 3-1 Arsenal
QPR vs. Chelsea
This fixture was one of the most memorable of 2011-12. Chelsea had two men sent off, John Terry (not one of them) would utter something in the direction of Anton Ferdinand, and QPR recorded a famous 1-0 win over its West London rival.
Times have changed. Both managers, Andre Villas-Boas and Neil Warnock, have departed, and the teams have been given a makeover. In QPR's case, the results haven't been pretty.
Mark Hughes, like an octopus, has snared everything within reach. He spent in July and early August, then went into panic mode when Rangers were crushed by Swansea 5-0 on the opening day.
Meanwhile Chelsea has been, to a large extent, carried by Eden Hazard, and the Blues sit atop the standings with three wins.
Even if it's a derby, this is a banker -- for the away side. The pregame handshakes, in fact, could provide most of the drama.
Prediction: 2-0 Chelsea
Aston Villa vs. Swansea
So early into the season the table can make for interesting reading. Chelsea and Manchester City are among the top four -- no surprise there -- but Swansea, for which avoiding relegation is the first priority, rests second.
Michael Laudrup hasn't changed Swansea's possession-based style, and unlike last season, the goals are flowing, thanks largely to Michu and Nathan Dyer. Is winger Wayne Routledge finally, too, coming into his own?
Villa's approach under Paul Lambert is similar -- it aims to keep the ball on the ground. But Lambert, only partly due to injuries, lacks playmakers in midfield to set up Darren Bent and new signing Christian Benteke.
Villa is 17th in the standings, and odds are it will be in the lower third for the next eight months.
Prediction: 2-1 Swansea
Norwich vs. West Ham
He's only played one game, but Carroll could be termed a talisman for West Ham. The tall striker almost single-handedly bullied Fulham in his Hammers debut, and West Ham cruised to a 3-0 win.
A pity for Big Sam and West Ham, then, that Carroll is sidelined with a hamstring injury. Carlton Cole, good in spurts, is Carroll's likely replacement. Norwich will take the swap.
Norwich has steadied itself after being crushed 5-0 by Fulham in its season opener, playing to 1-1 draws with QPR and Tottenham. Norwich was the better side against QPR and unlucky not to win at White Hart Lane, as referee Mark Halsey missed a blatant shirt tug on burly striker Steve Morison. Winger Robert Snodgrass has been a valuable addition.
Now it's time for Grant Holt to get off the mark.
Prediction: 2-1 Norwich
Fulham vs. West Bromwich Albion
Steve Clarke's managerial career has started well. West Bromwich Albion picked up where it left off under Roy Hodgson last term, beating Liverpool and Everton and earning a deserved point at Tottenham. Striker Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, has already made a difference, bullying opposition defenders.
As for the Cottagers, it's a case of déjà vu. They can win at home but are close to hopeless on the road.
Parting company with Moussa Dembele and want-away Clint Dempsey was a blow, since the incoming Dimitar Berbatov is prone to bad patches and Kieran Richardson isn't as effective as either Dembele or Dempsey.
Positively for Martin Jol, Mladen Petric has made a quick transition to the Premier League, and Fulham owns five wins and a draw against West Brom in their last six league meetings at Craven Cottage.
Prediction: 2-1 Fulham
Reading vs. Tottenham
In mid-August, as the Dempsey saga intensified, the US international said the truth would come out soon. He then spoke during the international break after completing a move to Tottenham. Dempsey, predictably, said the episode had taken a toll on him mentally and denied that he ever refused to play for Fulham.
The bottom line is that Dempsey came out the bad guy -- which was about right. Tottenham fans, who could see Dempsey on the pitch against Reading on Sunday, won't care if he can produce. (Note: Tottenham visits Fulham on Dec. 1.)
Spurs are still seeking a first win under Villas-Boas, and the longer it takes, the more pressure AVB is sure to be under. Reading has shown its battling qualities in two games, and if not for keeper Adam Federici's errors, could be on six points.
Everton vs. Newcastle
After Newcastle lost to Everton 3-1 in the middle of May, a likely annoyed Alan Pardew said the Magpies -- who had completed a remarkable season that had them flirting with fourth -- were in a "different league from Everton now."
Scribes probably took pleasure in reminding Phil Jagielka of those words, and the central defender hit back this week. "I wouldn't say there was a bit of an edge to the game, but I do think it's disrespectful for someone to say something like that after one good season," he said.
Of course there's a bit of an edge, even if Pardew won't be on the touchline Monday as he serves the first of a two-game ban for pushing a linesman.
Everton has made the better start to the season.
Prediction: 2-0 Everton