Premier League: 10 things to look out for on the opening weekend

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·8-min read
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1) Arsenal to avoid opening night encore

It has become traditional that Arsenal look somewhat undercooked going into a season, but this time their hosts harbour more question marks. While Crystal Palace battered them at Selhurst Park in April, a rematch so soon appears to suit the visitors more and Patrick Vieira’s prediction of “a completely different game” seems hard to fault. Palace are yet to find a replacement for Conor Gallagher, whose energy was so fundamental to their better performances last season, while Cheikhou Kouyaté has left and the current injury list includes James McArthur and Michael Olise. Reinforcements have taken longer to arrive than Vieira might like, while Mikel Arteta has been able to strengthen in key areas and field something close to his favoured starting XI in recent friendlies. A year ago Arsenal’s Covid-weakened side began disastrously at Brentford, but a Friday night fright does not appear as likely this time around. Nick Ames

  • Crystal Palace v Arsenal, Friday 8pm

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2) Núñez ready to go for Liverpool

Darwin Núñez does not look as if he needs to be eased in. The Uruguay forward started on the bench when Liverpool beat City in the Community Shield last weekend, but he appeared to be on the same wavelength as his new teammates after coming on in the second half. The runs were intelligent and effective, the link play was smart and there were signs of an understanding with Mohamed Salah, who was involved when Núñez scored his first Liverpool goal with a brave header. The question is whether Klopp decides to play the former Benfica striker when Liverpool visit Fulham on Saturday. Is there anything to gain from holding the 23-year-old back and playing Roberto Firmino through the middle instead? Firmino is an excellent, subtle player, but Fulham’s defenders must be dreading the thought of trying to keep Núñez quiet. Jacob Steinberg

  • Fulham v Liverpool, Saturday 12.30pm

3) Everton look short of firepower

It was against Frank Lampard’s old club last season that Everton found the spirit, style and backing that ultimately kept them in the Premier League, but that was courtesy of a winner from Richarlison – with both Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Salomón Rondón on the bench as back-up. The goalscorer is gone, the England international is out injured for the next six weeks and Rondón is suspended. Another attritional approach is likely, with no recognised forward available for the first game of a new campaign. And to think it is Thomas Tuchel who has bemoaned his club’s summer transfer business so far. Chelsea at least have some new faces to reflect an ambitious new era under Todd Boehly in Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly and Carney Chukwuemeka, along with the promise of more to come. They have lost on their last four league visits to Goodison Park, however, and Tuchel’s appeals for reinforcement will only intensify with a fifth. Andy Hunter

  • Everton v Chelsea, Saturday 5.30pm

4) Will Pope force Dubravka out?

Nick Pope or Martin Dubravka? That is the dilemma facing Eddie Howe as his Newcastle team prepares to face Nottingham Forest at St James’ Park on Saturday. Pope did not join from Burnley for £10m earlier this summer to merely sit on the bench. Instead the 30-year-old has made it crystal clear he intends to be playing the first-team football that will all but guarantee him a place on England’s World Cup bound flight to Doha in November. Accordingly the consensus is that Howe will start Pope ahead of Dubravka on Saturday. That, in turn, is set to upset the Slovakia goalkeeper and his agent, who has reiterated that his client is too good to be anyone’s understudy. Something has to give; might a Newcastle-Leicester part exchange deal involving Dubravka and James Maddison be the answer? Louise Taylor

  • Newcastle v Nottingham Forest, Saturday 3pm

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5) Kane can hit the ground running

If pre-season is a time for optimism, it has been particularly pronounced at Tottenham. First Antonio Conte committed to the project, then the club made quick and targeted signings. Yet there is one player who holds the key to glory and, happily for all concerned, Harry Kane looks relaxed and ready. This time last year, the striker wanted out. When he was denied his wish, he laboured, scoring only one league goal before the middle of December. He rediscovered his groove under Conte, who joined at the start of November, to finish with 17 in the competition and he carries momentum into the opening game against Southampton, having had a proper pre-season this time. Conte’s system is based on getting the best out of his front men, and Kane intends to embrace the expectations. David Hytner

  • Tottenham v Southampton, Saturday 3pm

6) Hammers pose City tough opening test

The champions do not have an easy start to their title defence. West Ham are unbeaten in their past three home games against Manchester City and play in a way that unsettles Pep Guardiola’s side. A lot of it is centred around the incisiveness of Jarrod Bowen and Michail Antonio on the counter, and while West Ham looked short of creativity during pre-season that is likely to be less of a problem against City. After all, David Moyes will not be making plans for his team to dominate possession. It will be all about West Ham maintaining a low block, keeping a close watch on Erling Haaland and looking for ways to release Bowen, whose diagonal runs from right to left saw him score twice when Moyes’s side held City to a pulsating 2-2 draw in this fixture last season. Jacob Steinberg

  • West Ham v Manchester City, Sunday 4.30pm

Jarrod Bowen gives West Ham a 2-0 lead against Manchester City in May, before the champions came back to draw.
Jarrod Bowen gave West Ham a 2-0 lead against Manchester City in May, before the champions came back to draw. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

7) Parker seeks early points on board

Great expectations. This phrase probably doesn’t embody the outlook of Bournemouth fans before their Premier League return. With Scott Parker’s men making hard work of automatic promotion last season, and a concerning lack of summer spending so far, the club look set for a trying campaign. After hosting Aston Villa, Bournemouth next travel to Manchester City before facing Arsenal at home and Liverpool at Anfield. A point at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday may be necessary to avoid the ominous prospect of losing their first four league games and seeing their survival hopes potentially begin to wash away along the south coast by the end of August. Villa fans will be expecting greater things than last season’s 14th place, and if Steven Gerrard’s players are intent on making large strides up the table, picking up three points in games like this should be a must in their hunt for a first top-half finish since promotion in 2019. Joel Mians

  • Bournemouth v Aston Villa, Saturday 3pm

8) Will Ronaldo make an appearance?

Erik ten Hag’s first Manchester United XI for a Premier League game is not expected to include Cristiano Ronaldo due to the wantaway striker’s lack of match-fitness. The manager branded the 37-year-old’s early departure from Sunday’s friendly with Rayo Vallecano as “unacceptable” and anyone watching Brighton’s visit will turn into body-language experts, parsing any interaction for a hint of discord. The Portuguese’s decision to go awol was surely premeditated as a latest ploy in the push to leave a club there is supposedly adoration for. As the new manager tries to somehow rebuild a shattered side, how Ten Hag deals with Ronaldo and an unwanted sideshow may define his tenure. Jamie Jackson

  • Manchester United v Brighton, Sunday 2pm

9) Bamford return a big boost for Marsch

The injuries which restricted Patrick Bamford to a mere nine appearance for Leeds last season played a big part in not only the team’s dalliance with relegation but Marcelo Bielsa’s replacement by Jesse Marsch. The good news for the latter is that Leeds key striker, and 2020-21 leading scorer, is nearing 100% fitness and looks set to start against Wolves at Elland Road on Saturday. If Marsch can keep Bamford fit he has a good chance of buying the time needed to bed his exciting new signings, perhaps most notably the attacking midfielder Brenden Aaronson and the winger Luis Sinisterra, into the first XI and help Leeds fans forget about the summer departures of Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha. The American’s chances of making this season a success will be enhanced appreciably if he can keep Bamford fit. Louise Taylor

  • Leeds v Wolves, Saturday 3pm

10) Foxes face uncertainty at kick-off

This has been a difficult summer for Leicester. Kasper Schmeichel has left, the futures of Wesley Fofana and James Maddison are up in the air, and the Foxes are the only Premier League club yet to sign a player. A club close to qualifying for the Champions League in 2020 and 2021 found last season did not go entirely to plan, with Brendan Rodgers’ side finishing eighth, six points off a Europa League place. There is a different mood among the Leicester fanbase compared with the start of other recent seasons. They welcome a Brentford team they beat twice lastlast season, albeit fortuitously. The visitors have had a busy transfer window marked by the departure of their midfield maverick, Christian Eriksen. Given the uncertainty in LE2, Thomas Frank’s side may not get a better chance to sting their hosts. Uzzi Majid

  • Leicester v Brentford, Sunday 2pm

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