Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekendClockwise from top left: Everton’s Michael Keane; Leicester’s Jamie Vardy signs a new contract; Brighton’s Chris Hughton; Huddersfield seek another clean sheet at Manchester City; and David Luiz could have his hands full.
1) Change and goals in store at Stamford Bridge
With two teams in flux, Chelsea’s derby with Arsenal is a meeting that promises goals. Both sides are vulnerable in defence and dangerous in attack. Although beaten comfortably in the end, Huddersfield exposed Chelsea’s weakness to attacks down the wings last week and Arsenal may aim to do likewise, while David Luiz, in particular, will likely struggle to keep up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the middle. But Chelsea’s midfield thrusters – who could include Eden Hazard from the start as well as N’Golo Kanté in all-new Roving Mode – could wreak havoc at the other end, especially if certain Arsenal midfielders remain dozy when it comes to defensive duties. That is something Unai Emery needs to change and he could start by picking Lucas Torreira instead of Granit Xhaka. Or he might consider deploying both in a midfield trio with Mattéo Guendouzi. But even that would probably not be enough to keep Chelsea at bay so Emery will most likely err on the side of adventure and start Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey in a difficult away assignment. Petr Cech is likely to start in goal at Stamford Bridge but how long can the manager persevere with a keeper less suited to his approach than the new signing Bernd Leno? PD
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2) The end of Liverpool’s largesse?
Away from home against a meticulously well-drilled Crystal Palace side, Liverpool’s pacy forwards are unlikely to be given the freedom of the final third that West Ham so generously bestowed upon them by playing such a high defensive line last Sunday. Touted by many as the only side with enough about them to prevent another Manchester City procession to the title, Liverpool need to avoid stuttering against mid- to lower-end Premier League sides if they are to put any sort of dent in the 25-point gap that separated the sides at the end of least season. Jürgen Klopp’s men dropped 19 points against teams that finished in the bottom six last season, nine of them against the three teams who went on to be relegated. They can ill-afford such profligacy this time round if they are to mount anything resembling a vaguely serious title challenge and the manner of their performance away from home against a Crystal Palace side that made short work of much-vaunted Fulham last weekend could provide a portent of things to come for fans who remember last season. BG
3) Fulham have to make case for their defence
Two months after winning promotion by beating Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final, Fulham return to Wembley with at least half a new team and knowing that their new arrivals must blend in fast. Spurs did not play especially well during their win over Newcastle on the opening day and, let’s be honest, Harry Kane’s World Cup Golden Boot was an anomaly, as the striker has not been on song for a while. But Mauricio Pochettino’s team should still be able to test the solidity of Fulham’s central defensive partnership, which may not be strong even when Callum Chambers and Maxime Le Marchand are fully settled in. PD
4) A long overdue rejuvenation of Everton’s ageing defence?
With Phil Jagielka beginning a three-match ban, Everton may look to Yerry Mina or Kurt Zouma to line up alongside Michael Keane in central defence when they host Southampton. Much will depend on the duo’s fitness and Mason Holgate could start if Marco Silva decides his new recruits are insufficiently fine-tuned. Despite the preponderance of central defenders at his disposal, Silva has insisted the 21-year-old is very much part of his plans for the coming season. What this means for Keane, rumoured to be surplus to requirements at the club in February, remains unclear but the England international’s days in the starting lineup look numbered. With the arrival of Lucas Digne also ramping up the pressure on Leighton Baines in the left-back position, it seems that Séamus Coleman is now the only Everton defender guaranteed his place in the side. As selection headaches faced by recent Everton managers go, it makes a refreshing change. BG
5) Touchline tension in Cardiff
Neil Warnock and Rafael Benítez have a fractious relationship that dates back to 2007, when Warnock’s Sheffield United were relegated from the Premier League and their manager criticised the then Liverpool manager for fielding a below-strength side that lost against the Blades’ fellow relegation strugglers Fulham in their penultimate match of the season, a full 18 days before their Champions League final against Milan. Warnock’s comments about what he perceived to be a lack of sportsmanship prompted a threat of legal action and the Cardiff City manager later said he would “never forgive Benítez for playing what wasn’t even a reserve team”. Three subsequent matches with the pair in adjacent technical areas have passed off without incident, but Warnock has a notoriously long memory. In the event of any perceived injustices being visited upon either Cardiff or Newcastle in south Wales on Saturday, an entertaining feud could be reignited. BG
6) Leicester need to fend off Wolves and keep pressure off Puel
Leicester’s owners’ idea is a fair one – to renew their team so they control matches and cut opponents open surgically rather than try to blow them away with counterattacks. But questions remain about the timing – is that really the way do make the most of Jamie Vardy while he is still in his prime? – and, most of all, about the identity of the manager chosen to usher in the new way. Claude Puel could take encouragement from how his team played at Old Trafford because although they lacked sharpness up front they were far brighter than they had been during most of their matches towards the end of last season. They need to show continued improvement during the first home match of the season, against Wolves, otherwise more fans will start wondering why Puel was kept on over the summer. It would help if he did not make one of the strange selections that he sometimes throws in, like starting Daniel Amartey at right-back while Ricardo Pereira plays in midfield and Marc Albrighton and Rachid Ghezzal sit on the bench. PD
7) How will Watford cope with all their travelling?
There has been much talk about the possible toll that European exertions could take on Burnley. But Watford’s season will be even more hampered by travel difficulty if they do not improve their abysmal away form. They have scored only one goal in their past 11 away matches, a miserable streak that began under Marco Silva. Javi Gracia has to find a way of getting his players to perform away as well as they did when comfortably beating Brighton at home last week. Burnley is a suitable place to start, with Sean Dyche’s side having demonstrated last season how a club’s position can be transformed by overcoming away sickness. PD
8) Early midfield malaise for Pellegrini
The ease with which Liverpool ran through West Ham’s plodding midfield was hugely concerning for Manuel Pellegrini, who could yet rue failing to buy a top defensive midfielder this summer. The inexperienced Declan Rice was taken off at half-time at Anfield but it could just as easily have been Mark Noble or Jack Wilshere who joined Pellegrini on the bench for the second half. It was a disheartening way to start the season and West Ham will need to improve in the centre of the park when Bournemouth visit the London Stadium on Saturday. Pellegrini wants to play on the front foot and is not short of attacking firepower, but perhaps his first tweak should be to ask Pedro Obiang to sit in front of the defence. JS
9) Huddersfield’s dream of repeat against fantasy XI attackers
Every fantasy league manager in the world will have a Manchester City attacker as their captain this weekend but you know what David Wagner will be pointing out to his players: Huddersfield shut out Man City (with Kevin De Bruyne) at the Etihad last season, limiting them to only two shots on target despite conceding 80% possession. They will have to defend as defiantly again on Sunday if they are to achieve a similar result and maybe – just maybe – this may be the match in which to introduce the rapid new winger Adama Diakhaby to nick a goal on the counterattack. But still, it’s got to be Sergio Agüero for the fantasy armband. PD
10) Will Hughton turn to summer signings?
Chris Hughton was at a loss to explain Brighton & Hove Albion’s lifeless display against Watford last weekend and there will have to be a vast improvement when Manchester United visit the Amex Stadium on Sunday. United will be out for revenge after losing this fixture last season and Hughton is likely to make changes in a bid to get rid of any lingering pre-season rust, which could mean that there will be full debuts for Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Bissouma had an impressive cameo against Watford and could give Brighton’s midfield greater presence, while Jahanbakhsh has the potential to sharpen up Hughton’s misfiring attack. JS