The Premier League is back! Here's the men that matter this weekend

Big weekend: Liverpool’s Joel Matip must match Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku pound for pound at Anfield

The Premier League is back! Why did it ever leave us? As all the clubs prepare to make up for lost time, here are the key battles and players of significance in this weekend’s big games as domestic football returns.

While certain 24 hour a day news channels have been building up to it since Tuesday morning, Liverpool v Manchester United isn’t actually only match taking place this weekend.

But in fairness it’s a good place to start, and all our eyes are going to be on….. Joel Matip.

The 26-year-old is seen as the best of a bad backline bunch, but fragile Liverpool will be exposed on a big scale if the more reliable of the defenders has a lunchtime to forget on Saturday.

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How Matip – the only regular back four starter under Jurgen Klopp – copes with the presence of Romelu Lukaku will ultimately determine how this game goes. The Premier League’s top marksman with seven, opinion of Liverpool’s inability to remedy their defensive issues will resurface should they not batten down the hatches.

Meanwhile, you get the feeling questions about Tottenham Hotspur and Wembley also have to go away this weekend.

Dropped points against struggling AFC Bournemouth would further undermine Spurs’ title bid. Still winless in the league at Wembley, Harry Kane is the figure Tottenham again need to rely on to solve the national stadium puzzle.

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Winless, pointless and goalless. What more could you ask for than a game with champions Chelsea? Crystal Palace fans will soon be digging out the guides to Burton Albion, Barnsley and Preston North End if things don’t change.

But is this a good time to play them? With N’Golo Kante out and Alvaro Morata sidelined for weeks, the focus will fall on Michy Batshuayi to come up with the goods.

Stoke are sweating on the condition of Joe Allen after he left Wales’ game with the Republic of Ireland early on. Their World Cup hopes went down the tunnel with him but he will be the key figure for Mark Hughes’ side as they look to plug the tide that is surely coming their way at Manchester City.

Whisper it quietly, but Arsenal and playing quite well and winning matches they should be. Their trip to Watford certainly falls into the category, and if there’s to be a repeat of when Manchester City ran riot at Vicarage Road last month avoided, then Hornets defender Adrian Mariappa needs to continue his recent good progress.

The battle of the Clarets comes on Saturday and Burnley could find themselves in a Champions League place if they beat West Ham. Sean Dyche’s side have let in just one goal in their past four games, rising to sixth, but the Hammers have beaten Burnley in their last four Premier League meetings.

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Jeff Hendrick, fresh from Irish glory and a winner against Everton, is the most important man at Turf Moor.

Swansea v Huddersfield may not be first up on Match of The Day but the battle of the danger men, Renato Sanches and Aaron Mooy, could determine if it’s pushed up the running order.

Brighton’s home form is what, if anything, will keep them up and the Seagulls are waiting for Anthony Knockaert to find his feet in the Premier League. Out-of-form Everton could prove to be rich pickings on Sunday and much could depend on him.

The first Super Sunday following the international break doesn’t appear to be a humdinger. Especially as  Southampton just don’t score at home, but at least they take on a Newcastle United whose start back in the top flight has encouraged.

Things have to change for the Saints on the south coast after scoring in one of their last nine games so it’s time Nathan Redmond helped unlock the door.


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