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