The Premier League has finally returned. Whether or not you have an allegiance to a particular club or you just enjoy watching a sport that isn’t baseball or cricket or rowing or spikeball or whatever other ridiculous sport is on this time of the year, here are a few things I’ll be looking for on opening weekend of the Premier League.
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1) The New Faces or the New Places
As with every season, there will be a multitude of new faces showcasing their talents in the UK this season. Certain guys I’m particularly curious about:
Jorginho | Chelsea
Naby Keita | Liverpool
Fred | Manchester United
Lucas Torreira | Arsenal
Felipe Anderson | West Ham
Alisson | Liverpool
Mateo Kovacic | Chelsea
Andre Gomes | Everton
Beyond the Premier League newcomers, several players have moved around the Premier League, and it should be interesting to see how they fit into their new squads. Those players are as follows:
Riyad Mahrez | Leicester City -> Manchester City
Xherdan Shaqiri | Stoke City -> Liverpool
Jack Wilshere | Arsenal -> West Ham
Richarlison | Watford -> Everton
Lucas Perez | Arsenal -> West Ham
2) The New Systems
Among the top 8 or so teams, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Everton come into 2018 with a new coaching regime.
For Arsenal, Unai Emery took over for Arsene Wenger after literally two decades, and his main task is to shore up the defense and return Arsenal to the top four, at a minimum. Here's some more on Arsenal's system and possible lineups. Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea prefers a 4-back system, which should be interesting considering Chelsea has run a 3-back for the last two years or so with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses playing the wingback role and often acting like forwards. In Sarri’s system, they’ll be held accountable defensively. For Everton, they followed up a summer of spending in 2017 with a summer of spending in 2018. This year, they brought in Richarlison, Yerry Mina, Andre Gomes, Lucas Digne, and Bernard. The integration of the new Everton players with the old will be the key for Marco Silva’s squad.
3) The Newcomers
Every year, we get three new teams in the Premier League. This year’s lucky triplet consists of Cardiff City, Fulham, and Wolverhampton. No one expects them to do what Leicester did a few years ago, but we will see how they stack up against Premier League talent. Fulham spent 110 million pounds during the transfer window (third most in the premier league) and Wolverhampton spent 62.6 million pounds (ninth most).
4) The Strike Forces
I am personally very curious about which strikers see action this weekend. Arsenal will presumably have both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette on the field together, but their roles may result in Aubameyang being split out on the left. For Chelsea, they seem to have a bit of a striking carousel with Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, and Michy Batshuayi (update: moments after posting this, Chelsea loaned Batshuayi to Valencia), plus Eden Hazard has filled in as the number nine previously. Hopping to a third London club, West Ham have Javier Hernandez, Marko Arnautovic, and Lucas Perez all capable of striking, with the latter two able to split out wide.
5) The Effect of the World Cup
The following players were involved in the final round (first and third place games) of the World Cup:
Kevin De Bruyne | Manchester City, Belgium
Eden Hazard | Chelsea, Belgium
Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele | Tottenham, Belgium
Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini | Manchester United, Belgium
Vincent Kompany | Manchester City, Belgium
Mateo Kovacic | Chelsea, Croatia
Dejan Lovren | Liverpool, Croatia
Paul Pogba | Manchester United, France
N’Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud | Chelsea, France
The Entire England Team
I’m very curious if all/most of these players will be involved on opening weekend, considering a few of them just returned from holiday last week. If they’re unavailable, are their squads deep enough to fill the gaps?
6) The Returning Champs
Manchester City tore through the competition in 2017-2018, and they’ll be looking to do the same starting on Sunday. In the premier (eh, get it?) game of the weekend, they face a new-look Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, where Arsenal only lost 2 games in 2017. The only team better at home was, you guessed it, Manchester City with 1 home loss. Time will tell if Unai Emery has the ability to harness Manchester City, since really no Premier League manager could do it last year (except for Jurgen Klopp, probably).
What will you be looking for this weekend as the Premier League kicks off its 2018-2019 campaign? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @DonaldGibsonFF.