Friday, August 5, 2022

Opening Weekend

Another Premier League season is set to begin today when Crystal Palace hosts Arsenal at Selhurst Park in south London. Former Gunner Patrick Vieira enjoyed a successful first year as Eagle manager but now needs to puzzle how to replace the production and energy of Conor Gallagher who has returned to his Chelsea parent club. The Eagles will need more from a group of other young talents such as Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Edouard. Olise is highly skilled and attracted some interest from Chelsea this summer, but the 20-year-old is too often injured and will again be out for the opener. Veteran Wilfried Zaha, of course, remains central to any Crystal Palace success. An intriguing transfer purchase is Cheick Doucoure from Lens of Ligue 1. The  22-year-old midfielder should add defensive solidity while improving the linkage with Eagle attackers with his impressive passing skills.

Arsenal is counting on Gabriel Jesus to improve its own attacking capabilities. The former Manchester City forward has had a positive preseason and should dominate the stage for the Gunners after being often relegated to a spot role at talent heavy Manchester City. Jesus’ City teammate Oleksandr Zinchenko has also moved with him to north London. The versatile Zinchenko is expected to play as an attack-oriented fullback or in midfield for the Gunners. Arsenal missed out on Champions League last season in large part due to a late season power outage and are hoping Jesus and Zinchenko can enliven their scoring prowess. Friday’s opening match will provide a clue as to whether Arsenal has done enough to challenge the top four and whether Crystal Palace is poised to take the Veira project a step forward.

Bookending the weekend Premier League schedule is Erling Haaland’s regular season debut for Manchester City on Sunday as the Citizens embark on their title defense. Julian Alvarez is another forward added to Manager Pep Guardiola’s squad as the club moves on from former players Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. Manchester City will be at West Ham where Manager David Moyes will happily showcase midfielder Declan Rice after the Hammers successfully fended off interested suitors for the England international this offseason. Striker Gianluca Scamacca, acquired by the Hammers from Italian side Sassuolo, is unfortunately out of the lineup due to injury.

Frank Lampard anxiously begins a second season of survival roulette at Goodison Park where the Toffees will host Chelsea. Everton boasts a worse squad on paper than the rag tag group which barely survived relegation last season. Richarlison has moved on to Tottenham Hotspur without being replaced in Merseyside. Further complicating matters is the loss of striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to injury for at least the first six weeks of this season. Lampard is thus unsurprisingly on the hot seat according to English bookmakers evaluating the annual sack race among Premier League managers. Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel is probably secure for the moment but is working for a new ownership group and his preseason has been rocky on the pitch. Tuchel has been critical of his team’s effort level while also lamenting misses on several transfer targets. Raheem Sterling, however, is signed from Manchester City to replace the production of Italy bound Romelu Lukaku. Center back Kalidou Koulibaly joins Chelsea from Napoli to help replace Antonio Rudiger after the German departed for Real Madrid. Andreas Christensen moved to Barcelona, so Tuchel probably has legitimate concern regarding his inventory of center backs. Friday’s signing by the Blues of Brighton left back Marc Cucurella was quizzical given the center back need.

The Eric ten Hag era begins at Old Trafford when the Red Devils host Brighton. While Brighton has spent the summer selling its better players such as Cucurella  and Yves Bissouma, the preseason has been a remarkable soap opera for Manchester United. The Red Devils have endlessly chased seemingly reluctant Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong while Cristiano Ronaldo has indicated he would like to leave. An exit by Ronaldo would raise question how Manchester United will replace its leading goal scorer from last season. Anthony Martial has been one of the brighter performers in preseason but has been guilty in the past of flattering to deceive. A hamstring will sideline Martial for at least the opener. Mason Greenwood remains sidelined by legal troubles. Marcus Rashford has disappointed on his early career promise and former Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho is yet to ignite in the Premier League.

Wolverhampton, however, would welcome any of Manchester United’s attacking options. The league’s lowest scoring returning club has lost striker Raul Jimenez once again to injury. Wolves travel to Leeds on Saturday as Leeds Manager Jesse Marsch begins his first full (hopefully?) season in charge at the club and has brought in two fellow Americans, Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams, to assist his project. Aaronson will buffer the loss of the departed Raphinha (Barcelona). Adams will fill the role of the departed Kalvin Phillips after the English international was snatched up by Manchester City this offseason. The real key for Leeds this season, however, could be the health of striker Patrick Bamford who appears fit for the opener after missing much of last year’s campaign to injury.

Liverpool begins its quest to overtake Manchester City when the Reds visit newly promoted Fulham in London. Darwin Nunez is the newest attacker in Manager Jurgen Klopp’s arsenal while Sadio Mane has left to ply his trade in Germany. Diogo Jota is injured for the opener, but Mo Salah and friends will provide more than enough attacking threat this weekend at Craven Cottage. Fulham, meanwhile, will hope for goals from striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who scored a record 43 goals in the English Championship division last season.

Bournemouth marks its return to the Premier League when Manager Scott Parker and his charges play host to Aston Villa. Diego Carlos joins the Villans from Sevilla to provide some competition at center back where Tyrone Mings is coming off an unimpressive season. Boubacar Kamara, a defensive midfielder acquired from Marseilles, can also play center back in the Villa defense. Bournemouth is not expected to enjoy an extended stay in the top division.

More hope presently exists for Nottingham Forest who open at Newcastle on Saturday. Jesse Lingard returns to the field for Forest after having had a good rest on Manchester United’s bench last season. Forest may need time to find their stride, however, as they incorporate 12 new signings into the squad. Newcastle further bolstered a defense which played well at the end of last season with the signing of center back Sven Botman from Lille. Reinforcement at the other end of the pitch, however, is likely necessary for the Magpies to make any appreciable move up the table this season.

Tottenham Hotspur, on the other hand, have a glittering array of attackers now supplemented with transfer signings Richarlison and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic. Spurs also added Yves Bissouma to provide them with further creativity in midfield. While Bissouma and Perisic will not be available for the opener, Spurs should have more than enough for the Saints who will probably need a miracle to win in London this weekend. The south coast club was busy this summer but invested in largely unrecognizable youngsters with hoped for upside.

Leicester approached the transfer window like no other club in Europe by signing no players. The Foxes host Brentford Saturday at King Power Stadium. Brentford, Everton, Leeds, and Southampton are most mentioned among the returning clubs as candidates for relegation. The Bees had their wings clipped a bit when Christen Eriksen left for Manchester United this summer.

Today marks the earliest start of a Premier League season this century due to the mid-season break which will be required for the Qatar World Cup.

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