Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Premier League Week 3 Results: Survival of Fittest As Darwin And Ten Man Liverpool Down Newcastle; Close Shave For Manchester City Against Blades; Hammers Strike Again; Gunners Fall Off Highwire; Chelsea Delivers; Red Devils Chop Down Trees; AngeBall Working For Spurs

Newcastle had a goal lead and a man advantage before a half hour had passed at St. James Park on Sunday. An all too typical error by Trent Alexander-Arnold and a far rarer red card assessed to Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk in the 28th minute put Eddie Howe’s Magpies in good position for a second win of the young season. Instead, Newcastle was to stumble against a top club for a second consecutive week. Liverpool gamely defended, stops were made by both goalkeeper Allyson and the woodwork, and the Magpies were stymied from delivering the much-needed insurance goal. The match evolved into survival of the fittest and Liverpool employed its own Darwin to win the day. Darwin Nunez, the Uruguayan international who has struggled to find his way since joining the Reds last year, delivered two lightning strikes in the 87th and 93rd minute to steal the match for Liverpool. The 24-year-old Nunez had only entered the match in the 77th minute and notably became the first Liverpool player in Premier League history to score both the equalizing and winning goal as a substitute.

Newcastle Manager Eddie Howe, who has rarely put a wrong foot forward in his time as the Magpies’ manager, will receive criticism for his own questionable substitutions in the match. Goal scorer Anthony Gordon, forward Alexander Isak and vaunted midfielder Sandro Tonali were all lifted from the match by Howe prior to the Nunez heroics. The brilliant insertion of Nunez by Klopp and the questionable moves by Howe accentuated an eleventh consecutive Premier League victory by the German over Howe, a league record for managerial dominance.

Things were less dramatic and more methodical in West Ham’s match at Brighton, which is just the way Hammer Manager David Moyes prefers it. West Ham surprised the high-flying Seagulls with a 3-1 victory on the south coast, repeating the disciplined, counterattacking scheme which helped the Hammers defeat Chelsea by the same score last week. James Ward-Prowse scored his 50th Premier League goal and first for West Ham one week after registering two assists in his Hammer debut. West Ham stalwarts Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen scored the other two goals in front of subdued Brighton supporters. While the Hammers can still use some added goal scoring options, the additions of Ward-Prowse and Edson Alvarez, the defensive midfielder who made his first start Saturday, cast a positive light on West Ham’s transfer business done to date following the sale of Declan Rice. Meanwhile, the coronation of Brighton Manager Roberto De Zerbi will have to wait after he was outfoxed by wily veteran Moyes whose team delivered three goals despite ceding 80% of the possession to the Seagulls on Saturday. Brighton’s conquests over lesser opposition in its first two matches now look far less impressive after this weekend’s clunker at home versus a West Ham side which remains undefeated and has won two of its three matches so far.

Chelsea responded to their own pounding by the Hammers by giving their supporters renewed hope for a rebound season. Raheem Sterling scored twice, Nicolas Jackson notched his first Premier League goal, and the Blues posted a clean sheet in a 3-0 defeat of Luton Town at Stamford Bridge. Luton looks already headed for the door this season, but Mauricio Pochettino will be more than satisfied with Chelsea’s performance on Friday.

Arsenal Manager Mikel Arteta, on the other hand, could not be less satisfied with his Gunners dropping points at home in what should have been a mismatch against Fulham. The Cottagers, down to 10 men, scored on a late Joao Palhinha goal as Arsenal miserably failed to preserve a one goal lead in a 2-2 draw. Arteta’s club, after courting danger in surviving close calls in its first two wins, had received praise for having the character to close those games. Saturday’s draw, however, highlighted inherent problems which were evident from start to finish in this match. A sloppy start leading to a Fulham goal just one minute into the match was bookended with conceding the winner on a set piece in the 87th minute despite a man advantage following Fulham defender Calvin Bassey’s red card. The opening minute goal made Arsenal the first club Premier League club to concede an opening minute goal three times in one calendar year while the late concession resurrected bad memories of the poor defending which derailed Arsenal’s title bid last season.

Manchester City recovered from conceding a late goal to survive 2-1 over a surprisingly game Sheffield United side. The newly promoted side would have just 21% of the possession in the match but frustrated the powerful Manchester City attack for much of the contest. Erling Haaland missed a first half penalty but later would find the net to give Manchester City a second half lead. The Blades’ Jayden Bogle then scored in the 85th minute to put Sheffield United on the verge of taking an unexpected point from the defending champions. City’s championship mettle, however, once again came to the fore when Rodri drilled home the winner for the Citizens three minutes later.

Supporters at Old Trafford were horrified to see Nottingham Forest catch fire and take an early two goal lead on Manchester United inside of four minutes. The next 86 minutes went much better for the home side as the Tricky Trees were eventually chopped down in a 3-2 Manchester United comeback victory. Christian Eriksen, deputizing for the injured Mason Mount, got on the scorecard first for United. Casemiro would follow with a second half goal and Bruno Fernandez would strike the winning penalty kick at the 76-minute mark. Taiwo Awoniyi scored in his seventh consecutive match for Nottingham Forest, but he and his mates were silenced after their early fireworks and forced to play with 10 men after a 67th minute red card.

Everton was silenced for a third consecutive match as the Toffees remain the only Premier League club not to score this season after a 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton. For the first time in 33 years, Everton has three consecutive losses to open the season. The Toffees did show some life in front of the Goodison faithful, and a spectacular save by Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa was required to extend Everton’s scoreless streak. Wolves, themselves no offensive juggernaut, took all three points when striker Sasa Kalajdzik scored an 87th minute winner shortly after entering the fray.

Burnley could be battling with Everton and Wolverhampton for survival at the bottom of the table this season. The Clarets were 3-1 home losers to Aston Villa on Sunday. Fullback Matty Cash scored twice for Villa with summer transfer Moussa Diaby contributing a goal and an assist for Manager Unai Emery’s club.

Tottenham Hotspur Manager Ange Postecoglou remains undefeated, and Bournemouth Manager Andoni Iraola is still looking for his first win after a 2-0 Spurs victory over the Cherries on Saturday. A newly constructed midfield featuring James Maddison, Pape Sar and Yves Bissouma has been the engine for the early season success of undefeated Spurs and the “AngeBall” attacking style of their new manager. Maddison went from creator to finisher on Saturday when Sarr set him up for the England international’s first goal of the season on Saturday. Maddison and Sarr have been involved in five of the club’s eight goals as Spurs have opened the season by taking seven of nine points under their new manager.

Brentford Manger Thomas Frank could only shake his head at the way his Bees dropped two points in Brentford’s 1-1 home draw with Crystal Palace. Lumbering Palace defender Joachim Andersen was inexplicably allowed a clear path to drive on the Brentford goal in the 76th minute and the Danish center back beat the keeper with an awkward attempt that resembled a slide tackle more than a shot on target. Goal starved Crystal Palace was grateful for the point provided from an unexpected source though Saturday’s match again highlighted their desperate need for a more conventional goal scorer.  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Premier League Week 3 Preview

Newcastle faces a third consecutive marquee match when the Magpies play host to Liverpool on Sunday. St. James Park was the scene for a surprisingly easy victory in week one for Eddie Howe and his charges who then followed up last week with a strong effort in a 1-0 loss at defending league champion Manchester City. Newcastle lost but twice at St. James Park last season but one of those losses was to Liverpool as the Reds took both league matches from the Magpies even as Newcastle replaced Liverpool in the top four standings. The Magpies look set for another top four battle while Liverpool will need to successfully receive answers from a revamped midfield. Summer transfers Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai are still settling, and Wataru Endo has just recently been added from Stuttgart to provide some defensive solidity. Endo could replace converted winger Cody Gakpo this week in a more balanced midfield approach for the Reds.

Chelsea’s midfield has also been overhauled and only time will tell whether the club will see a return on a record level of investment. Enzo Fernadez has been good but not great and Moises Caicedo got off to a rough start in his debut. The last midfielder in the door, Romeo Lavia, apparently needs more training time before being pitch ready according to Manager Mauricio Pochettino. The Blues are hosts to newly promoted Luton Town Friday in the first topflight match between the clubs since 1991. Heavily favored Chelsea has extra incentive to avoid being the first Blues side to go winless in the opening three matches of a Premier League season since the 1998/99 season.

West Ham, encouraged by a win over Chelsea last week, travels to Brighton Saturday to face a high-flying Seagulls side which has overwhelmed opponents by an 8-2 margin two opening victories. The styles could not be more contrasting between attack-oriented Brighton and the pragmatic style of West Ham Manager David Moyes. The Hammer manager is winless in eight Premier League tries against Brighton.

Manchester United faces Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford this weekend where the Red Devils have won their last seven Premier League home matches and are undefeated in their last thirty matches at the historic venue. Mason Mount is out with a hamstring injury for Manchester United. That may not negatively impact the club’s performance Saturday as the former Chelsea midfielder has been exposed defensively in the first two matches while also contributing little to the Red Devils’ anemic attack. Scott McTominay now becomes the likely next man up after a summer where he was widely expected to leave the club. Nottingham Forest forward Taiwo Awoniyi has eight goals in his last six Premier League appearances for the Tricky Trees.

Tottenham Hotspur midfielder James Maddison left last week’s match on crutches but has been indicated as available to help Spurs continue their unbeaten season at Bournemouth this weekend. Manager Ange Postecoglou has so far energized Spurs’ supporters with both results and style in his first two matches in charge of a club adjusting to life without Harry Kane. An away victory on Saturday would be just Tottenham’s Hotspur’s second in their last 12 matches across all competitions. Bournemouth, losers of five of their last six Premier League matches, are seeking a first win under new manager Andoni Iraola.

Brentford are unbeaten in their last five league matches and have grabbed four points from the first two matches of the current season as the Bees so far have been able to overcome the absence of suspended goal scorer Ivan Toney. Manager Thomas Frank’s side is home this weekend for a London derby versus Crystal Palace. The Bees are undefeated in their last 11 Premier League matches against London based clubs. The Eagles remain without the injured Michael Olise and Matheus Franca, two players being counted on to help compensate for the transfer window defection of winger Wilfried Zaha.

Another London derby this weekend has Arsenal welcoming Fulham to the Emirates. The Gunners should be little troubled by a Fulham side reeling from the loss of striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to the Saudi Arabian league. Striker Raul Jimenez has looked no more dangerous for the Cottagers than the Mexican striker appeared during a goalless last season at Wolves. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka would set a club record by appearing in an 83rd consecutive Premier League match as the Gunners look Saturday to extend a thirteen-match unbeaten run in London derbies.

Manchester City will have several notable absences when the Citizens travel to Sheffield United this weekend. Kevin De Bruyne is out long term; John Stones is out till after the international break and Pep Guardiola will miss Sunday’s match after undergoing back surgery. None of that should matter against the newly promoted Blades. Sheffield United has failed to score in its last eight topflight encounters with Manchester City.

Newly promoted Burnley returns to action after last week’s match at Luton Town was postponed due to ongoing renovations to Luton’s Stadium. The Clarets, blasted by Manchester City on opening weekend, are home to an Aston Villa side which is recovering nicely from an own opening week loss. The Villans were dominant in a league win over Everton last week and scored an easy win over Hibernians in the Europa Conference League during the week. Ollie Watkins registered a hat trick in the European match which will hopefully build his confidence entering this weekend’s match at Turf Moor.

Goodison Park will be the scene for a match which could well factor in this season’s relegation battle as the terrible Toffees host the toothless Wolves. The clubs had the two lowest goal totals in the Premier League last season, and little appears to have changed. Everton are the only Premier League club to have played two matches without scoring a goal this season. Wolves scored once in their opener before being smothered in a 5-0 loss to Arsenal last week.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Premier League Week 2 Results: Manchester City Wins Early Showdown; Seagulls Soar; Chelsea Transfers Flop; Bees Swarm Cottagers; United Mounts Little Challenge at Spurs; Villa Rebounds Against Hapless Toffees; Arsenal Survives Selhurst

Manchester City asserted its championship pedigree with a 1-0 victory in an early season challenge over rising contender Newcastle. Phil Foden looked more than comfortable in the central playmaking normally occupied by the injured Kevin De Bruyne. The England international set up Julain Alvarez for the match’s only score and repeatedly set up opportunities for striker Erling Haaland. The Norwegian striker failed to make the scoresheet on Saturday but his connection with Foden could prove ominous for upcoming league opponents. Bernardo Silva was ill for the match, which provided the opportunity for Alvarez to start in the Citizens’ midfield. The natural striker delivered the match winner from his unaccustomed position. Newly purchased Matteo Kovacic also proved his value in a revamped City midfield which met the challenge of a Newcastle squad which had dominated the pitch a week earlier versus Aston Villa. The Magpies were unable to generate the attacking prowess that resulted in five goals on the opening weekend. On the bright stage of the Etihad, Newcastle was held to one shot on target, with that one unthreatening attempt not coming until the 70th minute.

In contrast to Newcastle’s diminished output, Brighton lit up the scoreboard for a second consecutive week in a 4-1 win at Wolverhampton. The Seagulls won by the same lopsided score for a second consecutive week as a three-goal barrage inside a nine-minute span early in the second half sent Wolves down to a second consecutive defeat. Brighton veteran Solly March struck for a brace in the match, assisted both times by Julio Enciso.

Manchester United, narrow winners over Wolves earlier in the week, stumbled Saturday to a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. A Lisandro Martinez own goal in the 83rd minute ended hopes for the Red Devils as new Tottenham Hotspur Manager Ange Postecoglou was victorious in his home debut. The Spurs midfield, particularly James Maddison and Yves Bissouma, helped execute Postecoglou’s  up-tempo style of play which is much appreciated by Spurs fans frustrated by the club’s unimaginative play of the past few seasons.

Manchester United, meanwhile, has several early season concerns. Marcus Rashford has been exceedingly quiet up top, newly acquired midfielder Mason Mount has failed to impress in his two starts, and Casemiro has looked a step lower in protecting Manchester United’s back line.

Brentford had one major question entering this season and that was how to replace the 20 goals of the now suspended Ivan Toney who will not be returning until January. The question was answered in the Bees’ first two matches by forwards Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa. Mbeumo scored two goals and Wissa added one in a 3-0 drubbing of Fulham, one week after both players had tallied in an opening 2-2 draw. The Bees are now undefeated in their last 11 London derbies. Fulham supporters, who saw their club reduced to 10 men in the 64th minute of the home defeat, received more bad news after the match when it was confirmed that striker Aleksandar Mitrovic will be departing for the Saudi Arabian league.

Liverpool was similarly reduced to 10 men at home but were undeterred in a 3-1 win over Bournemouth. Reds’ forwards Luis Diaz, Mohamed Salah and Diogo Jota all scored to bring Liverpool back after an early Bournemouth goal.

The Cherries’ early lead resulted from another error by Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold who continues to deliver mixed results from his hybrid midfield positioning. The Reds’ plethora of quality attackers was able to carry the day, however, despite Liverpool midfielder Alexis Mac Allister being shown a red card in the 58th minute.

Arsenal was also victimized on Monday by the fifth red card assessed by Premier League officials in this week’s nine matches. A second yellow card incurred by Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu saw the Gunners park the bus beginning in the 67th minute as they successfully clung on to a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace at a raucous Selhurst Park. The Eagles defended tenaciously but switched off for a critical moment early in the second half. Arsenal moved quickly to take a free kick before the Crystal Palace defense was set. Gabriel Martinelli found an unmarked Eddie Nketiah who barreled unfettered towards goal before being taken down by Crystal Palace Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone. Martin Odegaard’s ensuing 54th minute penalty kick was to be the match’s only score as Arsenal would revert to a low block to frustrate the Eagles following Tomiyasu’s exit.

Chelsea also enjoyed a man advantage from the 67th minute on in their match at West Ham. Like Crystal Palace, Chelsea was unable to capitalize. Highly priced midfielders Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez did more harm than good Sunday against the Hammers. Caicedo, the most expensive player in Premier League history, entered the pitch as a second half substitute in time to commit a penalty which sealed the match for West Ham’s 3-1 victory. Fernandez, who previously was the highest priced transfer in the league before Caicedo’s signing, missed a first half penalty which could have given Chelsea a lead and changed the course of the match. Chelsea’s best moment was a dazzling first half goal by Carney Chukwuemeka. Unfortunately for the Blues, Chukwueneka became the eighth injury casualty of the young season for the Blues later in the half. The 19-year-old will miss an estimated six weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Mykhailo Mudryk, yet another expensive transfer signing, entered the match for Chukwueneka and posted a notably poor performance. A Mudryk shot in the second half was so poorly hit that the ball skied backwards rather than towards the goal. Possessing the ball for just 24% of the match, West Ham was content to sit back and capitalize on Chelsea mistakes. The first Hammer goal, only seven minutes into the match, was scored by an unmarked Nayef Aguerd from a West Ham corner kick. The second Hammer goal was scored by Michail Antonio on the counterattack where the Jamaican international easily got the better of two different Chelsea defenders. Then came the penalty which marked the inauspicious debut of the Premier League’s most expensive player in Caicedo. West Ham’s far more economical transfer purchase, James Ward-Prowse, assisted on both of West Ham’s first two goals in his London Stadium debut.

Nottingham Forest’s Serge Aurier also had two assists for Nottingham Forest as the Tricky Trees prevailed at home in a 2-1 win over Sheffield United. As many Premier League squads search for a top-notch striker not named Haaland, Forest seems to have discovered gold in Taiwo Awoniyi. It took less than three minutes on Friday for the Nigerian striker to score in a sixth consecutive Premier League match. Some 86 minutes later Aurier provided his second assist of the match on a cross expertly headed in by Forest’s Chris Wood, the former Burnley striker. Nottingham Forest won their fourth consecutive home match at the City Ground dating to last season.

Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin returned from his extended injury absence only to go off in the 36th minute of a 4-0 loss to Aston Villa. Everton has little hope of scoring without their oft injured striker and on Sunday the Toffees also saw their defense collapse. Everton’s errors bordered on the comical as one Villa throw-in found Leon Bailley for a quick stroll through the Everton box for one goal. A second throw-in, this time by Everton, was easily intercepted and resulted in a later breakaway goal by Aston Villa. Everton Manager Sean Dyche is squarely on the hot seat. Aston Villa Manager Unai Emery, meanwhile, can be ecstatic at the response to his club’s humbling opening week defeat to Newcastle. Four different players scored in Villa’s eighth consecutive win at home.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Premier League Preview: Week 2

The match of the week pits Manchester City versus Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday. The Citizens were rocked this week by news that Kevin De Bruyne could be sidelined for up to four months with a hamstring injury which could need surgery. Newcastle, meanwhile, made a huge statement with its pounding of Aston Villa last week. Alexander Isak provides the Magpies with a dangerous threat up top while Sandro Tonali and Bruno Guimaraes are formidable in the midfield for Eddie Howe’s club. Manchester City, meanwhile, will likely look to Phil Foden to pick up some of the slack for the missing De Bruyne. The absence of Ilkay Gundogan, now at Barcelona, will be more keenly felt now with De Bruyne out of the Manchester City midfield. Manager Pep Guardiola, however, still has an abundance of roster options and his club will be anxious to throw down a marker Saturday as Manchester City seeks a fourth consecutive Premier League championship.

Arsenal has its own injury issues to deal with as the Gunners prepare for Saturday’s visit to Crystal Palace. Defender Jurrien Timber incurred a serious knee injury in his Premier League debut and will be out for an extended period.

Striker Gabriel Jesus, meanwhile, continues to rehab from his own knee injury. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, is regrouping this season after losing its best attacking player and club legend, Wilfried Zaha, who signed with Galatasaray. One of those expected to help cushion the loss of Zaha is promising winger Michael Olise who spurned interest from Chelsea to sign a new four-year contract with the Eagles this week. Olise, however, is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury. While Selhurst Park can be a tough place to play, Arsenal should have little trouble claiming its second victory of the season and sending the Eagles down to defeat.

Manchester United were fortunate to escape Wolves last week when goalkeeper Andre Onana’s reckless challenge in stoppage time was negligently ignored by the now suspended referee and VAR officials. Raphael Varane scored a rare goal to provide the winning margin in a match where former Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount was invisible and forward Marcus Rashford was ineffective. Not helping the Manchester United problems in attack is the fact that newly acquired striker Rasmus Hojlund is still recovering from a stress fracture that he brought with him from Atalanta.

The Red Devils travel to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday where Spurs will try to figure out their own problems up top. The departure of club legend Harry Kane has left a massive vacuum unlikely to be even partially filled by his current replacement, Richarlison. The Brazilian last week showed no improvement on the poor form which saw him score just a solitary goal last season. Transfer addition James Maddison provided some midfield magic for new manager Ange Postecoglou last week, but the Spurs’ forward line looked rather harmless in the absence of Kane. Look for Spurs to get a boost from home supporters this weekend, however, as Postecoglou makes his home debut.

Brighton had no difficulty finding goals against Luton Town last week but will face a stingier defense at Wolverhampton this week. Wolves, however, can’t score and the defense tired in the late stages versus Manchester United on Monday. Brighton scored three times after the 70th minute last week and late match fireworks could again be in store for the Seagulls.

Liverpool has an abundance of attacking threats but still managed only one shot on goal against Chelsea last week. The Reds are home at Anfield this week and should enjoy more opportunities against the wide-open style of new Bournemouth manager Andoni Iraola. The new manager and his Cherries can’t help but improve on Bournemouth’s last visit to Anfield when Liverpool rolled to a 9-0 victory.

Chelsea looked much improved in their opener at Stamford Bridge last week and new manager Mauricio Pochettino will be anxious to carry that momentum into a London derby match Sunday at West Ham. Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia should both be available as the heist of both players in the transfer derby with Liverpool is complete. Pochettino will need to decide whether their limited training time with the club will allow them to play a role on Sunday. Someone definitely not playing a role on Sunday is Chelsea right back Reece James who has suffered his fifth hamstring injury in the last two years. 20-year-old Malo Gusto, a January transfer from Lyon, is likely to deputize. West Ham Manager David Moyes has never beaten Maricio Pochettino in five previous Premier League matches and that streak is unlikely to change this weekend as the Hammers are retooling after the loss of Declan Rice to Arsenal. Incomings have been scarce to date for Moyes’s club though former Southampton player and set piece specialist James Ward-Prowse could make his West Ham debut on Sunday.

Aston Villa may need to do further business this transfer window after center back Tyrone Mings’s serious knee injury and Pau Torres’ ineffectiveness as a substitute in last weekend’s thumping at the hands of Newcastle. At least defensive worries shouldn’t be a problem this weekend as woeful Everton pays a visit. Everton, a goal starved relegation battler the last two seasons, trudges to Birmingham with serious doubts as to where its goals will come from this season. Perpetually injured Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin purportedly took part in a training session this week but would be a longshot to influence Sunday’s match.

Fulham, victors over Everton last week, will face a livelier attack when Brentford visits Craven Cottage on Saturday. Despite the gambling related long-term suspension of striker Ivan Toney, scorer of  20 Premier League goals last season, Brentford looked dangerous in last week’s draw with Tottenham Hotspur as dual strikers Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa each notched a goal in Toney’s absence. The absence of Fulham midfielder Paulina, out with a shoulder injury, could make the Cottagers vulnerable to the Bees’ rapid counterattacking style. The Cottagers will also be without striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who injured an ankle last week even as his long-term future in London remains in doubt amid Saudi Arabian approaches. Fulham striker Raul Jimenez, signed from Wolves, has failed to score in his last 24 Premier League matches. It will thus be a tough order for the Cottagers to win for just the second time in their last nine Premier League home openers.

Looking forward, Arsenal’s Folarin Balogun has been rumored as a possible solution to a Mitrovic departure. Nottingham Forest played well in its one goal loss at Arsenal last week and the City Ground should be buzzing when the Tricky Trees host Sheffield United Friday. Sheffield United were dreadful against Crystal Palace last week with only the wastefulness of Crystal Palace preventing a rout. The Eagles launched a total of 24 shots against the Blades last week. Nottingham Forest forward Anthony Elanga, acquired from Manchester United, recorded an assist in a substitute appearance last week and could be in the starting lineup Friday for the Trees. This will be the first Premier League meeting between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United since 1993.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Premier League Week 1 Results: Magpies Come Out Flying; Manchester City Win Match, Lose De Bruyne; Arsenal Clip Forest; Manchester United Barely Escapes Wolves; Seagulls Bombard Hatters; Chelsea and Liverpool Deadlock On Pitch As Blues Win Transfer Battle

Newcastle emerged from the Premier League’s opening weekend with a statement win, thumping Aston Villa 5-1 at St. James Park. Newcomers Sandro Tonali and Harvey Barnes both scored in their Newcastle debuts while Alexander Isak tallied in each half of the romp for the Magpies. Callum Wilson joined in the scoring fun while Anthony Gordon continued his fine play from the summer U21 Euros. Aston Villa’s disastrous day was not limited to the scoreline. Tyrone Mings was stretchered from the field with a knee injury in the first half and is expected to be out for months. Newly acquired defender Pau Torres did not impress in his relief role and reports on Monday were linking Harry Maguire with a possible move to the depleted Villans. Maguire’s move from Manchester United to West Ham hadn’t yet crossed the finish line as of early this week and Villa could now enter the fray.

The smashing win by Newcastle sets up an interesting matchup at the Etihad next weekend between Newcastle and Manchester City. The defending titlists easily disposed of Burnley 3-0 on Friday as Erling Haaland burst from the gate with two first half goals to open the Premier League season. Unfortunately for Manchester City, however, Kevin DeBruyne pulled up lame with the same hamstring injury he incurred during the spring Champions League finale. The absence of service from last season’s Premier League assists leader could be the only thing that can stop Haaland.

Arsenal looked ready to cruise over Nottingham Forest after a wonder goal by Bukayo Saka put the Gunners in front 2-0 just past the half hour mark. The Tricky Trees hung around, however, and made the Gunners sweat when Taiwo Awoniyi halved the deficit in the 83rd minute. The 2-1 final put three points in the book but the inability to effectively kill the match and a knee injury suffered by new Arsenal defender Jurrien Timber took some of the glow off the victory at the Emirates.

Manchester United were even less impressive in their 1-0 home victory over Wolverhampton. Wolves controlled the midfield throughout the contest as new signing Mason Mount made no positive impact for the Red Devils. The match’s only goal came from unexpected sources as fullback Aaron Wan-Bissaca, often criticized for his lack of contribution on the offensive end, chipped a beautiful ball into the box which center back Raphael Varane headed past Wolves goalkeeper Jose Sa. It was only Varane’s second career Premier League goal and followed a goalless 2022/23 season for the former Real Madrid star.

United is going to need more conventional goal sources going forward and one can only hope Rasmus Hojlund, currently sidelined with a stress fracture, proves a viable answer at striker for the Red Devils. New Wolverhampton manager Gary O’Neil, meanwhile, is due to catch a break. After keeping Bournemouth up last season, he was abruptly sacked. His club performed beyond expectations on Monday and came away with nothing. Worse yet, his club probably should have had an opportunity to salvage a point but for a referee decision in stoppage time. Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana clattered into Wolves striker Sasa Kalajdzic in an ill-timed, reckless and unsuccessful attempt on the ball. No penalty, however, was awarded in a head scratching decision. O’Neil claimed to have received an apology immediately after the match from Jon Moss, head of the referees’ association, for an incorrect call. The culpable referee and VAR officials have now reportedly been dropped from participation in next weekend’s Premier League fixtures. At the end of the day, however, Wolves were unable to find the opponents net which could well prove their undoing this season. Their anemic attack managed only 31 goals in 38 games last season and appeared no sharper in the final third on Monday.

Brighton, meanwhile, put on a fireworks show for its home supporters as the Seagulls scored three second half goals in a 4-1 win over Luton Town. Joao Pedro and Simon Adingra both scored in their Brighton debuts as the Seagulls showed little effect from the absence of last year’s stars Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo. An injury time goal by 18-year-old Evan Ferguson was one of three goals on Saturday for the Seagulls by a player 21 years old or under. Luton Town, meanwhile, looks in for a very long season.

Chelsea and Liverpool were still wrestling for the signature of Moises Caicedo on Sunday as the two clubs battled on the pitch to a 1-1 draw. The clubs deadlocked for a seventh consecutive meeting in a match for which the implications are open to  interpretation. An away point at Stamford Bridge would normally be a good result for Liverpool. Chelsea, however, were terrible last year, losing six times at home. Liverpool would thus justifiably have hoped for more out of the match. Chelsea supporters, meanwhile, were borderline thrilled with the result.  Despite dropping points at home on Sunday, the match hinted at better things ahead for the Blues this season. The club which took the pitch for new manager Mauricio Pochettino looked much improved and the Blue’s energetic play provided a welcome contrast to the lethargic drudgery of last season. New signing Axel Disasi scored in the 37th minute of his Chelsea debut to offset an earlier first half goal by Luis Diaz of Liverpool.

Winger Ben Chilwell and striker Nicolas Jackson posed continuing threat to the Liverpool defense while midfielder Enzo Fernandez was accorded Man of the Match for his best performance since joining Chelsea last year. Fernandez should be unleashed to show his talent further up the pitch as Chelsea has now closed the deal for ace defensive midfielder Moises Caicedo this week. Liverpool was the loser in the Caicedo sweepstakes and reports this week indicate Southampton midfielder Romeo Lavia is also posed to choose Chelsea over Liverpool in what would be yet another humiliation for the Reds. Meanwhile, the Trent Alexander-Arnold positional experiment at Liverpool again presented a high risk/ high reward element in Sunday’s match. Alexander-Arnold failed to get back and allowed Disasi a free run for the equalizing goal. The hybrid defender/midfielder, however, beautifully set up Salah for what would have been a winning goal but for an offside ruling. Salah was not a happy man when later lifted from the match in the 77th minute. Salah’s dramatic trudge to the sideline was enjoyable theatre for the Chelsea home supporters.

Spurs and new manager Ange Postecoglou gained a point in a 2-2 draw at Brentford as the club transitions to life after Harry Kane. The former Spurs captain had already made his debut for Bayern Munich by the time Spurs took the field on Sunday. New Tottenham Hotspur player James Maddison assisted both goals, the second coming on Emerson Royal’s equalizer in the first half stoppage time. Despite the away point, Tottenham Hotspur supporters should be concerned by another non-productive effort by Richarlison. The Brazilian forward was asked Sunday to lead the line in replacement of Kane after scoring just a single league goal for Spurs last season.

Richarlison’ s former club, Everton, were once again without their only bona fide scoring threat when Dominic Calvert-Lewin was absent for the Toffees’ 1-0 loss to Fulham. Bobby De Cordova-Reid had the goal for the victorious Cottagers.

A similar 1-0 scoreline played out at Bramall Lane where visiting Crystal Place put newly promoted Sheffield United to the sword. Odsonne Edouard scored the winner as the Eagles began life without club talisman Wilfried Zaha who is now in Turkey. Crystal Palace uncharacteristically controlled 68% of the possession against the hapless Blades.

New Bournemouth Manager Andoni Iraola earned a point in his Premier League debut in a 1-1 home draw against West Ham. Dominic Solanke equalized for the Cherries in the 82nd minute to neutralize an earlier goal by the Hammers’ Jarrod Bowen. Solanke had ironically been the subject of recent transfer rumors involving the Hammers. An interesting milestone was marked by the second half introduction of newly acquired Bournemouth player Justin Kluivert. At just 24 years of age, Kluivert on Saturday became just the fourth player to have appeared in each of Europe’s top five leagues - the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Premier League Week 1 Preview: The Race Begins

Transfer drama is peaking with Harry Kane and Moises Caicedo deals hanging in the balance. Most supporters have had their fill of the summer silly season, however, as clubs once again take to the pitch to begin a new Premier League season.

The season begins Friday when defending champion Manchester City makes the short trip to Burnley to face the newly promoted Clarets. Burnley is managed by former Manchester City player Vincent Kompany who has modeled his managerial philosophy after that of Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola. Burnley dominated the Championship division last season, but Kompany may need to tweak his possession-based approach against more difficult Premier League opposition. The step up in class will be immediately apparent to Kompany and Burnley as they draw the Treble winning Citizens in their debut match.

Manchester City have had a relatively quiet transfer window, early on picking up Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic from Chelsea and closing the deal this week on their top target, RB Leipzig center back and Kovacic’s Croatian teammate Josko Gvardiol. To date, Manchester City has not moved to bring in big names to replace the attacking quality of the departed Ilkay Gundogan and Riyadh Mahrez. Larger minutes could thus be in store for Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden. Silva had been itchy for a move but may now be reconsidering in light of a potentially larger role in Manchester.

The Citizens’ nearest challenger last season has been more aggressive in bolstering their squad this summer. Arsenal has added high profile transfers Kai Havertz, Declan Rice and Jurrien Timber in its attempt to close the gap to Manchester City. Unfortunately, Arsenal enters its first match with Nottingham Forest without center forward Gabriel Jesus who is out after knee surgery. Arteta tried Kai Havertz as the answer at center forward in the Gunners’ final preseason tune-up and the natural midfielder looked just as uncomfortable up top as he had at Chelsea. Leandro Trossard, Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun present other options for Arteta though Balogun is rumored to be headed for the door.

Nottingham Forest had a much quieter summer than the chaos of last summer when the club set an English record by bringing in 21 new players. This summer’s biggest question is who will be between the sticks for the Tricky Trees. Kaylor Navas has returned to PSG after a highly successful loan stint last season which helped to keep Nottingham Forest in the Premier League. The club has now signed Arsenal’s United States international Matt Turner. The Trees, however, are also reportedly close to a deal for Manchester United’s Dean Hendersen which could be really bad news for Mr. Turner.

Manchester United, which faces Wolverhampton at Old Trafford on Monday, has acquired Andre Onana from Inter Milan to be its regular keeper in replacement of long-time club servant David De Gea. Onana’s “sweeper-keeper” approach fits better with Manager Eric ten Hag’s preferred playing style as the Dutch manager continues to mold the Red Devils to his liking.

The Red Devils’ midfield has been refreshed with the addition of English international and former Chelsea star Mason Mount. Unfortunately, newly purchased striker Rasmus Hojlund apparently arrived as damaged goods from Atalanta and will miss extended time with a stress fracture in his back.

Wolves, meanwhile, are a mess as the season opens. Manager Julian Lopetegui resigned just days before the opener over his disgust with the club’s transfer policy which has made no substantial additions while Raul Jimenez, Rueben Neves and Joao Moutinho have all left for potentially greener pastures. Former Bournemouth manager Gary O’Neil is replacing Lopetegui and will be asked to perform a similar escape act to what he accomplished with the Cherries last season. The club also signed former Chelsea academy player Tino Livramento from Southampton this week. The 20-year-old will provide depth at right back behind 32-year-old Kieran Tripper across the expanded number of fixtures the Magpies will face this season. The versatile Livramento can also be deployed further up the field while he develops as Trippier’s ultimate successor. Newcastle will also hope for a meaningful contribution from another young player in Anthony Gordon. The winger failed to impress after his transfer from Everton last season, but teased Magpie followers with an outstanding U21 Euro performance for title winning England this summer.

O’Neil’s replacement at Bournemouth, former Rayo Vallecano manager Andoni Iraola, makes his debut at the Cherries’ Vitality Stadium against West Ham. The match presents an interesting contrast of styles between Iraola’ risk-taking, wide-open style versus the conservative preferences of West Ham Manager David Moyes. The Hammers parted with striker Gianluca Scamacca this week, raising more questions about a sluggish West Ham attack. At least, there is now incoming activity for the East London club as deals for Manchester United defender Harry Maguire and Southampton set piece maestro James Ward-Prowse have been reportedly agreed in the last 48 hours. Maguire’s deal though is reportedly contingent on a settlement from the Red Devils to partially compensate their former captain for the cut in wages he will take with his new employers.

Newcastle, which finished just behind third place Manchester United in last season’s standings, will host Aston Villa in one of the weekend’s better matches. Newcastle has made key adds in the form of midfielder Sandro Tonali from AC Milan and winger Harvey Barnes from Leicester.

Aston Villa took steps to improve this window after surprisingly qualifying for the Europa Conference League with a seventh-place finish last season. The Villans have added center back Pau Torres from Villareal, midfielder Youri Tielemans from relegated Leicester and Moussa Diaby, an attacking midfielder from Bayer Leverkusen. Unfortunately, the club lost midfielder Emi Buendia to a knee injury in training this week. The unsettling loss of a key player now has the Villans scrambling for a late window addition to fill the vacuum created by Buendia’s injury which is estimated to keep him out at least six months.

Chelsea is also reeling from a knee injury sustained by forward Christoper Nkunku as the club prepares to host Liverpool on Sunday. Nkunku’s preseason form exhibited attacking ability not seen at Chelsea in recent years. The injury sustained in a Chicago preseason friendly against Borussia Dortmund, however, will keep him off the pitch until at least January. Chelsea’s attack, so dormant last year, will now need a major contribution from former Villareal striker Nicolas Jackson and potentially the unpredictable Mikhailo Mudryk. Chelsea fans are not holding their breath that Raheem Sterling, who performed miserably following his transfer from Manchester City last season, will rise to his lofty salary grade. Chelsea has parted way with 13 players this summer and enters the season with currently glaring weakness in key forward and midfield positions. Chelsea and Liverpool are battling off the pitch over Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo. The Blues have been in a summer long pursuit of the defensive midfielder who earned raves in his debut season for Brighton. After weeks of haggling with the Seagulls, Chelsea was stunned Friday when Liverpool swooped in to reach agreement with Brighton for the Ecuadoran international. The drama did not stop there, however, as Caicedo immediately insisted his preference was Chelsea and it appeared the Blues might make one final bid to put paid to the saga. Both clubs have serious need of Caicedo’s services.

The Reds, of course, remain stacked in their forward positions led by Mohamed Salah, Luis Diaz, Edwin Nunez, and Diogo Jota. Newly acquired midfielders Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai also bring the promise of a much more dynamic midfield than Liverpool has fielded in recent years. Defensively, however, the Reds are exposed after the unexpected departures to the sands of Saudi Arabia by midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. In pursuing Caicedo, Liverpool will either have addressed their pressing need or, worst case, forced Chelsea to overpay once again.

The other major transfer story involves Harry Kane. News broke on Thursday that Tottenham Hotspur had reached a fee agreement with Bayern Munich for the sale of club legend Kane. As Kane was preparing to travel to Germany for his medical on Friday, however, word leaked that Spurs were trying to modify terms of the agreement. Sunday’s trip to Brentford is thus not at the top of Tottenham Hotspur supporter minds. The Bees, of course, have their own striker problem with Ivan Toney suspended for gambling violations until after the holidays.

Even without stars such as Mac Allister and Caicedo, Brighton should be poised for a successful home opener when the Seagulls host newly promoted Luton Town. The Hatters would seem well overmatched against Manager Robeto Di Zerbe’s flying Seagulls. Eighteen year-old attacking midfielder Facundo Buonanotte could be the next Argentine phenom to step up for Brighton following the departure of fellow countryman Mac Allister to Liverpool.

Brighton has outpaced historical rival Crystal Palace in recent years and the outlook for the Eagles is uncertain as the curtain rises on the new season. Crystal Palace has said goodbye to long time talisman Wilfried Zaha who has left for Galatasaray in the Turkish Super Lig. Rising star Michael Olise is sidelined by injury for the Eagles opener. Dynamic midfielder Eberechi Eze is reportedly being pursued by Tottenham Hotspur. Defenders Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen are also the subject of transfer rumors. There’s buzz about Matheus Franka, the newly acquired attacking midfielder from Flamengo but the Brazilian is currently sidelined by injury. Oh well, there is always the remarkably non-productive Jordan Ayew to anchor the Eagles’ sputtering attack.

On the bright side, Crystal Palace faces newly promoted Sheffield United on Saturday. The financially strapped Blades have responded to promotion by selling off their two best players, Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge, and seem ill prepared to compete at the top level this season.

Everton, which will host Fulham at Goodison Park Sunday, could be one of the clubs who could be battling with Sheffield United in the relegation race. The Toffees have done little to improve a side which barely survived the past two seasons. Fulham outperformed expectations last season but are trying to fend off Saudi interest in striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who contributed 14 goals last season. The Cottagers signed Raul Jimenz as cover for a possible Mitrovic departure, but the Mexican striker failed to score a goal last season for Wolverhampton and has sadly been a shadow of his former self since a 2020 head injury.

Questions still abound for many Premier League clubs as roster needs will continue to be addressed through the closing of the Premier League transfer signing window on September 1. Unsettling for the English clubs is that the threat of a Saudi Arabian club poaching a key star will continue until the later closing of the Saudi window on September 20. 


Monday, August 7, 2023

Will It Be a Short Stay for Newly Promoted Clubs ?

Last season saw all three promoted clubs avoid relegation back to the Championship and remain in the Premier League. Fulham broke into the top half of the table while Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest finished 15th and 16th respectively. Tumbling from the top tier were Leicester, Leeds and Southampton. Replacing those three relegated clubs in the Premier League are Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton Town. The former two clubs are no strangers to the Premier League with Burnley returning after just a one-year hiatus and Sheffield United having competed at the highest level in England just two years ago.

Luton Town is a whole different story. The Hatters were eliminated from the top tier one season before the Premier League’s inaugural season. It’s been an eventful three decades since then for the club. Amid financial difficulties, Luton Town would descend through the tiers of football until playing themselves out of the English National League altogether before starting the long crawl back. Financial difficulties contributed to the fall with the Hatters being assessed point deductions for insolvency and financial improprieties.

On the eve of returning to the topflight, the club is now scrambling to make necessary improvements to its Kenilworth Road stadium in accordance with Premier League standards. The home opener against Burnley has already been rescheduled as the club scrambles to complete those renovations. There is also the question of whether the Luton Town roster, and that of the other two promoted sides, is up to Premier League standards. The Hatters and fellow newbie Sheffield United have spent the least of any current Premier League clubs in this summer’s transfer window.

Luton Town were unlikely aspirants for the topflight when the ill-fated Nathan Jones left the club for Southampton last November with the Hatters sitting in 9th place in the Championship table. New manager Rob Edwards, however, elevated the club’s performance with a particular focus on defense. Luton Town would concede the second fewest goals in the league as the Hatters would rise to third and qualify for the promotion playoffs. Playoff wins over Sunderland and Coventry led to the Hatter’s upcoming Premier League debut. The teams it will face this season will have much greater firepower than Sunderland and Coventry, however. At the point of its own attack, Luton Town will again look to Carlton Morris, who tallied 20 times in the Championship last season.

Sheffield United earned automatic promotion with a second-place finish. Unfortunately, the Blades just sold their best player to French side Marseilles. The sale of attacking midfielder Iliman Ndiaye, who scored 14 times and was tied for most assists in the Championship last season, was a financial decision for a club which incurred a transfer embargo last window for unpaid bills. Needless to say, a like replacement for Ndiaye will not be purchased. The Blades’ best remaining player is midfielder Sander Berge, but he may also be headed out the door. Burnley has registered interest in the Norwegian international as the Sheffield United fire sale continues.

Burnley is the promoted side with the greatest expectations and intent. The club has already invested in ten new signings in this window to bolster its survival prospects. Winners of the Championship title last season, the Clarets head back to the Premier League a much different side than they were two years ago under current Everton Manager Sean Dyche and his long ball philosophy. Leading them back to the Premier League is former Manchester City playing legend Vincent Kompany. The young manager employs a more expansive and possession-based style reflective of his time playing under Manager Pep Guardiola. After beginning his managerial career in his native Belgium, Kompany’s return to England last season was a spectacular success as Burnley retooled and dominated the division, losing only three times enroute to first place and automatic Premier League promotion.

Unfortunately, the club’s top scorer last season in Nathan Tella has returned to parent club Southampton with the Saints showing no willingness to negotiate. Former Southampton forward Nathan Redmond has been signed and his Premier League experience could prove valuable. Other attackers with Premier League experience include Jay Rodriguez and Wout Weghorst, the latter having played on loan at Manchester United last season. Burnley, however, will hope for another new signing, 22-year-old Zeki Amdouni, to take a major step up from Basel FC. The young forward scored 12 goals last season in the Swiss Super League. Perhaps more impressively, the Swiss international was the leading scorer in the Europa League with seven goals during last season’s competition. 

Important to note is that Burnley conceded the fewest goals in the Championship last season and that defensive solidity will be needed against the higher quality Premier League attacks. Backstopping the defense will be new goalkeeper James Trafford who failed to concede a goal during England’s recent run to the U21 European Championship. Burnley may have the best shot at survival but will quickly realize how difficult that struggle will be when the Clarets open the Premier League season next Friday against title defending Treble winner Manchester City.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Will The Seagulls Fly Again?

Any concerns about last season’s departure of Manager Graham Potter to Chelsea were quickly dispensed with as Brighton thrived under Roberto De Zerbi while Potter was flaming out in London. Perhaps the greatest win for Brighton in the current transfer window is holding on to the former Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk manager. De Zerbi established himself as a top tier Premier League manager by guiding the Seagulls to Brighton’s first European qualification with a sixth place Premier League finish that puts the club in the Europa League this coming season. Brighton also advanced to the semifinals of the FA Cup before falling in penalties to Manchester United. The job done by De Zerbi at Brighton last season prompted Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola to call the Italian “one of the most influential Premier League managers in the last 20 years.” De Zerbi’s style of play employs a possession-based approach, not unlike Guardiola’s own philosophy, whereby his club provokes pressing by their opponent. One mistake by the opposition and the Seagulls are flying to unoccupied areas of the pitch. Brighton is then clinical in the final third with intricate passes creating premium shot opportunities.

Recreating last year’s success will be more difficult, however. The Seagulls must adjust to the additional rigors of the added European schedule while adjusting to the loss of key players. Player turnover is not unusual for a Brighton club which often uncovers young creative players, many from South America, who then move on, at a tidy profit to the Seagulls, after establishing themselves on the south coast. The funds from their sale then serve to fund the purchases of more future stars. Alexis Mac Allister is one star who has left the flock. The Argentinian made his mark last season in the Premier League while also capturing a World Cup with his country. The midfielder, who scored 10 goals for the Seagulls in the league last season, is now a Liverpool player.

Replenishing the Brighton attack, however, will be a new addition in Brazilian center forward Jao Pedro. The 21-year-old scored 11 goals in the Championship division of English football for Watford last season and is a versatile player with good ball skills who can also play as an attacking midfielder. Box to box midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud is another player added to De Zerbi’s tool kit this summer. A somewhat different profile at 27 years old, Dahoud has not yet achieved the potential predicted for him as a young prospect in the Bundesliga. Brighton will hope De Zerbi’s tutelage can take Dahoud to a different level after some recent struggles at Borussia Dortmund.

Defense could be a worry for Brighton, in part traceable to the strange relationship between Chelsea and the Seagulls. Chelsea not only grabbed Potter last season but also signed fullback Marc Cucarella from the Seagulls. Now Chelsea is in full bore pursuit of Brighton defensive midfielder Moises Caicedo. The 21-year-old Ecuadoran comes off a breakthrough season for the Seagulls and has not been shy in sharing his desire to join the London club. Caicedo expressed those sentiments when accepting an award at a Brighton supporter function just this past week. Brighton is holding out, however, for a stiff transfer fee which would deliver more than a $100 million profit to the club. Caicedo’s departure would create a void in the Brighton defense which has also been weakened by the loss of center back Levi Colwill. Colwill was loaned by Chelsea to the Seagulls last season and Brighton wanted to make the appointment permanent. Chelsea, however, would have none of it and Colwill recently signed a long-term contract to stay with the Blues after assurances that he is key to new manager Mauricio Pochettino’s plans. Brighton has moved to replace Colwill by acquiring Brazilian center back Igor Julio from Fiorentina in Serie A. Chelsea is now reportedly close to signing Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez who lost his starting place in De Zerbi’s lineup to Jason Steele last season.

Returning defenders for Brighton include captain and longtime supporter favorite Lewis Dunk, a center back who has been with the club since 2010. Meanwhile, Caicedo’s Ecuadoran teammate, Pervis Estupian, has established himself as one of the best left backs in the Premier League. Assuming Brighton remains solid in defense, either with Caicedo or a suitable replacement, the Seagulls should continue their ascent. De Zerbi’s attack should be formidable with Pedro and Dahoud joining a solid returning core for Brighton which includes Japanese winger Kaoru Mitoma and youngsters Julio Enciso and Evan Ferguson. Paraguayan midfielder Enciso established himself as a midfield force in the second half of last season at just 19 years old. Enciso’s goal against Manchester City, which secured Brighton’s Europa League qualification, was adjudged by many as the Premier League goal of the season. Irish international Ferguson flashed as an 18-year-old last season for Brighton, striking for 6 goals in 19 appearances.

Look for the Seagulls to get off to a flying start when they are home to Premier League newcomer Luton Town in their August 12th season opener.