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.

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