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. 


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