Premier League preview: What will and won't happen this weekend
Arsenal vs Leicester (Friday, 8pm)
- Arsenal have collected more opening day red cards than any other Premier League side (6), with Laurent Koscielny getting two of the last three (2010/11 vs Liverpool, 2013/14 vs Aston Villa)
The big talking point: Alexandre Lacazette’s home debut. Alexis Sanchez won’t be available for Arsenal, and it might be too soon for Mesut Ozil, so the spotlight falls on Lacazette. The French forward initially combined nicely with Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck at Wembley last weekend, hitting the outside of the post in the first half, and that’s a chemistry Arsene Wenger will depend on again if he and his players are to start well. They need to, as well: the pre-new contract acrimony towards Wenger has calmed with acceptance, but it won't be far from the surface.
What will happen: New combinations for Leicester - which, at least initially, is a concern. Harry Maguire has arrived from Hull over the summer, Vicente Iborra from Sevilla too, but only Maguire will start and the visitors will have to find a way to shut the doors on Arsenal’s pacy attacking three.
What won’t happen: Riyad Mahrez to have a quiet one. Roma appear to have abandoned their pursuit of the winger - Leicester have rightly given short shrift to their constant low-balling - but it’s an issue which needs a resolution. If he no longer wants to play for this team, they must sell him and reinvest before the window shuts. He'll probably play here, though - quite possibly auditioning directly to Arsene Wenger.
FFT predicts: 2-1
Watford vs Liverpool (Saturday, 12.30pm)
- Watford have lost their last 3 Premier League meetings with Liverpool, with an aggregate score of 1-9 in the Reds’ favour
The big talking point: Transfer activity, on both sides. Watford have been productive, equipping new manager Marco Silva with some smart additions, but Liverpool have been surprisingly inactive. The defence is still a problem, so too the goalkeeper, and the centre of Jurgen Klopp's midfield could do with investment.
What will happen: If Liverpool lose, probably a bit of a backlash. Jurgen Klopp remains popular at Anfield, but his transfer policy is less so. Mohamed Salah has arrived and will surely be excellent, but Klopp will carry familiar weaknesses into the the new season (and, perhaps more importantly, the Champions League qualifier with Hoffenheim).
What won’t happen: Any indication of a changing culture. Watford’s problem is not how they begin seasons, rather what happens to them once their players begin to sniff safety. Silva’s broad challenge is to tackle the air of transience which has descended upon Vicarage Road and, more specifically, to create collective ambition which extends beyond just Premier League survival. He’s a good enough coach to do that, and they’re certainly a talented enough squad to be aiming higher than 17th.
FFT predicts: 1-1
Crystal Palace vs Huddersfield (Saturday, 3pm)
- Huddersfield full-back Tommy Smith registered 10 assists in the Championship last season, five more than any other defender. Six of those assists were provided for striker Elias Kachunga
The big talking point: Hello Huddersfield, hello David Wagner! The last time the Terriers were in the top flight was in 1972 and, by a quirk of fate, their last game at this level was also at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace.
What will happen: A chastening arrival. Frank de Boer will also coach his first Premier League game on Saturday, as Palace’s seventh manager in nine years, and he’ll be working with far more talent than Wagner. De Boer’s reputation has been slightly stained by what happened at Inter, but his methods (details first, emphasis on developing players) should eventually prove that his struggles were more about them than him. Home win.
What won’t happen: A predictable Huddersfield line-up. Some managers prefer continuity after promotion, but Wagner has gone in the other direction: Aaron Mooy and Elias Kachunga were on loan last season and have become permanent signings, Kasey Palmer has returned for another year, and Tom Ince, Danny Williams, Steve Mounie, Laurent Depoitre and Mathias Jorgensen have all also joined. Wagner preferred a 4-2-3-1 formation last season, but whether he adapts that shape to suit his new personnel - or vice versa - remains to be seen.
FFT predicts: 3-1
Chelsea vs Burnley (Saturday, 3pm)
- Alvaro Morata’s goals won Real Madrid 13 points in the La Liga last term; only Cristiano Ronaldo won more for the side (14)
The big talking point: How ready actually are Chelsea? Antonio Conte is grumpy. Not happy at all. While it’s tempting to dismiss his concerns over squad depth as hollow grumbling, he does actually have a point: this team aren’t any better - or broader - than they were last year.
What will happen: A first look at Alvaro Morata. Michy Batshuayi looked lost in the Community Shield, showing little feel for the play outside the box, so Morata should start - physically, he’s not quite ready, but this is as opportune a moment as any for Conte to give him some minutes.
What won’t happen: It’s a bit snarky, perhaps, but the chances of Burnley showing anything new seem rather remote. Sean Dyche lost George Boyd and Michael Keane over the summer, has just agreed the sale of Andre Gray to Watford, and only Jack Cork counts as a significant addition. Either an army of reinforcements is on its way to Turf Moor or Dyche faces a tough slog.
FFT predicts: 4-0
Everton vs Stoke (Saturday, 3pm)
- Only Frank Lampard and Alan Shearer (8) have scored more goals on Premier League opening day than Wayne Rooney (7)
The big talking point: Initially, it’s going to be Wayne Rooney. Will he play? Won’t he? What’s his best position? It will continue for a while and quickly become fairly tedious, but that's because this is a victory lap with a complication: is he actually good enough to start for this Everton?
What will happen: Lots of new players will debut, (nearly) all of them in blue. This fixture will provide a jarring contrast for Stoke fans. The current sum of their recruitment is Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Darren Fletcher and and Kurt Zouma (on loan), and Marko Arnautovic has been sold to West Ham. Not good news. Everton, however, will field an army of new signings: Sandro Ramirez, Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford and Davy Klaassen will all start in what Ronald Koeman will hope is the beginning of a new era.
What won’t happen: Any encouragement for Stoke. Mark Hughes will do well to keep this team away from the relegation zone. Arnautovic has gone, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan too, and Bruno Martins Indi has returned to Porto (although possibly soon to return); there are a lot of holes which haven’t been properly patched and the ocean water is about to come gushing in.
FFT predicts: 3-0
Southampton vs Swansea (Saturday, 3pm)
- Swansea loan signing Tammy Abraham – who has only two previous Premier League games to his name, both as a substitute for Chelsea – was the top-scoring teenager in the Football League last season, (23 goals for Bristol City)
The big talking point: The two elephants in the room - neither of whom will actually be in the room on Saturday afternoon. Gylfi Sigurdsson and Virgil van Dijk are both on the verge of moves away from their respective clubs and the game will take place in the shadow of that speculation.
What will happen: We’ll get a first Premier League viewing of Roque Mesa and Tammy Abraham. The Spaniard is reportedly a fabulous ball-player (with an equally fabulous “Matt Dillon In There’s Something About Mary” moustache), and Abraham is – while still a little coltish – a technical, goalscoring focal point who will surprise a few people this season.
What won’t happen: Goals. This is a one-score game, if that. Southampton’s imperative over the summer was to bridge the gap between their attacking midfield and their forward line, and yet neither of their two signings (Mario Lemina and Jan Bednarek) are likely to do that. Swansea, chastened by their brush with relegation, will start slowly and cautiously and would happily take a point back to south Wales.
FFT predicts: 0-0