Wolves keen to get stuck into Toffees
All three promoted clubs survived last season but you get the impression that will not be enough for Wolves, who surely did not launch into a historic spending splurge just to finish 17th. With players such as Joao Moutinho, Diogo Jota, Rui Patricio and Adama Traore enriching a squad that ran away with last season’s Championship, Wolves fancy trying to emulate the Blackburn and Newcastle teams of the early 1990s by going straight up and jostling with the elite. That is harder now but a European place seems a reasonable target. Everton have also spent heavily and are aiming at least as high in Marco Silva’s first season in charge. This opening-day encounter will give some indication of which of these clubs is more likely to achieve their ambitions.
A bracing baptism for Emery against champions
Starting a new job is tough. It’s even tougher in a new country. But in a new country, against the league champions, and versus a manager you’ve never beaten before ... welcome to England, Unai Emery. There’s another thing the new Arsenal manager will have to contend with against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on Sunday too: his defence, about which no one can be certain. In all probability Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos will be the starting central pair, but the former is thoroughly unconvincing and the latter is a 30-year-old not known for his pace, playing his first game in English football. Emery’s life will be made much easier with a win on Sunday but with a new goalkeeper in Bernd Leno possibly starting too, he can’t exactly bank on a clean sheet, particularly with Sergio Aguero looking immediately sharp.
Last season Huddersfield beat Frank De Boer’s Crystal Palace 3-0 on the opening day, their cohesion and vibrancy exposing the confusion of their opponents. David Wagner has not made many additions to his squad this summer but can count on his team being as spirited and well-drilled as they were last season and that will make them difficult opponents for Chelsea, who looked a mess during last week’s defeat in the Community Shield, albeit to a Manchester City side that have a smidgen more talent than Huddersfield. Maurizio Sarri will be able to field a stronger line-up this weekend but there is still a sense that this is as good an opportunity as Huddersfield are likely to get to beat Chelsea.
Tough early test for new-look West Ham
Tasked with making West Ham both more solid and more attractive, Manuel Pellegrini must have dispatched a spectacular volley of swear words when this season’s fixture list arrived. Liverpool away is a heck of a first assignment for a manager attempting to rebuild a side that had the joint-worst defence in the league last season, when they were twice thrashed 4-1 by Jurgen Klopp’s attack ninjas. West Ham have recruited quite wisely during the summer and are likely to deploy a new goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianksi, and at least two new defenders (such as the right back Ryan Fredericks and one or both of the new centre-backs, Issa Diop and Fabian Balbuena). They are all going to have to settle in quickly if West Ham’s revamped attack is to have any chance of ruining the debut of Liverpool’s new goalkeeper, Alisson Becker, by outscoring the hosts.
Howe to welcome back Warnock?
Last season onlookers repeatedly said Cardiff would start dropping down the Championship table, right up until they got promoted. So Neil Warnock’s men will not be bothered that almost no one sober sees them finishing above the bottom three this season. Cardiff are limited, no doubt, but they will not be easy to beat and, having added Bobby Reid to their attack, they could be dangerous from more than just set pieces. But they are still a long shot to win at Bournemouth, who also have a well-honed method along with better players.
Saints need to show Burnley different beast
This fixture provides Southampton with the perfect chance to show they are a different animal from last season. In November a late header by Sam Vokes, the striker who was born in the city, allowed Burnley to take three points and left Saints supporters tearing their hair out at a turgid, one-dimensional performance. Mark Hughes has cajoled more vigour out of the squad and the arrivals of Mohamed Elyounoussi and Stuart Armstrong should add further zip. Burnley have already played three Europa League matches this season — they will not have returned from Istanbul until the early hours of Friday morning — and Saints, who won only four league games at home last season, must assert their authority at St Mary’s. But Sean Dyche’s watertight defence is notoriously hard to breach and Southampton need to ease the burden on the former Burnley striker Charlie Austin to find the net.
Brighton ready to rival top 10
Brighton are seemingly only heading in one direction. An aggressive recruitment drive this summer, funded by their fiercely ambitious owner, Tony Bloom, has paved the way for Chris Hughton’s side to build on their 15th-placed finish last season. They appear to have solved the reliance on Glenn Murray too, by adding Florin Andone, Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the latter for a club-record £17 million, eclipsing the £14 million fee they paid for Jurgen Locadia — the striker who could miss the start of the season with a groin injury — in January. Promoted Wolves and Fulham have been tipped to creep into the top 10 but Brighton have plans to make huge strides this season too. How Watford, a mishmash squad led by the easily forgettable Javi Gracia — the Pozzo family’s 10th manager since 2012 — must pine for such firepower. Short on striking options, they could be about to come unstuck.
Fulham have enjoyed better summers than most — promotion, a flurry of exciting new faces to whet the appetite and key players Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney staying put. But perhaps their shrewdest move was the one of their last, a £6 million move for the Bristol City defender Joe Bryan. The left-back has matured at his boyhood club over the past few seasons and his arrival means Sessegnon can flourish further up the pitch, as he did when Matt Targett arrived on loan from Southampton last season. Bryan, who earned the nickname Springbok owing to his incredible leap, has a big engine, a peach of a left foot and, at 24, has plenty of head room to improve. Bryan backed out of a move to Aston Villa in favour of Fulham but the only real surprise is that no other club offered him a ticket to the Premier League. Forging a partnership with Sessegnon will prove no problem, starting against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Déjà vu for Benitez’s thin squad against Spurs
A repeat of last season’s opening-day fixture, but that’s not the only thing that will be familiar at St James’ Park. A year ago Rafa Benitez had spent the summer grappling with his board over their transfer activity (or lack thereof), and on Saturday he’ll do the same. In a perverse way Benitez is his own worst enemy: keeping Newcastle in the Premier League is essentially Mike Ashley’s sole aim until he finds someone to buy the club, and Benitez did that with relative comfort last season. Ashley thus does not have the imperative to spend big money, and has to just do enough to keep the manager, a hero in the stands, from walking. But there must be a point where all of this impacts on a thin-looking team: even if Spurs look a little undercooked themselves, Ashley could witness the harsh realities of his policies first hand.