Premier League: 10 things to look out for on the opening weekend


Spurs should benefit from a settled squad, but could it be a Gray day at Watford and might West Hams new signings give Manchester United a tough time?

1) Spurs aim to pick up where they left off

Spurs ended last season like a team who were ready to go all summer. They won their last two games, away to Leicester and Hull, by the walloping margins of 6-1 and 7-1, to complete a run of 12 wins in 13 matches at the end of the Premier League season. It was an emphatic, if ultimately futile, response to those who thought they would fade away like they did in 2015-16, when they infamously lost their final match 5-1 at Newcastle. Spurs will want to put that to bed this weekend and also show they can start the season as well as they finished the last. Since they became a serious team under Mauricio Pochettino, one of Spurs biggest problems has been slow starts they have won just once in seven August league matches in the past two seasons. They will be keen to address that this time around, not least because of their stadium move: the media are primed, waiting to jump to conclusions, and blame it on Wembley. Spurs excellent summer in the transfer market forget who they didnt buy, just look at how they didnt sell gives them a continuity that should be conducive to a fast start. In an age of instant gratification, when we all need somebody we dont have to Google, continuity does not have the appeal of novelty yet it comes with proven benefits. Spurs have no settling-in period for new players, no teething problems to worry about. They can just pick up where they left off in May. If they do, it could be a long afternoon of the soul for Newcastles defence. Rob Smyth

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2) A must-win game for Arsenal already

It would be almost entirely ridiculous to say the first game of the season is a must-win, so thats precisely what were going to do. Football is almost entirely ridiculous. And whereas Spurs would like a good start, Arsenal need one. If they drop too many early points, the Emirates is likely to be enveloped by the juvenile negativity that has been a feature of the last few seasons, and we know what such an atmosphere usually does to Arsenals results. Their first three away games are tough Stoke, Liverpool and Chelsea so home wins against Leicester, Bournemouth and West Brom are almost non-negotiable. Ridiculous, or what? RS

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Alexandre Lacazette during training on Thursday. Photograph: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty

3) Hernndez and Arnautovic could cause United trouble

West Hams away record last season was not bad: of the teams outside the top six, only Southampton and Crystal Palace bettered their five wins. And on Sunday they have a chance to trouble Manchester United, who are yet to find their best XI and have only one defender, Eric Bailly, who is entirely reliable. To achieve this the visitors have two choices: absorb pressure and hope that a team which still lacks cohesion cannot create chances, or attack with conviction and hope that a team which has struggled to score will still struggle to score. It seems unlikely they will choose the latter option. United have shown in pre-season that they are handy on the counter, and Romelu Lukaku is still more effective facing the opposition goal than his own. But in Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernndez , West Ham have signed two players useful on the counter themselves: pacey, direct, and with scoring expertise from long and short range, respectively. All of which is to say that if the hosts cannot score early something they have managed infrequently since Alex Ferguson retired Old Trafford will likely be in for another acrylic afternoon. Daniel Harris

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4) Will Guardiola find room for Citys young stars?

Since rebranding their reserve team as the Elite Development Squad, Manchester City havent developed any elite players. Some excellent talent has come through, from Denis Surez to Kelechi Iheanacho, but none have become first-team regulars. That may change in the next few years. Pep Guardiola likes young players almost as much as midfielders Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcntara and Kingsley Coman are among his proteges and it will be fascinating to see how much he integrates youth during his second season at Manchester City. There are obvious barriers, most notably an enormous collection of experienced attacking talent and the need to win something right here, right now. But Brahim Daz, 18, and Phil Foden, 17, were so impressive in pre-season that supporters will want to see them in the real stuff, even if it is just an occasional appearance for now. Nothing brings goodwill quite like the promotion of youth. After the sadly unfulfilled potential of Stephen Ireland, Micah Richards and Michael Johnson, City are due a home-grown star or two. RS

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5) A Gray day for Liverpool at Watford?

Liverpools success last season was predicated on a fast start. Though the score was close in the end, they devastated Arsenal on the opening day and dominated Spurs soon after, then walloped Leicester and won at Chelsea. And, at the start of this season, they ought to be confident in their ability to do similar, fortified by the arrival of Mohamed Salah and excited by the prospect of Champions League football. Except, in these heady days of press conferences and transfer speculation, their summer hasnt worked out as simply as that. Philippe Coutinho may yet leave for Barcelona, and theyve been unable to strengthen a defence that is dodgy at best nor do they have a reliable goalscorer, the two elements of a team most frequently able to redeem below-par performance. So they proceed with some trepidation: the teams they hope to challenge for the title and top four will be better, and on Tuesday they face Hoffenheim in as demanding a European play-off as could have been issued. That makes a trip to Watford far from an ideal fixture. During that fine run a year ago, Liverpool still contrived to lose at Burnley and continued in similar vein thereafter, doing well against their immediate rivals and badly against teams well below them. At Vicarage Road they find a club experiencing the positivity that by rights should be theirs too. They have a new manager in Marco Silva, and he appears to have bought wisely: Will Hughes, Nathaniel Chalobah and Tom Cleverley are smart passers with something to prove, while Andre Gray brings goals and Richarlison the excitement of the unknown. It will be an interesting afternoon. DH
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6) Palace host welcome gatecrashers

Frank De Boer and David Wagner will take up their positions in opposing technical areas this weekend without a single minute of Premier League experience between them and with few neutrals knowing quite what to expect from either of their teams. Partisan fans will be giddy with anticipation, with the Palace faithful looking forward to a brave new dawn of slick, possession-based fancy-dannery of the fabled Ajax oeuvre. Terriers fans will be beside themselves with glee at merely having a place at the top table, but also looking for early pointers to how a team that finished fifth in the Championship with a negative goal difference will fare against the Premier Leagues best. Playing top-flight football for the first time since 1972, few give Huddersfield a prayer of staying up, but they surprised plenty of people last season by winning promotion under a talented manager who moved quickly to bolster his squad and bed in new recruits. Many have likened Wagners Terriers to the Blackpool side Ian Holloway so nearly kept up in 2010-11. If they are even half as entertaining they will be welcome gatecrashers, however long their stay at the party. Barry Glendenning

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7) A feeling of fresh v stale at Goodison

On the face of it, Everton are in a good place: Davy Klaassen and Jordan Pickford look to be solid, sensible signings, and will strengthen an already useful first XI. But theyve also swapped their best attacker for an attacker past his best and look set to lose Ross Barkley too. Meanwhile, in Sandro Ramrez they have bought a player with just one decent season under his belt one in which he scored an unusual number of goals from unlikely positions, a feat difficult to replicate in any league, let alone in a new one and decent though Michael Keane is, his turning circle remains the same. He is plenty good enough for the division but not necessarily good enough for where Everton would like to finish. The fixture generator, though, has dealt them the game they all wanted. It is true that Stoke have replaced the authority of Glenn Whelan with that of Darren Fletcher, but they have also lost Phil Bardsley and Jonathan Walters, strong dressing-room presences, and the improvisational skill of Marko Arnautovic. At the end of last season they contrived to lose five and draw two of their final 10 games, understandable to an extent in that they had little to play for; yet it is hard to shake the sense they have gone stale, and have done little to amend that through the summer. It is hard to see them leaving Goodison on Saturday evening with anything other than another defeat. DH

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8) Absentees will loom large at St Marys

Southampton and Swansea fans may be looking out for Virgil van Dijk and Gylfi Sigurdsson, but are extremely unlikely to see either player on the field or in the stands as their protracted transfer sagas rumble on and on. Van Dijk is unlikely to be welcome as a spectator at St Marys and probably wouldnt go anyway given the hostile reception with which locals would greet him. Swanseas Icelandic midfielder is also expected to be absent, although the circumstances surrounding his apparently inevitable departure for Everton is not mired in anything approaching the same depths of acrimony. Arguably the best players on their respective teams, their absence from the line-ups will provide a clear sign its time the transfer window closed before the season opens. BG

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9) Defoe and Bournemouth look perfect fit

No wonder Jermain Defoe wanted to join Bournemouth. They scored more league goals than Manchester United last year, and create an inordinate number of chances for a team who spend most of their life in the bottom half of the table. It looks like the perfect fit. Defoe scored 15 goals last season in a diabolical Sunderland side, and his attitude and veganism make him a young 34-year-old. At 80-1, he might be a decent each-way bet to be Premier League top scorer. RS

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10) How will Chelsea integrate Morata?

Diego Costa and lvaro Morata have a lot in common: they are both the male of the species, they both do football for a living, and both their names end with a vowel. As footballers, however, they have very little in common Costa is a highly effective bull in a china shop, Morata more subtle and intricate. Its a significant change of style, and the speed with which Chelsea integrate Morata is likely to determine whether they can retain the title for the second time in their history. RS

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