Premier League Preview: Matchweek 3

There’s only three perfect teams left as we head into the third weekend of Premier League action. How many will be left by Sunday afternoon? Here’s a look ahead to what’s on tap:

Saturday, August 26
Bournemouth vs. Manchester City – 7:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Vitality Stadium
Referee: Mike Dean

Record and current form:
Bournemouth – 16th place: 0-0-2, 0 points, -3 GD; LL
Manchester City – 5th place: 1-1-0, 4 points, +2 GD; WD

All-time series:
Bournemouth wins – 0
Manchester City wins – 4
Draws – 0

Last season’s meetings:
City 4 (de Bruyne, Iheanacho, Sterling, Gündogan), Bournemouth 0 – September 17, 2016
Bournemouth 0, City 2 (Sterling, Mings OG) – February 13, 2017

Bournemouth absentees: Simon Francis (hamstring), Junior Stanislas (groin), and Callum Wilson (knee)
Bournemouth doubtfuls: none

City absentees: Ilkay Gündogan (knee) and Kyle Walker (suspension)
City doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Bournemouth 1, Manchester City 3

Saturday, August 26
Crystal Palace vs. Swansea City – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
Selhurst Park, London
Referee: Andre Marriner

Record and current form:
Palace – 19th place: 0-0-2, 0 points, -4 GD; LL
Swansea – 15th place: 0-1-1, 1 point, -4 GD; DL

All-time series:
Palace wins – 1
Swansea wins – 3
Draws – 4

Last season’s meetings:
Swansea 5 (Sigurdsson, Fer, Fer, Llorente, Llortente), Palace 4 (Zaha, Tomkins, Cork OG, Benteke) – November 26, 2016
Palace 1 (Zaha), Swansea 2 (Mawson, Rangel) – January 3, 2017

Palace absentees: Ruben Loftus-Chee (groin), Connor Wickham (knee), and Wilfried Zaha (knee)
Palace doubtfuls: none

Swansea absentees: Kyle Bartley (knee) and Fernando Llorente (broken arm)
Swansea doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Crystal Palace 1, Swansea City 1

Saturday, August 26
Huddersfield Town vs. Southampton – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield
Referee: Stuart Attwell

Record and current form:
Huddersfield – 2nd place: 2-0-0, 6 points, +4 GD; WW
Southampton – 7th place: 1-1-0, 4 points, +1 GD; DW

All-time series – N/A

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Huddersfield absentees: Martin Cranie (hip), Jonathan Hogg (ankle), and Nahki Wells (ankle)
Huddersfield doubtfuls: none

Southampton absentees: none
Southampton doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Huddersfield Town 1, Southampton 2

Saturday, August 26
Newcastle United vs. West Ham United 
– 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
St. James’ Park, Newcastle
Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Record and current form:
Newcastle: 17th place: 0-0-2, 0 points, -3 GD; LL
West Ham: 20th place: 0-0-2, 0 points, -5 GD; LL

All-time series:
Newcastle wins – 17
West Ham wins – 11
Draws -10

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Newcastle absentees: Karl Darlow (knock), Florian Lejeune (ankle), Jonjo Shelvey (suspension), and DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring)
Newcastle doubtfuls: Rolando Aarons (knee) and Dwight Gayle (illness)

West Ham absentees: Marko Arnautovic (suspension) and Winston Reid (calf)
West Ham doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Newcastle United 2, West Ham United 4

Saturday, August 26
Watford vs. Brighton & Hove Albion 
– 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
Vicarage Road, Watford
Referee: Graham Scott

Record and current form:
Watford – 4th place: 1-1-0, 4 points, +2 GD; DW
Brighton – 17th place: 0-0-2, 0 points, -4 GD; LL

All-time series – N/A

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Watford absentees: José Holebas (suspension), Daryl Janmaat (muscular), Younes Kaboul (muscular), Roberto Pereyra (muscular), and Mauro Zárate (knee)
Watford doubtfuls: none

Brighton absentees: Sam Baldock (calf), Izzy Brown (hamstring), and Beram Kayal (calf)
Brighton doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Watford 1, Brighton & Hove Albion 0

Saturday, August 26
Manchester United vs. Leicester City – 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Old Trafford, Manchester
Referee: Michael Oliver

Record and current form:
United – 1st place: 2-0-0, 6 points, +8 GD; WW
Leicester – 9th place: 1-0-1, 3 points, +1 GD; LW

All-time series:
United wins – 14
Leicester wins – 2
Draws – 6

Last Season’s Meetings:
United 4 (Smalling, Mata, Rashford, Pogba), Leicester 1 (Gray) – September 24, 2016
Leicester 0, United 3 (Mkhitaryan, Ibrahimovic, Mata) – February 5, 2017

United absentees: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Marcos Rojo (knee), Luke Shaw (foot), and Ashley Young
United doubtfuls: none

Leicester absentees: none
Leicester doubtfuls: Robert Huth (foot), Vicente Iborra (groin), Kelechi Iheanacho (toe), and Harry Maguire (knock)

Final Score Prediction: Manchester United 3, Leicester City 1

Sunday, August 27
Chelsea vs. Everton – 8:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Stamford Bridge, London
Referee: Jon Moss

Record and current form:
Chelsea – 12th place: 1-0-1, 3 points, 0 GD; LW
Everton – 8th place: 1-1-0, 4 points, +1 GD; WD

All-time series:
Chelsea wins – 24
Everton wins – 9
Draws – 17

Last Season’s Meetings:
Chelsea 5 (Hazard, Alonso, Costa, Hazard, Pedro), Everton 0 – November 5, 2016
Everton 0, Chelsea 3 (Pedro, Cahill, Willian) – April 30, 2017

Chelsea absentee: Gary Cahill (suspension)
Chelsea doubtful: Eden Hazard (ankle)

Everton absentees: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Davy Klaassen (foot), and Morgan Schneiderlin (suspension)
Everton doubtfuls: Idrissa Gana Gueye (hamstring) and Sandro Ramirez (foot)

Final Score Prediction: Chelsea 1, Everton 2

Sunday, August 27
West Bromwich Albion vs. Stoke City – 8:30 a.m. ET (CNBC)
The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Record and current form:
West Brom – 3rd place: 2-0-0, 6 points, +2 GD; WW
Stoke – 14th place: 1-0-1, 3 points, 0 GD; LW

All-time series:
West Brom wins – 5
Stoke wins – 7
Draws – 4

Last Season’s Meetings:
Stoke 1 (Allen), West Brom 1 (Rondón) – September 24, 2016
West Brom 1 (Morrison), Stoke 0 – February 4, 2017

West Brom absentee: Gareth McAuley (thigh)
West Brom doubtfuls: Oliver Burke (new signing), Jonny Evans (hamstring), and James Morrison (lack of match fitness)

Stoke absentees: none
Stoke doubtful: Xherdan Shaqiri (hamstring)

Final Score Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 0, Stoke City 0

Sunday, August 27
Liverpool vs. Arsenal – 11:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Anfield, Liverpool
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Record and current form:
Liverpool – 6th place: 1-1-0, 4 points, +1 GD; DW
Arsenal – 11th place: 1-0-1, 3 points, 0 GD; WL

All-time series:
Liverpool wins – 18
Arsenal wins – 15
Draws – 17

Last Season’s Meetings:
Arsenal 3 (Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chambers), Liverpool 4 (Coutinho, Lallana, Coutinho, Mané) – August 12, 2016
Liverpool 3 (Firmino, Mané, Wijnaldum), Arsenal 1 (Welbeck) – March 4, 2017

Liverpool absentee: Philippe Coutinho (back)
Liverpool doubtfuls: none

Arsenal absentees: none
Arsenal doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Liverpool 2, Arsenal 2

Sunday, August 27
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Burnley – 11:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
Wembley Stadium, London
Referee: Lee Mason

Record and current form:
Spurs – 10th place: 1-0-1, 3 points, +1 GD; WL
Burnley – 13th place: 1-0-1, 3 points, 0 GD; WL

All-time series:
Spurs wins – 4
Burnley wins – 1
Draws – 1

Last Season’s Meetings:
Spurs 2 (Dele, Rose), Burnley 1 (Barnes) – December 18, 2016
Burnley 0, Spurs 2 (Dier, Son) – April 1, 2017

Spurs absentees: Erik Lamela (hip), Georges-Kévin Nkoudou (foot), and Danny Rose (knee)
Spurs doubtfuls: none

Burnley absentee: Jon Walters (ankle)
Burnley doubtful: Jeff Hendrick (thigh)

Final Score Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Burnley 0

I’ll be back next week to recap and review the third round of Premier League games. Until next time!

Rapid Recap: Premier League Week 2

Have you finally caught your breath from a scintillating opening weekend in the Premier League? Plenty of goals, a few shocking results, and more than a little controversy – not bad for the 2017-18 curtain raiser. The best part? We get 37 more weeks of this!

In case you missed any of it, here’s a quick look back at the 10 games from the opening weekend:

Saturday, August 19
Swansea City 0, Manchester United 4
Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Referee: Jon Moss

Another week, another 4-0 win for Manchester United. Having sold Gylfi Sigurdsson during the preceding week, and playing without Fernando Llorente, Swansea never looked like scoring. Jordan Ayew’s early, mishit cross that glanced off the crossbar was the Swans’ only serious threat on David de Gea’s goal. The Red Devils dominated after a shaky opening few minutes, and United tallied three late goals in a 3 minute, 41 second spell to put the game to bed and then some.

Goals:
0-1 Bailly (45′)
0-2 Lukaku (80′)
0-3 Pogba (82′)
0-4 Martial (84′)


Bournemouth 0, Watford 2

Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Referee: Roger East

Have Eddie Howe’s Cherries come back to earth? After finishing ninth and scoring 55 goals last season, Bournemouth are without a goal – or a point – through their opening two games. Watford, on the other hand, are off to a solid start under Marco Silva. Richarlison, one of their new signings, got the winner as Watford picked up a good, road win.

Goals:
0-1 Richarlison (73′)
0-2 Capoue (86′)


Burnley 0, West Bromwich Albion 1

Turf Moor, Burnley
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Before the season kicked off, if you’d said Burnley would have a win and a loss after their opening two games, you’d be sure they’d lose at Chelsea and win at home against West Brom. In fact, the opposite was true. These are the games Burnley has to win at home if they want to stay up for another season. For West Brom, it’s so far, so good. With back-to-back 1-0 wins, Tony Pulis’s side are one of just three teams with two wins from their opening two games. Hal Robson-Kanu’s goal was a sensational one, but his straight red card later on was absolutely brainless.

Goal & Red Card:
0-1 Robson-Kanu (71′)
0-1 RED CARD – Robson-Kanu (83′)


Leicester City 2, Brighton & Hove Albion 0

King Power Stadium, Leicester
Referee: Lee Probert

It was a nice, Saturday stroll in the park for the champions of two seasons ago. Shinji Okazaki scored very early for the second straight game, and Harry Maguire added his first goal with the Foxes shortly after halftime to seal the three points. Can Leicester sustain their torrid scoring? Can Brighton score a goal – any goal? The Seagulls have lost twice by matching 2-0 scorelines – not an ideal start to an admittedly very young season.

Goals:
1-0 Okazaki (1′)
2-0 Maguire (54′)


Everton 1, Stoke City 0

Goodison Park, Liverpool
Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Wayne Rooney had a dream (second) debut for Everton, scoring the only goal in first-half stoppage time to propel the Toffees to victory at Goodison. New goalkeeper Jordan Pickford kept a clean sheet in his first game for the Blues, and Everton have gotten even stronger heading into Matchweek 2 after signing creative midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea. For Stoke, they failed to score, which will be the rule and not the exception this season, I’m afraid.

Goal:
1-0 Rooney (45+1)


Southampton 0, Swansea City 0
St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Referee: Mike Jones

Not much to say about this one. Saints fans surely had flashbacks to last season, as they saw another goalless draw at St. Mary’s. It was a good road point for Swansea, who will find goals even harder to come by after selling Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for a club-record fee. With Fernando Llorente still out, where will the Swans get their goals?


West Bromwich Albion 1, AFC Bournemouth 0
The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Referee: Bobby Madley

This game represented everything Tony Pulis wants and dreams from his West Bromwich Albion side. The Baggies kept a clean sheet and got their goal off a set piece – debutant Ahmed Hegazi converting. It’s no small feat to keep Bournemouth off the scoresheet: the Cherries outscored Manchester United in the Premier League last season.

Goal:
1-0 Hegazi (31′)


Brighton & Hove Albion 0, Manchester City 2
Amex Stadium, Falmer
Referee: Michael Oliver

Brighton held tough for 70 minutes. But in the end, City had too much attacking quality. After Gabriel Jesus had a goal disallowed – correctly – for handball in the first half, Sergio Agüero fired the Citizens ahead after a bad Brighton turnover inside their own half. Interestingly enough, the Seagulls had a great chance to take the lead about 10 minutes earlier that narrowly missed wide. Brighton gave a decent account of themselves, but scoring goals will be difficult for them this season.

Goals:
0-1 Agüero (70′)
0-2 OWN GOAL – Dunk (75′)


Newcastle United 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2
St. James’s Park, Newcastle
Referee: Andre Marriner

This was an even game during a rather boring opening half. Newcastle should have had a penalty, but Spurs were bailed out by an incorrect offside call. Jonjo Shelvey impacted the game in the worst way for Newcastle, getting sent off early in the second half. Matt Ritchie could have seen red as well; to be fair, some were calling for a red for Harry Kane’s first-half challenge, too. Kane still hasn’t scored in August, but Dele Alli provided the breakthrough and Spurs cruised to a 2-0 win in dominant fashion against the 10 men of Newcastle.

Goals & Red Card:
0-0 RED CARD – Shelvey (48′)
0-1 Dele (61′)
0-2 Davies (70′)


Manchester United 4, West Ham United 0
Old Trafford, Manchester
Referee: Martin Atkinson

I have to keep telling myself: it was just one game. But, damn! The Red Devils looked brilliant. They had no trouble scoring goals: a brace for Lukaku along with strikes from Martial and Pogba. Rashford was excellent, and he was unlucky not to score as well when his beautiful curling effort struck the inside of the woodwork but ricocheted out. Matic looked to be worth every penny spent on him this summer with his man of the match performance in midfield. West Ham only had two clear-cut chances: de Gea saved the first and Arnautovic headed the second over after clipping the top of the bar. The Hammers need to bounce back soon; United can keep this early momentum rolling at Swansea.

Goals:
1-0 Lukaku (33′)
2-0 Lukaku (52′)
3-0 Martial (87′)
4-0 Pogba (90′)
Matchweek 2 predictions are coming out shortly. Thanks for reading, and come on you Reds!

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 2

Week 1 is a tough act to follow, but Matchweek 2 could begin with plenty of fireworks in Wales and end with a testy London Derby at Wembley between Chelsea and Spurs. There will be lots of intrigue in the eight games in between!

Saturday, August 19
Swansea City vs. Manchester United – 7:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Referee: Jon Moss

Record and current form:
Swansea – 0-1-0, 1 point, 0 GD; D
United – 1st place: 1-0-0, 3 points +4 GD; W

All-time series:
Swansea wins – 3
United wins – 7
Draws – 2

Last season’s meetings:
Swansea 1 (van der Hoorn), United 3 (Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Ibrahimovic) – November 6, 2016
United 1 (Rooney – penalty), Swansea 1 (Sigurdsson – free kick) – April 30, 2017

Swansea absentee: Fernando Llorente (broken arm)
Swansea doubtfuls: none

United absentees: Victor Lindelöf (manger’s decision), Luke Shaw (recovery), and Ashley Young (recovery)
United doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Swansea City 0, Manchester United 2

Saturday, August 19
AFC Bournemouth vs. Watford – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
Referee: Roger East

Record and current form:
Bournemouth – 15th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -1 GD; L
Watford – 10th place: 0-1-0, 1 point, 0 GD; D

Bournemouth absentees: Junior Stanislas (groin) and Callum Wilson (long-term injury)
Bournemouth doubtful: Simon Francis (lack of match fitness)

Watford absentee: Mauro Zárate (knee)
Watford doubtfuls: Craig Cathcart (knee), Troy Deeney (groin), Brice Dja Djedje (fractured finger), Daryl Janmaat (muscular), Christian Kabasele (hamstring), Younes Kaboul (muscular), and Roberto Pereyra (muscular)

Final Score Prediction: AFC Bournemouth 2, Watford 1

Saturday, August 19
Burnley vs. West Bromwich Albion – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
Turf Moor, Burnley
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Record and current form:
Burnley – 6th place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +1 GD; W
West Brom – 8th place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +1 GD; W

All-time series:
Burnley wins – 0
West Brom wins – 2
Draws – 2

Last Season’s Meetings:
West Brom 4 (Phillips, Morrison, Fletcher, Rondón), Burnley 0 – November 21, 2016
Burnley 2 (Vokes, Vokes) West Brom 2 (Rondón, Dawson) – May 6, 2017

Burnley absentees: none
Burnley doubtfuls: none

West Brom absentees: Gareth McAuley and James Morrison
West Brom doubtfuls: Gareth Barry (new signing)

Final Score Prediction: Burnley 1, West Brom 1

Saturday, August 19
Leicester City vs. Brighton & Hove Albion 
– 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
King Power Stadium Leicester
Referee: Lee Probert

Record and current form:
Leicester – 13th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -1 GD; L
Brighton – 17th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -2 GD; L

All-time series – N/A

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Leicester absentees: Danny Drinkwater (thigh), Vicente Iborra (groin), and Nampalys Mendy (long-term injury)
Leicester doubtfuls: Robert Huth and Kelechi Iheanacho (toe)

Brighton absentee: Izzy Brown (hamstring)
Brighton doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Leicester City 1, Brighton & Hove Albion 0

Saturday, August 19
Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace 
– 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Anfield, Liverpool
Referee: Kevin Friend

Record and current form:
Liverpool – 9th place: 0-1-0, 1 point, 0 GD; D
Palace – 19th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -3 GD; L

All-time series:
Liverpool wins – 8
Palace wins – 5
Draws – 3

Last Season’s Meetings:
Palace 2 (McArthur, McArthur), Liverpool 4 (Can, Lovren, Matip, Firmino) – October 29, 2016
Liverpool 1 (Coutinho), Palace 2 (Benteke, Benteke) – April 23, 2017

Liverpool absentees: Nathaniel Clyne (back), Philippe Coutinho (back), and Adam Lallana (thigh)
Liverpool doubtfuls: none

Palace absentee: Wilfried Zaha (knee)
Palace doubtfuls: Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur

Final Score Prediction: Liverpool 2, Crystal Palace 1

Saturday, August 19
Southampton vs. West Ham United – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Referee: Lee Mason

Record and current form:
Southampton – 11th place: 0-1-0, 1 point, 0 GD; D
West Ham – 20th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -4 GD; L

All-time series:
Southampton wins – 10
West Ham wins – 13
Draws – 7

Last Season’s Meetings:
West Ham 0, Southampton 3 (Austin, Tadic, Ward-Prowse) – September 25, 2016
Southampton 1 (Gabbiadini), West Ham 3 (Carroll, Obiang, Noble) – February 4, 2017

Southampton absentees: none
Southampton doubtfuls: none

West Ham absentees: Andy Carroll (thigh), Cheikhou Kouyaté (knee), and Manuel Lanzini (knee)
West Ham doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Southampton 1, West Ham 1

Saturday, August 19
Stoke City vs. Arsenal – 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
bet365 Stadium, Stoke
Referee: Andre Marriner

Record and current form:
Stoke – 16th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -1 GD; L
Arsenal – 5th place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +1 GD; W

All-time series:
Stoke wins – 4
Arsenal wins – 11
Draws – 3

Last Season’s Meetings:
Arsenal 3 (Walcott, Özil, Iwobi), Stoke 1 (Adam – penalty) – December 10, 2016
Stoke 1 (Crouch), Arsenal 4 (Giroud, Özil, Alexis, Giroud) – May 13, 2017

Stoke absentees: Ibrahim Afellay (long-term injury) and Stephen Ireland (long-term injury)
Stoke doubtful: Jesé (new signing)

Arsenal absentee: Laurent Koscielny (suspension)
Arsenal doubtful: Alexis Sánchez

Final Score Prediction: Stoke City 1, Arsenal 2 

Sunday, August 20
Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United – 8:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield
Referee: Craig Pawson

Record and current form:
Huddersfield – 2nd place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +3 GD; W
Newcastle – 18th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -2 GD; L

All-time series – N/A

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Huddersfield absentees: Jonathan Hogg (ankle) and Nahki Wells (ankle)
Huddersfield doubtfuls: none

Newcastle absentees: Paul Dummett (hamstring), Florian Lejeune (ankle), and Jonjo Shelvey (suspension)
Newcastle doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Huddersfield Town 0, Newcastle United 0

Sunday, August 13
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea – 11:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Wembley Stadium, London
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Record and current form:
Spurs – 4th place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +2 GD; W
Chelsea – 14th place: 0-0-1, 0 points, -1 GD; L

All-time series:
Spurs wins – 5
Chelsea wins – 26
Draws – 19

Last Season’s Meetings:
Chelsea 2 (Pedro, Moses), Spurs 1 (Eriksen) – November 26, 2016
Spurs 2 (Dele, Dele), Chelsea 0 – January 4, 2017

Spurs absentees: Erik Lamela (hip), Georges-Kévin Nkoudou, and Danny Rose (knee)
Spurs doubtfuls: Kieran Trippier (ankle)

Chelsea absentees: Gary Cahill (suspension), Cesc Fàbregas (suspension), and Eden Hazard (ankle)
Chelsea doubtfuls: Tiemoué Bakayoko (knee) and Pedro (ankle)

Final Score Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2, Chelsea 2

Monday, August 21
Manchester City vs. Everton – 3:00 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Etihad Stadium, Manchester
Referee: Bobby Madley

Record and current form:
Man City – 3rd place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +2 GD; W
Everton – 7th place: 1-0-0, 3 points, +1 GD; W

All-time series:
Man City wins – 14
Everton wins – 18
Draws – 8

Last Season’s Meetings:
Man City 1 (Nolito), Everton 1 (Lukaku) – October 15, 2016
Everton 4 (Lukaku, Mirallas, Davies, Lookman), Man City 0 – January 15, 2017

Man City absentees: none
Man City doubtfuls: none

Everton absentees: TBD
Everton doubtfuls: TBD

Final Score Prediction: Manchester City 3, Everton 2

I’ll be back on Tuesday to recap and review the second round of Premier League games. Until next time!

Rapid Recap: Premier League Week 1

Have you finally caught your breath from a scintillating opening weekend in the Premier League? Plenty of goals, a few shocking results, and more than a little controversy – not bad for the 2017-18 curtain raiser. The best part? We get 37 more weeks of this!

In case you missed any of it, here’s a quick look back at the 10 games from the opening weekend:

Friday, August 11
Arsenal 4, Leicester 3
Emirates Stadium, London
Referee: Mike Dean

Arsenal were less than 10 minutes away from their first ever home loss to Leicester City. Then substitutes Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud scored two minutes apart to turn defeat into victory for the Gunners. It was a fortunate but important result for Arsenal, and both teams have some serious defensive work still to do.

Goals:
1-0 Lacazette (2′)
1-1 Okazaki (5′)
1-2 Vardy (29′)
2-2 Welbeck (45+2′)
2-3 Vardy (56′)
3-3 Ramsey (83′)
4-3 Giroud (85′)

 

Saturday, August 12
Watford 3, Liverpool 3
Vicarage Road, Watford
Referee: Anthony Taylor

It might be a new season, but Liverpool continue to drop points against teams they should be beating. Full credit to Watford, as the Hornets were on top for the first half before Liverpool turned it around after the interval. Two of Watford’s three goals came off corners, including Miguel Britos’s 94th-minute equalizer (even though he was offside). Mohamed Salah looked brilliant for Liverpool, and with Salah, Firmino, and Mané up front, they have enough firepower to survive what looks like the inevitable loss of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona.

Goals:
1-0 Okaka (8′)
1-1 Mané (29′)
2-1 Doucouré (32′)
2-2 Firmino (55′ – penalty)
2-3 Salah (57′)
3-3 Britos (90+4)


Chelsea 2, Burnley 3

Stamford Bridge, London
Referee: Craig Pawson

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Chelsea, the reigning champions, were horrid at home to begin their title defense. The final scoreline flatters the Blues quite significantly, as Chelsea finished the game with just nine men – Gary Cahill was shown a straight red early, and Cesc Fàbregas picked up a second yellow later on. Álvaro Morata came off the bench to score on his Premier League debut for Chelsea, but he was the Blues’ lone bright spot. Injuries and suspensions are piling up for the champions, and they’ll be stretched thin for their trip to Wembley to play Spurs on Sunday.

Goals & Red Cards:
0-0 RED CARD – Cahill (14′)
0-1 Vokes (24′)
0-2 Ward (39′)
0-3 Vokes (43′)
1-3 Morata (69′)
1-3 RED CARD – Fàbregas (81′)
2-3 Luiz (88′)


Crystal Palace 0, Huddersfield Town 3

Selhurst Park, London
Referee: Jon Moss

Speaking of disastrous beginnings, Crystal Palace had an absolute stinker at Selhurst Park. Steve Mounier introduced himself to the rest of the league in style with a brace for Huddersfield. The Terriers were actually atop the league Saturday night on goal difference. Is it a sign of things to come? Or a one-off performance? Should we be worried – seriously worried – about Palace this season?

Goals:
0-1 Ward OWN GOAL (23′)
0-2 Mounie (26′)
0-3 Vokes (43′)


Everton 1, Stoke City 0

Goodison Park, Liverpool
Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Wayne Rooney had a dream (second) debut for Everton, scoring the only goal in first-half stoppage time to propel the Toffees to victory at Goodison. New goalkeeper Jordan Pickford kept a clean sheet in his first game for the Blues, and Everton have gotten even stronger heading into Matchweek 2 after signing creative midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson from Swansea. For Stoke, they failed to score, which will be the rule and not the exception this season, I’m afraid.

Goal:
1-0 Rooney (45+1)


Southampton 0, Swansea City 0
St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Referee: Mike Jones

Not much to say about this one. Saints fans surely had flashbacks to last season, as they saw another goalless draw at St. Mary’s. It was a good road point for Swansea, who will find goals even harder to come by after selling Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for a club-record fee. With Fernando Llorente still out, where will the Swans get their goals?


West Bromwich Albion 1, AFC Bournemouth 0
The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Referee: Bobby Madley

This game represented everything Tony Pulis wants and dreams from his West Bromwich Albion side. The Baggies kept a clean sheet and got their goal off a set piece – debutant Ahmed Hegazi converting. It’s no small feat to keep Bournemouth off the scoresheet: the Cherries outscored Manchester United in the Premier League last season.

Goal:
1-0 Hegazi (31′)


Brighton & Hove Albion 0, Manchester City 2
Amex Stadium, Falmer
Referee: Michael Oliver

Brighton held tough for 70 minutes. But in the end, City had too much attacking quality. After Gabriel Jesus had a goal disallowed – correctly – for handball in the first half, Sergio Agüero fired the Citizens ahead after a bad Brighton turnover inside their own half. Interestingly enough, the Seagulls had a great chance to take the lead about 10 minutes earlier that narrowly missed wide. Brighton gave a decent account of themselves, but scoring goals will be difficult for them this season.

Goals:
0-1 Agüero (70′)
0-2 OWN GOAL – Dunk (75′)


Newcastle United 0, Tottenham Hotspur 2
St. James’s Park, Newcastle
Referee: Andre Marriner

This was an even game during a rather boring opening half. Newcastle should have had a penalty, but Spurs were bailed out by an incorrect offside call. Jonjo Shelvey impacted the game in the worst way for Newcastle, getting sent off early in the second half. Matt Ritchie could have seen red as well; to be fair, some were calling for a red for Harry Kane’s first-half challenge, too. Kane still hasn’t scored in August, but Dele Alli provided the breakthrough and Spurs cruised to a 2-0 win in dominant fashion against the 10 men of Newcastle.

Goals & Red Card:
0-0 RED CARD – Shelvey (48′)
0-1 Dele (61′)
0-2 Davies (70′)


Manchester United 4, West Ham United 0
Old Trafford, Manchester
Referee: Martin Atkinson

I have to keep telling myself: it was just one game. But, damn! The Red Devils looked brilliant. They had no trouble scoring goals: a brace for Lukaku along with strikes from Martial and Pogba. Rashford was excellent, and he was unlucky not to score as well when his beautiful curling effort struck the inside of the woodwork but ricocheted out. Matic looked to be worth every penny spent on him this summer with his man of the match performance in midfield. West Ham only had two clear-cut chances: de Gea saved the first and Arnautovic headed the second over after clipping the top of the bar. The Hammers need to bounce back soon; United can keep this early momentum rolling at Swansea.

Goals:
1-0 Lukaku (33′)
2-0 Lukaku (52′)
3-0 Martial (87′)
4-0 Pogba (90′)
Matchweek 2 predictions are coming out shortly. Thanks for reading, and come on you Reds!

 

 

Premier League Preview: Matchweek 1

Here we go again! It all begins tomorrow night in the English capital with Arsenal hosting Leicester City. Let’s look ahead at a full slate of Premier League games to open up what should be another fun season. Team news is current as of 8:00 p.m. Thursday night; I’ll update as more info becomes available:

Update: Saturday and Sunday games’ team news updated at 7:45 p.m. Friday night.

Friday, August 11
Arsenal vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Emirates Stadium, London
Referee: Mike Dean

All-time series:
Arsenal wins – 14
Leicester wins – 1
Draws – 7
Arsenal have never lost at home to Leicester City

Last season’s meetings:
Leicester 0, Arsenal 0 – August 20, 2016
Arsenal 1 (Huth OG), Leicester 0 – April 26, 2017

Arsenal absentees: Laurent Koscielny (suspension), Gabriel (knee), and Alexis Sánchez (abdomen)
Arsenal doubtfuls: Francis Coquelin (foot), Per Mertesacker (head), Mustafi (lack of match fitness), Mesut Özil (lack of match fitness), and Aaron Ramsey (muscular)

Leicester absentees: Danny Drinkwater (thigh) and Vicente Iborra (groin)
Leicester doubtfuls: Robert Huth (foot) and Kelechi Iheanacho (new arrival)

Final Score Prediction: Arsenal 2, Leicester 1

Saturday, August 12
Watford vs. Liverpool – 7:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Vicarage Road, Watford
Referee: Anthony Taylor

All-time series:
Liverpool wins – 6
Watford wins – 2
Draws – 0
Liverpool have won last three games vs. Watford

Last Season’s Meetings:
Liverpool 6 (Mané, Coutinho, Can, Firmino, Mané, Wijnaldum) Watford 1 (Janmaat) – November 6, 2016
Watford 0, Liverpool 1 (Can) – May 1, 2017

Liverpool absentees: Nathaniel Clyne (back), Philippe Coutinho (knee), Adam Lallana (thigh), and Daniel Sturridge (thigh)
Liverpool doubtfuls: Jordan Henderson (virus)

Watford absentees: Craig Cathcart (knee), Brice Dja Djedje (muscular), Christian Kabasele (thigh), and Mauro Zárate (knee)
Watford doubtfuls: Troy Deeney (groin)

Final Score Prediction: Watford 1, Liverpool 3

Saturday, August 12
Chelsea vs. Burnley – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Stamford Bridge, London
Referee: Craig Pawson

All-time series:
Chelsea wins – 4
Burnley wins – 0
Draws – 2

Last Season’s Meetings:
Chelsea 3 (Hazard, Willian, Moses), Burnley 0 – August 27, 2016
Burnley 1 (Brady), Chelsea 1 (Pedro) – February 12, 2017

Chelsea absentees: Victor Moses (suspension), and Pedro (ankle)
Chelsea doubtfuls: none

Burnley absentees: none
Burnley doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Chelsea 2, Burnley 0

Saturday, August 12
Crystal Palace vs. Huddersfield Town 
– 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
Selhurst Park, London
Referee: Jon Moss

All-time series – N/A

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Crystal Palace absentees: Yohan Cabaye (ankle), James McArthur (unknown), and Connor Wickham (knee)
Crystal Palace doubtfuls: none

Huddersfield absentees: Martin Cranie (hip), Jonathan Hogg (foot), Jon Stankovic (knee), and Nahki Wells (ankle)
Huddersfield doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Crystal Palace 1, Huddersfield Town 0

Saturday, August 12
Everton vs. Stoke City 
– 10:00 a.m. ET (CNBC)
Goodison Park, Liverpool
Referee: Neil Swarbrick

All-time series:
Everton wins – 7
Stoke wins – 5
Draws – 6

Last Season’s Meetings:
Everton 1 (Given OG), Stoke 0 – August 27, 2016
Stoke 1 (Crouch), Everton 1 (Shawcross OG) – February 1, 2017

Everton absentees: Ross Barkley (lack of match fitness), Yannick Bolasie (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), and James McCarthy (lack of match fitness)
Everton doubtfuls: none

Stoke absentees: Ibrahim Afellay (long-term injury), and Stephen Ireland (long-term injury)
Stoke doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Everton 1, Stoke City 1

Saturday, August 12
Southampton vs. Swansea City – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
St. Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Referee: Mike Jones

All-time series:
Southampton wins – 6
Swansea wins – 2
Draws – 2

Last Season’s Meetings:
Southampton 1 (Austin), Swansea 0 – September 18, 2016
Swansea 2 (Mawson, Sigurdsson), Southampton 1 (Long) – January 31, 2017

Southampton absentees: Cédric (lack of match fitness), Virgil van Dijk (manager’s decision)
Southampton doubtfuls: none

Swansea absentees: Nathan Dyer (undisclosed), Fernando Llorente (arm), Gylfi Sigurdsson (manager’s decision), Ki Sung-yeung (knee)
Swansea doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Southampton 1, Swansea City 0

Saturday, August 12
West Bromwich Albion vs. AFC Bournemouth – 10:00 a.m. ET (NBC Sports GOLD)
The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Referee: Bobby Madley

All-time series:
West Brom wins – 1
Bournemouth wins – 2
Draws – 1

Last Season’s Meetings:
Bournemouth 1 (Wilson), West Brom 0 – September 10, 2016
West Brom 2 (Dawson, McAuley), Bournemouth 1 (King – penalty) – February 25, 2017

West Brom absentees: Gareth McAuley (thigh), James Morrison (knee)
West Brom doubtfuls: none

Bournemouth absentees: Junior Stanislas (hamstring), Callum Wilson (knee)
Bournemouth doubtfuls: Steve Cook (knock)

Final Score Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 0, AFC Bournemouth 0 

Saturday, August 12
Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Manchester City – 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC)
Amex Stadium, Falmer
Referee: Michael Oliver

All-time series – N/A

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Brighton absentees: Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg)
Brighton doubtfuls: none

Man City absentees: Ilkay Gündogan (knee), Benjamin Mendy (thigh)
Man City doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Brighton & Hove Albion 0, Manchester City 4

Sunday, August 13
Newcastle United vs. Tottenham Hotspur – 8:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
St. James’s Park, Newcastle
Referee: Andre Marriner

All-time series:
Newcastle wins – 21
Spurs wins – 17
Draws – 4

Last Season’s Meetings – N/A

Newcastle absentees:
Newcastle doubtfuls:

Spurs absentees: Erik Lamela (hip), Danny Rose (knee), and Kieran Trippier (ankle)
Spurs doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Newcastle United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 3

Sunday, August 13
Manchester United vs. West Ham United – 11:00 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
Old Trafford, Manchester
Referee: Martin Atkinson

All-time series:
Man United wins – 26
West Ham wins – 5
Draws – 11

Last Season’s Meetings:
Man United 1 (Ibrahimovic), West Ham 1 (Sakho) – November 27, 2016
West Ham 0, Man United 2 (Mata, Ibrahimovic) – January 2, 2017

Man United absentees: Marcos Rojo (knee), Luke Shaw (foot), Ashley Young (long-term injury)
Man United doubtfuls: none

West Ham absentees: Michail Antonio (hamstring), Andy Carroll (groin), Cheikhou Kouyaté (knee), and Manuel Lanzini (knee)
West Ham doubtfuls: none

Final Score Prediction: Manchester United 2, West Ham United 1

I’ll be back on Sunday afternoon to break down all the action from the opening weekend. As always, thanks for reading, and come on you Reds!

 

 

 

Premier League Predictions

I’ve looked into my crystal ball and seen how the 2017-18 Premier League season will play out. Warning: spoilers ahead! You can either dutifully watch all 38 matchweeks and find out for yourself, or you can skip ahead to next May and see how it all ends. Here goes:

Final Table
1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Spurs
4. Chelsea
5. Liverpool
6. Arsenal
7. Everton
8. West Ham
9. Leicester
10. Southampton
11. Crystal Palace
12. Bournemouth
13. Swansea
14. Stoke
15. Newcastle
16. Watford
17. West Brom
18. Huddersfield Town
19. Burnley
20. Brighton & Hove Albion

Golden Boot
Harry Kane (Tottenham)

Player of the Year
Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)

Young Player of the Year
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City)

Manager of the Year
Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

First Manager to be Fired
Mark Hughes (Stoke City)

First Recycled English Manager to Get Another Premier League Job
Alan Pardew

Best Summer Signing
Chicharito (West Ham)

Worst Summer Signing
Marko Arnautovic (West Ham)

FA Cup Winner
Chelsea

EFL Cup Winner
Spurs

Championship Clubs that Will Win Promotion
Fulham
Sheffield Wednesday
Wolverhampton Wanderers

There you have it! I never get any of these wrong, so go ahead and place your bets while you still can.

Tomorrow, we’ll set the table for the opening weekend of Premier League action, which begins Friday night in North London with Arsenal hosting Leicester City. Much more to come tomorrow on that game plus the nine others this weekend.

As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!

Premier League Preview: Chelsea

Chelsea were simply brilliant in 2016-17, as the Blues stormed to their second Premier League title in three seasons, winning a record 30 league games along the way. Once Antonio Conte implemented his three at the back defensive system, Chelsea were just about unstoppable. They closed the 2016 calendar year with a record-tying 13 consecutive top flight victories, and they led the trailing pack by double digits for most of 2017 before Tottenham closed the gap late. However, the season ended on a sour note for Chelsea with a 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup. They suffered a similar fate in Sunday’s FA Community Shield – Arsenal lifted the preseason silverware with a 4-1 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw that saw the Gunners equalize late after Pedro had been sent off. Might there be some cracks in Chelsea’s armor that could cause them problems this year?

On paper, Chelsea are even better than last season. But there’s a bunch of uncertainty around some key positions. Diego Costa, the volatile and often poorly behaved center forward, is still a Chelsea player, even though Conte essentially broke up with him via text earlier this summer. (That’s a middle school move, Antonio.) Álvaro Morata was brought in from Real Madrid to replace Costa, but only after Romelu Lukaku slipped through Chelsea’s fingers to Manchester United. Conte has been bemoaning Morata’s fitness and learning curve in preseason. Cesc Fàbregas, once hated but now beloved by Chelsea supporters, was really instrumental in helping the Blues cross the finish line first last season. The Spanish playmaker wants to play more. Given his performances last season, he should play more. But will he? N’Golo Kanté, the reigning PFA Player of the Year, and new signing Tiemoué Bakayoko will have a stranglehold on central midfield, which doesn’t leave room for another central middie in Conte’s 3-4-3 system. The Fàbregas situation is one to monitor while the summer window is open. More questions can be asked of Chelsea’s defense: can Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso repeat their brilliant form as wing backs? Is David Luiz good again? How many own goals will Gary Cahill score? Where does Antonio Rüdiger fit into the back three?

There’s lots of questions for a side that just won the league three short months ago. Chelsea will also have to factor in midweek, European games this season, as the Champions League returns to Stamford Bridge after a one-year hiatus.

2016-17 Record & Finish
30-3-5 (W-D-L), 93 points, Premier League champions
+52 GD (85 GF, 33 GA)

Manager
Antonio Conte – 2nd season with Chelsea

conte

Ins and Outs
Tiemoué Bakayoko (£36 million from AS Monaco)
Willy Caballero (free from Manchester City)
Álvaro Morata (£58.5 million from Real Madrid)
Antonio Rüdiger (£31.5 million from AS Roma)

Tammy Abraham (on loan to Swansea City)
Ola Aina (on loan to Hull City)
Nathan Aké (£20.52 million to AFC Bournemouth)
Christian Atsu (£6.75 million to Newcastle United)
Asmir Begovic (£10.35 million to AFC Bournemouth)
Jamal Blackman (on loan to Sheffield United)
Nathaniel Chalobah (£5.67 million to Watford)
Juan Cuadrado (£18 million to Juventus)
Michael Hector (on loan to Hull City)
Tomás Kalas (on loan to Fulham)
Todd Kane (on loan to FC Groningen)
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (on loan to Crystal Palace)
Nemanja Matic (£40.23 million to Manchester United)
Matt Miazga (on loan to Vitesse)
Danilo Pantic (on loan to FK Partizan Belgrade)
Mario Pasalic (on loan to Spartak Moscow)
John Terry (free to Aston Villa)
Bertrand Traoré (£9 million to Olympique Lyonnais)
Kurt Zouma (on loan to Stoke City)

X-factor
Cesc Fàbregas

cesc.jpeg

After hardly seeing the field during the first half of Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-17 season, Cesc Fàbregas was one of the Blues’ most important contributors down the stretch. The former Arsenal man made 29 league appearances – only 13 of them starts – yet still managed to net five goals and 12 assists. Conte preferred to use Fàbregas with N’Golo Kanté in central midfield when he knew Chelsea would have the majority of possession. With Nemanja Matic gone and Bakayoko brought in to be Kanté’s new partner, Fàbregas may struggle once again to get into Chelsea’s starting 11 regularly. For a team that won’t find it as easy to score 85 goals again this season, Fàbregas can be the creative playmaker who can unlock stubborn Premier League defenses.

Best Case Scenario
Back-to-back Premier League titles, the first club to repeat as English champions this decade. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 system continues to suit their personnel. Morata slots in nicely up front and bags plenty of goals. Eden Hazard, Pedro, and Willian score their fair share and provide plenty of chances for the other attacking players as well. Fàbregas gets into the team regularly and continues to pull the strings in midfield, especially in games where Chelsea see a lot of the ball. The Blues manage to get Diego Costa out the door this month, which would be best for all parties involved. Chelsea will be the last English team standing in the Champions League, perhaps making it all the way to the semifinals. They’ll be out for revenge in the FA Cup, and if Chelsea make it back to Wembley for another cup final, don’t expect them to lose it again.

Worst Case Scenario
Chelsea are unable to get rid of Diego Costa, but Conte refuses to play him, leading to lots of grumbling and unrest behind the scenes. The defense – both wing backs and the three center backs – sees its collective performance drop this season. Can we really expect Alonso and Moses to thrive like they did in 2016-17? Luiz was up for most of last season, but he’s been all over the map, up and down, the last several seasons. If Morata misses any significant time, where are the goals going to come from? Hazard will score some; and Pedro and Willian will pitch in from the wings, but I haven’t seen enough of Michy Batshuayi to know whether or not he’s a legitimate Premier League striker. Either way, it was his goal at West Brom that clinched the title for Chelsea on May 5th.

If Chelsea stumble a bit in the opening months, which is entirely possible given their early schedule, will Conte’s methods and incessant bellowing from the touchline start to work against him? Will he still be at charge in London this time next year? If things start to go badly, they could spiral pretty quickly at Stamford Bridge. The Blues won’t drop from first to tenth again, but could they tumble out of the top four? Absolutely. Will they? I don’t see them finishing any lower than fourth.

If I were in charge for a day…
I would find a way to get Willian and Fàbregas in the team more often. Willian suits Chelsea’s style perfectly, with his blinding pace on the counter attack and his excellent delivery on free kicks. Fàbregas offers some extra creativity to help break down stubborn defensive-minded teams. They will be that much more important this season with Chelsea competing in Europe in addition to their domestic obligations. I wouldn’t necessarily change Conte’s 3-4-3 system – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But for a squad that doesn’t have a ton of depth, it’s important to get all of your best players out there as often as possible. Both Willian and Cesc were underused in 2016-17, and it’s time to change that.

 

Chelsea begin their title defense in four days’ time at Stamford Bridge. It’s not an easy start to the season for Conte’s men, which should make it that much more fun to watch. Here’s the initial run of games for Chelsea in 2017:

Aug. 12 – vs. Burnley
Aug. 20 – at Spurs
Aug. 27 – vs. Everton
Sept. 9 – at Leicester
Sept. 17 – vs. Arsenal
Sept. 23 – at Stoke
Sept. 30 – vs. Manchester City

Tomorrow I’ll reveal my predictions for the 2017-18 Premier League season: final standings, cup winners, player and manager awards, and much more!

As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!

Premier League Preview: Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur have come so close in each of the last two seasons to claiming their first English top flight championship in more than half a century. Spurs ended up seven points behind last year’s champions, Chelsea, following a third-place finish the year before. On paper, Tottenham were simply dominant: the most goals scored, the fewest goals conceded (therefore, best goal difference), and the fewest losses. Still, Spurs couldn’t do enough – too many draws resulted in too many points dropped in the season’s first couple months. Mauricio Pochettino must be wondering what he has to do to win a title in North London!

Harry Kane won the golden boot (again), Dele Alli won the PFA Young Player of the Year (again), and Tottenham made a habit of regularly scoring three of four goals every weekend. Their key players are still young, but Spurs haven’t made any signings yet this summer while losing right back Kyle Walker to Manchester City. Can this group possibly get any better than last year? Can they do better in Europe after a pair of ignominious exits in both the Champions League and Europa League last year? Can they adjust to playing a full season at Wembley? Tottenham performed poorly away from the cozy confines of White Hart Lane, which closed its doors for the final time in May. With a full slate of home games at England’s national stadium this year, Spurs will have to forget last season’s troubles there and make Wembley feel like home. Ultimately, this group of players needs to win something – the league title, a cup trophy, anything. I’m not sure how many more chances they’ll get before the European giants come calling for the likes of Dele and Kane.

2016-17 Record & Finish
26-8-4 (W-D-L), 86 points, 2nd in the Premier League
+60 GD (86 GF, 26 GA)

Manager
Mauricio Pochettino – 4th season with Tottenham

poch

Ins and Outs
Nabil Bentaleb (£17.1 million to FC Schalke 04)
Federico Fazio (£2.88 million to Roma)
Clinton N’Jie (£6.3 million to Marseille)
Josh Onomah (on loan to Aston Villa)
Kyle Walker (£43.35 million to Manchester City)

X-factor
Wembley

wembley

Tottenham have more than enough talent to win the league. They’re a trendy pick to win it all this year. But they must do better at their temporary home for 2017-18, Wembley Stadium. Spurs played their European games there last season, with the following results: 2-1 loss to Monaco, 1-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen, 3-1 win over CSKA Moskva, and 2-2 draw with Gent – they lost the Europa League Round of 32 tie by a 3-2 aggregate scoreline. Was it the size of the pitch? Wembley’s dimensions are wider – though only slightly so – than a Premier League ground. Did that affect Tottenham’s ability to play their high pressing style effectively? That seems like a stretch to me. Was it the size of the stadium itself? Wembley can hold nearly three times as many spectators as White Hart Lane. Maybe that impacted the atmosphere, especially since the fans aren’t an arm’s length away from the action. Maybe the Tottenham players – many of whom are young and inexperienced on the European big stage – were in awe of the moment and the stadium itself. Maybe it was just a few poor results from a small sample size of games. Whatever the reason for Spurs’ rough time at Wembley, they have to be better at their new home away from their soon-to-be-built new home, if they want to win silverware this season.

Best Case Scenario
Believe it, Spurs fans – the first Premier League title since the 1960-61 season. In many other past seasons, 86 points would have been enough to win the league. Not last year, when Chelsea won a record 30 games en route to 93 points. If Tottenham can repeat last year’s performances, and turn a couple more draws into wins, there’s no reason they can’t rise to the top of the Premier League. This collection of players is hungry to win something, and their third time vying for the championship will be the charm. Kane, if he can stay healthy for a full season, could hit 30 goals this year. Dele Alli knocks in another 15 from midfield, and Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min keep scoring goals as well. The defense stays healthy, and Kieran Trippier proves to be an excellent full-time replacement for Walker at right back.

golden kane

Worst Case Scenario
Another trophyless season would be bad for Pochettino’s men. They’ve come close to the title for two years running, and they lost the EFL Cup Final to Chelsea in 2015. I don’t see them dropping out of the top four, even if they prioritize the Champions League more than last season. If Spurs struggle to make Wembley feel like home, and if they don’t win anything this year, some of their young stars might get the itch to leave North London. Dele has already been linked with Barcelona; the Catalan giants now have an enormous amount of cash to spend after selling Neymar to PSG. I can’t imagine any more big names leaving this summer, but Tottenham’s key players might start moving around Europe next summer. That would signal the end of a bright era under Pochettino, albeit one without any trophies. If Tottenham can’t win the league with the group they have, you have to wonder if they’ll ever be good enough to do so.

If I were in charge for a day…
I’d have, probably, the easiest job in the league. I’d lobby for pay raises for Kane, Dele, Eriksen, and Son. I’d convert Eric Dier to a center back full time. I’d play a back three just about all the time, freeing up Trippier and Danny Rose to get forward and do damage as wing backs. I’d sell Moussa Sissoko after he flopped in his first season with Spurs. Then, I’d look to spend some of the money the club has brought in through player sales this summer: a midfield destroyer to play alongside Victor Wanyama, and a winger or two who can fizz crosses into the box for Kane and Dele to nod home.

It shouldn’t be hard to pick Tottenham’s best 11 each week. Here’s how I would line up for their season opener on Sunday at St. James’s Park:

Lloris; Trippier, Alderweireld, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose; Wanyama; Son, Dele, Eriksen; Kane

Tottenham are on the road for four of their first seven, including three of their four contests in September. Their home opener – at Wembley vs. Chelsea – should be an absolute cracker; it will be the game to watch in August.

Aug. 13 – at Newcastle
Aug. 20 – vs. Chelsea
Aug. 27 – vs. Burnley
Sept. 9 – at Everton
Sept. 16 – vs. Swansea
Sept. 23 – at West Ham
Sept. 30 – at Huddersfield Town

Our team previews wrap up tomorrow with defending champions Chelsea. The Blues have finished first, tenth, and first the last three seasons. What does 2017-18 have in store at Stamford Bridge?

As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!

Premier League Preview: Manchester City

Manchester City finally got their man when Pep Guardiola agreed to take charge at the Etihad in 2016. He won everything there is to win at his previous managerial posts – Barcelona and Bayern Munich – but, by Pep’s standards, it was a difficult inaugural season in East Manchester last year. City came flying out of the gate, and it looked like they would run away with the league title. But they didn’t. The defensive issues that plagued City for much of the season started showing up as fall turned to winter. Pep never had a stable back four last season; Fernandinho and Jesús Navas saw time at right back, and Aleksandar Kolarov was a regular in central defense. The goalkeeper situation was a revolving door between Claudio Bravo and Willy Caballero, who has since departed to back up Thibaut Courtois at Chelsea. Manchester City have brought in another goalkeeper – Ederson from Benfica – and have spent big money to improve both full back positions. There are still question marks in central defense, but City might just try to outscore everyone this season. With all the attacking talent in the side, I wouldn’t bet against that. However City line up and play this year, Pep will feel plenty of pressure to do better, and win some silverware, at home and abroad.

2016-17 Record & Finish
23-9-6 (W-D-L), 78 points, 3rd in the Premier League
+41 GD (80 GF, 39 GA)

Manager
Pep Guardiola – 2nd season with Manchester City

pep

Ins and Outs
Danilo (£25.5 million from Real Madrid)
Ederson (£34 million from SL Benfica)
Douglas Luiz (£10.2 million from Vasco da Gama)
Benjamin Mendy (£48.88 million from AS Monaco)
Bernardo Silva (£42.5 million from AS Monaco)
Kyle Walker (£43.35 million from Tottenham)

Willy Caballero (free to Chelsea)
Anthony Cáceres (on loan to Al-Wasl)
Gaël Clichy (free to Basaksehir)
Fernando (£4.46 million to Galatasaray)
Aleix García (on loan to Girona)
Angus Gunn (on loan to Norwich City)
Joe Hart (on loan to West Ham United)
Kelechi Iheanacho (£23.55 million to Leicester City)
Aleksandar Kolarov (£4.25 million to AS Roma)
Pablo Marí (on loan to NAC Breda)
Aaron Mooy (£7.74 million to Huddersfield Town)
Marlos Moreno (on loan to Girona)
Jesús Navas (free to Sevilla)
Nolito (£7.65 million to Sevilla)
Bacary Sagna (released)
Rubén Sobrino (£1.7 million to Deportivo Alavés)
Enes Ünal (£11.9 million to Villareal)
Pablo Zabaleta (free to West Ham United)
Bruco Zuculini (undisclosed to Hellas Verona)

X-factor
Due defensive diligence

 

Manchester City will have no trouble scoring goals – lots and lots of goals – in 2017-18. But in order for the Citizens to seriously challenge for titles, their defense has to improve drastically. A Pep Guardiola-led side likes to dominate possession and play mostly in the opponent’s half, but that left City wide open on the counter attack last year, and they were regularly ripped apart on the break. City have shelled out more than £150 million this summer on defenders and goalkeepers. How will all the new pieces fit together? How quickly will they adjust to life in the Premier League?

One hallmark of most championship teams is a consistent – and stout – defensive unit and system. Last year, City were consistent in playing a back four, one of the few English teams that didn’t experiment with three at the back at some point. But Pep shuffled his personnel all around his back line while playing multiple players out of position: midfielders as full backs and full backs as center backs. With all the money spent already, City have to get the defensive aspect of their game right; otherwise, serious questions will be asked of Guardiola. In a perfect world, he’ll want Vincent Kompany to stay healthy for close to a full season and partner/nurture John Stones as his center back sidekick. Benjamin Mendy should lock down the left back spot, and Kyle Walker should have the inside track on the right side, with Danilo also there to push him and provide some depth. Assuming Ederson is the number one goalkeeper, this will be a defensive unit with more newcomers than incumbents in 2017-18. If they can hit the ground running and establish cohesion and chemistry early, City will be primed for an excellent season. If they struggle, City supporters will start having flashbacks to last season, and Guardiola will really feel the pressure.

Best Case Scenario
Multiple trophies in Guardiola’s sophomore campaign in England: a Premier League title and a cup triumph. Even with all the money they’ve spent, City aren’t on a level to catch Real Madrid in Europe. Who is? But the Citizens will make a deep run in the UEFA Champions League, perhaps reaching the semifinals like they did in the spring of 2016 before bowing out to – you guessed it – Real Madrid. Pep employs a system that allows Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus to play together, and they become the two-headed monster of an insanely good Manchester City attack. This team could score 100 Premier League goals this season. If their defending doesn’t improve, they might have to in order to win the league. But let’s assume that City correct much of their defensive malaise from a season ago; they will be unstoppable and absolutely roll to their third league title this decade. In a perfect world, Kompany makes at least 30 league appearances, and he and Stones emerge as a shutdown central defense partnership.

kun jesus

Worst Case Scenario
Ederson (and his neck tattoo) has a Claudio Bravo-like first season in Manchester, and the defensive problems plague Guardiola again this year. The back four in front of him is inconsistent, and Guardiola has to make regular changes there due to injury and poor form. Both Agüero and Gabriel Jesus had injury troubles last season; if they are both out at the same time, City’s attack will really be tested, especially with young Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho off to Leicester. There’s still plenty of attacking firepower at the Etihad – Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, and David Silva – that even if Agüero and Jesus miss significant time, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over City in front of goal. But if they don’t get better defensively, Guardiola will face some difficult questions about his system, and City won’t win anything this year either. I can’t see them finishing lower than fourth, and they should make a deep run in at least one of the domestic cups. Poor defending is punished ruthlessly in Europe, so another 6-6 Champions League tie like City had against Monaco in the Round of 16 could be in the cards. Manchester City were knocked out of the competition by the French champions on the away goals tiebreaker. Love it or hate it, there’s an easy way to avoid it: don’t ship three goals at home!

ederson

If I were in charge for a day…
I would start working on different systems and styles of play in training. Everyone knows what to expect from a Guardiola-led team on match days: high-pressing, possession, passing soccer; with an extreme allergy to playing long balls, preferring to play out from the back. At Barcelona and Bayern Munich, you can win league titles by playing the same way every week. But in England, the league is too good from top to bottom, and other teams figure out how to exploit your weaknesses. Maybe it was arrogance; okay, it was definitely arrogance, but Guardiola simply refused to alter his team’s style of play, even when it backfired spectacularly – see City’s 4-2 loss at Leicester last December as a prime example. You have to make adjustments – both in-game and week to week – to formations, styles of play, and personnel. Guardiola probably won’t; in fact, I’d be shocked if he does. But if City showed a different look, even just occasionally, they’d be that much scarier to play against.

What will be their best 11 this season? On paper, here’s what I’d do:

Ederson; Walker, Kompany, Stones, Mendy; David Silva, de Bruyne; Sané, Jesus, Bernardo Silva; Agüero

City’s start isn’t terribly difficult, although there are a few tricky games among their first six. Guardiola will hope his side will be unbeaten heading into their showdown at Stamford Bridge on the final day of September. Here’s the first seven matches on Manchester City’s plate for 2017-18:

Aug. 12 – at Brighton & Hove Albion
Aug. 21 – vs. Everton
Aug. 26 – at Bournemouth
Sept. 9 – vs. Liverpool
Sept. 16 – at Watford
Sept. 23 – vs. Crystal Palace
Sept. 30 – at Chelsea

We’ll preview last season’s runner-up, Tottenham Hotspur, tomorrow. No Premier League team has won more points over the last two seasons than Spurs, but they’re still without a trophy during the Mauricio Pocchetino era. Tottenham haven’t made any major additions this summer. Might their window of opportunity be coming to an end?

As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!

Premier League Preview: Liverpool

Liverpool were a really funny team in 2016-17. It was a rare year with no European competition at Anfield, so Liverpool could focus exclusively on domestic duties. Their lack of squad depth proved to be a huge problem, with many of their big-name players missing time at various points of the season due to injury or international duty. Despite those personnel issues, Jürgen Klopp managed to guide Liverpool to the semifinals of the EFL Cup and, more importantly, back into the Champions League; they have a two-legged playoff coming up against German side Hoffenheim to reach the competition’s group stage. Klopp has Liverpool heading back in the right direction, but this is still a flawed team with very little depth. The addition of Mohamed Salah brings another exciting, attacking player into the mix, but Liverpool’s defensive issues haven’t gone away. Can James Milner really be their starting left back for another full season? They did bring in Andrew Robertson from relegated Hull City; he and Alberto Moreno provide depth at that position, but I’m not sure Klopp will trust either of them with regular minutes.

No one played up or down to the level of their competition more than Liverpool in 2016-17. Against the rest of England’s top seven teams, they didn’t lose, while picking up some impressive wins along the way: Chelsea (away), Spurs (home), Manchester City (home), Arsenal (home and away), and Everton (home and away). But it was Liverpool’s problems against the bottom half of the table that prevented a serious title challenge. Their six league losses last year came against the likes of Hull (away), Burnley (away), Swansea (home), Crystal Palace (home), Leicester (away), and Bournemouth (away). They can’t expect to go unbeaten against the big boys once again, so Liverpool will have to pick up more wins against the teams that, on paper, they’re supposed to beat.

2016-17 Record & Finish
22-10-6 (W-D-L), 76 points, 4th in the Premier League
+36 GD (78 GF, 42 GA)

Manager
Jürgen Klopp – 2nd full season with Liverpool

klopp

Ins and Outs
Andrew Robertson (£7.65 million from Hull City)
Mohamed Salah (£35.7 million from AS Roma)
Dominic Solanke (free from Chelsea)

Lucas Leiva (£4.85 million to Lazio)
Alexander Manninger (retired)
Connor Randall (on loan to Heart of Midlothian)
Kevin Stewart (£3.83 million to Hull City)
Andre Wisdom (£1.96 million to Derby County)

X-factor
James Milner

milner

There are other, more high-profile players about whom I could write here: Philippe Coutinho, who could very well be on his way to Barcelona now; Sadio Mané, with no African Cup of Nations duty this season, but who could be prone to injury; Roberto Firmino, who has been good but not great leading the line for Liverpool; Daniel Sturridge, who has fallen out of favor with Klopp and has trouble staying healthy himself; and the list could go on and on. But I would argue no one was more important to Liverpool’s success than Milner last season. After Alberto Moreno lost Klopp’s trust last August, Milner, a midfielder by trade, stepped in and played a more than capable left back all season. He served as team captain when Jordan Henderson was out injured, a.k.a. most of the time. Milner also scored seven goals – all penalties, took most of Liverpool’s corners, and provided calm, steady leadership for a club that plays a frenetic, high-pressing style. It was truly an impressive season for a man on the wrong side of 30 who was playing out of position. Can he replicate that again this year? Liverpool haven’t made any defensive signings besides inking Robertson from Hull, and with European duty this year, Milner will likely see regular time at left back yet again. The competition in Europe will be tougher, and most of the teams around Liverpool in England have improved quite a bit. Milner will, once again, have to overproduce for Klopp for Liverpool to perform well again in 2017-18.

Best Case Scenario
It’s a repeat of Liverpool’s 2013-14 season but with a happier ending. They came so close to bringing a title back to Anfield, only to see it slip through their fingers at the very end. That was Luis Suárez’s last year with Liverpool before moving on to Barcelona, and what a year he had. Now, four years later, it’s Philippe Coutinho who’s rumored to be on his way to Barcelona. Klopp needs to convince him to stay for one more year, with this group of players, so they can go all out for the Premier League title. They’re not going to seriously compete for the Champions League, but Liverpool should do better than their last appearance in the competition when they crashed out in the group stage. Liverpool have more than enough attacking talent to win the league this year. If the back line can collectively elevate their game, with a stable center back pairing of Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren, and if either Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius can seize the number one goalkeeper job, Liverpool can be a more consistent team week in and week out, especially against teams in the bottom half of the league. If the stars stay healthy, Liverpool can make their first legitimate, season-long run at the title in four years.

Worst Case Scenario
Liverpool lose Coutinho this summer. Their defensive issues don’t get solved, and neither of their goalkeepers can hold down the position for a full season. Results continue to be inconsistent against lesser opposition, both in England and in Europe. It ends up with Liverpool taking a step back after finishing fourth this year. They drop as low as sixth or seventh, fail to win any silverware, and fail to get out of their group in the Champions League. If so, the pressure will mount on Klopp and the current group of players, and big changes would not be far off on the horizon. As bad as all that would be, Liverpool supporters would be absolutely sick to their stomachs if they drop below Everton in the final Premier League table. The red half of Liverpool has owned Merseyside for decades now, but significant injuries and/or poor performances could signal a big change in the northwest this year.

PC10

If I were in charge for a day…
What would I do? Besides change the name of the Kop to the Copps? I would sell Sturridge and Emre Can, and reinvest that money to fortify the defense with another center back and a left back. I’d try to bring in a creative, attacking midfield playmaker as well. Additionally, I’d move Milner from left back to defensive midfield, either by himself or as part of a holding midfield partnership with Jordan Henderson. A couple young players looked good in the rare moments they saw the field in 2016-17: defender Trent Alexander-Arnold and midfielder Ben Woodburn. I’d see what they can do on a more consistent basis. By moving some players around and out the door, that would help cover some of this team’s biggest weaknesses. They’re still a couple players away from being serious title contenders in my mind, but these moves would bring them a lot closer.

Keeping in mind that Adam Lallana is out until at least October, here’s how I would line up against Watford next Saturday:

Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Robertson; Henderson, Milner; Mané, Salah, Coutinho; Firmino

Liverpool head to the hornets’ nest that is Vicarage Road to kick off their season in one week’s time. They came away with a 1-0 win at Watford back in May, with Emre Can scoring one of the goals of the season in first-half stoppage time. Here’s how Liverpool’s schedule looks for the first two months of the season:

Aug. 12 – at Watford
Aug. 19 – vs. Crystal Palace
Aug. 27 – vs. Arsenal
Sept. 9 – at Manchester City
Sept. 16 – vs. Burnley
Sept. 23 – at Leicester
Oct. 1 – at Newcastle

Tomorrow, we turn our eyes back to Manchester and the Noisy Neighbors’ half of the city. Pep Guardiola’s Citizens had a turbulent 2016-17 season, his first year in charge, but he’s spent big money this summer in the hopes that Manchester City can compete for titles domestically and in Europe. But have they truly solved their defensive problems?

As always, thanks for reading. Come on you Reds!