Huh! EPL is finally back

Focus on English Premier League as it enters second day today

In Summary

•Klopp has big plans for Keita this season

•Guardiola takes advantage of the new law

Leicester City's Harry Maguire during the match
Leicester City's Harry Maguire during the match

At last, it is back! The start of the new Premier League season comes to us this weekend with all the excitement, anticipation and speculation which befits the best league in the world.

The big questions being discussed around the world are, will Manchester and Liverpool fight it out again in a two-team race? Can Unai Emery turn his Arsenal Gunners into a team to be feared once again? How will Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s Manchester United progress after a pre-season tour in which they were unbeaten and how will Frank Lampard endure his first big management appointment given that Chelsea were not allowed to sign any players due to their transfer ban? His big bust-up with David Luiz is certainly not going to help his cause.

Man City have Kevin de Bruyne back from injury which blighted much of his season. But one big minus for them is the loss of Vincent Kompany. This superb professional can be replaced on the field but he was a towering strength in the dressing room. Now someone else has to do the job. So at the end of the season, which clubs will be in the top four? Can United with Harry Maguire playing at the centre of defence get results without Romelu Lukaku. Will Tottenham again be the main strength of north London given their new signings or will Arsenal, with new boy Nicolas Pepe and their refreshed team be more than a handful in contention for honours and begin again to relive past glories. Teams like Everton, with Moise Kean and Fabian Delph, Leicester, Wolves, with AC Milan striker Patrick Cutrone and Watford, with United striker Danny Welbeck, will all be chasing the top six. It promises to be a fascinating season and I will keep you up to speed with news from the dressing rooms, training pitches, managers and players.

Klopp has big plans for Keita this season

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp shared his plans of a big season for Guinean midfielder Naby Keita—providing he keeps fit. The Guinean has had a bad run of luck since joining from German club LB Leipzig for over £50million. He missed the Champions League final win against Tottenham in Madrid and played only twice for Guinea in the African Cup of Nations in Egypt in late June. He played well in Liverpool’s pre-season match against Lyon last week. Klopp said: “Naby came to Liverpool from Leipzig with a slight injury and picked up another at the end of last season. But he has settled in well with the club and spent a lot of time improving his English and these things are important and show a player’s commitment. I want him to be a permanent name on the starting sheet every week. We have several players who are pretty new to the team. I include Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, who has had a tough time with injuries with little playing time, Rhian Brewster and Divock Origi. They can all make important steps to improve if they keep fit and we can develop as a team. With these players, we do not need to spend money bringing in a lot of new people. We already have the quality needed.”

Having said that, Klopp has problems with players returning late from the summer. Sadio Mane returned at 4 pm on Monday and he only had a two-week break. The manager is planning his training schedule very carefully. Two Reds assistants have told me that Mo Salah must stop trying to go for goal himself when other better options are available. This was obvious during the Charity Shield match where Firmino was in a perfect scoring position and if only Salah had lifted his head he would have realized that passing presented a better opportunity than shooting. Finally, goalkeeper Alisson only returned to training ten days ago and in Liverpool’s last two games he looked sluggish and not 100%.

Guardiola takes advantage of the new law

The new law which allows a defender to be inside the penalty area when a goal kick is taken has presented an opportunity for Pep Guardiola. The master tactician has instructed his full backs Walker and Otamendi to go wide of the goalkeeper with one of them staying inside the penalty area. They then swap passes with the goalkeeper and thus drawing an opponent striker forward. Once the forward is committed, the goalkeeper then bypasses the striker and sends the ball out to either John Stones or Rodri who are further upfield and they swiftly move the ball forward. Having signed right back Cancelo from Juventus, Pep begins next week to coach him as competition to Kyle Walker and will teach him the new way of playing alongside goalkeepers Ederson and Bravo.   

Why Solskjaer wanted Maguire for United

I have spoken with Manchester United about summer signing Harry Maguire. I asked why manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer particularly wanted him for £80million plus £190k a week. The manager apparently sees Maguire as his future captain and a big influence in United’s often rocky defence. He needed a ball playing, a calm defender with a strong presence who would become a leader on and off the pitch. Maguire isn’t a Roy Keane or Paul Ince, shouting instructions at players during a match but he does have a strong personality and physically demands attention. Former manager Jose Mourinho identified Maguire as the solution to his defensive problems but he could not convince Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward to part with the cash. Solskjaer, like many others at United, sees Maguire as a mixture of Ferdinand and Vidic, two of the best centre-halves ever employed by United. Maguire is also not attracted by the high living life of many footballers. When he arrived for his medical last Saturday, he impressed the United staff because he came only with his agent whereas many star footballers travel around with half a dozen hangers-on. He met Solskjaer on Sunday morning and took part in a light training session and posed for pictures and spoke with some of us about his delight at joining a top-six team. Maguire has kept himself very fit over the summer, even training on holiday. I hear whispers that he will start alongside Victor Lindelhof on Sunday against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.

“Not my signings,” says Pochettino

As the new season starts, there is still friction at White Hart Lane between manager Mauricio Pochettino and the owners. Pochettino has been complaining all summer and is unhappy with the transfer policy at the club and says his job description should be changed from manager to coach. The club provided no money in the previous two transfer windows and therefore did not strengthen the team but this summer, new signings have arrived including Jack Clarke and Tanguy Ndombele, but neither were Pochettino’s choice. Buying players and giving them to the manager telling him to fit them into his tactical style of play is not clever. There was speculation that Philippe Coutinho could have left Barcelona on a loan deal but Pochettino never once spoke with the Brazilian. There is also speculation that, as no concrete offers have been received for midfielder Christian Eriksen during the transfer window, many European clubs are now preparing low bids for him. The European transfer period is open until September 2nd which means Premier League clubs can sell but not buy players.


Koscielny snubs Arsenal boss and leaves


It is a familiar story of an ageing player wanting an extra 12 months added to an existing contract only for the club to say no. That is what happened to cause the rift between Arsenal club captain Laurent Koscielny and the club hierarchy. Arsenal said if they granted his wish it would have to be performance-related. Koscielny was furious and went on strike. Gunners boss Unai Emery was desperate to keep his defender and set up a meeting so the two could discuss the situation. This time it was the player who said no and now the manager is starting the season without him as he has joined French club, Bordeaux. That is why the Gunners took advantage of the David Luiz situation at Chelsea. Luiz has never been close to Lampard and the Brazilian has questioned much of Lampard’s pre-season decisions and the rift just got wider. Lampard told Luiz he would not be the automatic first-choice central defender this coming season and the Brazilian immediately instructed his agent to look for another club.


Plenty of challenges for Bruce at Newcastle

With the toxic atmosphere at Newcastle, fans are in open revolt against owner Mike Ashley and less than pleased with the appointment of Steve Bruce as the new manager. Bruce has been speaking to us about his challenging role. Fans have hurled abuse at Bruce calling him a “Collaborator” and many have said he should have turned the job down. It remains to be seen how many supporters decide not to attend Newcastle’s home match against Arsenal on Sunday as a protest. Talking to Bruce he says that he has inherited a “solid” squad from outgoing manager Rafa Benitez but the team needs fresh wingmen to provide pace. New signings Joelinton and Miguel Almiron, who both scored in a pre-season warm-up match against French side St Etienne, are both capable of impressing in the Premier League. Training has indicated that Bruce intends to play with three at the back and attack using wingback options. Bruce has expressed confidence in his first-choice midfield trio of Jonjo Shelvey, Sean Longstaff and Isaac Hayden. The big challenge for Bruce is winning over those supporters and he knows this can only be achieved if he can put together some early wins however I suspect these will be difficult and I see the Toon Army fighting in the relegation zone this season.   


Manager confident Norwich will do well

Norwich are widely tipped to return to the Championship after one season in the Premier League. However, their manager Daniel Farke thinks otherwise. Having avoided what I call the ‘Fulham mistake’ where you spend £100million buying ten players who can’t play together, Norwich have kept spending under control. Farke said this week, “We didn’t want to risk everything for one or two big transfers. We could have said we are investing in players and not facilities but one or two players would not guarantee our ambitions. I am pleased with our pre-season progress and the players who came up from the Championship League are anxious to prove they can do well this season. Patrick Roberts has joined from Man City and striker Josep Drmic has arrived from German side Borussia Moenchengladbach.


Hodgson makes two good signings

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson is delighted that Jordan Ayew has seen his loan deal from Swansea turn into a permanent move. Having sold Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United, Palace banked £50million. They have made a clever move in signing Chelsea defender Gary Cahill on a two-year deal. Cahill is pleased because it means he can play in London and stay in his current home in Cobham near to Chelsea’s training ground.


Villa fall for Fulham mistake

Aston Villa have done exactly what I said they should not do. They have signed 12 new players for £120million which is exactly what Fulham did when they were promoted only to see all their plans turn to dust! The only player I can see impressing the Premier League this season is Brazilian striker Wesley Moraes who joined for £22million. I can see a tough year ahead for Villa and their away match to Tottenham this weekend will be a stern test.