After a surprising end to the summer transfer business, it is time for the real business of football to begin. The English Premier League kicks off from Friday with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United set to face Leicester City. Things look bleak for the Portuguese manager after a forgettable transfer window, in which he managed to rope in just three players – Fred, Diogo Dalot, and goalkeeper Lee Grant. An even worse pre-season has further raised questions on whether the club could challenge for the title this season.
Leicester, on the other hand, have had a better transfer window, bringing in the likes of Fanny Ward from Liverpool and Filip Benkovic from Dinamo Zagreb. The fact that the Foxes managed to keep hold of Harry Maguire despite interests from several top clubs, including United, will further boost their confidence of going into the match.
The biggest match of the weekend will see champions Manchester City take on Arsenal in a Super Sunday clash. The pressure is bound to be on new Gunners manager Unai Emery, who will attempt to fill the big boots of Arsene Wenger. It will be first time in 22 years that Arsenal will play a match with no Wenger in the dugout. Emery’s record against Pep Guardiola leaves much to demand. The two are familiar rivals during Guardiola’s Barcelona days, between 2008 and 2012, when Emery was Valencia manager. In their 10 meetings against each other, Emery has not registered a single win.
The Spanish manager has strengthened his defensive forces, with German keeper Bernd Leno arriving from Bayer Leverkusen while former Juventus defender and Switzerland skipper Stephan Lichtsteiner and Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos being brought in as well. Against a dynamic attacking front at the disposal of The Citizens, Emery will hope the new signings can relish the pressure and give their side a good day on the field.
For City, the newly signed Riyad Mahrez will be hoping to start the match. Having to face stiff competition from the likes of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane for his position in the team, Mahrez is bound to feel the pressure. The former Leicester City winger knows that playing for a big team, a couple of bad performances can put him out of contention for selection.
PRESSURE ON MAURIZIO SARRI
After losing the Community Shield match against Manchester City, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri had little time to find fixes to a rather abject showing at Wembley. As Thibaut Courtois moved to Real Madrid, Sarri roped in Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga in a record transfer deal. Real Madrid midfielder Mateo Kovacic has also been brought in to the side on loan to give a boost to the midfield. Facing Huddersfield in their opening match, Sarri will feel the pressure to put on a better performance than his side did against City. The former Napoli manager will need to get cracking from the word go to instill the confidence in the fans and the owner after an abject last season.
Arrizabalaga, who is likely to start against The Terriers, will also feel the need to justify the price tag associated with him. At 23, he is one of the youngest goalkeepers on the block, and a little error from his end will be enough to bring in wrath and criticisms from all corners.
Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp will also need to justify the amount of money he has spent in the transfer window. Much was talked about the club spending over £175 million on signing four players – Naby Keita, Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Now, it is time for the German manager, and signings as well, to justify the sum. The new signings were excellent in the pre-season, with Shaqiri’s bicycle kick against United being the highlight. Now, the new signings have to deliver on the field to justify the faith showered on them by the club and the fans, and to go for a win. Facing West Ham in their opening match, the Scousers will feel they are in for an easy contest.