New season, same old Man Utd? It’s hard to envisage Erik ten Hag picking a vastly different team to the one that ignored Ralf Rangnick. It’ll be a familiar-looking Arsenal side too, but for rather more positive reasons.
In no particular order, here’s how we reckon the Big Six will line up this weekend…
Liverpool – versus Fulham (A)
Pretty straightforward for Jurgen Klopp. Diogo Jota was fit to scribble on his new contract but a hamstring injury keeps him out of the opening run of games, so Liverpool’s new-look front three will get its first airing in the Premier League. Alisson will be fit, apparently, taking his place from Adrian, who just about managed to get through the Community Shield without doing something inexplicable.
One player who might feel a little hard done by is new boy Fabio Carvalho, especially since the Reds are facing his former team after an impressive pre-season campaign. No doubt Klopp will give him some minutes from the bench.
Alexander-Arnold Konate Van Dijk Robertson
Henderson Fabinho Thiago
Salah Nunez Diaz
Manchester United – versus Brighton (H)
It’s rather more tricky for Erik ten Hag. United are hosting Brighton at home and although the new manager would undoubtedly love to put on a show, he has to balance that with the fact that Brighton have demonstrated that they can play this United off the park. Perhaps it isn’t the time to sleep in new signings.
We suspect Ten Hag will resist the temptation to play Christian Eriksen from the start, meaning McFred breathes again. When Eriksen is needed – he almost certainly will be – we’ll probably see him off the bench.
The front three picks itself although there are bigger questions about the defense. Lisandro Martinez will be a huge player for Ten Hag – is he ready to come straight in at the expense of Harry Maguire or Raphael Varane? He should be, but we have a feeling Ten Hag will pick a very familiar – a far-too-familiar – XI, with perhaps Tyrell Malacia the only new signing on show. And even he might miss out…
Dalot Varane Maguire Malacia
Sancho Fernandes Rashford
Manchester United need Ten Hag to roll successive double-sixes for them this season
Manchester City – versus West Ham (A)
Pep Guardiola is a funny so-and-so to second guess. And City’s preparations for the new season add an extra layer of complexity to trying to predict the champions’ first XI of the new season.
City started pre-season training on July 11, a fortnight after United’s first batch of players got to work under Ten Hag. The length of the season to come in addition to the World Cup exertions of many of their stars means some of Pep’s players could be slightly undercooked come the weekend. That certainly appeared to be the case in the Community Shield.
At Leicester, Kalvin Phillips remained on the bench and his first start in a City shirt is unlikely to come at the London Stadium. Guardiola has no other senior full-backs to choose from and since John Stones missed the pre-season tour to the USA, Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias look set to continue their partnership despite conceding three in the Community Shield.
City’s team-sheet could look very similar to last week’s. Perhaps Julian Alvarez might be given a start in place of Riyad Mahrez after the new boy made a positive impression upon replacing the ineffective Algerian. Or Phil Foden could come in, despite missing the pre-season trip to the USA. Toss a coin…
Walker Ake Dias Cancelo
De Bruyne Rodri Bernardo Silva
Alvarez Haaland Grealish
Arsenal – versus Crystal Palace (A)
Easy. If it ain’t broke, and Arsenal’s pre-season suggests everything is ticking over very nicely indeedthen don’t fix it…
White Saliba Gabriel Zinchenko
Saka Odegaard Martinelli
Chelsea – versus Everton (A)
Everything may have gone swimmingly for Arsenal in pre-season but, including a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Gunners, Chelsea’s preparations have been rather less serene. All of which leaves Thomas Tuchel looking at an opening-weekend XI still ripe for improvement.
Tuchel is short of at least one centre-back, leaving Kalidou Koulibaly to make his Premier League debut alongside Thiago Silva and probably Trevoh Chalobah. Reece James and Ben Chilwell are obvious picks at wing-back, especially with doubts still hanging over the futures of Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. Tuchel said after the Arsenal defeat that those players who might be on their way have been affected by the uncertainty.
Raheem Sterling will join Koulibaly in making his Premier League debut for Chelsea, just off Kai Havertz, who will lead the line until Tuchel learns to trust Armando Broja or the Blues sign another centre-forward.
Koulibaly Thiago Silva Chalobah
James Jorginho Kovacic Chilwell
Tottenham – versus Southampton (H)
Already Antonio Conte has injuries to contend with after his first pre-season as Spurs boss. Ben Davies has been struggling but should be okay so we’re guessing that he might get the nod over new boy Clement Lenglet, while reports suggest neither of Oliver Skipp nor Yves Bissouma will be fit to take their places in midfield, leaving Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur to carry on where they left off last season.
Spurs have a couple of new wing-backs but we reckon they’ll blood only one on the opening day, with Djed Spence likely to be given longer to adapt to Conte-ball. Ivan Perisic is an almost automatic pick on the left after an impressive pre-season campaign, while in attack, Richarlison’s suspension makes the front three a simple choice for Conte…
Dier Romero Davies
Doherty Hojbjerg Bentancur Perisic