Eight talking points ahead of the Premier League weekend

Each week we preview the Premier League action and discuss some of the division’s major talking points.

Potter’s balancing act begins at the Bridge

The transfer window has slammed shut and attentions now focus solely on an improvement in results at Chelsea. Tenth in the Premier League and ten points adrift of the top four, an instant return on the club’s record-breaking investment is required if the west Londoners are to close the gap.

Chelsea’s influx of new arrivals has understandably caused excitement at Stamford Bridge, as the Blues have broken the bank for star signings including Mykhaylo Mudryk and Enzo Fernandez. The former impressed on debut at Liverpool, while the latter arrives with the pressure of becoming the Premier League’s most expensive signing.

The task for Graham Potter will be to mould those new faces into a winning formula. Chelsea possess huge talent, but their squad is seriously bloated. Jorginho departed on deadline day, but the likes of Conor Gallagher, Hakim Ziyech and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang remain at the club despite exit talk in a 33-man first-team squad.

Chelsea can also only register three of their eight new signings for the Champions League’s knockout rounds and while Malo Gusto has remained on loan at Lyon and Andrey Santos awaits a work permit, at least one big name will miss out when three are chosen from the remaining six.

Potter’s balancing act in keeping his squad content begins against Fulham on Friday evening. The Cottagers will pose a difficult test in the west London derby and have punched above their weight this season, including an upset of Chelsea at Craven Cottage last month.


Dyche debut an unenviable task

Everton’s era under Sean Dyche begins this weekend, with the new boss handed a tough test with the visit of Premier League leaders Arsenal to Goodison Park.

A strong start could lead to an atmospheric home crowd and level the playing field somewhat, but Dyche will know how hard a challenge his side face against an Arsenal side who have swaggered to the top of the division this season.

A lack of time – and organisation – prevented desperately needed additions arriving before the transfer deadline and Dyche will have to work with the hand he has been dealt as Everton bid to survive.

His situation is the opposite of this weekend’s opponents, whose patience with Mikel Arteta and strategy have transformed the Gunners after a period of decline. Arteta’s recruitment focus has been clear and executed, allowing him to build a team in his own image. It is one that could lead a first Premier League title since 2003/04.

Everton, in contrast, have been a car crash. Dyche’s task is to salvage something from the wreckage he has inherited.

Can new signing save Saints?

As relegation rivals Everton floundered in the transfer market, Southampton made moves to strengthen their squad and give Nathan Jones the tools required to continue their revival.

Southampton might be bottom of the Premier League on goal difference, but the Saints have won four of their last six in all competitions and now look better-equipped for battle. Goals have been an issue this season and Southampton will hope the deadline day arrivals of Kamaldeen Sulemana and Paul Onuachu can prove the solution.

Sulemana is a winger with raw potential and recorded the quickest speed of any footballer at the World Cup in Qatar, while Onuachu is a powerful presence who boasts a brilliant goal record in Belgium. The 6ft 7in Nigerian netted 79 goals in 114 league appearances at Genk and should prove a handful for Premier League defences.

Southampton face a difficult challenge this weekend at Aston Villa, who have won five of their seven league games under Unai Emery. Villa will view Southampton as a winnable home fixture as Emery’s in-form side eye Europe.

Konate absence adds to Klopp’s headache

The problems keep on coming for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.

Liverpool’s sorry season continued with an FA Cup exit at Brighton last weekend, leaving the Reds facing an uphill task to save their season. Ten points off the pace in the race for the top four and with a Champions League last-16 tie with Real Madrid fast approaching, Klopp’s side can ill-afford to continue the form that has seen just one win from six in 2023.

Klopp’s headache has been added to with the news that Ibrahima Konate has been ruled out for around three weeks, with the centre-back set to miss Premier League clashes with Wolves, Everton and high-flying Newcastle.

The Frenchman – who has been a rare positive in a squad struggling with underperformance – joins Virgil van Dijk on the sidelines, leaving Liverpool short at centre-back. Wolves will be hoping to exploit a vulnerable centre when the teams meet at Molineux this weekend.

How will Manchester United plug Eriksen gap?

Manchester United’s progress in the FA Cup was marred following the news that Christian Eriksen is facing an extended spell on the sidelines, with the midfielder ruled out until late April at the earliest following a horror challenge from Reading’s Andy Carroll.

Carroll – who was later sent for two quick-fire bookings in a calamitous performance – scythed down Eriksen in a challenge that the referee somehow failed to view as a caution. It is one that means Eriksen will watch on for much of the remainder of the season, leaving Erik ten Hag without one of his most influential players.

Only Kevin De Bruyne (11) has provided more than Eriksen’s seven assists in the Premier League this season, while the Dane also leads his teammates for crosses and passes into the final third, and ranks second for ball recoveries, chances created and passes into the opposition box.

Ten Hag has championed Fred’s credentials as a replacement in midfield, but the Brazilian is a different profile of player to the creative Eriksen. United will hope that Marcel Sabitzer can hit the ground running after completing his loan move from Bayern Munich. The Austrian has struggled for status since swapping RB Leipzig for the Allianz Arena, but is a midfielder with drive, tenacity and goal threat.

Bowen back to his best?

Jarrod Bowen’s form has been criticised this season with the West Ham winger unable to replicate the levels that earned him an England debut last summer.

Bowen was one just three players – alongside Mohamed Salah and Mason Mount – to record 10+ goals and 10+ assists in the Premier League last season, form which saw the 26-year-old named as West Ham’s Players’ Player of the Year.

This season he has struggled to reproduce those returns as West Ham have hovered around the bottom three, but there have been positive signs in recent weeks that Bowen is getting back to his best.

Bowen’s brace saw West Ham beat Everton and climb out of the Premier League’s relegation places on January 21, before the winger scored one and created another as the Hammers progressed in the FA Cup on Monday night.

With West Ham’s marquee arrivals yet to find their feet in the Premier League, the onus will be on Bowen to rediscover his finest form and lead David Moyes’ side up the division.

Have Spurs learned their lessons?

Tottenham renew rivalries with Manchester City this weekend with memories of their last encounter fresh. It’s just over two weeks since the two played out a chaotic clash at the Etihad, one which saw Spurs lead 2-0 at half-time before City staged a second-half fightback to claim all three points.

Spurs have lacked the structure often associated with Antonio Conte teams this season, while their record in ‘Big Six’ games has been poor. Conte’s charges have taken just one point from seven games against the ‘Big Six’ and Newcastle this season, a head-to-head record which leaves little margin for error in the chase for Champions League football.

Arnaut Danjuma and Pedro Porro appear smart signings as Conte’s rebuild continues and the latter could make his debut against the side who let him leave earlier in his career. Porro provided 11 assists in all competitions for Sporting Lisbon this season and has the end product that Spurs have been lacking from wing-back.

With Son Heung-min – a regular thorn in City’s side in past campaigns – back in the goals at Preston last weekend, Spurs will hope to rediscover the levels that have made them stubborn opponents for the champions in recent seasons. They are expected to do so without Conte this weekend however, who will undergo a period of recuperation after having surgery to remove his gallbladder this week.

Defeat for either side would be a major blow to their season’s aspirations. Have Spurs learned their lessons from their Etihad collapse?

Read – Five big name players shown the exit door after clashing with their manager

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