Premier League W2W4: Mourinho's mood, all eyes on Kepa as season starts
Ahead of each round of fixtures in the Premier League, W2W4 looks at the main storylines to keep an eye on. It's the start of a new season, and Jose Mourinho's mood is one of the key topics of discussion once more.
1. Emery vs. Guardiola: the meeting of the mutual appreciation society
Sunday will be the 11th time Unai Emery and Pep Guardiola have faced each other as managers. The tally reads four draws and six wins for Guardiola, but despite the apparently one-sided nature of this rivalry, both men are fans of each other. "When you watch his teams, you can see there is sense to everything they do," Guardiola said in 2011 of Emery, who returned the compliment when he joined PSG. "I've been inspired by Guardiola," he said. "He brings a lot of things to football: tactically, in the game intelligence of a team, the movement of players and possession."
The two men start on rather different footings this weekend. Guardiola is beginning his third season at Manchester City, already has a team with few rivals, and the summer has been serene: When the biggest drama was missing out on a defensive midfielder who'd (initially) be second choice, you know all is going well. They already looked razor sharp in the Community Shield, and didn't even have three of their best attackers.
Emery, on the other hand, is replacing an institution in the Arsenal dugout, begins from a standing start and has a team riddled with questions. Who'll start in goal? Which centre-backs will he pick? What midfield formation will he play? Can he get the best from Mesut Ozil? Will he choose one of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, or try to fit them both in? The short version is: if City blow Arsenal away, there's no need for them to panic.
2. All eyes on Kepa
Usually a new manager might be cautious about throwing a freshly signed goalkeeper straight into his team just days after arrival. But Kepa Arrizabalaga might be thrust into action by Maurizio Sarri as they travel to face Huddersfield on Saturday, because Chelsea need all the certainty they can get at the moment. The alternative is to play Willy Caballero: not a calamitous choice, but not the man who will take the gloves for the rest of the season. The Community Shield, while only a friendly, showed exactly how far behind Chelsea are (not a surprise considering their summer), but a team in that position need to fit as many of their major pieces into the jigsaw as possible. Kepa -- the most expensive goalkeeper in history -- is a pretty big piece, so he should be given the maximum amount of time to fit in.
3. Will Jose Mourinho's gloom infect his team?
If you listen to what Manchester United's players are saying in public, they'll tell you Jose Mourinho has actually been quite sparky away from the cameras and microphones. But even if the Manchester United manager has been sweetness and light in the dressing room, some of his burning negativity over the summer must have had some effect. Picking passive-aggressive arguments with players such as Antonio Valencia of all people, or essentially accusing World Cup participants of not being committed if they didn't return from holiday early, or any other of the ways he's chosen to be publicly miserable. It might serve his own ends, but what of his players? You can hardly think it has pepped them up, so the question then becomes: how much has it dragged them down? We will get the first hints when Leicester visit Old Trafford for the season opener on Friday.
4. Will Tottenham be hit the hardest by the World Cup hangover?
The World Cup feels as if it was in another age, a time eons ago that is now a distant memory. But in fact it will be just 26 days from the final to the first day of the Premier League season, and you wonder how that will impact the Premier League campaign. The most obvious candidates to be affected are Tottenham, who had nine players involved in the last four in Russia, meaning they will inevitably be way behind on their preseason preparation. Just as last season, they travel to face Newcastle on the opening day, but they will do so with the meat of their team decidedly undercooked. Will they be the team hit the hardest by summer exertions?
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5. Wolves have a chance to make a big splash
It's tricky to recall a team who have arrived in the Premier League in better shape than Wolves. They probably already had a squad that could hold their own in the top flight before their summer activity, but the additions of Rui Patricio, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore immediately make Nuno Espirito Santo's side look like top-half contenders. In the evening kickoff on Saturday, they host Everton, a team who were in rough shape for much of last season and whose summer hasn't gone entirely to plan. They still look a slightly imbalanced team, and in Marco Silva are managed by a man who still has to convince everyone that he can be as good in the medium/long term as he looked in patches at Hull and Watford. Wolves can capitalise on that uncertainty to announce themselves in the division.