Welcome to The Analyst’s Notepad, a weekly tactical guide to bagging those all-important free beers and killing the competition in your private leagues with the Budweiser Premier Predictor.
Liverpool v Norwich City
Where’s Luis Suarez when you need him? Liverpool’s ravenous former frontman had one hell of a record against Norwich City, netting what felt like a hat-trick a game against the Canaries.
As fun as all that was, time has moved on. Mo Salah is the jewel in their crown now and good lord, did he look sluggish against City at Wembley?
Salah had an xG of 0.83 in the Community Shield - higher than his xG per 90 last season of 0.60 - and contrived to miss in every way imaginable. What better way to break out of that funk than against a newly promoted side no stranger to gay abandon at the back? Time will tell if he’s actually forgotten what the white frame at the end of the pitch is or if this is merely the result of playing three consecutive summer tournaments on the spin.
Naby Keita made a decent impression playing as the ‘8’ and looks ready to finally add his energy to the Liverpool midfield on a regular basis. This could be vital against a Norwich side that let set to bring their manic, press-at-all-costs style to Anfield.
That said, the Anglians need to decide how to approach this season, sharpish. Whilst their all-action approach saw them come up as champions, scoring the most goals in the division, they also very much shipped more than your average P & O Ferry.
Could this mean goals at Anfield? Probably, just don’t bank on them coming from the Salah. Liverpool beat all of the promoted sides last season without even needing a mad sprint on to the pitch from King Kloppo - netting 12 and conceded just two.
That said Danny Farke will surely have clocked there’s little to be gained getting humped 8-0 on the opening day, I’d expect them to shut up shop once the game’s gone.
I am predicting an easy 2-0 win for the title pretenders and Klopp to have right old belly laugh about something or other in the post-match presser.
Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa
OK, so Tottenham have finally opened their wallet and spent well on Tanguy Ndombele but compared to Aston Villa’s transfer activity - well, they’ve done so much I’m struggling to come up with a half sensible comparison.
Since beating Frank Lampard’s Derby County at Wembley, Aston Villa have spent £140m+ on 13 players - and some of them are quite good. That said, it remains to be seen whether their summer spending has gone as far as getting Jack Grealish a new pair of boots.
Heading to Tottenham’s lovely new (yes, we can still call it new until Christmas) ground on the opening day is far from ideal for Dean Smith’s side. 13 new players into any squad is going to take time to gel and going up against a side as settled a Spurs’, will be a huge ask.
Will Smith be brave enough to ask Villa to keep playing their possession-based game? They averaged the higher end of 54% of the ball in their Championship matches last season with an average xG of 1.66 per 90. Are they going to get that against Spurs? Not likely.
Smith typically lines Villa up in a 433 but you can expect to see that to be much more of the 4141 variety in these tough away matches.
Spurs to get off to a winning start here, 2-0 as well. You’d expect Harry Kane to score, wouldn’t you? Then you are a fool - it’s August.
West Ham v Manchester City
The champions visit London’s famous Athletics Cave early on Saturday to play a West Ham side who have been surprisingly efficient in the transfer market this summer.
By any standards, getting shot of Shandy Carroll and bringing in Sebastian Haller makes a lot of sense. He is what the pros would call “a bit of an upgrade” - Haller slapped home 20 in all competitions last season and created 10. That said, he did have a bit of help from Luka Jovic (who has legged it to Real Madrid) and Ante Rebic - and we can all agree they are a little more dangerous than Michail Antonio.
City have doubts over Benjamin Mendy (both injury wise and life in general) and Fernandinho meaning that Rodri, who looked a bit too good for my liking on his Wembley debut last weekend, should make his Premier League bow. It will be a straight battle of the Spanish debutants as big things are expected from West Ham’s Pablo Fornals who many are calling the bargain of the window.
We are in classic West Ham territory, however - confidence and hope is high. This might be the season. And yet we all know the most likely outcome is the Hammers finish 12th having briefly flirted with Europa League qualification. Considering City’s last five trips to Stratford have yielded 19 goals, any sort of vaguely dignified defeat will constitute progress of sorts for Pellegrini.
I’m calling City to coast it 0-3, Sterling to score two from a combined total of six-yards and Gabby Jesus to get the other from the spot.
Newcastle United v Arsenal
When the fixtures were announced, was there anyone out there who expected Steve Bruce to be shaking hands with Unai Emery here? No, not me. I mean, I didn’t expect Rafa to still be there but I didn’t expect a human turnip, blessed with a PL win percentage of 28%, to be in charge of Newcastle.
Despite this, there is some hope at Newcastle. In Joelinton they have a new number 9 with all the potential to become an instant crowd favourite. Yes, they’ve kept hold of Sean Longstaff and even found another one at the same breakfast table. And yes, they’ve filled that problem left-back spot. Hang on, that cautious optimism doesn't quite sound so outlandish after all…
As for Arsenal, who needs central defenders anyway? Laurent Koscielny downed tools to get a move back to Ligue 1 meaning we can end that farcical talk of him being one of the best defenders in the league. And Carl Jenkinson’s fan holiday is finally over as they’ve persuaded Nottingham Forest that he is actually a footballer and thus worth signing. Lovely to see the club ensure that peak levels of banter at Colney didn't drop for a second with the capture of David Luiz, however - impecable legacy planning.
Better still, they signed William Saliba - a defender! - and then loaned him back to France because, you know, Mustafi and, er, Calum Chambers.
All this has been cunningly masked by the signing of Nicolas Pepe who is, to be fair, a proper player and exactly the kind of thing that Arsenal fans had been craving. I.E. a winger happy to play there.
What does all this mean to this fixture, however?
Brucey has been lining up with a 5-3-2 in pre-season which will, no doubt, become a 5-4-1 once Arsenal start to monopolise the ball. Newcastle could be good on the counter, which is great because Arsenal probably will actually be worse in defence than they were last season, when they conceded 51 goals. Joelinton vs Sokratis for pace? I know where my money is at.
Arsenal can only play one way with this squad and that is to attack – expect plenty of space for Newcastle to go and have some fun in - I’m going for an entertaining 2-2 here, Joelinton to become a cult hero by bagging a brace on debut.
Manchester United vs Chelsea
Finally, Sunday afternoon brings comfortably the most intriguing tie of the round. I wouldn't mind seeing the two coaching sides have a game of 7s before kick-off - Lampard vs Carrick in a chess battle for possession, Ole against Cech, Nicky Butt and Claude Makelele literally murdering each other in the centre circle. Ah, halcyon days.
Anyway, both sides will be desperate for a winning start after a tumultuous summer of change. Sorry, did I say change? United overpaying for names far from proven at the top level and still failing to deal with the Paul Pogba issue doesn’t feel that different to last summer. Or the summer before that, come to think to it - but at Chelsea it could not be more different.
Super Frank is in the dugout and there’s going to be some bairns on the pitch - yes, actual Chelsea youth products. Mason Mount has impressed at No. 10 in preseason and Tammy Abraham looks likely to be picked ahead of Michy-B.
The honours are even over the last six matches between these two with a pair of wins and draws apiece. Given the often tetchy nature of opening games, a draw makes sense here.
Lampard is likely to go with a 4-2-3-1 whereas Solskjaer looks to be returning to the split-striker approach he adopted when things were going well last term. United have been pressing efficiently in preseason and Lampard is determined for his team to play out from the back a la Derby last season - this is the area where the game could be won or lost for me.
If Lamps picks the right players in the middle of his defence (having tried every combination possible so far) and they manage to get the ball to Jorginho safely, anything could happen. But, if United panic them and take early control of the game don’t be surprised to hear that dreadful damn song ringing around Old Trafford once again.
I’m going to wedge my backside firmly on the fence here and call it 1-1. Both sides will happily leave Old Trafford unscathed and anyone starting a #LampsOut campaign on Twitter can be shot down in flames.
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