2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview: Crystal Palace (1-0-0) vs. Liverpool (1-0-0)

Liverpool looked every bit the primary contender to prevent Manchester City from a second straight canter to a Premier League title in their season opener. The Reds look to sustain that momentum Monday at Selhurst Park versus Crystal Palace.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Jurgen Klopp’s team swept aside West Ham United 4-0 at Anfield on Aug. 12, showing off their new signings and taking full advantage of an Irons squad dealing with chemistry issues with so many of their new players arriving so close to the transfer deadline.

Mohamed Salah looked ready to compete for a second consecutive Golden Boot by opening the scoring, and Sadio Mane contributed a brace on either side of halftime. Daniel Sturridge added the finishing touch with a goal just seconds after his introduction in the 88th minute.

The year-long wait for Naby Keita proved well worth it as he anchored a bustling midfield that included Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner, the latter of whom was filling in for England international Jordan Henderson as he rested following his run to the World Cup semifinals.

Alisson, who was a world-record signing at the keeper position until Chelsea’s late move for Kepa Arrizabalaga, was barely troubled in recording a clean sheet in his Liverpool debut, and Xherdan Shaqiri got his first taste of Anfield life with a late runout.

“Yes, the start was good but that’s already done, if you want,” Klopp told Liverpool’s official website. “The feeling around the club is good (and) a big part of that are the performances and the results we got in the last few months. That’s what we have to do again and again and again.”

While there are no worries about the offence, the defence is not at full strength as Dejan Lovren is recovering from a pelvis injury he suffered with Liverpool and aggravated helping Croatia reach the World Cup final. Joe Gomez stepped in and formed an effective central defence tandem with Virgil Van Dijk, justifying the gaffer’s confidence in the 21-year-old.

“I was never in doubt about Joe and his ability to play at centre-half … now he’s fit and he’s a very good football player, he can play the position good,” Klopp said. “Together with Virgil, they have a very good understanding – on a personal level as well, that’s really cool.”

While Gomez and Van Dijk will again start, Klopp is expected to add Joel Matip to the bench since fellow central defender Ragnar Klavan left Friday for Italian Serie A side Cagliari.

This summer’s big outfield signing – midfielder Fabinho – likely will be with the reserves for a second straight match, but the Brasil international feels he is making the proper adjustments to a three-man midfield after serving as a part of a defensive midfield pairing with Monaco before his £39 million move.

“It’s a different playing style than at Monaco; there were two of us in midfield there and here at Liverpool there’s three,” he noted. “My midfield partners have given me guidance and assistance, as have the defence. I knew my role would change and I feel I’ve adapted well. You seek guidance and help from the players around you and that has worked really well up until now.”

Crystal Palace made sure there would be no repeat of last term’s historically ghastly start by opening their season with a 2-0 victory at promoted Fulham on Aug. 11. The Eagles, who started 2017-18 by losing their first seven matches while failing to score a goal in any of them, got goals from Jeffrey Schlupp and Wilfried Zaha on either side of halftime.

Roy Hodgson’s side was sharp on both sides of the ball – nine of their 10 shots were on target and keeper Wayne Hennessey made six saves for the clean sheet – as Palace took apart a side many expected to make a seamless transition to the top flight given their flowing style of football and aggressive spending in the summer transfer window.

“It’s always the aim to get a win on your first game and from that you gain confidence to go into the next game in a positive mindet,” said right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who assisted on Zaha’s goal, to Palace’s official website. “Wayne Hennessey was superb and I want to give credit to him for how he played to get us a clean sheet as well.”

Crystal Palace also went about securing a big piece of their offense during the week, extending Zaha’s contract at Selhurst Park through the 2022-23 season with a pay packet reportedly worth £130,000 per week. The Ivorian has 44 goals with the Eagles, and the 25-year-old had been a constant subject of speculation to jump to a bigger club in recent transfer windows.

“Wilf grew up a stone’s throw from Selhurst Park from the age of four, and has been with the club since he was 12,” club chairman Steve Parish said. “This agreement is yet another example of his lifelong commitment to the club, and our commitment to him. This is an amazing day for everyone here at Palace, our supporters and of course Wilf – and is richly deserved.”

Hodgson has a fully fit squad and likely will keep his same XI from the win over Fulham. With the staggering depth in midfield, Klopp can afford to hold out Henderson for a second straight match, but it is also possible the England international supplants Milner in the middle of the park.

Liverpool did the double over Crystal Palace last season, winning both contests by one goal. Mane scored in both contests, bagging the winner in a 1-0 victory at Anfield and the equaliser in a 2-1 triumph at Selhurst Park in which Salah secured all three points six minutes from time.

The Reds have won four on the trot in all competitions at Selhurst Park.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 4/9 odds to extend their winning streak at Selhurst Park to five matches, and Crystal Park are 6/1 underdogs. There are 7/2 odds for the teams to split the points.

Salah leads the way for first goal-scorers at 11/4 odds, firmly ahead of Sturridge (4/1), Roberto Firmino (9/2) and Mane (10/1). Zaha is the top option among Palace players, albeit at distant 9/1 odds.

Salah is better-than-even odds to score for the second time in as many matches at 8/11, while Mane — who has five goals in eight career matches versus Crystal Palace — offers a solid 8/5 return on any-time goal-scoring odds. Sturridge is slightly ahead of Firmino on the pecking order at 23/20 for Sturridge over 13/10 for the Brasilian.

Zaha is again the top Palace option at 13/5, with Christian Benteke close behind at 14/5.

Plenty of people are expecting at least three goals in this match as Liverpool are even money to win and go over 2.5 goals compared to 10/3 with a win and under 2.5 goals. For those picking a 2-2 draw or higher, the return is an intriguing 12/1.

PREDICTION

Both sides have something to prove — for Liverpool, this match gives them a chance to show they can carry that blistering form from last week to the road, while Crystal Palace are out to show their win at Fulham was no fluke and that they are a team with at least legitimate mid-table aspirations.

Expect Henderson to return to the starting XI at the expense of Milner, further strengthening an already-potent midfield. Klavan’s departure to Italy leaves Liverpool dangerously thin at centre back considering Matip and relative unknown Nathaniel Phillips are now the primary backups for at least the next few weeks while Lovren recovers from his pelvic injury.

The battle through the midfield will be pivotal for any chance Crystal Palace entertain in taking at least a point for this contest. Luka Milivojevic must find places to hold possession for the Eagles, who are adept at hitting on the counter, but will be playing from reactionary and defence-first positions for most of this contest.

One interesting thing of note is that Liverpool pumped in 29 crosses against West Ham, which means they got forward fairly easily on the flanks to create scoring chances. Both left backs — Andrew Robertson and Patrick van Aanholt — are going to be challenged to avoid being pinned back, more so van Aanholt given the prolific nature of Liverpool’s attack.

Mane has proved a problem to contain for Palace and is looking to run his goal-scoring streak against the Eagles to three matches. But when one considers Liverpool’s attacking options beyond the Senegal international, Palace will wind up on the short end of this tussle for a fifth straight time at Selhurst Park.

PREDICTION: CRYSTAL PARK 0, LIVERPOOL 2

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview — Chelsea (1-0-0) vs. Arsenal (0-0-1)

While they had directly opposite outcomes in their first matches in charge, both Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery know there is much work to be done to rebuild both their teams to an elite level as Chelsea and Arsenal meet in a London derby at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Sarri, who came over from Napoli to replace Antonio Conte, is in the midst of an overhaul from a counterattacking unit to a flowing one with a 4-3-3 formation. Everything mainly went according to plan in Chelsea’s season opener as they routed Huddersfield Town 3-0 on the road last Saturday.

The focal point of his makeover, holding midfielder Jorginho, contributed a penalty right before halftime as both N’Golo Kante and Pedro added goals. Kante, the France international and World Cup winner, is still finding his legs going forward as Jorginho plays the deeper role Kante rose to international stardom playing for both Chelsea and Leicester City over the past three seasons.

“He is playing like a centre right-midfielder and I am very happy for the performance of Kante, especially when I think he only arrived with us on (Aug. 6),” Sarri noted to the team’s official website.

The victory also marked a return to relevancy for centre back David Luiz, whose falling out with Conte last season essentially made him a forgotten man at Stamford Bridge. Despite the Brasil international’s sometimes adventurous forays forward, Sarri values Luiz as a player who can carry the ball forward from the back and be a voice of leadership in the locker room.

“He is very good to build up the action from defence,” the manager said. “If you are a good defender you can play in a three-man defensive line and a four-man defensive line. I think he will be very useful for us – on the pitch and in the dressing room.”

Keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga had a rather easy time in winning his debut following his record £71 million transfer from Athletic Bilbao. He finished with one save but was also fortunate when a shot thumped the crossbar with the score 1-0.

Sarri likely will elevate Eden Hazard into the starting XI for this match after the Belgium international was a late substitute and assisted on Pedro’s tally versus Huddersfield Town. It also seems less likely Hazard will move to Real Madrid before the European transfer deadline at the end of the month, which would scuttle a reunion with compatriot, former Chelsea teammate and keeper Thibaut Courtois.

The other position of intrigue for Chelsea is the other wide midfield spot, where Ross Barkley is trying to fend off England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Barkley started the opener, but it would not be surprising to see Loftus-Cheek in the first 11 with another week of practice under his belt.

“Playing in a 4-3-3 in an attacking midfield position is kind of my position really, my suited position, so hopefully I can bring my best football to the team,” said the 22-year-old Loftus-Cheek, whose game grew on loan at Crystal Palace last term before contributing to England’s semifinal run at the World Cup. “I feel like I have got that experience of a Premier League season now, and international football as well. I feel more mature as a player to help battle for three points every game.”

While Sarri saw most of his match-planning come to fruition, Emery had a first-hand look at the enormous scale of Arsenal’s rebuild to rejoin the Premier League’s elite as the Gunners started their season with a 2-0 defeat to champions Manchester City on Sunday at the Emirates.

The loss was not due to lack of graft as Arsenal harried City all over the pitch and tried to rapidly regain possession of the ball when it was lost. Even with one of the most potent attacks in Europe, the Gunners simply did not have enough talent to deal with City, especially in the midfield.

Granit Xhaka still is not the box-to-box destroyer many thought he would be upon his arrival prior to last season. French teen Matteo Guendouzi gave a game effort but was overmatched against the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, and the hopes and dreams of Aaron Ramsey being a playmaker in a more advanced role in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 set-up were put on hold as he failed to unlock City’s defence.

“It’s two different halves, the first and the second half, for me,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website. “The first half, we conceded more space on the pitch for Manchester City to progress. In the second half, we took more risks with our pressing, took more risks with the ball to break their lines and go forward quickly.

“I think we need to improve collectively and also individually. But I think this process is normal against a great team like Manchester City.”

One area Emery will be forced into a change is at left back, where Ainsley Maitland-Niles was forced off with an injury after 35 minutes but also run ragged by both Mahrez and Kyle Walker. Summer signing Stephan Lichtsteiner will likely step into the spot, and his veteran presence brought some discipline to the back four.

Arsenal also looked better going forward after Alexander Lacazette replaced Ramsey, which means Emery may have to juggle his attacking players to find a group who work well together. It is also possible Lucas Torreira could start in Xhaka’s place after the Uruguay international got a 20-minute runout in his Arsenal debut.

Emery is also sticking with Petr Cech between the sticks for this match over £22 million summer signing Bernd Leno. Cech finished with six saves, including a double in the first half, and denied Sergio Aguero on a 2-on-1. While Emery expressed confidence in both keepers, the Gunners still appear to be in a place where the sooner Emery rips the band-aid off and commits to a rebuild from the back out, the better they will eventually be.

“I am very happy with Cech’s performance – he has experience, he has quality, he has the capacity,” the Arsenal manager told The Telegraph. “Also, with Bernd Leno. They are two goalkeepers who are important for us. They have different qualities but for us, in the way we want to play, they can [both] play. For Saturday, the decision for me is easy. Petr Cech can continue to start the match. I believe in him. If Bernd starts, I believe in him also.”

Cech has beaten his former club just once in six tries (1-2-3) since moving across London in 2015.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five (2-3-0) in all competitions versus Chelsea starting with their 2017 FA Cup victory, and eliminated them in the Carabao Cup semifinals over two legs last season. The teams played to a pair of draws in league play last season, and the Pensioners have taken points in 12 of the last 13 league matches (7-5-1).

Chelsea had won five straight over Arsenal in league play at Stamford Bridge prior to last season’s scoreless draw.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are decisive 4/5 favourites, while Arsenal are 3/1 underdogs. For those thinking the Gunners can escape with another point like last season, the odds are 11/4. A 2-1 Chelsea scoreline seems to be the preferred option among punters at 7/1, ahead of 0-0 (17/2) and 1-0 to the hosts (9/1).

Alvaro Morata and ex-Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud are joint first-choice options for first-goal scorers at 4/1, followed by Hazard and Aubameyang at 5/1 and Pedro at 6/1. Willian slots in just behind at 13/2, closely trailed by Lacazette at 7/1. Morata and Giroud also lead the way with 13/10 any-time goal-scoring odds, with Hazard and Aubameyang joint-third at 8/5.

PREDICTION

One gets the sense Arsenal will eventually figure out what Emery is asking of them with his higher-pressing, higher-tempo style. The key word is eventually as opposed to now in mid-August where concepts are still taking hold. While that still holds true on the other side of London with “Sarri-ball,” the fact the Gunners do not have a possession-based No. 10 to link their defensive midfielders to their attack is going to prove problematic until either Ramsey figures it out or Emery potentially drops Ozil deeper to take better advantage of his playmaking skills.

The fact Kante has quickly figured out his new role is not surprising, and regardless of who is on Jorginho’s left — eventually it will be Loftus-Cheek, otherwise they would have loaned him out again — Chelsea are going to have a relentless and tireless midfield trio. How this group links with Hazard in attack will be a bellwether for the Blues as they go forward. They had some impressive sweeping movements against Huddersfield Town, and while Arsenal are a step up in class, one gets the sense Jorginho has made the transition on the blue side of London far more seamless than the red.

Prediction: Chelsea 2, Arsenal 1.

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related notes and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

West Ham United vs. Bournemouth
Everton vs. Southampton
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview: West Ham United (0-0-1) vs. Bournemouth (1-0-0)

Rome was not built in a day, and after West Ham United were thrashed in their first match under Manuel Pellegrini, the Chilean will not get the East End side rebuilt in seven days to match Romulus and Remus either.

The new-look Irons hope for better things in their home opener Saturday versus a Bournemouth side eager to build on their season-opening victory.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Optimism abounded for West Ham United with the arrival of Pellegrini coupled with an overhaul of the side in the summer transfer window. All told, the Irons brought in 10 new players while spending more than £90 million to make sure they would not be part of the relegation scrap that dogged them much of last term.

But the gap between where West Ham are and where they want to be was presented in stark and brutal nature by Liverpool, who swept aside the Irons 4-0 at Anfield last Sunday. Player chemistry was always going to be an early concern with the raft of new signings, but West Ham were second-best everywhere over 90 painful minutes.

Midfielder Declan Rice was overmatched against Liverpool counterpart Naby Keita, with Pellegrini mercifully subbing off the Ireland international at halftime, and central defender Fabian Balbuena endured a torrid time in his Premier League debut.

“I was so upset with the way we defended and I was not happy with the way we attacked,” Pellegrini told the club’s official website. “Every time that you bring in so many players it is difficult to adapt to a new system but we are just starting the season.”

Operating as a lone striker, Marko Arnautovic got little service as Jack Wilshire – playing a more forward role than he did at Arsenal – made little impact. Linchpin summer signing Felipe Anderson, though, is confident the quality of the newcomers will help the side gel quickly.

“We have very good expectations for the season, this team wants to play beautiful football, and with a bit more time, all the signings are going to adapt,” the midfielder said. “The club made a big investment and now what we need to do is to work to make things go well.”

Pellegrini may look to integrate more of his summer signings into his starting XI for this match. Central defender Issa Diop – a £22 million signing from Toulouse — was a spectator at Anfield, and Andriy Yarmolenko could push for a spot on the right wing at the expense of Michail Antonio following his 23-minute runout replacing Arnautovic.

Now in their fourth consecutive Premier League season, Bournemouth opened a campaign on the right side of the ledger for the first time with a 2-0 victory over new boys Cardiff City last Saturday. The Cherries used their team quickness to confound the Bluebirds as Ryan Fraser scored in the first half before Callum Wilson – who assisted on Fraser’s strike — atoned for a missed penalty later in the opening 45 minutes by adding an insurance marker in second-half stoppage time.

For a club that had started their previous three top-flight seasons 0-0-2, getting off on the right foot coupled with a clean sheet – something Bournemouth accomplished only six times in league play last season – was a welcome change.

“A first win in the first game since we have been in the Premier League made it a bit unusual for us,” defender Charlie Daniels told the Bournemouth Echo. “It was a good 2-0 win and a clean sheet as well, which is a big bonus. The manager has faith in us and we have all improved as players as well.

“I felt ever since preseason started, how we came back, how well we trained and how well we prepared, we deserved the win and I think it showed in our performance as well.”

The Cherries have posted back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League just four times, with the last a three-match run versus Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town and Swansea City from Nov. 4-25, and have just 10 shutouts in 57 top-flight matches outside Dean Court.

Howe must decide if he will give record summer signing Jefferson Lerma his Bournemouth debut. The midfielder and Colombia international, who moved from Levante on a £25 million deal, was not in match shape after helping los Cafeteros reach the round of 16 in the World Cup.

Fellow new signing and wide back Diego Rico remains ineligible as he serves the second of his three-match ban for a red card picked up in his final match with Leganes. Lewis Cook, who impressed as the captain of England’s World Cup-winning Under-20 side, could also get a runout after being an unused substitute versus Cardiff City.

The sides have split six all-time Premier League matches (2-2-2) and played to draws in both contests last season. Fraser and Chicharito Hernandez traded second-half goals two minutes apart in last term’s corresponding fixture, and the teams have combined for 25 goals in their prior meetings.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, West Ham are a solid favorite at 21/20 odds, while both Bournemouth and a draw carry 5/2 odds. Despite the teams averaging more than four goals in their previous six top-flight meetings, the combination of a draw and over 2.5 goals is still offering a tempting 9/1 return.

Bournemouth have scored more than three goals on the road just five times in Premier League play, but one of those occasions came in a 4-3 win at Upton Park in 2015 in which Wilson had three goals. But if one discounts their season-ending win at Burnley, the Cherries have just one win in their last 12 road matches (1-5-6).

Chicharito and Arnautovic share joint-honours as top first-goal scorers at 4/1, with Wilson trailing the pair at 6/1 as the top option for Bournemouth. Yarmolenko and Jermain Defoe are both 13/2 odds while West Ham striker Lucas is slotted between them at 11/2.

Arnautovic edges out Chicharito for any-time goal-scoring odds at 13/10 for the Austria international compared to 7/5 for the Mexico striker. Wilson is again Bournemouth’s top option at 2/1.

PREDICTION

There is no way West Ham United are as bad as their 4-0 loss to Liverpool showed, but the challenge for Pellegrini and the Irons now is to make rapid progress with cohesion and chemistry. It made sense to hold out Diop against Liverpool, but for £22 million, Pellegrini cannot really afford to let him be a spectator for a second straight match.

The curiosity comes offensively as Wilshire — who played for Bournemouth on loan in 2016-17 — tries to adapt to his more forward role. Another train of thought would be to let him drop into a deeper midfield role in place of Rice — also playing out of position to a degree — and have Antonio in the middle and Yarmolenko on his preferred right side.

Bournemouth looked impressive in disposing of promoted Cardiff City, but West Ham present an obvious step up in talent. That is not to say the Cherries cannot hang with the Irons, but Andrew Surman and Dan Gosling are going to have to boss the midfield to keep West Ham from finding a forward flow. This should be an end-to-end match with plenty of scoring chances.

Prediction: West Ham United 2, Bournemouth 2

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. Southampton
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview — Everton (0-1-0) vs. Southampton (0-1-0)

Reunited and it felt so good.

After marking his Everton debut in grand style, Richarlison and the Toffees open their Goodison Park slate Saturday versus Southampton looking to maintain their offensive flow.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

A record £50 million signing from Watford, Richarlison is together again with Marco Silva, who brought the Brasil international to Vicarage Road from Fluminense prior to his sacking.

While the process to reunite the pair at Goodison Park was equal parts protracted and messy — it surprised no one Wednesday when Everton football director Marcel Brands admitted to The Times the animosity between the clubs drove the asking price for Richarlison above market value — it was clear for one match at least the 21-year-old was every bit worth the extra quid.

Playing the left wing, Richarlison scored goals on either side of halftime, twice giving Everton the lead before the 10-man Merseysiders were pegged back in a 2-2 draw at promoted Wolverhampton.

The two goals displayed the different natures of Richarlison’s goal-scoring nous, bundling his first inside the six-yard box as a free kick fell to him in the 17th minute and picking the far corner to beat Rui Patricio inside the right post from 12 yards after being sent through by Cenk Tosun in the 67th.

“We are talking about a player who is 21,” Silva told The Telegraph about Richarlison, who failed to score in his final 26 league matches with Watford. “We have to be calm with him. He has the talent, he has everything there, but you have to protect him, support him.”

Calm is not a word that could be associated with centre back Phil Jagielka, who will serve the first of his three-match ban for a direct red card following his studs-up challenge on Diogo Jota in the 41st minute after losing possession on the slick pitch. Everton did not appeal the suspension, which rules Jagielka out for the next two league matches and their second-round Carabao Cup contest.

After using Jagielka and Michael Keane as his first central defence pairing, Silva could turn to a new duo. New signing Yerry Mina was ruled out of this contest as he continues to work to match fitness. The ex-Barcelona man and £28.5 million signed after a standout effort for Colombia at the World Cup in which he scored three goals in helping Los Cafeteros reach the round of 16.

Kurt Zouma, on loan from Chelsea, started 32 matches for relegated Stoke City last term as he fell out of the rotation at Stamford Bridge following a torn ACL suffered in the 2015-16 season. Mason Holgate, who played the final 49 minutes after Jagielka’s expulsion as a tactical sub replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson, is also in the running for a spot.

Southampton (0-1-0) did not look much better than the side that narrowly escaped the drop last term as they played Burnley to a scoreless draw at home last Saturday. Despite attempting 18 shots, the Saints put only three on target and failed to get going offensively until the introduction of Danny Ings and Mohamed Elyounoussi just before the hour mark.

“We needed to gain control of the game so we changed the personnel and the shape as well which helped us,” Southampton boss Mark Hughes told the club’s official website. “We were able to get up the pitch. We created a number of chances and on another day I think we did enough to win the game.”

Elyounoussi, though, is not expected to be available after suffering a hamstring injury in the draw. Hughes did say Stuart Amstrong should be recovered from a knock and available for selection.

Ings, on loan from Liverpool as a rare player move to St Mary’s between the teams in recent years, is trying to adjust to playing underneath as opposed to a traditional striker.

“At the moment, I’m getting used to the way the team play – I wanted to come on and get a feel for the football they play,” said Ings, who took three shots and has just four goals since bagging 11 for Burnley in 2014-15. “There were a lot of spaces coming deep, so I drifted into those pockets, got on the ball and tried to play people in.

“I want to show people it’s not all about running in behind for me – I can come short and play too.”

Hughes could restore left back Maya Yoshida to his starting XI after holding out the Japan international, who helped Samurai Blue reach the knockout round of the World Cup this summer. Yoshida would likely replace Wesley Hoedt in Southampton’s three-man back line.

The Saints took four points from last season’s meetings, routing a disheveled Everton squad led by caretaker manager David Unsworth 4-1 last November. The Toffees rescued a point against the 10-man Saints in a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park on Tom Davies’ goal in the 96th minute.

Southampton have taken points in two of their last three trips to the blue part of Merseyside but are winless in 13 there (0-4-9). Their lone win in 19 Premier League matches (1-5-13) at Goodison Park was a 2-0 victory in 1997.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Everton are strong favourites at 20/23 odds, while Southampton check in at 10/3. Those who believe the points will be shared can get a return on 23/10 odds. The two most likely scorelines listed are 1-0 Everton and a 1-1 draw, which both return 11/2 odds.

Despite his brace at Molineux, Richarlison is ninth on the list for any-time goal-scorers at 13/5 odds and sixth among Everton players. Tosun leads the line at 5/4, followed by Oumar Niasse (8/5) and Saints forward Charlie Austin (7/4). For opening goal-scorers, Tosun again is the favourite at 16/5 odds, with Niasse 4/1 and Austin 9/2. Richarlison is again down the pecking order at 7/1.

Beyond Austin for Southampton, Gabbiadini is a 5/2 any-time goal-scorer and 13/2 to make it 1-0. Ings is an 11/4 any-time scorer and 15/2 to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead.

In terms of personal preferences, I like the match result of Everton and under 2.5 goals returning 14/5 odds.

PREDICTION

Jagielka’s absence could be an addition by subtraction as it forces Silva to test his depth at centre back. Zouma appears to be the most likely replacement for this match at least since Mina is in his first week of practices with the Toffees, and it’s also possible Silva takes the path of least resistance and keeps Keane as opposed to trotting out a new duo in front of Jordan Pickford.

Offensively, there is little to worry about for Everton except where Barcelona loanee Andre Gomes can be deployed after his late arrival before the transfer deadline, though that headache has been put off for another week since the Portugal international will be held out. Silva could not make aggressive changes down a man against Wolverhampton as Sandro Ramirez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin sat unused.

Southampton left much to be desired offensively versus Burnley, and the Saints likely will have less possession in this match given Everton’s talent on the ball. Without Elyounoussi, the task becomes that much harder to maneuver through the midfield, and getting service to Charlie Austin will be vital to at least challenge whoever is in Everton’s central defence.

Still, Everton look to have too much class for Southampton and should open their home schedule with three points in convincing fashion.

Prediction: Everton 2, Southampton 0

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am making edits in the interim, adding projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

Chelsea vs. Arsenal
West Ham United vs. Bournemouth
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview — Cardiff City (0-0-1) vs. Newcastle United (0-0-1)

Newcastle United know the road promoted Cardiff City are taking because they walked it themselves last season. Thus getting at least one point Saturday in Wales is an important task for the Magpies as the Bluebirds play their first Premier League home game since 2014.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Art

(Note: Arter was not assigned a number as of the time of this writing, hence the “0”)

Newcastle United gave Tottenham Hotspur a challenge before falling 2-1 at St James’ Park last Saturday to open the season. Joselu’s goal on 11 minutes quickly canceled out one by Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, but a second equaliser was never found after Dele Alli restored Tottenham’s one-goal lead seven minutes later.

The Magpies could justifiably feel aggrieved they did not take one point from this match as both Mo Diame and Salomon Rondon hit the woodwork in the second 45 minutes while shooting at the Gallowgate End. Rondon, one of seven summer signings by Newcastle, knows his side must move on quickly to embrace the challenge of facing new boys Cardiff City.

“We shoot (against) the post twice, but it was not to be for us, which is a shame,” the Venezuela international told the club’s official website. “We know that Cardiff are promoted this season, and it is a difficult league for everyone – all of the teams have spent a lot of money to make a good team for the season.

“It will be difficult, but we just have to think about us – that is more important for the team. It is away, but we just have to think about the win, that is the only way.”

Despite those seven signings, it is the lack of a marquee signing which still rankles Rafael Benitez to a degree – though nowhere near as much as the fans. Newcastle have yet to eclipse their record signing of Michael Owen for £16.5 million in 2005, a stunning fact given the influx of television rights money into the Premier League in the last three years alone – let alone the previous decade.

It was that backdrop as Benitez hedged his frustrations post-match. While acknowledging his team’s fight versus Spurs, the Spaniard sharply noted “when you have money and you buy players, you buy quality, and quality is not just technical ability.”

Benitez will likely be forced into one change to his starting XI since right back DeAndre Yedlin was forced off late with a knee injury as Newcastle used 10 men in stoppage time having made their three substitutions. Yedlin started 31 league matches last term, and Javi Manquillo is the front-runner to take that spot if the United States international is unavailable.

Another of the new signings, Yoshinori Muto, could be an earlier option off the bench with another week of practice and conditioning after a nine-minute runout versus Tottenham. Midfielder Sung-Yueng Ki and defender Fabian Schar were unused newcomers in the first 18.

Cardiff City’s first Premier League home match since being relegated in 2014 follows a 2-0 loss at Bournemouth last Saturday. The Bluebirds did not make much noise in terms of the summer signing window and are relying on the core who got them promoted from the Championship to avoid going back down there, much like Benitez and Newcastle did last term.

That directly contrasts against fellow newcomers Fulham and Wolverhampton, whose combined net outlay exceeded £160 million to avoid being one-season wonders. Cardiff City ranked 17th in summer spending at £28.5 million, ahead of only Newcastle (£17M), Crystal Palace (£9.5M) and Tottenham Hotspur (£0).

“I don’t think any of the boys in our dressing room are afraid,” keeper Neil Etheridge told The Times. “We have got such a good tight group and the gaffer says, ‘Go out and enjoy it’, and we will. And that will get us through the hard times because there will be hard times, undoubtedly.”

That gaffer, Neil Warnock, will have a full complement of players to choose from since Bournemouth loanee and midfielder Harry Arter was ineligible to play against his parent club. Fellow midfielder Victor Camarasa, who joined Cardiff City on loan from Real Betis at the deadline, could also be in line from playing time after watching from the bench.

Striker Kenneth Zohore should be available for at least selection to the 18 and perhaps start after missing the opener with a groin injury. Midfielder and Iceland international Aron Gunnarsson is expected to miss at least two more weeks with a knee injury suffered in preseason.

As is the case with most promoted sides, offence can be a concern in the transition to the next level, and Cardiff City are no different since they play a direct style. Winger Josh Murphy had a positive impact replacing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing just after the hour last weekend, and after the Bluebirds registered one shot on target with 37 percent possession, Warnock may need to tweak his XI to a more adventurous setting.

Newcastle did the double over Cardiff in the 2016-17 Championship en route to promotion and have won 10 straight league matches over the Bluebirds since a 1-0 loss in Division Two in 1981. Cardiff’s lone win in the last 11 overall meetings was a 2-1 third-round upset in the 2014 FA Cup.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Newcastle are slight favourites at 29/20 odds, while Cardiff City are listed at 21/10. Odds on a draw are squeezed between the sides at 2/1.

Cardiff’s Bobby Reid leads the tote board for any-time goal-scorer at 11/5 odds, followed by both Zohore and Rondon at 5/2. Joselu lurks just behind the pair at 13/5, while Perez and Muto are each getting 14/5 odds on finding the back of the net. For first goal-scorers, Reid again leads the pack at 11/2, with Joselu, Rondon and Zohore at 13/2. Perez is listed at 7/1 odds, behind no-goal scorer at 5/1.

PREDICTION

This match will likely not be among the Premier League’s most aesthetic offerings of the season. Cardiff City are still figuring out their best 11, and Newcastle are going to undoubtedly play a cagey defence-first style. The Bluebirds should look to get Junior Hoilett involved early to test Manquillo, and they should have more pace going forward with Arter available and the possible inclusion of Murphy on the wing.

Newcastle did not play all that badly against a near full-strength Spurs side, and were inches from nicking one point on two occasions. Losing Yedlin is not ideal, but Manquillo did start 20 league matches last season, so Benitez is not throwing the Spaniard into the deep end. This looks like a match in which Jonjo Shelvey could provide a moment of decisive creativity that gets Newcastle United up and running.

Prediction: Cardiff City 0, Newcastle United 1

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

Chelsea vs. Arsenal
Everton vs. Southampton
West Ham United vs. Bournemouth

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Arsenal (0-0-0) vs. Manchester City (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Wenger is out, but can Emery fit in?

For the first time in 23 seasons, Arsenal will have a new manager on the touchline as Unai Emery could not have picked a more difficult opponent to make a Premier League debut against than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City as the reigning champions come to the Emirates on Sunday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The divide that roiled a fan base finally reached an anticlimactic conclusion last season as the Frenchman bid au revoir to the north London side. While Wenger won a record seven FA Cups with the Gunners (19-6-13 in 2017-18), the gradual slide that had seen them fall out of Champions League play for a second straight year and lack serious title challenges for most of the decade finally wore out supporters and the Arsenal board.

“Le Professeur” enjoyed a gracious long good-bye after a sixth-place finish – his worst in his lengthy tenure at Arsenal – and a semifinal exit in the Europa League.

Given the lack of big names in the coaching market – Tito Villanova reportedly priced himself out of a potential hiring while ex-Arsenal players-turned coaches Mikael Arteta and Patrick Vieira were considered too green – Emery seems a vanilla hire who does not address the lofty ambitions of a club who last won a title with “The Invincibles” in 2004.

Emery won three consecutive Europa League titles at Sevilla from 2014-16, but his two seasons at Paris-Saint Germain were nothing spectacular. He won the treble last season as Ligue 1 winner, but PSG were eliminated in the round of 16 in both of his Champions League campaigns – a place that does not sit well with the Arsenal fan base considering Wenger made his exit in that round in his last seven appearances.

“We need to work together and the first way to do that is by finding the performance,” Emery told supporters in his first meeting with them per The Times. “I want a team with energy and I want players to give their all on the pitch.

“I want to give them the habits that I want to see from them in each match. I want to see them demonstrate these habits in every game and give their all. … It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just a different moment for this club.”

Emery does not lack for talent and has one of the best attacks in the Premier League in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexander Lacazette, Mesut Ozil, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey. It will be Aubameyang’s first full season at the Emirates after coming over from Borussia Dortmund in the January window and making a huge impact with 10 goals in 13 league matches. Ramsey, though, could give way to teenager Matteo Guendozui due to a knock.

Ozil, who spent last season and summer as a lightning rod of all criticisms leveled at the club and country level following Germany’s flameout in group play at the World Cup this summer, retired from international play after a falling out with the DFB amid cries of racism regarding his Turkish heritage and is intent on taking out a lost summer on Premier League opponents.

The defence – a sore spot all of last season as Wenger vacillated between three and four-man backlines – appears set to be four under Emery, who likely will use a 4-3-3 for this match after experimenting with a 4-4-2 in preseason. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous will pair in central defence, though Ainsley Maitland-Niles could be the weak link in this match at left back since Nacho Monreal is out through injury.

Newcomer and Uruguay international Lucas Torreira will anchor the midfield with Ramsey while Ozil is likely to push forward in attack with the front three. There is also likely to be a new goalkeeper as summer signing Bernd Leno has seen extensive action in the preseason over incumbent Petr Cech.

While Arsenal have had a summer of upheaval, Manchester City (32-4-2) have quietly gone about their business preparing their bid to be the first team to repeat as champions since Manchester United won three straight Premier League titles from 2007-09.

The Citizens are better than even-money favourites to repeat after coasting to the title by 19 points over eternal rivals United. They demolished almost every single-season record in the 26-year history of the Premier League – most notably being the first 100-point top-flight team in English football history – but the anger of a Champions League quarterfinal elimination by Liverpool is all the motivation Guardiola needs.

“The best way is to think ‘What’s next,'” Guardiola told City’s official website. “Focus on what we have done in our job, the desire to improve. We are still hungry and we hold them to be better and better players. It’s not easy (to repeat) but we’re going to try. It’s unrealistic to think about it early, the best way to do it is game-by-game.”

City had 16 players at the World Cup, the most of any Premier League team, and they are at various stages of match-fit. One of those players, Sergio Aguero, is in form after bagging a brace in their 2-0 victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield last Sunday at Wembley.

One player who did not go to Russia and could factor large in this match is Riyad Mahrez. He was the lone summer signing for City, who finally pried the Algeria international from Leicester City for £60 million after a January deal fell through. He further adds to a staggering wealth of talent in attack that includes Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Leroy Sane, and Gabriel Jesus.

“He’s ready,” Guardiola said after observing Mahrez throughout City’s preseason tour. “I think he understands what we’re looking for, he played completely differently at Leicester. We have to give it time.”

Guardiola could use a 4-1-4-1 formation for this game as left back Benjamin Mendy returns after missing nearly all of last season with a knee injury. John Stones, who was one of England’s best players at the World Cup, is expected to pair with Aymeric Laporte in central defence in front of Ederson.

Aguero would be the lone striker up front, with De Bruyne and Silva the central midfielders while Sane and Mahrez man the flanks. Fernandinho would clean up in front of the back four as the defensive midfielder.

City won all three matches between the teams, with a 3-0 hiding in the Carabao Cup final in late February bookending their league victories. The twin 3-0 thrashings four days apart galvanised Arsenal’s board in moving Wenger to the exit, as the second defeat was in front of wide patches of empty seats at the Emirates.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Manchester City are solid 17/20 favorites to win while Arsenal and a draw return 14/5 odds. City get a better return on investment with 21/10 odds on a win with both teams scoring a goal, and for the real daring, there are 3/1 odds for a Citizens win coupled with the over of 3.5 goals.

Aguero leads the way for first-choice goal-scorers at 10/3 odds, followed by Jesus (4/1) and Aubameyang (5/1). Sane, Sterling and Mahrez all lurk just behind the Arsenal striker at 11/2. Aguero’s brace in the Community Shield also make him an even-money bet to score during the match.

PREDICTION

It has been mainly optimistic in north London in terms of Arsenal’s preseason results. The Gunners ruthlessly walloped Emery’s old team PSG around draws against Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, splitting results via penalties.

But now comes the real test, one that Emery probably would not have minded being pushed back until after the first international break to better get a sense of his team. Even an A/B mix of City players severely outclassed Chelsea in the Community Shield, and as this team likely will range closer to “A” than “B,” it could be another long night for the Gunners at the Emirates.

What will be curious to see about City is to examine “how” they will be better than last season. It may not take the form of losing only two matches in league play as they likely will finish with fewer than 100 points. Guardiola has talked little about Champions League and the motivation of crashing out to Liverpool in the quarterfinals compared to chasing history, and that choice to look forward will serve this team well.

In the end, there is likely just too much class for Arsenal to overcome this soon in the season, though they should give City some moments of bother in the final third.

PREDICTION: MANCHESTER CITY 3, ARSENAL 1

2018-19 EPL Match Day 1 Preview — Liverpool (0-0-0) vs. West Ham United (0-0-0)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am making edits in the interim, adding projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction in this blog.)

Both Liverpool and West Ham United were big spenders in the summer transfer window. While the Reds hope the money spent will at least allow them to challenge Manchester City, the Hammers have a more modest goal of stabilising themselves in the Premier League as the teams open their season Sunday at Anfield.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Widely acknowledged as the only team with better than a puncher’s chance of denying City back-to-back Premier League titles, Liverpool – who handed the Citizens three of their five meaningful losses in the 2017-18 season and eliminated them in the Champions League quarterfinals – spent over £160 million to eliminate the few shortcomings they had and add more firepower to an already-vaunted offence after finishing fourth in the table and runners-up in the Champions League.

“There’s competition everywhere. All over the pitch we’ve got two or three guys in the same position,” captain Jordan Henderson told Liverpoolfc.com. “It’s good competition. Everyone is pushing each other on in training to start. And if you don’t start you have to be ready to come and make an impact.

“I feel as though we’ve got a fantastic squad. But it’s down to us to go out and do the business.”

Liverpool (21-12-5 in 2017-18) addressed their most pressing need at keeper, signing Brazil international Alisson from AS Roma for a then-record £67 million to replace Loris Karius, whose two howlers in the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid put a disappointing end to a captivating season.

Naby Keita likely will start straightaway in the midfield of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 set-up as Henderson recovers from helping England reach the World Cup semifinals. Keita actually signed for over £50 million before last season but played for RB Leipzig in 2017-18. Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum are vying for that other midfield spot that flanks James Milner.

The attacking three are as good as it gets in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Salah won the Golden Boot last season with a Premier League-record 32 goals and scored 44 in all competitions, while Firmino and Mane combined to net 47 as Liverpool adjusted to the mid-season departure of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona and continued to score goals at a break-neck pace.

Into this mix enters Xherdan Shaqiri, the Switzerland international who came over from relegated Stoke City for the cut-rate price of £13.5 million and is one of the best players on the right wing in Europe while capable of finishing with either foot. He and holdover Daniel Sturridge will challenge for minutes behind the aforementioned trio of stars.

The defence is anchored by centre back Virgil Van Dijk, who starts his first full season at Anfield after a protracted transfer saga prevented his arrival from Southampton until January. Van Dijk’s partner likely will be Joe Gomez since Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan are nursing injuries and Dejan Lovren is still working his way back to match shape after helping Croatia reach the World Cup final.

Though West Ham (10-12-16) finished 13th on 42 points last term, it was a season to forget as the east London side endured plenty of hardship. While David Moyes steadied the Irons after they sacked Slaven Bilic in November, supporters cared little for his style of play. During a 3-0 home loss to Burnley in March there were repeated pitch invasions as co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan vacated their chairman’s box due to the rising ire.

After two seasons at London Stadium, West Ham finally opened up the wallet and underwent a staggering makeover. It started on the touchline with the return of Manuel Pellegrini to the Premier League. The Chilean, who guided Man City to their second Premier League title in 2014 and finished no lower than fourth in his three seasons there, had been at Chinese side Hebei China Fortune.

He signed a three-year deal with West Ham in May after assurances the Irons would be aggressive in the summer transfer window, and the owners stayed true to their word as £90 million was shelled out to begin West Ham’s rise from mid-table mediocrity to something better.

The linchpin signing was Lazio right wing Felipe Anderson for £36 million, but the most pivotal one may have cost nothing. Oft-injured midfielder Jack Wilshire moved across London on a free transfer from Arsenal, and with Anderson and newcomer Andriy Yarmolenko on the flanks plus holdover strikers Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito Hernandez, West Ham have an attack that can give defences fits.

Arnautovic scored 11 goals last season but failed to tally in the first 12 matches last season, and the Austria international is determined to come out of the blocks firing this term.

“I remember how I know myself as a player and that wasn’t it,” he lamented to the club’s official website. “When I moved to playing as a striker, and seeing my statistics now I want to play as a striker, score goals and help the team. I like this position now, you feel free, always towards the goals and provide assists, it’s a good position.”

West Ham’s goalkeeping situation was calamitous last season as both Joe Hart and Adrian struggled. Adrian remains as a deputy to summer signing Lukasz Fabianski after the Poland international signed from relegated Swansea City. Issa Diop, a £22 million transfer from Toulouse, likely will pair in central defence with Angelo Ogbonna while Arthur Masauku and newcomer Ryan Fredericks operate the flanks in Pellegrini’s preferred 4-4-2.

Liverpool did the double last season, winning both matches by 4-1 counts as Salah racked up three goals, and have won three on the trot versus West Ham. Anfield has been the stuff of nightmares for the Irons, whose lone win in 23 matches in all competitions there in the Premier League era (1-7-15) was a 3-0 victory Aug. 29, 2015.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are heavy favourites at 2/9 odds, while West Ham are a clear darkhorse at 11/1. The odds of the teams splittng the points is also long at 5/1.

One outcome bettors seem to expect is at least a four-goal scoreline as Liverpool and over 3.5 goals checks in at 29/20 odds. A draw and over 3.5 goals is 18/1.

Salah is the favourite as a first-goal scorer at 12/5, with Sturridge a suprising second at 16/5. Firmino is 7/2, Mane further back at 9/2 and Shaqiri has 5/1 odds to open his Liverpool account with the first goal of the match. Arnautovic has 11/1 odds for those who fancy an Irons first strike.

Salah, Sturridge and Firmino are all even-money or better to score in this match, with Mane not far off the trail at 11/8 and Shaqiri 3/2. Arnautovic has 3/1 odds to find the back of the net, and Yarmolenko checks in with 9/2 odds as an anytime goal-scorer.

PREDICTION

Everything about this contest screams fire-wagon football, and Liverpool will undoubtedly do their best to play in such a style. How composed this new-look West Ham United side will be key to them having any chance of nicking a rare point at Anfield, but Arnautovic does have the tablesetters in Wilshire, Anderson and Yarmolenko to help stretch Liverpool’s defense.

This should be an up-and-down affair, with Liverpool having more ups than West Ham on this day.

PREDICTION: LIVERPOOL 4, WEST HAM UNITED 1