Talking Points: Kanté can scupper Spurs, Tielemans can nudge Arsenal

Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend
Talking Points: Kanté can scupper Spurs, Tielemans can nudge Arsenal

N'Golo Kante of Chelsea is challenged by Harry Winks of Tottenham Hotspur during a Premier League match in January. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

1) Kanté crucial in crunch clash 

Thomas Tuchel did not hold back with his praise for N’Golo Kanté at the end of last season. “He is our Mo Salah, our Van Dijk, our De Bruyne,” Chelsea’s manager said. “He is Neymar, our Kylian Mbappé – he makes a difference.” Then came the caveat. For Tuchel, the frustration was how often Kanté found himself in the treatment room. The France midfielder has struggled with minor knocks since 2019, and there have been times when he has lacked the dynamism of old. That said, there is still nothing quite like watching Kanté when he is in peak condition. Few midfielders can live with the 31-year-old when he is in the mood and he will be key to Chelsea’s chances of victory when they host Tottenham on Sunday. Spurs may start as slight favourites, but the balance of power could tip back in Chelsea’s favour if Kanté overpowers Rodrigo Bentancur and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. JS

Chelsea v Tottenham, Sunday 4.30pm

2) A tougher test for Brighton 

With an opening-day win apiece under their belts, Brighton host Newcastle in one of the standout match-ups this weekend. Both clubs are upwardly mobile and managed by men whose names could conceivably make up a two-man shortlist when, at some point in the future, the Football Association chooses Gareth Southgate’s successor as England manager. Graham Potter produced a tactical masterclass to help his players see off Manchester United but they will almost certainly face a far sterner test from a team unlikely to make life as easy for them as their hosts at Old Trafford. Joelinton 2.0 already seems a superior midfielder to either Scott McTominay or Fred, while Bruno Guimarães was one of the signings of last season. Expect a fascinating tactical battle from two teams harbouring genuine European ambitions. BG 

Brighton v Newcastle United, Saturday 3pm  

3) How will Villa respond to tame opening?

Following Aston Villa’s defeat at Bournemouth, Steven Gerrard understandably bristled slightly when asked whether he knew Philippe Coutinho’s best position. Gerrard, of course, played alongside Coutinho for almost four years at Liverpool, before the midfielder departed for Barcelona in a £142m deal, and has managed him since January. Coutinho lit up some games last season – hence Villa’s desire to sign him permanently in the summer – but, predominantly stationed out on the left flank, he drifted anonymously through their first match of the season. The Brazilian was not alone in being off-colour, Villa insipid at best as they struggled to penetrate a makeshift defence, though he was comfortably shackled by Ben Pearson, whose last league start came at Barnsley in January. There is a sentence you never thought you would see. BF 

Aston Villa v Everton, Saturday 12.30pm 

4) Bees, Red Devils and identity 

“Another classic Brentford signing,” was how Thomas Frank described Mikkel Damsgaard, the Denmark winger who arrived from Sampdoria this week. It does Frank and his club huge credit that even a casual onlooker should understand exactly what he meant: few can rival them when it comes to enlisting young, high-potential talent that can fit seamlessly into their system, and it is just a bonus that many happen to be Danish too. While we are here, what is a classic Manchester United signing? That is much harder to answer given their strategy in recent years has resembled flinging mud at a wall; Marko Arnautovic will not join Damsgaard in debuting this weekend after that move failed to materialise but, even with Erik ten Hag at the helm, it is hard to discern exactly what United think they are. If they are to win at Brentford it will more likely stem from individual brilliance than a triumph of identity. For the second successive weekend United face a club who are entirely comfortable, clear and confident in their way of going about things: a similar failure to the flop against Brighton would be telling. NA 

Brentford v Manchester United, Saturday 5.30pm 

5) Could Bournemouth catch City cold?

These sides have a couple of things in common: both recorded 2-0 victories on the opening day, both are urgently seeking to bring in playing reinforcements before the transfer window closes. Bournemouth successfully signed the Argentinian centre-back Marcos Senesi in midweek and are even above Manchester City in the embryonic table, if only by virtue of alphabetical order. While City cantered to victory at West Ham last Sunday (while enjoying 77% possession), the resourceful Bournemouth manager, Scott Parker, may yet sense an opportunity at the Etihad. Pep Guardiola’s side are often slow starters in the Premier League and the Cherries will be buoyed by a one-sided dismissal of Aston Villa. Cut the supply line to Erling Haaland and it might – a big might admittedly – be a productive afternoon for the visitors. LMc 

Manchester City v Bournemouth, Saturday 3pm 

6) Do Saints have a mojo to rediscover?

Last weekend’s fairly dismal surrender to Tottenham means Southampton have won only one of their past 13 Premier League outings. Their opening goal aside, there were familiar defensive frailties on show but little visible evidence that a summer overhaul of Ralph Hasenhüttl’s backroom team has invigorated a set of players who sleep-walked their way through the final quarter of last season. With three games to go in that campaign, Hasenhüttl bemoaned his side’s lack of “energy and sometimes belief”, but fans who convene at St Mary’s will expect better when Leeds visit. With home capacity temporarily reduced in a bid to prevent anti-social behaviour, another risible showing from the home side will prompt early relegation concerns among those fans who do take their seats. BG 

Southampton v Leeds United, Saturday 3pm 

7) Tielemans to send Arsenal message?

Youri Tielemans of Leicester City during the Pre-Season Friendly at Hull City  (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Youri Tielemans of Leicester City during the Pre-Season Friendly at Hull City  (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

It is no secret that Arsenal would like extra competition in midfield and well documented, too, that Youri Tielemans heads the list of targets. But no deal has been struck with Leicester and instead the Belgian will start for the away side on Saturday, with the narrative writers already scripting one of his trademark flourishes from long range. Leicester have had a curious summer, playing hardball over the likes of Tielemans and Wesley Fofana while failing to make any reinforcements to date. They have some excellent players but it is starting to look a bit stale and the way they allowed Brentford to recover last weekend only increased the murmurings around Brendan Rodgers, who could do with freshening things up. Arsenal look in rude health by their early-season standards and should win if they replicate their fast start at Selhurst Park, but if Tielemans dishes out a midfield lesson perhaps it will convince them to meet Leicester’s price and set a few transfer dominos tumbling. NA 

Arsenal v Leicester City, Saturday 3pm 

8) Top-flight action back at City Ground 

Nottingham Forest and West Ham had opening-day baptisms of fire, with both finishing a clear second best to Newcastle and Manchester City respectively. Forest blooded six new recruits at St James’ Park and, should he wish to do so, Steve Cooper has plenty more to call upon against this weekend’s visitors. Speaking before his first return to the City Ground since leaving seven years ago, Michail Antonio labelled the ground “a special place to play”. Considering a sizeable contingent of Forest fans who click through the turnstiles this weekend will not have been born the last time their club hosted a Premier League match, a particularly special and memorable atmosphere is guaranteed by the River Trent on Sunday, whatever the outcome. BG 

Nottingham Forest v West Ham, Sunday 2pm 

9) The Coady-less Wolves era begins 

A new formation, the captain’s armband passed on and a new marquee signing in the building, it is all change at Molineux. For the first time in more than seven years Wolves will line up without Conor Coady on their books. Coady, who signed from Huddersfield in 2015, started 196 of Wolves’s past 199 league matches – last Saturday’s defeat was the first time in that period he did not feature when available for selection as Bruno Lage opted for a new-look central defence. Instead Coady will start for Everton at Aston Villa after joining on loan with a view to a permanent move. Rúben Neves, who looks set to stay, is set to be named captain and Gonçalo Guedes, a £27.5m buy from Valencia who arrived for his first day with the agent Jorge Mendes in tow, could debut as Wolves begin life without Coady. BF 

Wolves v Fulham, Saturday 3pm 

10) Liverpool must step up against Palace 

There will be changes in personnel for Liverpool’s first home game of the season – Thiago Alcântara is out for the foreseeable with a hamstring injury suffered on the opening day and Darwin Núñez polished his case to start when coming on against Fulham – but a change in attitude will be the priority for Jürgen Klopp against Crystal Palace. “The performance was a defeat,” said the Liverpool manager after the 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage. “Lethargic” was Jordan Henderson’s take. If there is pressure on Liverpool to rediscover their form and trademark intensity in only the second game of a new campaign then it is pressure of their own making. The margin for error among title contenders has decreased considerably in recent years, such are the punishing standards that they and Manchester City have created. Klopp’s demand for an immediate response must be answered when Patrick Vieira’s side visit on Monday. AH 

Liverpool v Crystal Palace, Monday 8pm

Guardian

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