FROM the moment Chelsea returned for pre-season training Antonio Conte has cut a frustrated figure. The Blues boss is far from happy and a trip to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday is the last thing the Italian would’ve wanted.
This summer couldn’t have been more contrasting for the two clubs. Chelsea have spent big on the likes of Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Antonio Rudiger but have also lost several players, such as Nemanja Matic, John Terry, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake – not to mention the currently absent Diego Costa.
Tottenham, on the other hand, have yet to sign a single player, while the sale of Kyle Walker to Manchester City for £50m is their only major departure.
So the game at Wembley is more than the Premier League champions taking on last season’s runners-up. It is a meeting of philosophies; uncertainty versus stability.
How will they line-up?
Spurs starting XI is likely to be far stronger than Chelsea’s despite injuries to Danny Rose and Keiran Trippier. And the duo’s absences should see Pochettino stick with the 4-2-3-1 shape that Tottenham used in their 2-0 win against Newcastle United last weekend.
The Argentine does have two questions to ponder, however. Does he keep faith in 20-year-old Kyle Walker-Peters at right-back or play the more experienced Eric Dier out of position? And should Son Heung-Min, although not 100 per cent fit, return at the expense of the underwhelming Moussa Sissoko.
It’s never easy to second guess a Premier League manager but Pochettino is a man who believes in the progression of youth, so Walker-Peters should retain his place. Son, meanwhile, should start even if he hasn’t fully overcome a broken arm sustained while on international duty in June.
If Conte had a selection headache for the opening day game against Burnley, then it is likely to have turned into a full on migraine over the past week.
Almost every area of his side is missing at least one key player either due to injury, suspension or self-imposed exile. And there are only so many gaps that can be plugged.
Right wing-back Victor Moses will return from his own suspension while Gary Cahill’s ban will see Antonio Rudiger start in defence despite a shaky debut display against Burnley, as Cesar Azpilicueta should move into the back three after filling in out wide at the weekend.
It’s in midfield where the biggest problem lies for Conte. Fabregas is suspended. Matic has gone to Manchester United. And Bakayoko has only trained this week after undergoing knee surgery in the summer.
Throwing the France international, who was signed from Monaco for £32m, would be a gamble. But the Chelsea boss doesn’t have many other options. It’s a risk he’ll have to take.
After coming off the bench against Burnley and impressing Morata should start at Wembley, in front of Willian and Pedro. Eden Hazard took part in full training for the first time since fracturing his ankle in June, but he is nowhere near match fitness and should sit the game out.
Where the match could be won
When the two sides met at White Hart Lane in January, Dele Alli scored twice in a 2-0 victory. Both goals were headers and both came from Christian Eriksen crosses. Fast forward to their FA Cup semi-final meeting in April and the Spurs goal was a repeat.
On every occasion Alli broke between Moses and Azpilicueta. Chelsea can’t afford for a fourth installment. The Blues should have finally learnt their lesson and starting Rudiger on the right of the back three would provide a greater aerial presence.
But Alli is just the jewel in the crown of Spurs’ attacking quartet. And if the likes of Son, Eriksen, Alli and Harry Kane are given time and space on the ball, a Tottenham win is a formality.
Restricting space and pressing hard inside their own half is key for Chelsea. N’Golo Kante will run all day but It is a big ask for Bakayoko, assuming he starts, to get up to speed and harass Tottenham for 90 minutes. And with Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama pulling the strings from deep, Spurs’ midfield dominance is likely to be crucial.
Ten games. That’s how many times Spurs have played competitively at the new Wembley and they’ve only won twice. There has been a single draw and seven disappointing defeats, the latest being the 4-2 defeat in the FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea.
They must end their Wembley hoodoo, and quickly. Overcoming the Blues would send a message to the rest of the Premier League that the mental block that has hampered Spurs no longer remains.
Ignore the temptation to draft in Morata after his impressive cameo against Burnley and instead pluck for a Tottenham attacker.
Kane, Alli and Eriksen won’t come cheap, however, so Son is the option to go for. Only £8.0 on the Premier League’ Fantasy Football game, the South Korean scored 14 goals and registered nine assists last season.
He should start against the Blues and proved during a substitute appearance against Newcastle, in which Spurs went from drawing to leading 2-0 when he came on, that he can again make a big difference.
Here’s the rest of your team news ahead of the weekend.
SWANSEA V MANCHESTER UNITED
Saturday 19 August 9.30pm AET
Sitting top of the table going into the weekend after their 4-0 victory over West Ham United, Manchester United will want to underline their title credentials at Swansea.
New signing Victor Lindelof wasn’t even in Jose Mourinho’s matchday squad for the first game of the season, and after Phil Jones and Eric Bailly’s impressive performance it would be a surprise if was in the starting XI.
Swansea lost Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton this week but Roque Mesa could be in line for his first start after his arrival from Las Palmas.
Key stat: Manchester United have lost two of their last three trips to the Liberty Stadium, both defeats were suffered during Louis van Gaal’s reign.
Fantasy tip: Romelu Lukaku only has three goals against Swansea in 11 appearances, but this United team is set up for him to score.
Predicted Swansea XI: Fabianski; Naughton, Mawson, Fernandez, Olsson; Mesa, Britton, Fer; Routledge, Ayew: Abraham
Predicted Manchester United XI: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Bailly, Blind; Pogba, Matic; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku
LEICESTER V BRIGHTON
Sunday 20 August 12am AET
Leicester were back to their entertaining best during a 4-3 opening-day defeat to Arsenal – with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez shining as they did in the 2015/16 title-winning campaign.
The latter has been linked with a move to Roma after handing in a transfer request but Craig Shakespeare is clearly not afraid of playing Mahrez despite his uncertain future.
Brighton will be without Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown, who suffered a hamstring injury in the 2-0 defeat to Manchester City. New record signing Jose Izquierdo could feature.
Key stat: Leicester are unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League home fixtures against newly-promoted sides, winning seven and drawing five.
Fantasy tip: Jamie Vardy scored two on the opening day and will fancy his chances against a Brighton defence with little Premier League experience.
Predicted Leicester XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Morgan, Maguire, Fuchs; Mahrez, Drinkwater, Ndidi, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy
Predicted Brighton XI: Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, March; Izquierdo, Hemed
LIVERPOOL V CRYSTAL PALACE
Sunday 20 August 12am AET
Liverpool’s draw with Watford last weekend epitomised the Reds under Jurgen Klopp – stunning in attack but very shaky at the back.
The home side will be without Philippe Coutinho with a back injury and it looks likely he has played his last game for the club with a move to Barcelona on the horizon. With the match sandwiched in between the Champions League play-off, expect the German to make changes.
Crystal Palace made the worst possible start to their season, losing 3-0 loss to Huddersfield.
The Eagles are still looking to strengthen and have been linked with Oliver Burke, but have no new arrivals since last week’s defeat.
Key stat: Crystal Palace have won on each of their last three visits to Anfield.
Fantasy tip: James Milner is Liverpool’s designated penalty taker and their front line could cause Palace all sorts of problems, a spot kick would not be a surprise.
Predicted Liverpool XI: Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Can; Wijnaldum, Milner; Firmino, Origi; Solanke
Predicted Crystal Palace XI: Hennessey; Fosu-Mensah, Dann, Riedewald; Ward, Milivojevic, Puncheon, van Aanholt; Loftus-Cheek, Townsend; Benteke
SOUTHAMPTON V WEST HAM
Sunday 20 August 12am AET
Southampton and West Ham failed to score on the opening weekend and both will be hoping to get off the mark at St Mary’s.
After a full week in training, former Juventus man Mario Lemina will be pushing for his first appearance in a Southampton shirt. But the Saints will be without Virgil van Dijk who they insist is not for sale.
West Ham are in talks to sign long-term target William Carvalho but no deal has been agreed with Sporting Lisbon ahead of this weekend’s match.
Key stat: Southampton attempted 29 shots in their first game of the season against Swansea – only two were on target
Fantasy tip: Manolo Gabbiadini netted six goals in 12 games for Southampton after his January arrival. If West Ham defend like they did against Manchester United, he’ll have plenty of chances to register.
Predicted Southampton XI: Forster; Soares, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu; Lemina, Ward-Prowse; Tadic, Redmond; Gabbiadini
Predicted West Ham XI: Hart; Zabaleta, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Ayew, Noble, Obiang, Arnautovic; Sakho, Hernandez
BURNLEY V WEST BROM
Sunday 20 August 12am AET
Burnley shocked the Premier League with a 3-2 win at Chelsea on the opening weekend and they’ll hope to build on that victory against West Brom.
After selling Andre Gray to Watford, Sean Dyche’s side need a striker, and look to have turned to Florin Andone from Deportivo La Coruna.
It could be all change in West Brom’s defence before the transfer window closes, with Tottenham’s Kevin Wimmer linked to the Hawthorns and Jonny Evans a Manchester City transfer target. New signing Gareth Barry could feature for the Baggies who defeated Bournemouth 1-0 last time out.
Key stat: Burnley will be looking to win their opening two games to a top-flight season for the first time since 1973/74, when they finished sixth.
Fantasy tip: Chris Brunt. Tony Pulis’ side love a set piece and Brunt has provided 14 assists from dead balls in since August 2014.
Predicted Burnley XI: Heaton; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Ward; Gudmundsson, Hendrick, Cork, Brady; Walters, Vokes
Predicted West Brom XI: Foster; Nyom, Dawson, Hegazy, Brunt; Yacob; Phillips, Livermore, Barry, McClean; Rodriguez
BOURNEMOUTH V WATFORD
Sunday 20 August 12am AET
Bournemouth host Watford with both teams looking for their first win of the season.
The Cherries will be without Simon Francis who has picked up a hamstring injury in the loss at West Brom, while Jermain Defoe could make his first start after returning to the club.
Watford could hand a starting place to Andre Gray, while fellow new-boy Richarlison will also be pushing for inclusion after coming off the bench against Liverpool.
Key stat: All four meetings between Bournemouth and Watford in the Premier League have ended as draws.
Fantasy tip: Joshua King. The Norwegian scored 16 goals last season, including one on his last appearance at Dean Court.
Predicted Bournemouth XI: Begovic; Smith, Cook, Ake, Daniels; Fraser, Surman, Arter, Pugh; King, Defoe
Predicted Watford XI: Gomes; Femenia, Prodl, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Doucoure, Chalobah; Amrabat, Gray, Pereyra
STOKE V ARSENAL
Sunday 20 August 2.30am AET
There hasn’t been much love lost between Stoke and Arsenal since Ryan Shawcross’s tackle led to a broken leg for Aaron Ramsey,
And there may be another tasty meeting as Jese Rodriguez’s Stoke debut could pit him against Sead Kolasinac, the man whose challenge in 2014 left him with major knee ligament damage, all but ending his Real Madrid career.
Alexis Sanchez will miss out for Arsenal while wantaway striker Lucas Perez won’t be involved.
Key fact: Stoke City have lost only one of their last seven home matches against Arsenal.
Fantasy tip: Alexandre Lacazette scored on his debut for Arsenal against Leicester and looks like he can pick up where he left off at Lyon, where he struck 28 times last season in Ligue 1.
Predicted Stoke XI: Butland; Zouma, Shawcross, Martins Indi; Diouf, Allen, Fletcher, Pieters; Shaqiri, Jese; Berahino
Predicted Arsenal XI: Cech; Mustafi, Monreal, Kolasinac; Bellerin, Elneny, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Ozil, Lacazette; Giroud
HUDDERSFIELD V NEWCASTLE
Sunday 20 August 10.30pm AET
Huddersfield’s 3-0 win over Crystal Palace was the perfect start to their first top-flight season since 1972 and they’ll hope to continue their good form against fellow newly-promoted side Newcastle.
Newcastle will miss Paul Dummett and Florian Lejeune after both were taken off with injury in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, while Jonjo Shelvey is serving the first game of his three-match ban after his sending off for a stamp.
Key stat: The away side won both league contests last season, with the Magpies enjoying a 3-1 victory at the John Smith’s Stadium, thanks to goals from Matt Ritchie, Daryl Murphy and Dwight Gayle.
Fantasy tip: Steve Mounie already looks more than at home in the Premier League and should take advantage of a makeshift Newcastle defence.
Predicted Huddersfield XI: Lossl; Smith, Zanka, Schindler, Lowe; Billing, Mooy; Kachunga, Palmer, Ince; Mounie
Predicted Newcastle XI: Elliot; Manquillo, Mbemba, Lascelles, Clark; Hayden, Merino; Ritchie, Perez, Atsu; Gayle
MANCHESTER CITY V EVERTON
Tuesday 22 August 5am AET
Both teams won their first game of the season, with Manchester City coming through 2-0 at newly-promoted Brighton, while Wayne Rooney scored the only goal against Stoke on his Everton return.
Pep Guardiola and Ronald Koeman both set up with a back three for their opening match, and expect that to stay the same.
Benjamin Mendy is unlikely to make his debut due to a thigh problem, while Everton’s newest arrival Gylfi Sigurdsson won’t be fit after a disrupted pre-season at Swansea City.
Key stat: Rooney goes into the game on 199 Premier League goals.
Fantasy Tip: Sergio Aguero. The Argentine forward got 33 goals in all competitions in 2016/17 and is already off the mark this term. City will be very attacking and he’ll be looking to get on the end of their moves.
Predicted Manchester City XI: Ederson; Kompany, Stones, Otamendi; Fernandinho; Walker, De Bruyne, Silva, Danilo; Aguero, Jesus
Predicted Everton XI: Pickford; Keane, Williams, Jagielka; Martina, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Baines; Rooney, Klaassen; Ramirez