PL Sunday preview: Arsenal-Liverpool highlights opening weekend; Mourinho’s debut
Jose Mourinho will make his Manchester United debut, followed by the season’s first clash of Premier League title hopefuls, on Sunday — is that something you might be interested in?
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Bournemouth vs. Manchester United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
The PL is chock-full of intriguing storylines this season, and Mourinho replacing Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford is undoubtedly one of the biggest. After plummeting from league champion to unemployed in seven months’ time last season, Mourinho has never had more to prove than he does right now. The Mourinho Redemption Tour kicks off Sunday, at the Vitality Stadium, against a Bournemouth side hoping to establish itself as a fixture in England’s top division. The no. 1 hurdle Mourinho will have to clear, and it’ll ever-present this season, is “the Wayne Rooney question” — where will the Man united and England captain play? With Zlatan Ibrahimovic on board (and off to a roaring start), as well as Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the no. 10 spot, the two positions in which Rooney has most commonly featured seem very much occupied. Paul Pogba’s United re-debut will have to wait week, as the world-record signing will serve a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation in last season’s Coppa Italia.
After avoiding relegation with relative ease last season, Eddie Howe’s Cherries haven’t changed their approach ahead of season no. 2 in the PL: they’re still all about young players who are ready to contribute in the present and the future. They spent $43 million on four youngsters (Jordon Ibe, Lys Mousset, Lewis Cook and Brad Smith) with an average age of 20.25 years, while recouping more than $15 million via the sale of Matt Ritchie. The defense is a big question ahead of the season, but that was the case last season and they managed to avoid relegation by two places and five points. Having Callum Wilson, who tore his ACL last September following a scintillating start to the season (5 goals in 7 games), back in the fold should result in an increase to the 45 goals scored last season, considering the additional attacking talent and service to come from all around him.
INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (knee), Emerson Hyndman (ankle), Junior Stanislas (groin) | Manchester United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Chris Smalling (suspension)
Arsenal vs. Liverpool — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Depending on who you ask, either one of Arsenal or Liverpool could be the ones lifting the PL trophy in May, which makes Sunday’s main event the first 2016-17 title race six-pointer (with as many as seven sides chasing a wide open title this season, 35 percent of the season’s games will feature title hopefuls squaring off). For Arsenal, the story, as it so often tends to be, is all about injuries. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey are expected to be available for selection after lengthy periods of international duty this summer, while Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny will be held out of action as they rebuild their fitness after a run to the EURO 2016 final. Along with Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista are out with long-term injuries, leaving Arsene Wenger very little to choose from at center back. Granit Xhaka is expected to make his PL debut and will add a great deal of quality and depth to what is annually a paper-thin unit (Jack Wilshere is recovering from yet another knee injury).
Sunday will represent the start of Jurgen Klopp’s first full season in charge at Anfield after spending nearly $90 million in the summer (while recouping $60 million) to assemble a squad
worthy of his genius capable of enacting the high-pressing, quick-countering style of football with which he thrived during his time at Borussia Dortmund. Sadio Mane ($45 million) seems to be the perfect fit for Klopp’s system, and he’ll be expected to contribute right away having spent the last two seasons in the PL, at Southampton. Speaking of perpetually injured players, Daniel Sturridge’s status is unknown less than 24 before kickoff, and this figures to be a hugely important season in the 26-year-old striker’s career. If he can find a period of good health, he seems destined to flourish under Klopp as well.
INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (fitness), Laurent Koscielny (fitness), Per Mertesacker (knee), Gabriel Paulista (ankle), Jack Wilshere (knee), Danny Welbeck (knee), Carl Jenkinson (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Loris Karius (hand), Lucas Leiva (hamstring), Joe Gomez (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hip), James Milner (heel), Mamadou Sakho (fitness), Marko Grujic (ankle)