- Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN lead soccer voice in the United States. He has covered the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982, and has one of the world’s most recognizable soccer voices.
While Tottenham sit atop the table and Chelsea are showing signs of a title challenge, Cristiano Ronaldo’s second debut for Manchester United tops the bill as the Premier League returns after the international break.
How Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accommodates his superstar signing is just one of many key questions for top-flight teams. Here is my club-by-club look at the biggest challenges that each faces:
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Without a point or goal and bottom of the table, a home game against struggling Norwich is must-win for under-fire Gunners’ manager Mikel Arteta. Arsenal were the biggest “net spenders” (£148.8m) in the summer transfer window, but so far the team has lacked belief and leadership, while letting in soft goals. Unless things change soon, the Arsenal hierarchy may lose patience.
Saturday’s trip to Chelsea looks daunting, but beyond that, could Dean Smith be tempted to form a two-pronged attack of in-form Danny Ings alongside fit-again Olly Watkins in some games? Will new signings Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey fill the creative void left by Jack Grealish’s departure in midfield?
Promoted from the Championship, they have confounded critics with an unbeaten start and enterprising football. The key issue is whether they can sustain that form when they hit a tougher patch, which may dent their soaring confidence. A home game this weekend against Brighton will be a useful barometer of Brentford’s progress.
Started with two wins before losing at home to Everton, but Brighton remain a talented and watchable team. However, who is going to deliver the goals? Neal Maupay has a couple already, but more will be needed from the likes of Leandro Trossard and Danny Welbeck.
After another sluggish start — they have just with one point — expect them to be at their grittiest when visiting Everton on Monday. Manager Sean Dyche knows his squad has the right mentality, but Burnley need to develop more invention in attack or they will again have to over-rely on winning through a solid defensive unit.
The European champions look like Premier League title contenders. Two wins and one hard-earned draw, which came when Chelsea were reduced to 10 men against Liverpool, is a fine start to the season. Indeed, it is hard to see a cloud on the horizon, though it is strange that left-back Ben Chilwell is yet to kick a ball for either club or country since the Champions League final.
The fighting 2-2 draw at West Ham last time out will encourage Palace fans to believe their summer makeover under new manager Patrick Vieira might be working. A home game with Tottenham this weekend will tell us more and the signing of striker Odsonne Edouard from Celtic is interesting. Can Palace produce more appealing football without losing the organization that previous manager Roy Hodgson developed to keep them clear of trouble?
So far, so good for new manager Rafa Benitez: The Toffees have started with seven points out of nine. Then again, they well last season only to fade. Can Benitez bring more consistency, especially at Goodison Park, where Everton’s record was terrible during the 2020-21 campaign? If winger Demarai Gray, who has scored in the last two games, can make this a breakout season, it would offer a new dimension.
A slow start has left some to wonder if there is a hint of “second-season syndrome” at play after Leeds so impressed in their Premier League return. Marcelo Bielsa’s team face a huge challenge on Sunday when Liverpool come to Elland Road; if a leaky defence, which has conceded eight in the first three games, cannot be shored up, the visitors could really run up the score.
Not entirely convincing, especially in a 4-1 loss at West Ham, Leicester are missing the injured Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana in defence and host Manchester City on Saturday. The trick for manager Brendan Rodgers is to keep the points flowing as he waits for such key men to return. With everyone fit, Leicester will be a potent force.
With centre-back Virgil Van Dijk back from an almost season-long injury, they look like the team that won the Premier League in 2020. Liverpool started the season strong, with seven points and only one goal conceded, but Jurgen Klopp might regret the team’s quiet summer transfer window, during which their only major signing was defender Ibrahima Konate.
After losing at Spurs on opening weekend, City have chalked up successive 5-0 home wins. Pep Guardiola will refine the remarkable talents of new signing Jack Grealish, perhaps persuading him to release the ball faster to maintain attacking momentum. Man City did not land top target Harry Kane — or any other No. 9 — in the transfer window. Will that haunt them in the title race?
All eyes will be on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team selection against Newcastle, as Cristiano Ronaldo returns. He will play up front, so the question becomes how Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and, when back from injury, Marcus Rashford, not to mention Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba. Can Solskjaer get his tactics right and keep a lot of big players happy? One thing is certain: With all that talent, he must deliver a serious title challenge.
Their only point came from a 2-2 home draw with Southampton, who outplayed Steve Bruce’s side for most of the match. Apart from signing Joe Willock from Arsenal, Newcastle were quiet in the summer transfer window, so all the old discontent is still there. That said, Bruce will relish trying to spoil Ronaldo’s homecoming at Old Trafford.
Are they good enough to avoid relegation? They started the season with three defeats and 10 goals conceded, albeit against Liverpool, Man City and Leicester. Norwich spent more than £50m in the summer window, then quickly realised their defence needed further strengthening, so in came Brandon Williams and Ozan Kabak on loan. It will be fascinating to see what they can do at Arsenal.
Losing Danny Ings and Jannik Vestergaard in the transfer window looked careless, but draws against Man United and Newcastle have eased the fears of some fans. Can Ings’ replacement Adam Armstrong form an effective strike force with Che Adams? Is the defence good enough? The home game with West Ham this weekend will provide more clues.
What a start for manager Nuno Espirito Santo! Top of the table with maximum points, no goals conceded and the battle won to keep star striker Harry Kane. The new Spurs manager has not put a foot wrong and has even found a way to get more out of Dele Alli. The issue now is whether a promising start can be turned into at least one piece of overdue silverware. It won’t be easy, with Spurs saying they could be without seven squad players this weekend.
After a 3-2 win against Villa to start the season, back-to-back away defeats have been suffered without providing much attacking threat. Promoted Watford host Wolves on Saturday and it is a game they could win, especially if the dangerous Ismaila Sarr is in form. The worry is whether a lot of players new to the Premier League can adapt quickly enough to survive the drop.
The Hammers have 10 goals in three entertaining games, with Michail Antonio scoring in each one, and will fancy three more points at Southampton. West Ham’s squad has been strengthened by the signings of defender Kurt Zouma and Nikola Vlasic, who can play just off the front man, though he is unlikely to have the same impact as Jesse Lingard last season. The biggest challenge will be coping with the extra games playing in the Europa League on Thursday nights.
New manager Bruno Lage has his side playing attractive football despite three defeats and not a single goal. They are creating chances but lack the cutting edge in front of goal. That could change at Watford, though. Going forward, Wolves’ fortunes will depend heavily on whether striker Raul Jimenez can be the force of old after returning from an horrific fractured skull.
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