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Thursday Hoddle of Coffee: Premier League Preview, August 18, 2016

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What games will you be watching this weekend?

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

We’ll talk Spurs-Palace in tomorrow’s Hoddle, but on Thursdays I thought it might be fun to talk about the rest of the Premier League schedule. There are two games in particular that stand out:

Manchester United v Southampton

Jose Mourinho will make his home debut for United on Friday evening as the club hosts Southampton at Old Trafford. Last weekend’s opener under Mourinho went as well as could be hoped, though it came against a Bournemouth team that was never expected to keep pace with United.

Mourinho isn’t the only one United fans will be keen to see, of course. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and world-record signing Paul Pogba could all make their home debuts as well. I’m going to be looking for United to set up something like this:

De Gea
Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Shaw
Fellaini, Pogba
Mkhitaryan, Rooney, Martial
Ibrahimovic

Here are three things I’ll be watching for:

  • How does Pogba operate in the United midfield? I personally think Morgan Schneiderlin is a perfect partner for Pogba, but so far Mourinho hasn’t put much trust in the former Southampton player. But can a player like Fellaini provide sufficient defensive cover to let Pogba play in a more advanced, attacking role? I’ll also be curious to see how Pogba handles playing in a much faster and more physical league.
  • Can Rooney and Ibrahimovic work as a partnership? Two aging center forwards who hate running are an unlikely tandem for any competitive team, let alone a team managed by Jose Mourinho. But as Rooney is the club captain and Ibrahimovic a major summer signing, Mourinho has strong pressure to give the pair a shot at working something out. That said, my guess long-term is that we see Rooney dropped and replaced by Ander Herrera or Marcus Rashford.
  • How does Mkhitaryan look? My hunch with this United team is that everything ultimately hangs on Pogba and Mkhitaryan. Rooney and Ibra are both well past their primes. Martial is very young. If United is going to make a top four challenge this season or even a title challenge, they’ll need to be tight defensively and they’ll need monster seasons from Mkhitaryan and Pogba.

My guess is United comes out firing this weekend, rather like Chelsea did a couple seasons back against Burnley. Pogba and Mkhitaryan score and the Red Devils win by a 3-1 margin for the second straight weekend.

Leicester City v Arsenal

The two teams that topped us in the table last season (excuse me while I go slam my head in my car door while cursing Newcastle) face off at the King Power Stadium after both suffered disappointing defeats the opening weekend. That said, the manner of the defeats is different enough that one team should feel OK while the other has a bit greater cause for concern.

Leicester City produced a number of good chances against Hull. Their midfield was solid enough, even if it wasn’t as destructive as it was last season with N’Golo Kante in the pivot. The only difference is that Jamie Vardy wasted a few chances and the team conceded one and arguably two unlucky goals.

Arsenal is in a different position. With their top defenders all injured and the team still lacking a credible holding midfielder despite signing Granit Xhaka over the summer, there are real questions about how this Arsenal squad will compete against strong Premier League midfields. I’m going to be especially curious how Xhaka performs this weekend. One would think he’d get a start after starting last week on the bench due to Aaron Ramsey’s injury, but Xhaka’s cameo last weekend was not encouraging. He committed more fouls than any other player on opening weekend—and he played 24 minutes. My guess here is we see Leicester return to form with a 2-1 home win.

On to the links:

WDR is back! Check out the first episode of the season.

The backup Spurs right back question is still in play: Aston Villa is being linked with Kieran Trippier and Trabzonspor are in for DeAndre Yedlin.

Andi Thomas agrees with me about Rooney.

Riyad Mahrez signs extension with Leicester City.

These Football Times looks at one of Italy’s lesser-known rivalries—the Derby della Lanterna played between intra-city rivals Genoa and Sampdoria.

Obafemi Martins had an acrobatic finish to score in the Chinese Super League