10 things to look out for on the Premier League opening weekend

1. Pope blessed after finger operation

Goalkeeper Nick Pope had summer surgery on a troublesome finger. Photograph: Serena Taylor/Newcastle United/Getty Images

Who knows what might have happened had Unai Emery not changed his mind about accepting the Newcastle job at the last minute in the autumn of 2021? While Emery ended up at Aston Villa, Newcastle hired Eddie Howe and things have subsequently worked out rather well. The latter’s cause should be helped by the finger operation his England goalkeeper Nick Pope underwent this summer. “After we secured the Champions League place I was straight off to Wigan, of all places, to get it done,” said Pope. “It was just a finger that kept dislocating too easily, not ideal for a goalkeeper. There were probably four or five times in six months where it happened including one at the World Cup. Every time it dislocated it was getting weaker and it was only going to get worse but the operation was going to mean eight weeks out so we strapped it up waited and I’m really happy with it now. I was seeing the physio most days this summer and the rehab was a bit slow at times – there’s only so many exercises you can do with a finger. It was a bit dull but it’s worked out really well.” LT

  • Newcastle v Aston Villa, Saturday 5.30pm


2. An early battle between big guns

While Chelsea fans will be hoping Mauricio Pochettino has extinguished last season’s bin-fire, sifted through the embers and rescued a squad that can mount a top four challenge, their Liverpool counterparts will also be expecting more from their team following their inglorious departure from the Champions League qualification places. Business has been brisk in the departures and arrivals halls at both Stamford Bridge and Anfield this summer, and the delightful possibility of a half-time tug-of-war to see who signs Moisés Caicedo from Brighton suggests neither club are yet fully satisfied with their recruitment. While nobody can be expected to realistically predict what on earth will happen in this mouthwatering Sunday afternoon fixture, it would be premature to read too much into any outcome, whichever way the game goes. With that in mind, expect the response on social media to be suitably calm and measured should either side emerge on the wrong end of a hiding. BG

  • Chelsea v Liverpool, Sunday 4.30pm

3. First outing for Iraola’s Cherries

West Ham’s summer may have been a slow-burner – largely due to Declan Rice’s protracted move to Arsenal – but the same cannot be said for Bournemouth, their first opponents. In June Bournemouth ruthlessly dispensed with Gary O’Neil despite him leading them to 15th last season and promptly appointed Andoni Iraola his replacement and since they have made a number of eye-catching signings. Max Aarons is set to join Alex Scott in the coming days and they still want to sign a defensive midfielder to replace Jefferson Lerma. Milos Kerkez and Justin Kluivert, son of Patrick, could debut against West Ham and a first look at Iraola’s front-foot style promises to be entertaining. “I can’t wait to show my qualities and help the club and team to a higher level,” Kluivert said. Ben Fisher

  • Bournemouth v West Ham, Saturday 3pm
Justin Kluivert (left) and his Bournemouth teammates are expected to play attacking football. Photograph: Robin Jones/AFC Bournemouth/Getty Images

4. Blades ready for bittersweet bow

With Prince Abdullah still the club’s owner and last season’s star players Iliman Ndiaye and Sander Berge sold to Marseille and Burnley for a collective £32m, Sheffield United’s Premier League return is somewhat bittersweet. Their manager, Paul Heckingbottom, is hoping to add Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom to his attacking ranks but Sheffield United face stiff competition from Ajax and Lens for last season’s Championship leading scorer and player of the year. Moreover as Heckingbottom, forced to sign largely untried up and coming youngsters this summer, put it this week: “We are a Premier League club and got here on merit but we are not working with a Premier League budget. We have signed boys who are miles off where they are going to end up. We haven’t signed anyone who is the finished article.” Flies on the Bramall Lane wall could be in treated to a rather interesting post match conversation between Heckingbottom and his Crystal Palace counterpart, Roy Hodgson. Louise Taylor

  • Sheffield United v Crystal Palace, Saturday 3pm

5. Burnley face test of champions

Vincent Kompany’s old club provide a litmus test for his current one for the second time in six months. Burnley were storming towards the Championship title and unbeaten in 18 matches when pitted away at Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March. Club officials, as the new Mission to Burnley documentary reveals, viewed the tie as a gauge of Burnley’s Premier League credentials while Kompany fired up his players with talk of Wembley. They were swatted aside 6-0. There is no shame in a sound beating at the home of soon-to-be treble winners but Kompany will expect a more competitive display in the Premier League curtain raiser at Turf Moor. Burnley, who have made it nine summer signings with Sander Berge’s arrival from Sheffield United, have had players back in training since 5 June – five days before City won the Champions League in Istanbul. They will hope the extra work at least reduces the gap on an all-conquering team that is already airing complaints about fatigue. Andy Hunter

  • Burnley v Manchester City, Friday 8pm

6. Luton back in the big time

Back in the top flight following a 31-year absence, Luton start their campaign with what promises to be a seriously stiff test of their credentials at Brighton’s Amex Stadium. After their Championship play-off win at Wembley, midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu was perhaps a little premature with his claim that he felt like he’d “completed football” after helping his team from the Conference to the Premier League over the course of a decade, but if he kicks a ball in this opener, his place as an inarguable pub quiz answer for generations to come will be assured. With new full-backs Ryan Giles and Issa Kaboré, we can expect to see Luton slinging plenty of crosses into the Brighton penalty area for one or both of Carlton Morris and Elijah Adebayo to feed from. Giles, a set-piece specialist signed from Wolves, has been a revelation in pre-season, while Luton fans have also been hugely enthused by the performances of Tom Lockyer and Tahith Chong. Barry Glendenning

  • Brighton v Luton, Saturday 3pm
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has helped Luton from the Conference to the Premier League. Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

7. Ten Hag still facing striker dilemma

Manchester United began the summer targeting Harry Kane. They start the fresh campaign without a striker of purported elite potential as Rasmus Højlund is injured. Is this the latest chapter in the puzzling summer transfer market policy of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era or shrewd business from Erik ten Hag and the football director, John Murtough? Højlund’s back problem means he cannot face Wolves and so yet again who lines up in the central striking role is a pressing question for the Dutchman. The answer may well be Marcus Rashford, whose bid to emulate last term’s 30-goal season begins against a side with a new manager of less than a week, Gary O’Neil. By 10pm on Monday whether Wolves have benefited from a bounce or United have taken full advantage will be clear. Jamie Jackson

  • Manchester United v Wolves, Monday 8pm

8. Can Havertz find his niche?

Arsenal always knew Kai Havertz’s versatility would come in handy, even if pitching him into the Premier League opener as their centre-forward was not part of the plan. He is likely to deputise for Gabriel Jesus against Nottingham Forest having impressed Mikel Arteta with his all-round display up front in the Community Shield win over Manchester City. Havertz was alert, clever and combative at Wembley although two missed chances recalled the question marks that have hung over an undoubted talent. Forest, who lost 5-0 in this fixture last season, may offer a good opportunity to get off the mark while Havertz’s teammates should also profit from his vision and ability to create space. Ultimately Havertz needs to find a long-term niche: that is probably the attacking midfield role he was signed for but a strong start on Saturday would aid the settling-in process and begin silencing those, William Gallas among the most recent, who have questioned Arsenal’s £65m outlay. Nick Ames

  • Arsenal v Nottingham Forest, Saturday 12.30pm

9. A return of the Everton anxieties

It will be 76 days on Saturday since Sean Dyche demanded major changes at Everton following their second successive late escape from relegation. His plea has so far gone unanswered. Everton continue to be linked with numerous strikers, PSG’s Hugo Ekitiké the latest, and have a deal lined up for Sporting’s promising 19-year-old Youssef Chermiti, but will open what is scheduled to be the final full season of Goodison Park’s existence with only free signing Ashley Young and loanee Arnaut Danjuma added to the ranks. They remain hugely over-reliant on Dominic Calvert-Lewin and at the mercy of his poor injury record, just like last season. And the season before that. Fulham have forward issues of their own with Aleksandar Mitrovic’s head turned by Saudi Arabia. Their leading marksman vowed never to play for Fulham again when Al-Hilal’s interest was resisted but made a brief appearance in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Hoffenheim. Fulham made light of Mitrovic’s absence at Goodison in April, shredding Everton 3-1, and Marco Silva will look to prey on the anxieties he knows only too well from his time on Merseyside. AH

  • Everton v Fulham, Saturday 3pm

Brentford without Toney?

While Tottenham remain unsure whether or not they’ll be starting the season with their star striker, Brentford kick off the new campaign knowing for certain that theirs is sidelined until mid-January. Banned for multiple breaches of betting regulations and somewhat harshly forbidden from visiting his club’s training ground or stadium until September, Ivan Toney is likely to be a huge loss for the Bees but only time will tell how they cope without the target of many of the long balls and set-pieces they employ so effectively. The omens are good; with Toney absent for their final three games last season, Brentford scored six goals in wins against West Ham, Tottenham and Manchester City. Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa chipped in with five of them, and will need to keep firing in Toney’s absence to prove that the temporary or permanent loss of a big-name, talismanic striker need not necessarily be disastrous for any club. BG

  • Brentford v Tottenham, Sunday 2pm