Fernandez Set For Chelsea Debut, Arsenal Renew EPL Title Charge
The clock is ticking for Chelsea manager Graham Potter to turn unprecedented spending into results, starting against Fulham on Friday, as new Everton manager Sean Dyche prepares for a baptism of fire against Premier League leaders Arsenal.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool travel to face struggling Wolves, desperate to pull themselves out of a slump that has left them playing catch-up, while Tottenham host champions Manchester City.
AFP Sport takes a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the weekend action in the English top flight.
British-record signing Enzo Fernandez could make his debut at Stamford Bridge in the west London derby after completing a 121 million euro ($132 million, £107 million) move from Benfica.
Mykhailo Mudryk is also in line for his first start since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk in a blockbuster January transfer window for the club for a fee that could rise to 100 million euros.
Chelsea’s overall spend in their first season under new ownership fronted by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly has now surpassed £500 million but the Blues are languishing in 10th in the Premier League table, 10 points off the top four.
Potter admits he has a challenge on his hands to keep all his stars happy as he tries to turn Chelsea’s fortunes around.
“We have to create an environment where there’s healthy competition and they can push each other,” Potter said on Thursday. “There’s going to be frustration at times because only 11 can play.
“But we’ve got a lot of important games and we need to improve our results so it’s about playing, supporting the team and being ready to play.”
Marco Silva’s Fulham beat Chelsea for the first time since 2006 when the sides met last month at Craven Cottage and are above their illustrious neighbours in the table.
Another victory for the white half of west London would secure a first-ever league double over Chelsea in a single season.
Dyche’s daunting debut
The contrast in mood between Arsenal and Everton fans could hardly be starker ahead of their meeting at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Arsenal are on course for a first league title since 2003/04 with the luxury of a five-point lead over Manchester City and a game in hand.
The Gunners will be hoping their January business is enough to get them over the line despite missing out on their top two targets — Mudryk and Brighton’s Moises Caicedo.
Jorginho’s arrival from Chelsea this week adds depth and an old head to Mikel Arteta’s young squad while Leandro Trossard boosts his attacking options.
Everton were the only Premier League club not to make a January signing and former Burnley boss Sean Dyche knows he has a mountain to climb.
The Toffees’ 69-year stay in the English top flight is at severe risk and further protests from supporters against the club’s board are planned for after the match.
“There’s a big challenge ahead but one I’m ready for and want to take on,” Dyche told Everton TV. “We want to change the shape of this club going forwards, remodel it in our style, but remodel it in a way we can win.”
Guardiola’s Cancelo culture
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola showed his ruthless streak as Joao Cancelo was allowed to move on loan to Bayern Munich this week.
The Portuguese full-back was an important figure in City’s title wins over the past two seasons but his departure is further evidence that Guardiola is trying to spark a reaction from his squad.
He questioned whether his side had the hunger to hunt down Arsenal despite a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down to beat Tottenham 4-2 last month.
Now Guardiola has gambled, knowing that his daring call on Cancelo leaves him short on full-back options for the rest of the season.
City might be eight points behind the leaders before Sunday’s game against Spurs, who could be without manager Antonio Conte after he underwent surgery to remove his gallbladder, but they have title-winning nous and enviable strength in depth.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Chelsea v Fulham (2000)
Everton v Arsenal (1230), Aston Villa v Leicester, Brentford v Southampton, Brighton v Bournemouth, Man Utd v Crystal Palace, Wolves v Liverpool (all 1500), Newcastle v West Ham (1730)
Nottingham Forest v Leeds (1400), Tottenham v Man City (1630)