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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Chelsea have the toughest fixture list of top six, but Manchester United could be out of sight come October

Richard Jolly looks at what lays in store for Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and United and Tottenham over the next month

Romelu Lukaku has helped propel Manchester United to the top of the Premier League. Carl Recine / Reuters
Romelu Lukaku has helped propel Manchester United to the top of the Premier League. Carl Recine / Reuters

ARSENAL

Upcoming fixtures:

Sept 9: Bournemouth (H)

Sept 17: Chelsea (A)

Sept 25: West Brom (H)

Oct 1: Brighton (H)

Three-quarters of the league fixture list offers promise, even if Arsenal’s difficult start and the 4-0 thrashing at Anfield suggests they could be traumatic. However, a visit to an unhappy stamping ground, Stamford Bridge, provides the potential that their problems could get worse. That is also test of how they cope on Sundays after Thursday night Europa League fixtures. After selling wing-back Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsene Wenger has to decide whether to abandon the back three that Liverpool exposed. His greatest challenge may lie with Alexis Sanchez who seemed to have his heart set on a move to Manchester City. Placating and motivating his greatest match-winner is vital. So, too, selecting Alexandre Lacazette after benching him at Anfield.

Danny Drinkwater, left, joined Chelsea on transfer deadline day. Adrian Dennis / AFP
Danny Drinkwater, left, joined Chelsea on transfer deadline day. Adrian Dennis / AFP

CHELSEA

Upcoming fixtures:

Sept 9: Leicester City (A)

Sept 17: Arsenal (H)

Sept 23: Stoke City (A)

Sept 30: Man City (H)

With two of their peers and two of the better mid-table teams, Chelsea may have the hardest fixture list of the big six in the next month. A manager who specialised in fielding unchanged teams has a different test as, with Uefa Champions League football, Antonio Conte has to rotate, albeit without the biggest squad around. He must integrate new signings Danny Drinkwater and Davide Zappacosta. With Eden Hazard on the way back, he almost has a fully-fit group, though some may need to be nursed through.

LIVERPOOL

Upcoming fixtures:

Sept 9: Man City (A)

Sept 16: Burnley (H)

Sept 23: Leicester City (A)

Oct 1: Newcastle United (A)

In all competitions, Liverpool play five of their next seven games away from home. That includes a trip to Moscow and it presents a test if they can retain the energy to play their high-tempo football amid a more gruelling fixture list. Jurgen Klopp at least has greater midfield options, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s arrival and Philippe Coutinho back in the fold after Barcelona’s bids were rejected. It will be intriguing if the Brazilian is used in the front three or deeper. Klopp scarcely rotated last season. He will have to now. The chances are that he will swap his full-backs frequently. It will be harder to rest Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino.

Berrnardo Silva, right, made his first start for Manchester City in the 2-1 defeat of Bournemouth. Steve Bardens / Getty Images
Berrnardo Silva, right, made his first start for Manchester City in the 2-1 defeat of Bournemouth. Steve Bardens / Getty Images

MANCHESTER CITY

Upcoming fixtures:

Sept 9: Liverpool (H)

Sept 16: Watford (A)

Sept 23: Crystal Palace (H)

Sept 30: Chelsea (A)

Two fixtures leap off the list. City only recorded two league wins against the top seven last season so meetings with Liverpool and Chelsea are key. It will also be instructive if Pep Guardiola, who has used 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1 in their last two games, sticks with a shape and whether he pairs Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero or chooses between them; after missing out on Sanchez, both are more important. Other dilemmas include integrating Bernardo Silva and a fit-again Ilkay Gundogan in midfield and when and whether to use Eliaquim Mangala, now the fourth-choice centre-back.

MANCHESTER UNITED

Upcoming fixtures:

Sept 9: Stoke (A)

Sept 17: Everton (H)

Sept 23: Southampton (A)

Sept 30: Crystal Palace (H)

Uniquely among the big six, United will enter October without having faced any of the others. It offers the chance to extend their 100 per cent start and put distance between themselves and the rest. Jose Mourinho favours a small core and has only given 12 players a league start so far. That will surely change. It will be intriguing when he uses Victor Lindelof, who is guaranteed to face Basel on Tuesday, while Ander Herrera, outstanding last season, has only played five minutes in the league so far. If Mourinho reverts to 4-3-3 for tougher away games, the Spaniard will surely start.

Serge Aurier, left, in action for Ivory Coast, transferred from Paris Saint-Germain to Tottenham during the transfer window. Issouf Sanogo / AFP
Serge Aurier, left, in action for Ivory Coast, transferred from Paris Saint-Germain to Tottenham during the transfer window. Issouf Sanogo / AFP

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Upcoming fixtures:

Sept 9: Everton (A)

Sept 16: Swansea City (H)

Sept 23: West Ham United (A)

Sept 30: Huddersfield Town (A)

The good news, perhaps, is that Tottenham have a solitary league game at Wembley in the next month. The bad is that they will have to try and excel in both the Premier League and the Champions League at the same time, something they could not last year. Mauricio Pochettino likes to rotate his full-backs; he now has the chance to do that on the right, with Serge Aurier’s signing, but not on the left, with Danny Rose still injured. He also has to work out how and when to introduce his new striking signing, Fernando Llorente. At least, as it is September, Harry Kane should start scoring.

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