Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas reacts after getting a red card against Burnley.
Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas reacts after getting a red card against Burnley. Kirsty Wigglesworth

EPL champions facing early make-or-break test

THE Chelsea of last season is no more.

Fresh off lifting the English Premier League crown, the mood around Stamford Bridge has shifted and as a local derby with Tottenham looms, the club will be without more than half of their title winning stars.

Gone is Nemanja Matic, shipped to Manchester United in a deal publicly questioned by an increasingly frustrated Antonio Conte.

Suspended is captain Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas, while Pedro and Eden Hazard continue their recovery from injury and Diego Costa is throwing destabilising grenades from Brazil.

New recruit Tiemoue Bakayoko is himself underdone and, don't forget, former club captain John Terry is no longer there to lend his experience. It leaves Conte with a major challenge, not to mention his lack of depth being hampered by the 24 players the club has let go out on loan this campaign.

From last season's first XI, there's potentially going to be a six-man black hole.

The Italian spoke of his desire to avoid a "Mourinho season" - collapsing immediately after succeeding in the league. A loss to Tottenham could turn those words into a prophetic, ironic stick to beat the Blues with.

Mourinho's demise began with a shock opening loss to Swansea, followed by bizarre press antics and the distraction of the Eva Caneiro saga.

 

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte barks instructions to his team.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte barks instructions to his team. WILL OLIVER

For Conte, trouble could be looming. Back-to-back losses to start the season, coupled with the fact he already leads the sack race and a rift worsening between club hierarchy and the manager over transfers, will only feed the UK media storm.

To make it worse, a potential loss will provide two boosts for Tottenham, hoping to progress on two outstanding second-place league finishes.

Spurs, despite yet to spend a cent in the transfer window, would immediately be re-regarded as title contenders. They would also be able to put to bed any talks of a Wembley hoodoo.

This, despite being just the second round, could be a pivotal, sliding doors moment for two PL favourites.

This weekend's other EPL talking points:

UNITED'S POINT TO PROVE

A big win, new signings starring and Paul Pogba thriving - this are looking pretty good for Manchester United right now.

The fixture gods were kind to Jose Mourinho and up next is Swansea City giving the Red Devils the perfect platform to prove their title credentials by notching up the early wins. United were immediately confirmed as PL contenders with the signing of Nemanja Matic and his masterclass in the 4-0 thumping of West Ham.

 

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring his side's second goal against West Ham with Paul Pogba (top) and Nemanja Matic (right).
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku celebrates scoring his side's second goal against West Ham with Paul Pogba (top) and Nemanja Matic (right). Dave Thompson

Old Trafford was rocking, as Manchester United produced a display not seen since the time of Sir Alex Ferguson. Considering the pressure on the club in recent seasons, showing they can walk the walk back-to-back will be vital in building positive momentum, and that they can do it.

REDS REDEMPTION

After a turbulent week - a late collapse at Watford and continued speculation about Philippe Coutinho - Liverpool finally got some good news.

Trent Alexander-Arnold's strike led the Reds to a vital away UCL qualifying win at Hoffenheim. Now Jurgen Klopp's men need to kick start their domestic campaign against a club stunned in round one.

Crystal Palace have shifted dramatically away from the physical football espoused by Sam Allardyce. Yet Frank De Boer's first Premier League game in charge was a disastrous 3-0 home loss to newly promoted Huddersfield.

There will be no Coutinho, but Daniel Sturridge is expected to return to add to Klopp's firepower options. But the problem is not scoring goals, but keeping them out. Another late goal conceded and set piece woes nearly derailed the Hoffenheim win.

Against Palace, a statement win by Liverpool and a clean sheet will go a long way to preventing the howls of concern heading into an early tricky patch of the season.

KAMIKAZE ARSENAL TO BE TESTED

Arsenal kicked off their PL season with a thrilling win over Leicester. Football was back with a bang, but there were still plenty of warning signs for Gunners fans.

Yes, they scored four and new record signing Alexandre Lacazette took just two minutes to open his account, but Arsene Wenger's men copped three.

 

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring against Leicester City.
Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates after scoring against Leicester City. Alastair Grant

That was because of a tactically naive display, continuing in a 3-4-2-1 that has seen them win 11 of their 12 matches using it. But the formation, and the personnel used, left space for Leicester to exploit on the counter attack

"You talk about evolution or revolution: I call it stagnation," club legend Thierry Henry critiqued on Sky Sports' The Debate.

"I watched the game and I could tell you what was about to happen. Every time Leicester had the ball I thought they were going to score and every time we had the ball I thought we were going to score.

"I've seen it so many times: are you always going to score four and concede three? At one point you're going to get found out."

Stoke, fresh off an opening-week loss to Everton, have boosted morale by signing Jese Rodriguez on loan from PSG. A front line combined with Xherdan Shaqiri and fellow new recruit Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting could trouble the Gunners.

EVERTON'S FIRST BIG TEST

Everton hopes are high. An opening-round win, a comprehensive Europa League first-leg qualifying win and 13 brand spanking new signings. The prodigal son Wayne Rooney is back and already among the goals while Gylfi Sigurdsson has arrived in a $74m move.

But it could all come crashing down in the next four weeks.

On Tuesday (AEST) they travel to Manchester City, kicking off a schedule that includes Hajduk Split away, Chelsea (a), Tottenham (h) and Manchester United (a).

 

Everton's Wayne Rooney and Stoke City's Kurt Zouma.
Everton's Wayne Rooney and Stoke City's Kurt Zouma. Anthony Devlin

Last season the Toffees managed wins over Arsenal and City at home, going someway to change their woeful record against top six opponents. If they want to go one step further this season, to repay the investment in the squad, Everton are about to be thrown in the deep end.

The integration of Sigurdsson will be fascinating. Koeman wants collective responsibility to replace Romelu Lukaku's goals but the Swansea signing will need to find his feet in an area of the park that Rooney and Davy Klaassen also like to operate.

PREMIER LEAGUE ROUND TWO FIXTURES

Swansea v Manchester United, Saturday 9.30pm AEST

Southampton v West Ham, Sunday midnight AEST

Bournemouth v Watford, Sunday midnight AEST

Liverpool v Crystal Palace, Sunday midnight AEST

Leicester v Brighton, Sunday midnight AEST

Burnley v West Brom, Sunday midnight AEST

Stoke City v Arsenal, Sunday 2.30am AEST

Huddersfield v Newcastle, Sunday 10.30pm AEST

Tottenham v Chelsea, Monday 1am AEST

Manchester City v Everton, Tuesday 5am AEST

News Corp Australia


First visitors arrive on new four-day rail, rum, reef tour

First visitors arrive on new four-day rail, rum, reef tour

Tour package to put region on rail trail map

Gayndah gathers to remember the fallen

Gayndah gathers to remember the fallen

Gayndah locals headed into town to pay respects to our ANZACs

Local Partners