Week two of the Premier League is almost upon us, and the pressure is already on after a scintillating start to the season.
Tottenham looked brilliant in their opening day thumping of Southampton, Manchester United looked, well, like Manchester United during their loss to Brighton at Old Trafford, and there were difficult starts to the season for Aston Villa, Everton, Nottingham Forest and West Ham – though the latter were playing champions Manchester City.
Nevertheless, early momentum is key if teams want to deliver on their pre-season expectations, and a number of key battles are set to take place up and down the country in the second round of fixtures.
Here’s five that 90min thinks you should look out for in particular.
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1) Steven Gerrard vs Frank Lampard
It’s not the month before a noughties major international tournament, but the Gerrard vs Lampard narrative lives on through a debate over which of them might be worse at managing a football team.
Few would have predicted six months ago, when Lampard picked up what looked like an Everton chalice laced with poison, that it would be Gerrard under more pressure to keep his job.
But the Toffees faithful warmed to the Chelsea legend as he dug them out of a relegation hole that he admittedly played some part in burying them in last season. They lost but went toe-to-toe with Chelsea on the opening weekend despite having at that stage spent just £20m to improve the squad this summer, with Lampard spending £40m in total in his time at Goodison Park.
In two transfer windows, like Lampard, Gerrard has spent nearly twice as much as that and has 1.21 points per game to Lampard’s 1.18.
Lampard will likely get a reprieve should his Everton side lose again on Saturday, with fans and the media more than willing to offer caveats for a slow start mid-rebuild. But Gerrard is unlikely to receive such grace, given the quality of the players at his disposal and the bad vibes emanating from their opening day to defeat to newly-promoted Bournemouth.
2) Ivan Toney vs Lisandro Martinez
Having allowed Danny Welbeck to roll back the years and tear him to shreds on Sunday, £51m Lisandro Martinez faces a younger, more mobile, arguably better iteration of the Brighton menace in the late kick-off on Saturday.
Ivan Toney will be licking his lips at the prospect of bullying the diminutive Manchester United defender to add to the kneejerk claims that there is no place for a 5ft 9in centre-back in the Premier League.
Brentford have managed to keep hold of their talismanic striker despite his impressive debut Premier League campaign, in which he scored 12 goals with five assists. He opened his acount this season with a smart touch and finish in the draw against Leicester and few would bet against him adding to his tally against Martinez and his delicate United teammates this weekend.
3) Richarlison vs Dejan Kulusevski
There are battles within Premier League sides as well as between them and this intra-club fight for supremacy looks set to be particularly intriguing.
Richarlison was suspended for Tottenham’s opening game of the season, but may struggle for game time when he is available if the 4-1 win over Southampton is anything to go by.
The Brazilian will have known he was essentially fighting for one spot in the first XI following his £52m move from Everton with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min as irreplaceable as any two Premier League forwards can be.
Perhaps with this in mind, or because he can’t help being brilliant at football, Kulusevski put in the display of the weekend with a goal and assist as he stole the headlines from the leading pair alongside him.
The Sweden international now has six goals and nine assists in 19 Premier League appearances since his January move from Juventus at a rate of a goal contribution every 98 minutes.
Competition for places is of course excellent news for Antonio Conte and Spurs but at least one of their excellent four forwards is going to be disappointed each game, and that looks likely to be Richarlison for the time being at least.
4) Youri Tielemans vs Arsenal
What looked to be the dead cert transfer of the summer hasn’t happened yet, but a Youri Tielemans show at the Emirates on Saturday could tempt Arsenal into a late move, or at least give them a glimpse of what they’re missing.
Foxes boss Brendan Rodgers has praised the Belgium international’s professionalism despite consistent rumours of interest from Arsenal and others, but reading between the lines of Tielemans’ comments in recent weeks and months, it’s pretty clear the midfielder would quite like to jump from what appears to be a sinking ship.
Faced with an inability to bring in new faces, Rodgers’ only recourse this summer has been to cling desperately to his star players in the hope they can tread water in the Premier League.
With just 12 months left on his Leicester contract, suitors feel his £32m price tag is too much and that they may as well wait until they can nab him for free next summer.
But a standout display from Tielemans on Saturday could be enough to persuade Arsenal to think again, or another Premier League club to take up the option on a safe midfield bet with a big future ahead of him and plenty of experience already.
If only there was a big team in need of such a player.
5) Jesse Lingard vs Declan Rice
18 months on from Rice playing the drums in Lingard’s band in a 2-1 West Ham win over Tottenham, the pair could easily have been lining up together against Nottingham Forest on Sunday, but are instead on opposite sides.
West Ham were understandably keen to bring Lingard back after his outstanding loan spell at the end of the 2020-21 season, during which he got nine goals and five assists in just 16 appearances. But the forward instead opted for a very lucrative one-year deal with newly-promoted Forest much to the disgust of those who can’t stand to miss out on a chance to tut and shake their heads at the antics J Lingz.
He didn’t enjoy the best of debuts as he was largely superfluous in Forest’s defeat to Newcastle and will be hoping to get off the mark sooner rather than later to ease claims he joined Steve Cooper’s side purely for a payday.
Lingard won’t have it easy on Sunday however, as West Ham look to bounce back from their opening day defeat at the hands of Manchester City and feet of Erling Haaland. If anyone will test Lingard’s resolve it’s former teammate, pal, and now opponent, Declan Rice.