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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 19 September, 2019

Friday night football and this weekend's Premier League talking points

Last season’s champions and runners-up meet on Saturday evening, while old Italian rivals clash in their new role.

Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley are joined by Ryan Giggs, Jamie Carragher, Thierry Henry and Jamie Redknapp in tonight's Friday Night Football on Sky Sports.
Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley are joined by Ryan Giggs, Jamie Carragher, Thierry Henry and Jamie Redknapp in tonight's Friday Night Football on Sky Sports.
Image: Twitter/SkySportsFootball

1. Pogba’s second coming

TONIGHT SEES THE first of ten Friday night fixtures played in England’s top flight this season as Manchester United host Southampton at Old Trafford.

Sky Sports have promised a light-hearted approach to the coverage around matches in the new slot with Jeff Stelling joined by fellow Countdown presenter Rachel Riley.

Initial signs were less than encouraging, however, as the pre-match build-up had an annoyingly Soccer AM-esque feel to it with Chris Kamara completely over-the-top in his role.

It’s a particularly significant night for another reason as the world’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba, made his first appearance for the club since rejoining from Juventus. Despite an atrocious first touch, the Frenchman grew into the game as it went on.

How Jose Mourinho accommodates him in the starting XI this season will be interesting considering the options he has in that area of the park.

2. Can Pep keep up the 100% record at the Britannia?

Following on from the 2-1 victory over Sunderland and their 5-0 Champions League play-off drubbing of Steau Bucharest in midweek, Manchester City are on the road for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.

They needed a late Paddy McNair own-goal to clinch the three points a week ago, but City’s new boss Pep Guardiola was much happier with their performance in Romania on Wednesday night.

Willy Caballero is set to continue between the sticks as Guardiola admitted in his pre-match press conference that Joe Hart would be free to leave if he isn’t happy as second choice.

Stoke drew their opening game of the campaign 1-1 with newly-promoted Middlesbrough and Mark Hughes could be without the man who scored a superb free-kick that day as Xherdan Shaqiri is an injury doubt.

3. One Belgian in, another out

Christian Benteke ill-fated time at Liverpool has effectively come to an end as he underwent at medical Crystal Palace today ahead of a £27 million (€31m) move.

The Reds will not miss the 25-year-old striker, who never really hit it off after arriving from Aston Villa last summer, as Jurgen Klopp’s men weren’t short of goalscorers in last Sunday’s 4-3 thriller away to Arsenal.

Coutinho reminded fans of just how big an asset he can be, while the performance of recent signing Sadio Mane suggests the Senegalese winger could be a big player for them this term — although he picked up a shoulder problem in training on Wednesday so could miss Saturday’s game.

Burnley announced a new record transfer and a significant coup during the week as Belgian international Steven Defour, capped 46 times at international level, comes in for £7.5m (€8.6m) from Anderlecht.

The Clarets are looking to get their first point on the board after going down 1-0 to Swansea.

4. A tale of two Italian managers

Chelsea v West Ham United - Premier League - Stamford Bridge Antonio Conte and Diego Costa after their win over West Ham. Source: EMPICS Sport

Both Chelsea and Watford have appointment men who made their names in Serie A as managers in the close season.

A three-time title winner with Juventus, Blues boss Antonio Conte will have crossed paths on numerous occasions with former Napoli, Inter Milan and Sampdoria chief Walter Mazzarri down through the years.

In fact, the pair have a long-standing feud going back to 2011 as Conte was reportedly angry that Mazzarri had suggested he copied his 3-5-2 formation. That should add a little spice to Saturday’s encounter at Vicerage Road, where Chelsea will aim to make it two wins from two after edging out West Ham with a late Diego Costa strike.

5. Mahrez faces Gunners after deciding to stay put

Arsenal were heavily-linked with last season’s PFA Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez, in recent months, but the current Premier League champions have been boosted by news that he has signed a new four-year deal.

Holding onto him and top scorer Jamie Vardy has been excellent business by the Foxes after losing N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, and they will need to get the Alergian international refocused now as his head was inevitably turned.

Claudio Ranieri’s men got their title defence off to the worst start — losing 2-1 to relegation favourites.

Opposite number Arsene Wenger was on the receiving end of some stick as the Gunners, runners-up to Leicester in 2015/16, conceded four goals to Liverpool. He admitted he may have to take a gamble and play Laurent Koscielny in a bit to shore up his leaky defence.

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Ben Blake

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