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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

5 key battles in 2022/23 Premier League Gameweek 8

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The Premier League returns on Friday night after pausing to remember the late Queen Elizabeth II, with seven of the 10 scheduled games going ahead as planned.


For some it’s been an opportunity to get up to speed in training, while for others it’s been business as usual in European competition. There’s a number of exciting matches penned in for the weekend, despite the postponement of Chelsea vs Liverpool and Manchester United vs Brentford, with a number of key personnel battles likely to play a huge role in which way the result will go.

Here’s 90min’s top five scraps to watch out for.

1) Diego Costa v John Stones

Diego Costa and John Stones have locked horns before

Diego Costa and John Stones have locked horns before / Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

It’s perhaps overly optimistic to think Diego Costa will play any part for Wolves against Manchester City on Saturday. The wolf-taming purveyor of the dark arts hasn’t played a competitive game for nine months, but it’s hard to contain the excitement of seeing his Premier League return.

Few things unite football fans, but the brutish delights of the former Chelsea striker have won the hearts and souls of the vast majority of them. And few of those could think of a better target for Costa’s first victim than John Stones.

Calm in possession, comfortable in a team with a lot of it, Stones is the sort of defender with a long way to fall from a pedestal. The sort of guy, you would think, Costa would very much enjoy knocking down a peg or two.

2) Steve Cooper v Marco Silva

Things are going well for Marco Silva and Fulham thus far

Things are going well for Marco Silva and Fulham thus far / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

If most were to predict at the start of the season which of the newly promoted pair would be in the top half of the table after six games and which would be in the relegation zone, they would have had Nottingham Forest and Fulham the other way around.

Having spent close to £150m on 21 new signings, Forest have picked up just four points, while Fulham, with just a third of their opponent’s outlay this summer, have eight.

As Steve Cooper struggles to piece together a first team from multiple disparate parts, Marco Silva has relied on Aleksandr Mitrovic, his Championship tour de force, who has proved his Premier League doubters wrong with six goals in as many games.

There will likely come a point when Cooper finds a team that clicks – he’s a very good manager – but that may yet be a way off and Silva’s striker is the perfect cat to put among already unsettled pigeons.

3) Richarlison v Danny Ward

Richarlison will look to exploit Leicester's fragile confidence

Richarlison will look to exploit Leicester’s fragile confidence / MB Media/GettyImages

Brendan Rodgers insisted at the start of the season that he wasn’t concerned by Kasper Schmeichel’s departure as Danny Ward was a No.1 goalkeeper. But the Leicester star’s performances since suggest either Rodgers must question his own judgement, or we must question the manager’s candour.

Ward has conceded the most goals in the Premier League (16) along with Bournemouth’s Mark Travers, who is the only man to have a worse save percentage (40.7) than Ward (42.3).

And although stats over a relatively small number of games can be misleading, Ward’s display in the 5-2 defeat to Brighton would lead few to subjectively disagree with the objective analysis. He makes the goal look very big in most situations.

He’s also very shaky under a cross, which will delight Antonio Conte, who loves balls into the box from his wing-backs, and Richarlison, who loves throwing his bonce at them.

4) Aaron Hickey v Gabriel Martinelli

Gabriel Martinelli has started the season well for Arsenal

Gabriel Martinelli has started the season well for Arsenal / David Rogers/GettyImages

Signed for £15m from Bologna in the summer, Aaron Hickey has looked at ease against two of the most in-form wingers in the Premier League in Brentford’s last two games.

Both Jack Harrison and Wilfried Zaha were kept relatively quiet by the 20-year-old, who is set for yet another test against one of the more elusive forwards in the the English top flight on Sunday.

Gabriel Martinelli’s great strength, beyond his obvious skill with the ball at his feet, is not knowing what he’s going to do. He’s as comfortable taking a defender like Hickey to the byline as he is cutting inside and getting a shot off.

The Brazilian has also become key to Arsenal winning the ball high up the pitch, with his boundless energy and desire. Keep him tethered and Brentford have a great chance, but too much slack could see Martinelli and Arsenal run riot.

5) Neal Maupay v Thilo Kehrer

Neal Maupay is looking to get off the mark for Everton

Neal Maupay is looking to get off the mark for Everton / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/GettyImages

Signing a striker from Brighton to score goals, particularly given the consistent calls for Brighton to sign a goalscorer when that striker was still there, was an interesting ploy from Frank Lampard and Everton.

And Maupay’s debut against Liverpool didn’t suggest he had picked up any greater a propensity to find the back of the next simply by swapping one blue shirt for another. As he did at Brighton, he looked like a very talented footballer who will sometimes score goals, but miss plenty of chances in the process.

He would be wise to roam around West Ham newboy Thilo Kehrer on Sunday, who despite looking generally solid after his £11m arrival from Paris Saint-Germain, does have a conceded penalty and own goal on his Premier League record after just a handful of outings.

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