Five Intriguing Starting XI Questions...

One of the highlights of opening weekend is the news of the starting XIs filtering through. Where will Cesc play? Who are United's wing-backs? What about Liverpool's midfield?

Last Updated: 15/09/14 at 11:41 Post Comment

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LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA - JULY 27: Cesc Fabr

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA - JULY 27: Cesc Fabr

Perhaps this isn't something anybody should admit but the highlights of the opening Premier League weekend for me will come at around 12pm, 2.15pm and 4.45pm on Saturday, 12.45pm and 3.15pm on Sunday and 7.15pm on Monday night. For around 45 tantalising minutes before every fixture, the starting XIs are revealed.

This is not born of some ridiculous Fantasy League obsession (is there anything sadder than hearing somebody breathlessly ask for a goal's assister rather than a decription because he's their 'captain' for the day?) but a fascination with how new signings and pre-season form will have an impact on a team's personnel. As desperate as I am to watch Liverpool's wealth of new signings or see whether Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 will work, the first thrill comes with the line-ups.

This time last year we were asking which of Chelsea's surfeit of No. 10s would miss out (it was Juan Mata), whether David Moyes would rush Wayne Rooney back (he didn't) and who would deputise for Luis Suarez (it was Iago Aspas). As we approach the opening weekend, we have our own questions about the top five contenders (according to the betting odds) for the Premier League title...


CHELSEA - Where will Cesc Fabregas play?
"My opinion, and the opinion of my players, is that Fabregas is the right player to occupy that central position in midfield," said Jose Mourinho this week. Which is just about as clear as mud. Does he mean he will play the Spaniard in the No. 10 role he latterly occupied for Arsenal and then for Barcelona (when he wasn't busy being a false 9) or does he mean he will play him in the withdrawn role alongside Nemanja Matic where he has not played regularly for several years? We presume the latter - especially in a fixture like Monday's against Burnley - but the Spaniard has figured impressively in both positions in pre-season. Alongside Ramires/John Obi Mikel or in their stead? Monday brings the answer.


MAN CITY - Will Sergio Aguero be rushed back?
Perhaps the first question should be 'how fit is Sergio Aguero?' "I'm not especially concerned but I think Sergio needs a very good pre-season," said Manuel Pellegrini last week when he confirmed that the Argentine - who suffered a recurrence of his persistent hamstring problems in the World Cup - would not feature in the Community Shield. But that was a glorified friendly and this is the Premier League, in which City have the toughest start of any of their title rivals. Astonishingly, Aguero and Stevan Jovetic did not start a single game together last season, but on paper that's City's strongest pairing. While Jovetic has been merrily scoring in pre-season, his strike partner Edin Dzeko has frankly done bugger all. The alternative to persisting with Jovetic and the limited Dzeko if Aguero's not fit? Pushing Yaya Toure further up the pitch or moving David Silva central. We told you it was exciting.


MAN UNITED - Who are the wing-backs?
Possibly the most intriguing aspect of Louis van Gaal's choice of formation for Manchester United is that they really don't have the personnel. And I mean they really don't have the personnel. Never mind only having three senior (and we used that word cautiously) centre-backs; they do not have a single player who has spent any significant period of time playing as a wing-back. Against Liverpool last week Van Gaal started Ashley Young on the left and Antonio Valencia on the right and this week it was Young on the right and 'our friend' Reece James on the left. With Valencia and Luke Shaw injury doubts, are the third-favourites for the title really going to start the season with Young, James and Tyler Blackett in their defence? We know Van Gaal is good but...


ARSENAL - Will Jack Wilshere make way?
In The Sun on Monday, Mark Irwin wrote mournfully of the way that Jack Wilshere had been shunted all over the pitch last season after the arrival of Mesut Ozil - with the implication that Wilshere's World Cup was ruined by the arrival of the German. There was little mention of Wilshere's injuries playing rather a large part in his stop-start season, but it's fair to say that a much fitter and more dynamic midfielder was on show in Sunday's Community Shield. And he played in Ozil's No. 10 role. There's some doubt whether the German will be fit enough to face Crystal Palace this Saturday but it will be fascinating to see how long Wenger gives Wilshere to impress there. Tony Adams said recently that the Englishman should have been offended by Arsenal's signing of Ozil; he should certainly be offended if he's shunted out/wide at the first opportunity.


LIVERPOOL - Can he fix it?
There was much that was impressive about Liverpool's 4-0 win over Borussia Dormund on Sunday (Dejan Lovren's leadership, Raheem Sterling's verve) but one player not on such a list is midfielder Emre Can, who was withdrawn after 45 pretty underwhelming minutes at Anfield. With the rest of the team pretty much picking itself, the question mark remains about Steven Gerrard's partner in the centre of midfield. Does Brendan Rodgers stick with the under-cooked Can, does he parachute in Lucas or Joe Allen in a straight swap, or does he bring Jordan Henderson back into the middle and play two out-and-out wingers with Sterling on one flank and Lazar Markovic or even Jordan Ibe on the other? He might fancy the latter against a new-build Southampton side.

Sarah Winterburn

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