The 2016-17 season has already thrown up a few surprises but once again, it’s a season which has provided challenges for the Premier League’s top managers. Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp have had to make some ruthless choices on starting positions already this season but here’s five of the biggest battles so far and who should come out on top…
Simon Mignolet & Loris Karius – Liverpool
Mignolet’s Liverpool career has been nothing short of drama, with the Belgian keeper making some pretty awful mistakes during his time. It was no surprise then that Klopp went in search of new keepers this summer and he brought in Loris Karius, formerly of Mainz, to provide competition for the Liverpool number one spot.
Karius featured heavily in Liverpool’s pre-season games as Mignolet enjoyed time off after his time with Belgium at the European Championships in the summer. However, a hand injury delayed what was expected to be Karius’ debut during Liverpool’s opening fixture against Arsenal and since then, Mignolet has done fairly well. By ‘well,’ we mean he’s yet to make a mistake but nonetheless, he’s risen to the challenge and has seemed to up his game. Karius was given the nod against Hull City though and it’s already been revealed he’s kept his place for Liverpool’s clash this weekend. Given Mignolet’s past inconsistencies, it’s likely Karius will retain his place for the remainder of the season as Klopp hopes to improve the Reds’ defence.
Marcus Rashford & Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Manchester United
Manchester United’s 18 year-old wonderkid has been sublime since making his Europa League bow and he’s not stopped scoring goals this season. Rashford’s debut U21s hat-trick for England was impressive and given it was just days before the Manchester derby, people were calling for the youngster to get a start. If he was at any other club in the Premier League, he’s probably have started every game so far but given the fact he’s number two to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it’s understandable he’s not had the minutes his goal-scoring record warrants.
It’s unlikely that will change too. Ibrahimovic has been nothing short of clinical since his move from Paris Saint Germain and Rashford won’t be knocking one of the world’s best strikers off the team sheet any time soon. There’s tough competition for a place in Jose Mourinho’s starting line-up with Mata, Rooney, Mkhitaryan, Martial, Lingard and Depay all on the books but Rashford’s name could definitely be included amongst those and he deserves to start out wide as part of the front free. That way, neither of United’s star men miss out and they’ll have goals from all areas of the pitch.
Cesc Fabregas & Nemanja Matic – Chelsea
Fabregas’ future has been in question ever since Conte took over at Stamford Bridge but the former Arsenal and Barcelona man still has a lot to offer. Chelsea were missing creativity against Liverpool and Fabregas could’ve provided that if given more time on the pitch. He had a bright game against Arsenal too but has only played a full 90 minutes once so far this season and that was against Leicester City in the EFL Cup.
N’golo Kante’s switch from the Premier League champions has been a successful one so far, and he’s definitely one of the strongest Chelsea performers. The same can’t be said about Nemanja Matic though and despite an outstanding 2014-15 season under Jose Mourinho, he has failed to show much quality for the last 18 months. Fabregas, although out of favour with Conte, clearly has more to offer in terms of attacking ability and with Kante in the side, Matic’s defensive duties aren’t as dependent upon as they have been in the past. He’s likely to make way for Fabregas should the Spaniard continue to deliver performances worthy of a starting position and it’s only a matter of time before Conte will have to give in.
John Terry, Gary Cahill & David Luiz – Chelsea
As well as making a few tough decisions in midfield, Conte has an even trickier choice when it comes to choosing his preferred centre-back pairing.
David Luiz returned to the club this summer after a shocking late addition in the transfer window but so far has struggled to show the form which made him a popular figure at the club in his first stint. Gary Cahill has been dreadful too so Terry’s return will be a welcome one. He missed the clash with Arsenal, Liverpool and Leicester City after spraining his ankle in the 2-2 draw against Swansea City but he’s likely to start when full fit. Luiz will probably line up against him but he’ll need to pick up his form too otherwise Cahill may be given another chance to improve.
Olivier Giroud & Alexis Sanchez – Arsenal
Arsenal haven’t had an emphatic start to the season but after a tremendous 3-0 victory over rivals, Chelsea last weekend, Gunners’ fans will be in high spirits. They went without their star striker, Olivier Giroud for the opening five games too but have now netted 17 goals in their last six matches in all competitions.
The French international was given an extended break following his appearance for France at the European Championships and is yet to start a game this season. He missed the Hull clash with a toe injury and featured as a substitute in Arsenal’s victory over Chelsea. Alexis Sanchez has been employed in a more central role in his absence and although he’s looks to have struggled for fluidity, the Chilean has scored five goals in the last five games.
New signing Lucas Perez opened his account with two goals against Nottingham Forest in the EFL cup but he’s unlikely to be a regular starter. Giroud will probably get the nod as the centre forward, but Wenger can count on Sanchez to score goals and should Giroud struggle to hit the ground running, Arsenal may turn to Sanchez to lead the line once more.