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Aug 16, 2013

Fried onions and freshly cut grass

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.

Hi there, football

Back away from the keyboard for a moment, for you've likely become engulfed in a haze. Its fumes emanate from the chimneys of the 'rumour factory', which serves to fill the vacuum between the ending and restarting of domestic football with a bitter scent that sends you mad-eyed on Google, searching for something (anything!) on the Croatian left-back your club has been linked with.

You forget why you enjoy this sport. Suddenly, every whisper of speculation turns into a scream for help, because we've nothing, except the real world, to take our minds off there being no Premier League. But fear not: its comeback is within touching distance now, and the transfer sagas that beat the brain like a bat are soon to be at least partially put to one side.

So, let's all hug this one out, as in a matter of days the tribalism will thump the drum for one-eyedness. Also, while you're taking that brief step away from the keyboard, stick your nose out of the window. Breathe in the air that's made the sweeter with the mix of fried onions and freshly cut grass in order to remind the memory as to why we watch 22 men kick a leather ball around a rectangle -- football's back, baby. High five? No? Okay, good.

The Manchester United manager

Even typing 'Manchester United boss David Moyes' feels strange. Sir Alex Ferguson has become part of the muscle memory. Fortunately, Moyes is practically yer man Fergie, isn't he? Being Scottish and spending the majority of the time looking angry, he's apparently near as damn it to his predecessor as you can get, so goes the belief of some sages. Yet, while Fergie may have done A Nice Thing by handpicking his compatriot himself, he didn't half leave the ex-Everton boss with a mess in the toilet to deal with.

We're apologetically talking about Wayne Rooney's situation, of course, with the striker's future the subject of all sorts of a little thing the transfer window likes to call 'conjecture'. He's going! He's staying! He's injured! It's all been good fun dreadful. The fact of the matter is he, at the time of writing, remains a United player, despite Chelsea's Jose Mourinho fluttering his eyelashes at the striker.

The whole thing has somewhat overshadowed Moyes' preparation for his first competitive game in charge (the Community Shield doesn't count) as the champions begin the defence of their title with a trip to last season's Carling Cup winners Swansea City on Saturday evening. But deal with it he must, and it'd be of little surprise if Rooney were not in the squad, in spite of playing 67 minutes for England during midweek.

The pressure's on Moyes to handle the Rooney situation in the club's best interest as, while the forward's form last season was questionable, there are seemingly no signings forthcoming up front -- let alone in the chasm of central midfield -- and the Scot might need his former employee at his disposal, because relying on Robin van Persie so heavily for another campaign would be cavalier. One thing's clear, though: an opening-day loss for United would lead to quite the knee-jerking regarding Moyes and his ability to do the job.

£40,000,001

"We're very confident with the new deals we've got coming through," Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said in June. And maybe they might still come. But, as of August 16, they haven't. And, frankly, Arsenal are looking silly. They've only brought in their staple young Frenchman with an iffy injury record and meanwhile cleared out the deadwood without replacing it with, erm, alivewood(?). Arsene Wenger, who has seemingly become hypnotised by the set-to-fail Luis Suarez chase, now has an alarmingly thin squad at his disposal ahead of an opener against Paul Lambert's hipster Aston Villa.

Liverpool fit nicely under this sub-headline so let's segue (Brendan, you'd imagine, likes a segue) into a chat about Rodgers' boys. The Reds have dug their heels in by insisting Suarez will stay, which is fair play considering their loyalty to the player, who only signed a new contract last summer.

Regardless, the Uruguayan still has six games of his ten-match ban to serve, so the onus falls on the more likeable characters in the side for the time being, as the Reds kick off the 2013-14 season against Stoke. Take Philippe Coutinho, for example -- let's further take our thoughts off these sagas with some more magic from the baby-faced Brazilian.

Them plucky new boys

Cardiff City, Crystal Palace and Hull City: prepare to be patronised to within an inch of your lives, as you take on West Ham, Tottenham and Chelsea respectively. "Didn't they do well only losing 5-0, bless 'em." "At least they're playing the game in the right way." "Those fans will go away having had a great day out." And so on. But wait! Look at the recent seasons: six of the last nine promoted teams are plying their trade in this coming edition of the top flight, meaning the patting on the head is somewhat misplaced.

Who knows how it will pan out for the newest trio, but surely they can't be as bad as Reading and Queens Park Rangers were last season, despite Palace boss Ian Holloway doing one his kooky things by signing Marouane Chamakh from Arsenal. Cardiff, whose manager Malky Mackay is highly thought of, have made some genuinely interesting additions, while Hull's move for Danny Graham, like Palace's for Chamakh, has all the hallmarks of a total disaster or a canny gamble.

Any other business

Quite a lot to keep an eye on this weekend, in truth, so here's some quick-fire pointing at what might be other ripping yarns: Mourinho back at Chelsea and him hugging John Terry; Paolo Di Canio's men taking the division by storm before running out of steam, such is their new fitness regime; Newcastle imploding and having to play Joe Kinnear in nets; and Tottenham actually finishing above Arsenal because they've used the transfer window properly. That's enough to be getting on with. Bye!


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