Liverpool did not exactly take long to underline their Premier League title credentials for 2019-20.

Kicking off the season at Anfield on Friday, Jurgen Klopp's side finished the first half with a 4-0 lead over Norwich City, playing their first game back in the top flight since winning last season's Championship.

An own goal from Grant Hanley, a Mohamed Salah strike and a header apiece from Virgil van Dijk and Divock Origi put the European champions in a commanding position inside the opening 45 minutes of a game they won 4-1.

Remarkably, Norwich had more shots in the first half than the Reds (seven, compared to six) and could easily have kept the scores closer had Marco Stiepermann been more clinical.

As it was, Liverpool finished the first half of a Premier League match having scored four goals for the sixth time in their history. Here's how they managed it before...

02/05/98: Liverpool 5-0 West Ham

This was a notable match largely because it involved Jason McAteer scoring not once, but twice, and both in the first half.

The Reds, managed then by Roy Evans, got off and running when 'boy wonder' Michael Owen struck after only four minutes.

McAteer, not exactly a player renowned for his goalscoring prowess, had the ball in the net twice in the space of four minutes before Oyvind Leonhardsen made it 4-0 on the stroke of half-time. Paul Ince added the fifth after the break.

Liverpool would end the season in third, 13 points behind champions Arsenal - a team they beat 4-0 only four days after defeating the Hammers.

 

30/08/98: Newcastle United 1-4 Liverpool

Another first-half thrashing in 1998, and another display of imperious finishing from Michael Owen.

The teenager, fresh from his sparkling displays at the World Cup in France, hit a hat-trick within the first 32 minutes at St. James' Park and celebrated by rubbing his hands together with glee, probably at the thought of playing another 45 minutes against that defence.

Newcastle did get a goal back through Stephane Guivarc'h, but Patrik Berger made sure the second half was largely a formality.

 

02/12/06: Wigan Athletic 0-4 Liverpool


Speaking of second-half formalities, this meeting at the DW Stadium might as well have been called off once the half-time whistle sounded.

Rafael Benitez's visitors made light work of Wigan, thanks largely to a Craig Bellamy double inside the first 26 minutes.

Bellamy also played a part in the third, teeing up Dirk Kuyt to score after a good team move that started with goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

A miserable half ended shortly after Lee McCulloch deflected Steven Gerrard's cross into his own net.

 

08/02/2014: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

Before 2018-19, the last time Liverpool got so close to a title win only to fall agonisingly short was in 2013-14, when Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez made them the most exciting team in the division.

This first half against Arsenal laid bare both the Reds' attacking brilliance and the brittleness of Arsene Wenger's side - and showed what a goal threat Martin Skrtel could be.

The centre-back converted two Steven Gerrard deliveries to put Liverpool 2-0 up after 10 minutes, and by the time Sterling and Sturridge made it 4-0 with only 20 minutes gone, few could quite believe what they were seeing.

Sterling hit another in the second half before Mikel Arteta got a consolation from the penalty spot, as Arsenal tried to forget about a scoreline that surely would not be repeated...

 

29/12/2018: Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

Anything Brendan Rodgers could do, Jurgen Klopp could do... well, just as well, in this case.

Liverpool gave themselves a nine-point lead at the top of the table with another Gunners demolition job of the kind that would have made a fair few New Year's Eve parties on Merseyside a whole lot of fun.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles actually put Arsenal ahead after 11 minutes, but Roberto Firmino scored twice in barely 120 seconds, Sadio Mane buried from Andrew Robertson's cross and Mohamed Salah netted a penalty in first-half stoppage time.

Firmino completed his hat-trick from the spot after the interval as Liverpool laid down a marker to their title challengers, although they would, of course, lose out in the end to Manchester City.

Harry Maguire could debut for Manchester United when Chelsea visit Old Trafford in a blockbuster conclusion to the first weekend of the 2019-20 Premier League season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has two new defenders at his disposal and will strongly consider utilising both against a team that scored often in pre-season.

Channelling that freewheeling energy into a competitive environment is the challenge for Chelsea, who have become unshackled from Maurizio Sarri's strict playing style.

In his place is Frank Lampard, once a player that relished big matches and now a head coach seeking to re-energise the club at which he enjoyed his greatest successes.

 

BEGINNER'S LUCK ON LAMPARD'S SIDE?

United and Chelsea have not faced each other on the opening weekend of the season since 2004, when Jose Mourinho began his Premier League career with a 1-0 victory courtesy of an Eidur Gudjohnsen goal.

Lampard played in that match and will hope to emulate Mourinho's winning start, both at the top level of English football and at Old Trafford.

The former Red Devils boss is one of six men to have guided Chelsea to an away victory over United in the Premier League.

Five of them - including Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez - did so at the first attempt, and pre-season results suggest Lampard has constructed a team talented enough to trouble Solskjaer's side.

The Europa League winners scored 13 times over the course of their final four friendlies, notching twice against Barcelona.

An in-form United boast their own threats going forward with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial seemingly enjoying a quick, counter-attacking style made possible by Romelu Lukaku's move to Inter.

How, though, will the defences the hold up? Two individuals with plenty to prove could have a major say.

HEAD TO HEAD: HARRY MAGUIRE V KURT ZOUMA

Ed Woodward, United's executive vice-chairman, reportedly parted with £80million to grant Solskjaer's wish for a reliable, ball-playing centre-back capable of slotting straight into the starting XI.

Chelsea, in contrast, will invest renewed faith in Kurt Zouma, their hands partially tied by a transfer embargo and the sale of David Luiz to Arsenal.

France international Zouma made positive strides on loan at Everton last season, tallying 17 more interceptions than Maguire despite playing only one extra Premier League match.

Maguire's acclaimed ability on the ball did shine through in his final campaign at Leicester City, the 26-year-old attempting 21 dribbles to Zouma's nine and completing 16, while registering a passing accuracy of 85.6 per cent.

United should also benefit from a new sense of security when defending crosses: Maguire won 78.1 per cent of his aerial duels last term, far superior to Zouma's 65.3 per cent.

FORM GUIDE

United built confidence ahead of the new season by winning all six of their warm-up games.

Solskjaer needs that kind of form if those who doubt the decision to hand him a full-time deal are to be silenced.

Critics emerged after results turned sour following the Norwegian's successful spell as interim manager, beyond which he won just two of 10 matches.

Chelsea ended the season on a high, thrashing Arsenal in the Europa League final, but seemed unperturbed when Sarri left for Serie A champions Juventus.

Lampard came in with minimal managerial experience on his side but the pre-season signs have been generally positive.

The Stamford Bridge favourite secured four wins from seven and extracted promising performances from Ross Barkley, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic, among others.

HISTORY SAYS...

Bobby Charlton scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory for United the last time they hosted Chelsea on the opening day of the season, in 1958.

Premier League encounters have proved more competitive.

United, the 13-time champions, have lost more games (18) and conceded more goals (71) against Chelsea than any other team in the competition, despite going undefeated in their past six meetings at Old Trafford.

Of greater concern for the Blues is that their opponents are unbeaten in 25 of their past 26 matches played at home on the opening weekend of a top-flight campaign.

Three months on from a gripping and relentless title race reaching its conclusion, the Premier League is back.

Manchester City are aiming to become the first English team since Manchester United in 2008-09 to win three consecutive top-flight crowns, although Liverpool enter the campaign buoyed by their status as European champions.

Tottenham have finally bolstered Mauricio Pochettino's imperious management by making some big moves in the transfer market, while Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea find themselves in various stages of transition and possibly vulnerable to the top-six ambitions of Leicester City, Wolves and Everton.

Ahead of the big kick-off, nine Omnisport journalists considered the above and predicted their Premier League top six for 2019-20. Here's how our scores averaged out.

1st – Manchester City

A near unanimous choice as champions, eight of our panel backed Pep Guardiola's men to make it three in a row on the back of 100- and 98-point hauls in the past two campaigns.

STRENGTHS: Even allowing for Leroy Sane's knee injury and potential departure, City boast a stacked attack where Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez will be bolstered by triumphant international outings. Their midfield dominance will only be enhanced by a fit-again Kevin De Bruyne and record signing Rodri.

WEAKNESSES: Vincent Kompany's departure leaves Guardiola a senior centre-back light and without one of the most inspirational leaders the Premier League has seen. Benjamin Mendy's fitness woes and questions over Oleksandr Zinchenko and Angelino's capacity to produce elite performances over the course of a season mean left-back is as close as City come to a problem position.

2nd – Liverpool

Despite their unforgettable heroics in Europe, seven of our writers believe Jurgen Klopp's men will be the bridesmaids once more.

STRENGTHS: The best defence in the league, including a pair of full-backs as good as any operating in tandem in world football. Similarly, Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane remain a fearsome attacking proposition for all opponents.

WEAKNESSES: There is onus on Naby Keita to improve and Jordan Henderson to excel in his advanced role over a prolonged period as midfield creativity is often lacking. The drop-off between the first-choice front three and the back-up underlines a relative lack of depth that a quiet transfer window did not address.

3rd – Tottenham

Outside of the top two, Spurs were the only other unanimous pick to finish in the top six.

STRENGTHS: Tanguy Ndombele was a headline-grabbing addition and, although Pochettino would undoubtedly have preferred an earlier arrival, Giovani Lo Celso should ease the creative burden placed on Christian Eriksen and thrive behind Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.

WEAKNESSES: An ageing defence could find itself overworked in protecting the talented but error-prone Hugo Lloris. Having been a position of strength, Kieran Trippier's departure leaves Spurs looking slightly flimsy at full-back.

4th – Manchester United

The mixed nature of United's preparations – from strong friendly showings to a now typically disjointed effort in the transfer market – resulted in the widest range of predicted placings, with two of our panel placing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men outside the top six.

STRENGTHS: Pace and flair in attack, enhanced by the raw but exciting Daniel James. United paid top dollar for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire but the pair should add steel to what had become a troublingly leaky defence. On ability alone, Paul Pogba remains in this column.

WEAKNESSES: Romelu Lukaku's departure felt increasingly necessary but United now lack a proven, consistent goalscorer. Despite his status as a club legend, Solskjaer's lofty position in the sack race odds tells you all you need to know about a manager whose credentials – or lack thereof – will be under the microscope at the first sign of trouble.

5th – Arsenal

Despite two votes going in favour of the Gunners ending their Champions League absence this time around, the consensus was Unai Emery's team will fall short despite providing their fair share of entertainment.

STRENGTHS: Adding record signing Nicolas Pepe to an attack featuring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette means the Gunners can do serious damage to any opponent and could become a must-watch team. Dani Ceballos excelled as Spain claimed glory at the European Under-21 Championship and could prove to be one of the most shrewd acquisitions of the transfer window.

WEAKNESSES: The other element in Arsenal's appeal to neutrals is a defence that might never veer too far away from shambles. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney were much-needed arrivals on deadline day but a new-look backline has plenty to prove.

6th - Chelsea

Leicester's top-six credentials were given strong consideration but Chelsea just edged out the Foxes, despite Frank Lampard's lack of top-flight experience and having their hands tied in the transfer market.

STRENGTHS: Lampard's affinity with the supporters means last season's poisonous negativity surrounding Maurizio Sarri's reign should be a thing of the past. The likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and injured duo Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are expected to thrive as Lampard gives chances to graduates from the best youth system in the country.

WEAKNESSES: Eden Hazard's combined goals (16) and assists (15) last season accounted for almost half of Chelsea's Premier League goals. Making up for that shortfall will be nigh on impossible. Sarri was not flavour of the month in west London but the fact is a coach poached by Serie A heavyweights Juventus has been replaced by a man with one year of senior managerial experience.

Signings have been made and new managers are now in charge at some clubs, but how much will actually change in the Premier League this season?

The two teams who finished at the top seem nigh-on impossible to shift, at least according to the statistical evidence compiled after an incredible 2018-19 title race.

Champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool lost five games between them as they battled for the trophy until the final day, leaving others trailing well behind.

Will the gap widen with Eden Hazard torn from Chelsea, or can Manchester United close in after laying stronger defensive foundations?

We assess those questions and more in the Opta data preview for 2019-20.

 

City and Liverpool set to dominate again

It will take something bordering on sorcery to prevent City and Liverpool from retaining their places in the top two.

The masterminds behind their success, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, are the only current Premier League bosses to gain more than two points per game on average (2.42 for the former, 2.06 for the latter).

Klopp's competitive win percentage with Liverpool (57.2) even surpasses his level while in charge at Borussia Dortmund (56.4).

Moving to England has not been quite so successful in terms of victories for Guardiola, who won 75.2 per cent of matches during his time at Bayern Munich. However, his City win rate (73 per cent) still exceeds what he achieved with Barcelona (72.5 per cent).

Consider also that both sides start games incredibly well - Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah opened the scoring a combined 18 times last term, while Sergio Aguero did so on eight occasions - and it becomes tough to see who else is going to keep pace with them.

Chelsea face huge challenge to fill Hazard void

The acquisition of winger Christian Pulisic was a canny bit of planning on Chelsea's part, but there is simply no easy way to replace someone like Hazard.

Now at Real Madrid, the Belgium star left a lasting impression in his final season at Stamford Bridge, leading the Premier League for assists (15) and goal involvements (31) and finished second for chances created (98 - behind only James Maddison's tally of 100 for Leicester City). No other Chelsea player cracked the top 20 in any of those categories.

Hazard's 16 league goals accounted for more than a quarter of the Blues' total as a team and were directly worth 13 points, a figure only bettered by the 19 points which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang earned for Arsenal.

Frank Lampard has no choice but to create a better balance of responsibility among the attackers he has in his squad at Stamford Bridge.

Can Maguire and Wan-Bissaka fix United's porous defence?

How do you solve a problem like owning the leakiest defence among the teams who finished in the top nine of the Premier League? Throw money at it!

Well that is how Manchester United have approached the issue after splashing out over £100million in the transfer window.

Their spending is understandable after conceding 54 goals in 2018-19, a record for the club in the Premier League and the most they have shipped in a league campaign since 1978-79 (63).

First to arrive was right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who ranked second in the division for interceptions (84) and third in tackles (129) at Crystal Palace last term.

Then followed Harry Maguire, who became the world's most expensive defender when joining from Leicester City. The England international will go some distance to justifying that fee if United are to emulate the Foxes, who dropped only three points from winning positions.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his own part to play; United led the way in terms of starting XI changes last season (131), which feels like a recipe for disaster.

We go again.

The phrase has become an omnipresent, short-hand rallying call in modern football, which is somewhat surprising given what followed its most famous use.

Steven Gerrard insisted it was what he and his Liverpool team-mates must do just that after a rousing 3-2 victory over Manchester City at Anfield in April 2014. A first Premier League title in 24 years was within reach.

"This does not slip!" Gerrard hollered. Only, of course, he did and City won the title.

Five years on, Liverpool again found City in their way. There were no slips during the run-in this time, nor much suggestion of a misplaced step. In the final reckoning, 98 points pipped 97. The third-highest points total in Premier League history was only good enough for second place.

The difference between Jurgen Klopp's European champions and Brendan Rodgers' bolters from the pack is obviously vast, in terms of elite quality and consistency.

Lifting the Champions League was the validation of a brilliant team, who should enter their latest shot at City – the gulf between the top two and the rest of the Premier League's "big six" feels pronounced heading into 2019-20 – with renewed confidence.

Yet, it could pay to be wary of what has happened the previous two times Liverpool went close.

The Benitez and Rodgers hangovers

After 86 points were not enough for Rafael Benitez to unseat Manchester United in 2008-09, they dropped to seventh the following season, mustering 63 points. Sixth place and 62 points were the return in 2014-15 as Rodgers' dream crumbled.

Such a collapse under Klopp feels completely unforeseeable. But it is worth considering how fuelling the quest for top-flight title number 19 with an intense emotional desire has burnt out abruptly at Anfield before.

Klopp has shrewdly harnessed and stoked this sense of common purpose. On nights such as last season's phenomenal Champions League comeback over Barcelona, it is hard to dismiss the value of it.

After a worryingly underwhelming pre-season, the Reds rediscovered some of that devilment when they forced City to hang on before winning last Sunday's Community Shield on penalties.

From Friday's big kick-off at home to Norwich City onwards, Liverpool will rely on their manager's status as one of the most gifted and intuitive coaches of his generation to go again this time. After the match at Wembley, Andy Robertson talked up the benefits of keeping an excellent squad together – the expected positive line given a lack of major reinforcements.

Klopp's team will still develop and evolve. Rhian Brewster will operate as a back-up forward and aim to make the drop-off from Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane to their back-up less pronounced.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has emerged from the other side of an injury nightmare, while Naby Keita will be more attuned to his boss' demands and eying a big season to justify his price tag.

Over at the Etihad Stadium, Vincent Kompany has not been replaced and Leroy Sane could still leave. Nevertheless, Rodri and Joao Cancelo appear made to measure for a man who, despite often coming up short in their head-to-head battles, remains Klopp's biggest problem.

"They have convinced me, I have no doubts"

Guardiola enters his fourth season in charge of a club for the second time. The contrast between the fraught figure who left Barcelona for a year on sabbatical and the cargo-trouser sporting version of today could not be more marked.

"I am a little bit different [compared to] my third or fourth season in Barcelona. Here I am more calm. I trust more in myself and my players," he said before the Community Shield.

"That was my home town, the feeling was more intense. Here we are isolated, we work so comfortably and that is why it is nice."

Even if his Wembley touchline gesticulations demonstrated this will be a relative calm, Guardiola also pledged to be "nicer" to his players this term.

"They have convinced me, I have no doubts," he explained. "At the end of [2017-18] I did not know how we would handle our success and it was incredible. The target is to keep improving."

That relentless quest for improvement is something Klopp knows all too well from their time together in the Bundesliga. Trying to match it is exhausting.

In 2013-14, his Dortmund beat Guardiola's Bayern Munich in the DFL-Supercup and were only four points in arrears before a 3-0 Klassiker defeat at Signal Iduna Park in November.

Bayern cantered to the title and Dortmund's distant second fell away to seventh in 2014-15, itself an improvement from a mid-season flirt with relegation.

The dynamic of Bayern pilfering Dortmund's best players is not one present in City and Liverpool's mounting rivalry, but unless Klopp can shake Guardiola from his serenity while keeping the fire burning, the result is likely to be the same.

On the other hand, all it takes is a slip. We go again.

The new Ligue 1 season kicks off on Friday, with Monaco taking on Lyon in the opening match.

The transfer window in France does not shut until September 2, but it appears most teams in France's top flight have attempted to get their business done in time for the start of the new campaign.

Paris Saint-Germain cruised to the league title last season, though with uncertainty over Neymar's future will Thomas Tuchel's side find things so easy this season?

We look at the five best signings by Ligue 1 clubs heading into 2019-20.

5. Joachim Andersen (Lyon)

Danish youngster Andersen enjoyed a breakthrough season in Serie A last term, impressing at the heart of Sampdoria's defence.

The 23-year-old's performances drew interest from big clubs across the continent and it was Lyon who secured his signature, agreeing a deal with Sampdoria that could reach €30million.

A dominant centre-back, Andersen - who scored an own goal in the 3-1 friendly loss against Liverpool on July 31 - has all the attributes to be a leader for Lyon, who have undergone something of a rebuild after the departures of Nabil Fekir and Tanguy Ndombele to Real Betis and Tottenham respectively.

4. Predrag Rajkovic (Reims)

Highly rated Serbian goalkeeper Rajkovic agreed a four-year contract with Reims, having signed from Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

The deal is something of a coup for Reims, who reportedly snapped the 23-year-old up for just €3m amid reported interest from Rennes, Sevilla and Monaco.

Rajkovic won the European Under-19 Championship with Serbia in 2013 and the U20 World Cup two years later, while at club level he has lifted league titles in his homeland and Israel.

3. Idrissa Gueye (PSG)

Big-money, big-name signings are usually on the menu for PSG, but the reported €32m (£29m) signing of defensive midfielder Gueye from Everton could present an exceptional piece of business.

Though still a sizeable sum for a 29-year-old, Gueye should more than prove his worth in a side that were too often exposed defensively last term, especially in the Champions League.

PSG failed with a bid for Gueye in January, but the Senegal international did not let his form drop and played a crucial role in Everton's fine end to the Premier League campaign. With him anchoring the midfield, it should provide Thomas Tuchel's attackers full licence to do what they do best.

2. Timothy Weah (Lille)

Son of Ballon d'Or winner and president of Liberia George, Weah had been at PSG since 2014. The 19-year-old forward left to join Celtic on loan for the back half of last season.

Weah scored three goals in Scotland's top flight and has now moved away from the Parc des Princes on a permanent basis.

With Rafael Leao and main man Nicolas Pepe having left, Lille are in need of a new goalscorer and the United States international - who has been in the shadow of Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe - could well be the one to provide that firepower this season.

1. Pablo Sarabia (PSG)

If Gueye provides PSG with some much-needed solidity in midfield, then Sarabia will add even more sparkle to Tuchel's sensational front line.

Signed for a reported €20m, Sarabia could prove a bargain. The Spaniard scored 22 goals across all competitions last season and accumulated 13 LaLiga assists – as many as Lionel Messi.

With Angel Di Maria the wrong side of 30 and Neymar's future still up in the air, Sarabia could emerge as a superstar this campaign.

The 27-year-old started off on the right foot by setting up Mbappe for a goal in the Trophee des Champions triumph over Rennes.

Romelu Lukaku's move to Inter ended weeks of speculation over the striker's future to an end and brought the curtain down on a Premier League goal-scoring masterclass.

After failing to break through at Stamford Bridge, a loan move to West Brom in 2012-13 gave Lukaku the chance to prove himself.

He also impressed in a temporary stint at Everton too, joining them permanently in July 2014. The Belgium international reached double figures for league goals in each of his four seasons at Goodison Park.

The same can be said for his two years at Manchester United, yet the frontman never quite hit the expected heights. Still, as the Opta numbers show, he was productive during his time in England.

100 - Romelu Lukaku was the fifth-youngest player to reach a century of goals in the Premier League, achieving the feat when aged 24 years and 322 days.

42 - Lukaku tallied 42 goals for Manchester United in 96 appearances. The next player on the list is Marcus Rashford, who managed 26 over the past two seasons.

27 - The 2017-18 season was the 26-year-old's best in English football, as he netted 27 goals in all competitions for the Red Devils.

25 - The most fruitful Premier League campaign of Lukaku's career came in 2016-17, when he scored 25 for Everton - the most in a single season by a Toffees player since Gary Lineker hit 30 in 1985-86.

10 - In the last seven top-flight seasons, Lukaku and Sergio Aguero are the only players to have scored at least 10 goals in each campaign.

4 - Ruud van Nistelrooy (36 in 2001-02), Robin van Persie (30 in 2012-13), Dwight Yorke (29 in 1998-99) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (28 in 2016-17) are the only United players to have scored more in all competitions in their debut seasons than the Belgian (27 in 2017-18).

3 - Aguero (162) and Harry Kane (125) are the only other players to have scored more than 100 Premier League goals since Lukaku made his first appearance in the competition.

1 - Lukaku scored 68 Premier League goals at Everton and remains the club's top scorer in the competition, ahead of Duncan Ferguson (60), Tim Cahill (56), Kevin Campbell (45) and Leon Osman (44).

Preseason is officially here with 11 games kicking off on Thursday, and another five taking place across Friday and Saturday.

With that comes a variety of storylines which we are keeping track of as the regular season approaches.

From injury updates to the latest trade news, we take a look at what is happening around the league in this edition of NFL news and notes. 

 

Three things that matter

49ers rookie Nick Bosa will sit preseason with ankle injury

San Francisco 49ers' Nick Bosa left Wednesday's practice early with an injury, and general manager John Lynch confirmed on Thursday that the defensive end has a "significant" ankle sprain and will be forced to miss the preseason.

There is still hope he will be ready for the regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 8, but the 49ers are going to be "very prudent" about his return. 

While an ankle sprain may not seem like a huge deal, Bosa has a long history of injuries. He was sidelined for most of last season with a core muscle injury while playing for Ohio State, and missed much of the 49ers' off-season programme due to a hamstring issue. 

"We don't feel he is injury prone," Lynch told KNBR. "Yesterday, he had a big human being fall on his legs while he was engaged with someone else. So, some of those things, that's football, you can't prevent that."

Browns trade running back Duke Johnson to Texans

The Cleveland Browns are still making changes to their offense, and have sent disgruntled running back Duke Johnson to the Houston Texans in exchange for a draft pick.

The trade comes just slightly more than two weeks after Browns coach Freddie Kitchens stated "we're not giving away good players'' right before the team's training camp started.

There has been speculation around Johnson's future for the majority of the offseason. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was asked about Johnson's status in June, and said: "He's going to handle his stuff how he wants, but you're either on this train or you're not, it's moving. You can get out of the way or you can join us."

Now, Johnson is headed to a franchise that is still figuring out their backfield situation after waiving former first-round pick D'Onta Foreman earlier this week. 

Chiefs reveal QB plan for preseason opener

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid revealed his plan for utilising his quarterbacks for Saturday's preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He intends to start quarterback Patrick Mahomes and keep him in for the first quarter.

Reid has been known to play his starting quarterbacks during the preseason in the past, but the move is a bit unusual because coaches generally prefer to sit their quarterbacks to avoid risking injury. 

Back-up Chad Henne is expected to play during the second quarter, while Chase Litton will take over in the third and rookie Kyle Shurmur will play in the fourth, according to CBS Sports.

Two things that don't matter

Kirk Cousins troubled by rookie center's ... sweaty butt?

Mark this one as one of the most unusual stories to come out of training camp: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is bothered by first-round draft pick Garrett Bradbury's sweaty butt. Cousins said he is concerned Bradbury's sweat will affect his grip on the ball.

"He promises that it's not a problem in games, and it remains to be seen because his shorts today were soaked," Cousins said, via the Star Tribune. "Apparently when they keep those domes air-conditioned and you get a break on the bench and you sit with the cooling fans, I'm hoping that really helps."

The first big test will come when the Vikings open their preseason against the New Orleans Saints.

"A big thing I'm going to take away from Friday night, is how tough was it to grip the ball after he snaps it to me. If it's tough we might be in pistol and shotgun [formations] all year," Cousins said. 

Cowboys' Quinn facing two-game suspension

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Robert Quinn is facing a two-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. He is eligible to return on September 15 after the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins in week two.

Normally this would be a significant loss for the Cowboys, who are struggling with depth at the position, but Quinn broke his hand in practice earlier this week. His availability for the first couple of games of the regular season were already in question. 

One video you have to see

Saquon Barkley is working on his throwing game – kind of. The New York Giants running back attempted to throw a "no-look" pass, similar to one Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown, but it did not go exactly as planned.

Thursday tweet of the day

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is putting in some work this offseason. He caught 370 balls from a football passing machine after practice.

The transfer window is now closed for Premier League clubs.

It was a contrasting deadline day for the 'big six', with some teams completing multiple deals and others being completely inactive.

We look back at the close season as a whole and assess who had the best window.


6. Liverpool

An uneventful deadline day rounded off a quiet window for the Champions League winners. Goalkeeper Adrian came in to replace Simon Mignolet and teenagers Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliott were Liverpool's only other additions. Crucially, though, they retained all their major assets. Still, will they come to regret passing up on the chance to strengthen as they bid to keep pace with champions Manchester City?

5. Manchester United 

While offloading the unsettled Romelu Lukaku to Inter for £73million was probably the right call given his recent travails, the lack of a replacement does leave United shorter in the striker department. Harry Maguire was made the world's most-expensive defender in an £80m move from Leicester City, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was brought in to be the first-choice right-back and Daniel James is a promising talent, yet failing to reinforce the midfield could prove costly - even if Paul Pogba stays put.

4. Chelsea 

A transfer ban hindered the Blues' ability to register new players for 2019-20, but they were able to secure a permanent deal for Mateo Kovacic and can count on Christian Pulisic – who will have big boots to fill after Eden Hazard's exit to Real Madrid – following the end of his loan spell at Borussia Dortmund. Chelsea sent Danny Drinkwater to Burnley on loan until January 6 and allowed David Luiz to depart for Arsenal for £8m on deadline day, with the latter perhaps leaving them overly reliant on Kurt Zouma and Fikayo Tomori for back-up.

3. Manchester City 

Pep Guardiola finally found a successor to Fernandinho in Rodri, who arrived from Atletico Madrid. Part-exchanging Danilo to Juventus reduced the fee they had to shell out for the impressive Joao Cancelo, meaning they have undoubtedly improved. Scott Carson and Pedro Porro arrived on deadline day but are unlikely to figure frequently, and they have managed to hold on to Leroy Sane - who will have to undergo surgery on his right knee after sustaining ACL damage in the Community Shield on Sunday - though Bayern Munich have until September 2 to complete a move..

2.  Tottenham

Two of the most exciting additions to the Premier League have come at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with Tanguy Ndombele arriving for a club-record fee and Giovani Lo Celso coming in on a season-long loan with an option to buy. The deadline-day capture of Ryan Sessegnon for a reported £25m offers options down the left, and it is unlikely Vincent Janssen will be missed after departing for Monterrey. Spurs may have missed out on Philippe Coutinho and Paulo Dybala, but the window has been a success for Mauricio Pochettino's team.

1. Arsenal

The Gunners got their headline signing wrapped up long before deadline day with Nicolas Pepe joining from Lille for a club-record £72m fee, while the loan of Dani Ceballos from Madrid is extremely exciting. Gabriel Martinelli will provide back-up in attack, while the defence was strengthened with long-term target Kieran Tierney joining from Celtic for a reported £25m and David Luiz from Chelsea. Arsenal balanced the books by selling Alex Iwobi to Everton in a deal worth up to £34m and managed to get £4.6m for wantaway captain Laurent Koscielny.

David Luiz emerged as a surprise signing for Arsenal as the Gunners completed a busy transfer window by adding a centre-back.

Not many Premier League teams were as active as Unai Emery's men, with Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe and Kieran Tierney also arriving.

Chelsea's transfer ban hampered new boss Frank Lampard, who will need to lean on the younger players in his squad during the coming season.

Losing a trusty lieutenant like David Luiz to a rival in the battle for a top-four finish is hardly ideal and means there will be some last-minute tinkering needed from Chelsea legend Lampard.

Below we analyse how both teams may line up in 2019-20.

ARSENAL

4-3-3: Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, David Luiz, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Kieran Tierney; Lucas Torreira, Dani Ceballos, Mesut Ozil; Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

One of the big issues facing Emery this season is just how can you fit Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang all in one side?

Potentially, the Gunners could go with a front three, with Aubameyang starting out on the left but – as in the case with most modern sides – the trio would be expected to interchange.

With Torreira providing a defensive pivot, Emery may feel bold enough to play Ozil and Ceballos – although Xhaka and Guendouzi provide more cautious alternatives.

In defence, Bellerin is soon expected back after sustaining a serious knee injury, while at left-back Tierney looks a shrewd piece of business.

Central defence was looking a problem area for Arsenal. David Luiz adds experience, but doubts remain as to whether his introduction into the XI solves a long-term problem.


5-3-2: Bernd Leno; David Luiz, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Kieran Tierney; Lucas Torreira, Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka; Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

The beauty for Arsenal from their window is that they now have several options, despite having lost the versatile Aaron Ramsey to Juventus.

Emery may opt for a three-at-the-back system he employed during his debut campaign at Emirates Stadium, which could see more game-time for Maitland-Niles and the returning Holding.

Such a system would likely see Xhaka utilised to offer more protection to the back three.

David Luiz often operates better with a three-man defence and you would expect the Brazilian to be a mainstay regardless of what formation Emery uses.

Ozil may fancy a spot in this team if Arsenal play with a more attack-minded midfield triumvirate, but it would be tougher to see where Pepe fits in in to such a line-up.


CHELSEA

4-2-3-1: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Cesar Azpilicueta, Kurt Zouma, Andreas Christensen, Emerson Palmieri; Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic; Christian Pulisic, Ross Barkley, Willian; Tammy Abraham

Lampard faces a tall order in a post-Eden Hazard era at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea's knack of stockpiling players and loaning them out should mean he at least has plenty of options.

If pre-season is anything to go by, Lampard is likely to use this formation. N'Golo Kante could come in for Jorginho when fit, while Mason Mount – who played for the Blues boss at Derby County last term – is another option.

Rudiger is an expected shoo-in when he returns to fitness but to start the season Zouma is likely to slot in at the back.

Up front, Abraham has been afforded plenty of minutes in Chelsea's warm-up games. Olivier Giroud provides a solid alternative, while Michy Batshuayi will still hope to do enough to prove he can play a role this term.

Pulisic, signed in January before staying at Borussia Dortmund on loan, has the unenviable task of filling Hazard's boots, but experienced campaigners Pedro and Willian will have to take their share of the burden as well.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi will also be welcome additions to Lampard later in the season when they overcome injuries.


4-3-3: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen, Emerson Palmieri; N'Golo Kante, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount; Christian Pulisic, Pedro, Tammy Abraham

If Lampard does decide to mix things up, then Mount could expect more game time playing alongside Barkley in midfield with Kante providing the defensive pivot.

At full-back, Reece James may provide a younger, fresher alternative to Azpilicueta having impressed at Wigan Athletic on loan last term.

A fit Loftus-Cheek provides an option in central midfield, while Hudson-Odoi will want to show why Chelsea were so desperate to reject Bayern Munich's overtures this season.

Rudiger should start when fit, meaning Christensen, Zouma and Fikayo Tomori - another to have starred under Lampard at Derby - will battle it out for the other spot.

The Premier League transfer window has closed ahead of the start of the new season and managers up and down England will now take stock.

Have the rest of the top six done enough to catch Manchester City? Are the promoted sides suitably stocked to secure top-flight survival?

We will soon find out but, in the meantime, we pick out five signings that look pretty shrewd.

 

5. Pablo Fornals (West Ham)

At a reported fee of £24million, West Ham made what looks like being a clever addition.

Fornals' form fell away a little last season but he was generally a brilliant attacking threat for Villarreal after initially impressing with Malaga in LaLiga.

The relatively modest fee means he will likely have to do little to repay West Ham's faith and they could expect a huge increase on that fee if he does enough to impress an elite suitor in the coming seasons.

 

4. Kieran Tierney (Arsenal)

Arsenal quite desperately needed defensive reinforcements, but it took until deadline day to get them over the line.

Tierney, at least, should be worth the wait. A consistent performer for Celtic, the Gunners have done well to bring in the Scotland full-back for a fee in the region of £25million.

Celtic boss Neil Lennon mentioned Aaron Wan-Bissaka's £50m move to Manchester United when talking up Tierney's potential price, so to pay half that sum to solve the left-back problem is a huge coup for Unai Emery's side.

3. Rodri (Manchester City)

How do you improve the treble-winning champions? Well, Pep Guardiola has finally brought in a player in an area they had long seemed light.

Fernandinho is now 34 and City struggled to replace the Brazilian when he was out of action last season. That will no longer be an issue with Rodri's arrival.

The former Atletico Madrid midfielder looks to be an excellent long-term replacement for Fernandinho and has hit the ground running, impressing in the Community Shield win over Liverpool.

2. Tanguy Ndombele (Tottenham)

Tottenham did not make a single signing last season but they secured one of the best deals of the new campaign when Ndombele arrived in London.

Spurs' lack of depth in the centre of midfield was far more concerning than City's last term, with Victor Wanyama called in from the cold to partner Moussa Sissoko for stretches of their Champions League run.

Ndombele will now look to link up with Sissoko and Harry Winks in a potentially dominant midfield.

 

1. Moise Kean (Everton)

Juventus have attacked the transfer market again this year and this led to Kean being the odd man out despite an outstanding end to the 2018-19 season.

The 19-year-old scored six Juve goals from March onwards, while also netting twice for the senior Italy team in that sensational run to establish himself as a star name.

With Everton's numerous creative players, Kean should be a success at Goodison Park and belatedly replace Romelu Lukaku in the central striking role.

The Premier League transfer window closes at 17:00 BST on Thursday – and there could yet be some major deals involving England's elite.

Harry Maguire's £80m switch from Leicester City to Manchester United – making him the world's most expensive defender – is the biggest deal on English shores of this window so far.

However, there remains a chance even that figure could be surpassed on Thursday with some of the biggest names both in the Premier League and overseas still the subject of interest.

We look at five potential transfers on Premier League deadline day.

 

David Luiz (Chelsea)

Arsenal could yet make a surprise swoop for Chelsea's Brazil defender after selling Laurent Koscielny to Bordeaux.

David Luiz sat out training with Chelsea on Wednesday and is believed to be keen for a move to the Emirates Stadium.

The Blues are believed to be open to a deal with their London neighbours but will want in the region of £20m.

Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona) 

While the prospect of a return to Liverpool is off the cards for the Brazil international, a return to English shores is not completely out of the question.

Barcelona are understood to be ready to allow the midfielder, who joined them from Anfield 18 months ago, out on loan.

Tottenham halted their interest after reaching an agreement with Real Betis to sign Giovani Lo Celso, while Manchester United have also been linked.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)

The departure of Eriksen on deadline day would be a devastating blow for Tottenham, but the Denmark international is believed to be keen on a new challenge.

There was interest from Manchester United, however, they halted talks on Wednesday after being left under the impression the ex-Ajax midfielder fancies a move overseas.

Should he depart, a move to Madrid appears Eriksen's most likely destination, with Real Madrid and neighbours Atletico both believed to be keen – and those sides can still make moves after Thursday's deadline.

The same applies to United's transfer rebel Romelu Lukaku, who was fined on Tuesday after missing training but could now be on his way to Inter after they submitted an improved offer.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

This one is starting to look a long shot but far stranger things have happened on deadline day.

Juventus are ready to cash in on their Argentine forward, yet his wage demands proved too high for Manchester United, who pulled the plug on a move.

Dybala has, however, set social media alight by liking a post from ex-United player Patrice Evra, a former team-mate at Juve, stressing what it means to play for the Old Trafford club. Tottenham should not be entirely ruled out of the running yet either given Eriksen's situation.

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)

Crystal Palace have played hardball over selling their star forward thus far yet his decision to hand in a transfer request amid interest from big-spending Everton could yet force the London club's hand.

The Toffees now appear very much in the driving seat for the Ivory Coast international following Arsenal's move for Nicolas Pepe and they are expected to launch one final push to get their man. 

Any deal would almost certainly be in excess of the biggest deal of the British window to date – Maguire's £80m switch to Old Trafford.

Joao Cancelo's move to Manchester City marks Pep Guardiola's latest upgrade to a position that has become pivotal to his all-conquering tactical approach.

Dani Alves and Eric Abidal starred in Guardiola's celebrated Barcelona side but he truly began to experiment and innovate with full-backs during his time at Bayern Munich.

In order to offset the counter-attacking threat of Bundesliga opponents, he began to deploy Philipp Lahm and David Alaba "tucked-in" alongside their defensive midfielder – a tactic that also aided the control of possession Guardiola so greatly craves. A source close to the Catalan tactician told Omnisport the internal positioning of full-backs is probably his biggest innovation.

Upon his arrival at City in 2016, the Bayern approach was briefly used. However, an aging group of fine club servants – Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov – were not up to the job, to varying degrees. As his team found their feet on the way to a third-placed Premier League finish in 2016-17, Fernandinho was even selected in both full-back positions.

In Guardiola's overhaul that close season, a transfer window that proved key to City's subsequent domestic dominance, the majority of a £221.5million outlay went on full-backs.

There have also been some less-likely solutions found and challenges remain at City in a defensive role the 48-year-old has revolutionised.

Kyle Walker

A weighty £50m acquisition from Tottenham, Walker has proved his worth as first choice throughout City's back-to-back Premier League title triumphs. The pace and athleticism that became his calling card and White Hart Lane were to the fore in an astonishing goal-line clearance during Sunday's Community Shield encounter against Liverpool, but the 29-year-old has proved himself to be a more adaptable performer than many considered.

Walker offers Guardiola in-game flexibility by being able to operate on the right of a back three – a role he also filled throughout England's run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. Having penned a five-year contract extension last month, it is possible his future could lie at centre-back.

Benjamin Mendy

Social media comedian and an instant cult-hero for City supporters, a succession of debilitating knee injuries mean the laughs have dried up for Mendy. When fit and firing, the £51.75m signing from Monaco offers a dynamic attacking option from deep and would help to shift the focus of City's attacks down the left if Leroy Sane joins Bayern Munich. At this stage, however, reaching and maintaining full fitness must be the France international's sole focus.

Danilo

Heading in the other direction to Turin as a makeweight in the Cancelo deal, Danilo has rarely let City down when called upon. He enjoyed a brief period as first choice midway through last season when Walker's form waned at right-back but has largely been a victim of the England man becoming one of Guardiola's most trusted performers. Two seasons in Manchester yielded four Premier League goals, five major trophies and a Brazil recall for Russia 2018. Following a torrid time at Real Madrid, the 28-year-old's career is once again moving in the right direction as he begins a new chapter in Turin.

Fabian Delph

Mendy's injury woes forced Guardiola to be creative at left-back and Delph was his most unlikely success story of 2017-18. A career midfielder, he allowed Guardiola to revisit his Bayern template and started 21 league games in City's 100-point season. Form and fitness deserted Delph last time around and the emergence of another unlikely deputy paved the way for his departure to Everton.

Oleksandr Zinchenko

An attacking midfielder by trade and a signing largely expected to be loaned out before being sold at a profit. However, Zinchenko never read that script and seemingly begins 2019-20 as Guardiola's first-choice left-back. Occasional shaky outings in 2017-18 did nothing to suggest such progress but his recovery from a goal-causing error to assist Sergio Aguero in a 3-1 win at Southampton last December proved a turning point.

He was superb as City won the first part of their domestic treble against Chelsea in the EFL Cup final, although Sunday's more torrid outing at Wembley when faced with Mohamed Salah showed the transition from stand-in to specialist can be tough - as Delph would attest.

Angelino

Briefly assessed as an option amid Guardiola's full-back shortfall of 2016, Angelino was loaned to Girona, Mallorca and NAC Breda before joining PSV. An impressive 2018-19 in Eindhoven saw City trigger a buy-back clause for their former academy product, with Guardiola deciding specialist cover at left-back is a must as Mendy continues his latest rehabilitation. Some accident-prone moments in pre-season suggested the 22-year-old has work to do, though.

Joao Cancelo

A technically assured player who attacks with the verve to be expected from a converted winger, Cancelo's skills appear to make him something close to the archetypal Guardiola full-back. His capacity for causing damage in the opposition half makes him a candidate to supply the threat Mendy has fleetingly provided on the opposite flank. Cancelo accounting for that natural width could in turn allow Gabriel Jesus to be fielded on the right of a front three, where he excelled during Brazil's triumphant Copa America campaign.

Talking of Brazilians, Cancelo has cited Alves as a key influence on his playing style. Having been frustrated when his former charge picked Paris Saint-Germain over City in 2017, Guardiola can content himself with having the latest model for his next innovations at full-back. 

An exciting week of NRL action sees the top four teams face off on Sunday.

Round 21 concludes with Melbourne Storm travelling to South Sydney Rabbitohs, who sit in fourth, with their clash following on from third-placed Canberra Raiders taking on second-placed Sydney Roosters.

The Storm may face a tricky test but history weighs heavily in their favour.

We bring you all the best Opta facts from those two fixtures and the rest of the NRL games coming up.

Thursday

North Queensland Cowboys (7-12) v Brisbane Broncos (8-1-10)

- The Broncos have won their past three NRL matches against the Cowboys, their best run in this fixture since a seven-match streak from July 2007 to August 2010.

- The Cowboys have scored 12 tries in the final 10 minutes of the first half of NRL matches in 2019, the most of any team.

Friday

New Zealand Warriors (7-1-11) v Manly Sea Eagles (12-7)

- Six of the Warriors' past seven matches have been decided by four points or fewer, though they have recorded three victories in those close encounters.

- Manly have scored six tries starting from a kick-off in 2019, the most of any team. They also have the forward with the most carries in the competition, with Martin Taupau registering 299 so far.

Penrith Panthers (9-10) v Cronulla Sharks (9-10)

- The Sharks have won 12 of their past 14 NRL matches against the Penrith Panthers, including the previous seven on the bounce.

- Penrith's Nathan Cleary has scored two tries, provided an assist and not missed a single goal attempt (nine from nine) in his past three NRL matches against the Sharks.

Saturday

St George Illawarra Dragons (6-13) v Gold Coast Titans (4-15)

- The Titans have scored 16 tries in NRL 2019 after the opposition has made an error, the second most of any team in this campaign when starting a set in the same fashion.

- Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes has made the most tackles (932) of any player in 2019.

Parramatta Eels (11-8) v Newcastle Knights (8-11)

- The Knights have won 11 of their past 13 NRL matches against the Eels, including the most recent four games in that span.

- Parramatta have scored 13 tries in 2019 from their own half of the field, the second most of all teams this term from that range. Sydney Roosters top the list with 14.

Canterbury Bulldogs (6-13) v Wests Tigers (9-10)

- The Bulldogs have kept Wests scoreless in the first half of their past two meetings, winning on both occasions. Canterbury have triumphed in four of their past six clashes.

- The Tigers have scored 21 tries on the sixth tackle, the most of any team this year.

Sunday

Canberra Raiders (13-6) v Sydney Roosters (13-6)

- The Roosters have scored the most tries (84) of any team in 2019, 11 more than the Raiders (73) who have scored the third most.

- Canberra’s Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (1193) and James Tedesco of the Roosters (975) have made the most metres from kick returns of all players.

South Sydney Rabbitohs (13-6) v Melbourne Storm (16-3)

- The Storm have won 20 of their past 23 NRL matches against the Rabbitohs, including their most recent encounter last September by a single point (29-28).

- The Rabbitohs' Damien Cook has made the most try assists (22) of any player, seven more than Cameron Munster for Melbourne.

Jurgen Klopp's complaint over the Premier League start date is sure to infiltrate the season opener when Liverpool entertain Norwich City on Friday.

A combination of Copa America and Africa Cup of Nations commitments robbed Klopp of several stars for much of pre-season, leading the Reds boss to call for the English football calendar to be pushed back.

As the minutes tick down to that first whistle at Anfield, managers will be monitoring the condition of their players and making calls on fitness.

Do those in charge of globe-trotting squads have reason to fear sluggish starts, or can players push past heavy legs to set the league alight in the early weeks?

To consider the question, we have mined the Opta data to assess how three high-profile stars fared at the outset of the two seasons either side of last year's World Cup.

 

No concern over Kane

Harry Kane recently told reporters he feels as sharp as he has "for a long while" after a rare, relaxing off-season, which some view as the gateway to a fast start for the Tottenham striker.

Yet even in the aftermath of last year's long and emotionally exhausting run to the semi-finals in Russia, the England captain seemed to have no trouble getting right back up to speed for Spurs.

Kane scored five times over the course of the opening seven games last season, second only to a player he faced in the third-place play-off at the World Cup: Eden Hazard.

The haul was one fewer than he managed in the same period in 2017-18, which followed a tournament-free off-season.

Fitness did become an issue for Kane as a long 2018-19 campaign wore on and his workload for club and country warrants close inspection, but a longer holiday did little to boost his numbers at the beginning of the season.

Of course, not every player returned from the World Cup in the same psychological state as the tournament's Golden Boot winner.

De Gea better for the break?

David de Gea was simply not himself last season.

Confidence sapped by a poor World Cup, the Spain star dipped well below his usually impeccable standards back at Old Trafford and might have lost the number one shirt had Sergio Romero not suffered ill-timed injuries.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ultimately kept faith with Manchester United's first-choice keeper and can reasonably expect a rejuvenated De Gea to make the kind of solid start to the season he enjoyed in 2017-18.

Then, the former Atletico Madrid man posted a league-high save percentage of 88.2 through to the end of September.

Fast forward 12 months and, with international matters perhaps still on his mind, De Gea did not rank in the top 10 for that statistic across the same period.

Poorer save percentages plagued other Premier League goalkeepers in the immediate aftermath of attending the World Cup.

Manchester City's Ederson, Mat Ryan of Brighton and Hove Albion and Leicester City mainstay Kasper Schmeichel all failed to meet their respective averages after travelling to Russia.

The latter, like De Gea, failed to claw his way into the Premier League's top 10 over the first seven games last term.

Silva sets elite standard

As other players endure peaks and troughs, David Silva simply gets on with sustaining a level of excellence even in his advancing years.

The experienced midfielder started in Manchester City's triumph over Liverpool in the Community Shield last weekend and deserves a good deal of attention when the champions travel to London Stadium on Saturday.

Silva started the 2017-18 season in sublime style, registering a league-high six assists in the space of seven games and creating 23 chances in total – only team-mate Kevin De Bruyne (24) managed more.

He went on to win the title, attended the World Cup, and eased back into the Premier League by creating 20 chances before the end of September last season, more than any other player. All without real time to pause.

Could the 33-year-old help City set the pace yet again? West Ham would be safe to assume so: Silva has scored in four of his past five matches against them in all competitions.

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