Summer Series

What to look out for in Sunday's Summer Series matches

By Adrian Clarke 29 Jul 2023
PLSS-Gusto-Willian-composite

Adrian Clarke picks out a player from Brentford, Villa, Chelsea and Fulham who can be decisive in Maryland

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Adrian Clarke highlights players who have caught the eye during the Premier League Summer Series so far and can have a key part to play in Sunday's final two matches.

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Malo Gusto is a name to look out for in the coming months.  

The France Under-21 international right-back signed for Chelsea in January but was immediately loaned straight back to Lyon for the rest of the 2022/23 season.  

The 20-year-old will initially act as cover for Reece James, but in the Summer Series we have seen glimpses of why the Blues were happy to offer him a seven-year contract.

Naturally attack-minded, Gusto has shown a penchant for driving forward inside the final third, and from those positions he looks composed and technically excellent in possession.  

If Gusto features against Fulham – and he could do given that James started last time out against Newcastle – it will be interesting to see how many crosses he puts into the box.  

This was his forte with Lyon in Ligue 1, where according to Fbref he delivered more accurate crosses into the penalty area than any other player last season.  

With head coach Mauricio Pochettino a fan of using inverted wide forwards, there will be a responsibility for players like Gusto and James to supply ammunition from the flanks.

Most accurate crosses into penalty area*
Player Total
Malo Gusto (Lyon) 29
Przemysław Frankowski (Lens) 26
Franck Honorat (Brest) 26
Jonathan Clauss (Marseille) 23
Junya Ito (Reims) 21

*2022/23 Ligue 1 stats

At some stage Gusto may have to mark Willian in Sunday's west London derby in Maryland.  

The Brazilian is 14 years older than his prospective opponent, and on the back of two bright substitute appearances, could be handed a start against his former club by Fulham head coach Marco Silva.  

Willian was consistently Fulham’s most creative player in 2022/23, so a potentially stern examination is in store for Gusto.

If he can contain the 34-year-old, it will be a feather in his cap.  

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Summer signing Mark Flekken is in pole position to be Brentford’s first-choice goalkeeper at the start of the 2023/24 season.  

Recruited from Freiburg for a reported £11million, the 30-year-old's 13 clean sheets were more than any other Bundesliga 'keeper last season.  

The Netherlands international has not had the best of starts at Brentford, conceding four goals in only 106 minutes of Summer Series action.  

However, there is very little he could have done to prevent any of those concessions.  

With speculation mounting that David Raya will be sold before the transfer window closes, it appears Flekken is being primed for the No 1 spot.  

Flekken's 2022/23 stats
  Total Bundesliga rank
Clean sheets 13 1st
Progressive passing distance 25,402m 2nd
Saves 106 3rd
Save % 74% 4th
Goals prevented 3.1 6th
PLSS-Mark-Flekken-Tyrone-Mings-composite
Mark Flekken and Tyrone Mings

Across European football’s big-five leagues last season, only four players had a higher progressive passing distance than Flekken, who boasts a terrific range of short and long-range distribution.  

Last season he also made a lot of saves, proving to be very reliable between the posts, with a 74 per cent save percentage.  

Following in the footsteps of Raya will not be easy, but a big performance on Sunday against Aston Villa will give the Bees' supporters more cheer.  

Options at centre-back for Villa

Unai Emery is a head coach who has always liked to develop teams from a solid defensive base, and his strength in depth at centre-back now looks tremendous.  

Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, new signing Pau Torres and fit-again Diego Carlos have all impressed during this tournament.  

With little to separate them on form, there is a battle royale looming as they bid to be selected for Villa’s first match of the season at Newcastle United.  

We may not see it against Brentford in Maryland, but Emery has said that at some stage he will consider deploying three of this quartet together, probably by using Konsa at right-back and Mings at left-back. He could even use all four.   

“We are going to play usually with two but sometimes we can use three and now is the moment to practice," Emery told the club's website ahead of the Brentford match.

“We have as well Calum Chambers, he can play as a centre-back. But I envisage him now more as a right-back and as a midfielder."

PLSS Pau Torres Aston Villa
Pau Torres

Right now, the four are in a straightforward shootout to impress their boss, so expect all four central defenders to be fully focussed when they are called upon to shackle Yoane Wissa and Bryan Mbeumo.

A victory in Maryland could be enough to land Aston Villa the inaugural Premier League Summer Series crown, so there is plenty at stake for Emery’s men. 

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