With the FIFA scandal still reverberating throughout the entire spectrum of world football, it is perhaps easy to forget the level of incident that has occurred in the off-season of the Premier League. The Raheem Sterling saga has come to exemplify the discrepancy in the so-called ‘materialistic’ footballing youth between actual ability and perceived ability; often exacerbated by those pesky agents. Manchester United and Liverpool have splashed the cash in an effort to try and re-establish England’s two most successful dynasties. Nigel Pearson’s sacking, following an incongruously triumphant end to the season, defied all notions of managerial security that were thought sacrosanct. And now we actually have the football to wax lyrical about. A full set of fixtures awaits a baying public, fully gorged on anaemic friendlies and lurid transfer speculation.
Saturday 08 August
Manchester United 6/10
Louis Van Gaal’s transformation of Manchester United will come under intense scrutiny with the visit of an in-form Spurs side. Spurs picked up a confidence boosting 2-0 victory over AC Milan in the third-place playoff of the Audi Cup. Nacer Chadli and Tom Carroll looked a formidable midfield partnership while the totemic figure of Harry Kane looms large over the entire fixture. Van Gaal has stated that Rooney will play a central striking role, which will likely see Depay and Young harrying the wings. It will be interesting to see if Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin both start, especially considering that Fellaini and Mata were the chief destroyers of Spurs last season. Back United to win, purely based on the manner in which they dismantled Spurs at Old Trafford last season.
Crystal Palace 7/4
Top flight football returns to Carrow Road as Delia Smith’s beloved Norwich look forward to taking on the vagaries of the Premier League once again. Their promotion win over Middlesbrough catapulted youthful Scottish manager Alex Neil into the spotlight and further highlighted the changing façade of the managerial maelstrom. They will benefit from the presence of various players whom were part of their 2013/2014 side that got relegated. Players such as Hoolahan, Johnson and Ruddy will offer invaluable experience to the side. The mesmeric purchase of Yohan Cabaye will no doubt galvanise Alan Pardew’s dangerous counterattacking Crystal Palace side, especially with the pace and speed of Bolasie and Puncheon on display. Palace’s pace on the counterattack could prove decisive, while Cabaye’s vision adds dimension to their attack. Take Crystal Palace to win or draw on the Double Chance at 5/10.
Leicester City 9/10
The termination of Nigel Pearson was yet another chapter in what has become a rather fascinating Leicester City narrative. With his son embroiled in a racist sex scandal and subsequently terminated, the manager was duly sacked after guiding them towards one of the most unlikely survival stories ever. Claudio Ranieri’s subsequent appointment just added further weirdness to the whole debacle. Sunderland were disappointed in their attempts to sign Dutch midfielder Leroy Fer from QPR after a failed medical. Advocaat’s side should be fairly confident of picking up some kind of result here considering the tumultuous state of the home club. I feel that one of these sides will draw a blank on this opening day, especially with Ranieri bringing his stereotypically Italian pragmatism to proceedings. Take Both Teams to Score - No - at 15/20.
Notoriously slow starters, Everton know that they cannot afford to languish in the relegation doldrums in the manner in which they have become accustomed in previous seasons. Martinez has focused on retaining the services of centre-half John Stones, a massive transfer target for Chelsea football club. He has brought in box-to-box midfielder Tom Cleverley whilst luring back former Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu. Watford’s new manager Sanchez-Flores has perhaps the toughest job of all the promoted managers. Lacking both the vitality of Bournemouth and the experience of Norwich, they will be focussed heavily on making themselves as hard to break down as possible. Troy Deeney has scored twenty or more goals in his last three seasons and will probably have to perform similar heroics this term. Back Everton to pick up the home win at 13/20.
Aston Villa 29/10
Eddie Howe’s side are the epitome of the fairytale rise from the ashes. Facing administration only seven years ago, Eddie Howe’s side have gone from strength to strength with a team composed of various, seemingly disparate, elements. Their 11 000 capacity stadium will provide a cauldron-like atmosphere that they have to exploit. Tim Sherwood’s side will have to navigate the departures of Benteke, Delph and Cleverley, which will make for an awkward transitional period for the Midlands side. I’m tipping a glorious, if unsurprising home victory for Eddie Howe’s dynamic side.
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Swansea City 67/10
Chelsea’s defeat in the Community Shield should send some alarm bells ringing throughout the collective consciousness of the Blues supporters. They played the role of sides playing against them last season, continually trying to break down a resolute back four while Arsenal cleverly counter-attacked, creating better chances throughout the match. There is something of a slight arrogance in Mr Mourinho assuming that the champions need not improve, especially given the money thrown around by United and Co. Shelvey and Sigurdsson were excellent for Swansea last season while the signing of Eder will give suitable competition for the surprisingly effective Gomis up front. I’m tipping Chelsea to win an extremely tight encounter, likely through one magical moment.
Newcastle United 17/10
Newcastle United’s new manager Steve McClaren has done some fairly amazing business in the closed season this year. Wijnaldum, Mitrovic and Mbemba have brought a much needed injection of quality into the side, especially with a cloud hanging over the future of the hugely influential Sissoko. Ronald Koeman’s skills of alchemy are once again to be tested by the departures of Clyne, Alderweireld and Schneiderlin. He does have the benefit of a wonderful youth academy that will no doubt be scoured at various points in the season. I’m tipping Newcastle to win or draw on the Double Chance at 9/20.
Sunday 09 August
West Ham 87/10
Arsenal’s fans, starved of glory for so long, will look to their Community Shield victory as a symbolic signal of intent from the Gunners. The arrival of Petr Cech strikes many as the final piece in Wenger’s title hunting jigsaw puzzle, with his squad (assembled expensively over the last few years) finally having the depth to mount a sustained title charge. Theo Walcott’s return from injury has reinvigorated the squad but Jack Wilshere’s dismal time has continued after picking up a lengthy ankle complaint. West Ham manager Bilic will do well to note the firepower at Arsenal’s disposal. Big Sam’s pragmatism will be missed by West Ham this season and I can’t help but see a comfortable opening day victory for Arsenal here. Take Arsenal to win both halves on the halftime-fulltime double at 15/20.
Stoke City 9/4
This fixture defies the notion that the fixture list operates randomly. Liverpool’s last day defeat to Stoke last season punctuated a season of vast disappointment for the lavishly spending Merseyside side. Stoke have lost the services of Steven N’Zonzi but will still feel that they can get amongst a Liverpool side still aiming to embed their vast array of new players. Christian Benteke will undoubtedly offer a striking alternative for Liverpool in these often physical encounters. Milner will play through the middle, setting up a possibly fascinating battle with former Liverpool man Charlie Adam. While I hardly expect Liverpool to be dominated, Stoke’s cohesion should be enough to just edge the Reds. Back them at a valuable 9/4.
Monday 10 August
West Brom 4/1
Manchester City 13/20
Manchester City’s pursuit and capture of Raheem Sterling was one of the hot topics of debate throughout the transfer window. The preseason fixtures have temporarily abated some criticism, with Sterling’s magnificent pace finding able support in both the vision of Silva and power of Toure. Rickie Lambert’s signing should complement the speed of Saido Berahino perfectly for Tony Pulis’ West Brom. I just feel that the West Brom midfield will struggle with the added speed of Sterling and despite some fitness concerns, City should have enough to pick up the win on the road.