The new season of the Premier League is creeping up on us. The transfer window is in full swing, many clubs have new managers at the helm and many expect this coming season to be one of the most entertaining yet.
Last year’s opening day of the season saw two 5-0 wins, with Fulham dominating Norwich at Craven Cottage and Swansea surprising QPR at Loftus Road. The big surprises were Liverpool’s 3-0 loss to West Brom and Everton’s 1-0 victory over eventual champions, Manchester United.
So what does the opening day have in store for us this season? In true Mark Lawrenson style, here are our Premier League predictions for week one.
Liverpool vs Stoke
Stoke drew away to Reading in a drab stalemate last season, though this was more than Liverpool achieved in their trip to the Hawthorns. Liverpool have been the more active on the transfer market so far, signing Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Kolo Toure.
Stoke meanwhile have strengthened defensively with Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa. Liverpool’s success next season might come down to whether they hold on to Luis Suarez, but with the Uruguayan seeming to want away, it looks as if they might not. Stoke are a hard team to beat, and I think Liverpool’s new boys will need some time to adapt. A toughly fought draw.
Arsenal v Aston Villa
Both teams had disappointing starts last season, Villa losing away to West Ham and Arsenal being held at home to a goalless draw with Sunderland. While Arsenal’s form improved, Villa’s didn’t. There were signs of improvement from Lambert’s team in the second half of the season, mostly thanks to Belgian prodigy Christian Benteke.
In a similar mould to Liverpool, a lot of Villa’s season will come down to whether they can hang onto him.
Tottenham are favourites to sign the striker, but don’t look likely to match Villa’s £25 million valuation. Arsenal will be hoping to challenge higher up the table this season. Villa will be better than last season, but will have to wait until week two to start picking up points.
Norwich v Everton
After 12 years of service, Everton lost manager David Moyes to Manchester United, and sit in relative uncertainty of how their club will cope without the Scotsman at the helm. Norwich meanwhile enjoyed a second consecutive season in the Premier League, including their best unbeaten in the history of the club, including wins against Manchester United and Arsenal.
The sides had contrasting fates in last year’s opening weekend, but are in very different situations than they were eleven months ago. Norwich will look for some more consistency this season under Chris Hughton, but having won just four matches in 2013, they look like relegation contenders this season.
New signings Van Wolfswinkel, Nathan Redmond, Javier Garrido, Martin Olsson and recently Leroy Fer will hope to change that, and I think they might surprise an Everton that will for a spell be slightly lost without Moyes.
Sunderland v Fulham
Paulo Di Canio’s Sunderland came very close to relegation last season, and their 3-0 win at St James Park will go down as one of the few highlights. Fulham meanwhile finished their 12th consecutive Premier League season in mid table.
Both will be aware that the battle for survival will be as intense as ever and will want to get off to a good start. Fulham’s agin squad has been joined by three 30-year-olds in Maarten Stekelenburg, Sascha Riether and Derek Boateng, the latter of which joins Steve Sidwell as the clubs only recognised central midfielders. Their depleted squad shouldn’t show signs of tiredness until later in the season, and I could see Fulham having another good start to the season.
West Brom v Southampton
West Brom had a fantastic start to the season with a 3-0 win against Liverpool and were level on points with Chelsea in third place in November. Though their form slipped, they still had a great season, finishing comfortably in the top half of the table.
With their main threat, Romelu Lukaku finishing his loan spell, they will look to new signing and Premier League stalwart Nicolas Anelka to maintain their renewed status as a top half team. Southampton also had a good season, spending much of the year in mid table, and have had a good start in the transfer market, signing Victor Wanyama, a player that dominated Barcelona in the Champions League, and Dejan Lovren. Both teams will hope last season’s form can be continued in August, and this game could be the entertainment pick of the bunch.
West Ham v Cardiff
West Ham’s form, led by the scoring feats of Andy Carroll and the midfield domination of Mohamed Diame, was very good towards the end of the season, and they deservingly sealed a top half place. Cardiff were dominant in the Championship and cruised to the title, but haven’t been in the top division and wont know what to expect. They will hope to replicate their Welsh counterparts as Swansea look a solid Premier League side, but will find it hard in such a competitive division.
This match is very difficult to call, and both teams have been relatively quiet in the transfer market. Cardiff shelled out over £7 million on Andreas Cornelius from FC Copenhagen, and if he can be as free scoring as he was in the Danish league, they’ll stand a much better chance of survival. West Ham’s Premier League experience will carry them through in a thriller here.
Swansea v Manchester United
Swansea had another fantastic season, winning the League Cup and bringing European Football to West Wales for the first time. They’ll hope it doesn’t come as a distraction to their league form, and may look to their match-day opposition as experts on how to juggle the two. United will desperately want to retain the Premier League title, but may find it harder than ever this season without their talismanic leader, Sir Alex Ferguson.
David Moyes’ first game ended in defeat to the Thailand All-Stars, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect the new look United. Swansea know how to beat the top sides, and have just Manchester United left to beat from the top four. They’ll have a good go at it, but the current champions know how to do one thing better than anyone else, and that is win.
Crystal Palace v Tottenham
Having won the playoffs to gain promotion, Palace will have one target this season and that is to stay up. Ian Holloway will hope for a more successful season than his last Premier League outing, where Blackpool endured a difficult season that culminated in their relegation. One memorable moment from that season was Blackpool’s first game, where they beat Wigan 4-0 away, rocketing them to the top of the table.
They will hope they can replicate that against Tottenham, who are looking to build on their consecutive last day failures to qualify for the Champions League. Under Andre Villas-Boas, Spurs reached their record points total in a premier league season, and have already sealed the 17 million pound signing of Paulinho, one of Brazil’s star performers in their recent Confederations Cup victory. Spurs have a historically poor opening day record, and last season succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle.
They’ll hope their fantastic away form will continue through to this season, and should escape south east London with three points.
Chelsea v Hull
Chelsea’s squad of big names and lucrative talent once again failed to impress for much of last season, but late form under interim manager Rafa Benitez saw them seal 3rd place and win the Europa League. The self proclaimed ‘special one’ has claimed to be returning to Chelsea as the ‘happy one’, and Jose Mourinho’s first match back in charge will make a big statement on his intentions for the season.
Hull’s Egyptian trio of Ahmed Elmohamady, Mohamed Nagy and Ahmed Fathi that won them promotion are now a double act as Nagy has returned to Egypt. Steve Bruce spent many successful years at Wigan in the Premier League and knows how to keep a side up, even though his spell at Sunderland was less impressive. Mourinho will know that the world will be watching him, particularly in his first few games, and he will throw his strongest team and tactics at this fixture. I think Hull have a chance of staying up, but there will be a lot to learn from this match.
Manchester City vs Newcastle
The first Monday night football of the season is well known for a shock; last season we saw Everton beat Man Utd, a few years ago we saw Villa win at Anfield, but more importantly, the last time Man City opened a season on a Monday they won 4-0 and the last time Newcastle did they lost 3-0. Pellegrini has vowed to get Man City playing attractive football, and has already made some great signings in Fernandinho and Jesus Navas.
Pardew might have his work cut out again this season, and one of his few bright sparks Papa Cisse has fallen out with the club in an argument over the shirt sponsor conflicting with religious views. They are also yet to make a signing, and the French revolution going on in their dressing room has been accentuated by the departures of English long-term employees Steve Harper, James Perch and Danny Simpson.
Newcastle will hope to climb back into the top half of the table but their primary target will be to remain in the Premier League. It is less simple for Man City, whose target of Premier League supremacy could be compensated for with other major trophy wins. This one doesn’t feel like it’ll be a shock like we’ve seen in past seasons.
Regardless of the opening day results, this season is set up to be one of the most entertaining yet.
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