Premier League opening weekend preview

by James Clancy

Premier LeagueIf you’re a football fan you’ll know that this weekend hails the beginning of the 2013-’14 Barclays Premier League season.

It’s been seen by many as being the most open season – at both ends of the table – in what will be the 22nd season since English football’s top flight was rebranded.

Here I preview the opening weekend of the season and provide some predictions for the season ahead.

Liverpool v Stoke City (Saturday, 12:45pm)

The season starts with a not massively appetising fixture at Anfield. That’s a little unfair on Brendan Rodger’s men but Mark Hughes’ Stoke are unlike to play ‘sexy’ football this season.

The jury is still very much out on Mark Hughes as a top flight manager and The Potters are likely to be struggling at the wrong end of the table again come the end of the season.

There has of course been much upheaval (I’m looking at you Luis Suarez) at Anfield over the close season. Rodgers has brought in the attacking talents of Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas, though the pair are unproven and Kolomna Touré’s arrival at Anfield is somewhat surprising following an innocuous season for the Ivorian at the Etihad last season.

Liverpool should have marginally too much for Stoke though in what is likely to be a tight game which won’t provide a lot for the highlights reel.

PREDICTION: Liverpool 1-0 Stoke

Arsenal v Aston Villa (Saturday, 3pm)

Both these sides have been ever present in the Premier League (though Villa have come very close to the drop on a couple of occasions including last season).

Villa will take heart from impressive showings at the Emirates in recent seasons.

The Villains were close to taking a point last season before Santi Cazorla’s 85th-minute winner, while they have won twice in their last five Barclays Premier League clashes in the capital against Arsene Wenger’s side. Only Chelsea (three) have won more away Premier League matches at the Emirates than Villa (two).

Arsenal have only signed 20 year-old French striker Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre over the summer whilst Paul Lambert has made a number of canny signings this summer.

Likely to be an entertaining encounter with both sides having chances to win.

PREDICTION:  Arsenal 2-2 Aston Villa

Norwich City v Everton (Saturday, 3pm)

Norwich City are unbeaten against Everton since their return to the top flight in the 2011-’12 campaign, winning one and drawing three of their last four meetings.

Everton over achieved last season by finishing in sixth place and the loss of their manager David Moyes to Manchester United is of course a big one. His replacement Roberto Martinez has the makings of a top manager himself and worked miracles to keep Wigan in the top flight for four seasons until their eventual demise at the end of last season.

Canaries boss Chris Hughton is also a canny operator however and he has made several signings in the close season which were much needed. Only Stoke and bottom of the table QPR scored fewer goals than Norwich last season and Hughton needed to make a few attacking signings so as to be sure of steering well clear of the relegation zone this season.

Norwich were the only side last season whose defenders scored more than their forwards and Hughton has made efforts to amend this with the signings of striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel from Sporting Lisbon and the prolific Gary Hooper from Celtic. Whether he can make the considerable step up to the English Premier League remains to be seen though.

For this opening weekend, Everton seem to have the more settled side and in Leighton Baines they have one of the best operators at both ends of the pitch in the Premier League.

PREDICTION:  Norwich 0-2 Everton

Sunderland v Fulham (Saturday, 3pm)

Three of the last four matches between this pair have been draws and this is likely to be a similarly tight affair.

Sunderland struggled badly for much of last season before Paolo Di Canio came in in April and The Black Cats pulled cleared of the relegation zone with a couple of games to spare.

Di Canio is of course what might be a labelled an “eccentric” character – equally as likely to self combust as to make a canny managerial decision. He has worked out well so far at the Stadium of Light though and the club has had a very intensive pre season which should set the up nicely for the season ahead.

Both clubs have been very active in the transfer market during the close season with Di Canio bringing in big names such as goalkeeper Vito Mannone from Arsenal and prolific American striker Jozy Altidore from AZ Alkmaar.

Fulham have themselves made half a dozen big name signings this summer though the marquee signing of Adel Taarabt from QPR is one which could equally likely lead to trouble as a goal laden season for the Moroccan.

PREDICTION: Sunderland 0-0 Fulham

West Bromwich Albion v Southampton (Saturday, 3pm)

The big name signing for The Baggies is of course that of Nicolas Anelka. The French man is well travelled and at 34 he still has at least one big season left in him. His attacking partnership with Republic of Ireland striker Shane Long is likely to be pivotal for the club this season.

West Brom have enjoyed the better run of recent form in head-to-head clashes between these two clubs with a double over Southampton last season.

Ricky Lambert will be buzzing having come off the bench to score the winner for England against Scotland with his first touch on Wednesday night.

There’s likely to be a few goals in this one. Could well be one of the most entertaining games of the opening weekend as both teams like to play good football.

PREDICTION:   West Brom 2-2 Southampton

West Ham United v Cardiff City (Saturday, 3pm)

Newly promoted Cardiff City will play their first Barclays Premier League match at the Boleyn Ground. The two sides met four times in the Championship in the 2011/12 season. The Bluebirds started that season with a 1-0 victory at West Ham, but it was Sam Allardyce’s charges who emerged triumphant with victory in the Welsh capital and in both play-off semi-finals as the London side of course finished that season by returning to the Premier League.

Cardiff are hoping to become the third club out of the current crop of 20 to win their first Barclays Premier League match. Only Hull and Norwich City have earned three points in their debuts in the competition.

As sides newly promoted to the Premier League tend to do, this is likely to be a struggle for Malachy Mackay’s men but the Scot is a canny operator and the second Welsh club to reach the English Premier League have a decent chance of avoiding the drop.

Mackay has been busy in the transfer window over the summer with the acquisition of a number of lower league signings and Tottenham’s excellent young centre half Steven Caulker looking to be the pick of the new recruits to the Cardiff City Stadium.

Same Allardyce has been less busy in the transfer market, though the signings of Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing look like decent buys and players that are suited to Allardyce’s style of play.

This game is a difficult one to predict though the home side might just about have the edge here.

PREDICTION:  West Ham 1-0 Cardiff

Swansea City v Manchester United (Saturday, 5:30pm)

Without a marquee signing yet this summer, fans of the Red Devils are left wondering if the current squad has the depth to win a trophy this season, with a certain lack of creativity in the midfield throughout pre-season.

David Moyes has said he has faith in the players he has, and with Wayne Rooney set to stay, that is almost a signing in itself.

The new manager has claimed though, that he is confident of adding to the squad before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

Swansea will head into the new season full of confidence, having only lost one game in pre-season, against the Colorado Rapids. Unlike Manchester United, Swansea boss Michael Laudrup has made some excellent signings this summer, with the likes of Wilfried Bony, Jonjo Shelvey and Jordi Amat all moving to the Welsh side.

Swansea will definitely prove to be a worthy challenge for United boss Moyes, who will be hoping he can open his Premier League campaign with the champions with a win, knowing it will help put many unsettled fans at ease.

The Swans will not go down without a fight though, as they will be working on getting a spot in Europe and an improvement on their highly impressive ninth place finish last season.

A score draw is a likely outcome here in what is set to be an entertaining game.

PREDICTION:  Swansea 1-1 Manchester United

Crystal Palace v Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday, 1:30pm)

Ian Holloway’s Championship play-off winners host Tottenham Hotspur in their first match in the top flight after an eight-year absence.

The Eagles’ record against Spurs will give the South Londoners plenty of encouragement. Spurs have yet to register a home Barclays Premier League victory over Crystal Palace, while Palace have won once and drawn once in four home matches against Spurs since 1992.

The home side have been busy in the transfer market over the summer with Marouane Chamakh from Arsenal and Jerome Thomas likely to be their most important signings.

Spurs meanwhile have broken their transfer record twice this summer with the signings of Paulinho (£17.5million) and Roberto Soldado (£26million) in what will be a big season for head coach André Villas-Boas with or without Gareth Bale as his protracted potential move to Real Madrid continues to be played out.

Bale will sit out this opening fixture of the season which will of course give Palace a better chance but the north Londoners should still have too much and win with something to spare.

PREDICTION: Crystal Palace 0-2 Tottenham

Chelsea v Hull City (Sunday, 4pm)

This should be a comparatively easy start for the second coming of the “Special One” José Mourinho as manager of Chelsea.

Hull manager Steve Bruce responded to their last day of the season promotion by signing ten players over the summer, almost all of whom coming from the lower leagues.

The signings of the impressive Tottenham midfield pairing Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore will add quality to the Tigers line-up but this looks set to be a season of perennial struggle for Steve Bruce’s men, though weekly Premier League football will benefit Irish starlets such as Robbie Brady in this a World Cup year.

PREDICTION:   Chelsea 3-0 Hull City

Manchester City v Newcastle United (Monday, 8pm)

Manchester City will be looking for their eighth consecutive Barclays Premier League victory over Newcastle United. They are unbeaten against Newcastle in the top flight since September 2005.

The hosts, who will be under the guidance of new manager Manuel Pellegrini this term, beat Alan Pardew’s Newcastle 4-0 in the corresponding fixture last season and should be too strong once again this time round.

Newcastle have signed gifted striker Loic Remy over the summer but Manchester City had the best defensive record in the top flight last  season conceding just 34 times from 38 outings and keeping 18 clean sheets, so the 2011-’12 champions will be hard to beat.

Added to that, the attacking talents of Fernandinho and Jesús Navas signed over the summer means that this looks set to be a banker home win.

PREDICTION: Manchester City 2-0 Newcastle United

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