With the new football season days away, who will be smiling after the first weekend? Will the Swans upset the Champions and can the Magpies grab the headlines from Manchester City? Let the games commence…
Liverpool vs Stoke
Brendan Rogers will be looking to strikers Daniel Sturridge and Iago Aspas to convert the chances crafted by Philippe Coutinho as Suarez is still banned. Despite winning 3 cups pre-season the defence looks a bit suspect. The Reds will hope that Lucas will be back to his best and that Daniel Agger recovers from a knock. The Potters will be relying on Charlie Adam to add bite to midfield and there is still a reliance upon Peter Crouch and Kenwynne Jones to find the net. Stoke will be solid if unspectacular and have managed to hold onto the their excellent keeper Asmir Begovic.
Prediction: Liverpool narrow win
Sunderland vs Fulham
Fulham travel to the Di Canio revolution at the Stadium of Light where they will lock horns with the many new players imported by the passionate Italian. Adilson Cabral in midfield has impressed pre-season for Sunderland, as has ex-Juventus winger Emmanuele Giaccherini and American striker Jozy Altidore. Di Canio will hope his team gels together quickly as Fulham, with the enigmatic Berbatov up front, remain a solid outfit that can surprise any team on their day – will new signing Darren Bent enjoy a dream debut?
Prediction: Sunderland to win for their charismatic manager
West Brom vs Southampton
Nicolas Anelka has replaced the prolific Romelu Lukaku and Diego Lugano will add class and experience to the defence. However, West Brom lack pace throughout the team and, while still a physical force to contend with, they will be wary of a Southampton side who have added steel to their defence in young Croat International Dejan Louren and midfield in Victor Wanyama. Coupled with Morgan Sneiderlin making interceptions and England scorer Ricky Lambert up front with Ramirez, the Saints will be looking forward to a better campaign than last year and should make a blistering start.
Prediction: Southampton win with Lambert still on cloud nine
West Ham vs Cardiff
With frontman Andy Carroll a doubt for the game Sam Allardyce will look to Nolan to convert the chances provided by Stewart Downing. Joe Cole will add creativity as will ex-Manchester United bad-boy Ravel Morrison, who seems to have finally grown up. Cardiff will be anxious to have an instant impact on the Premiership and will hope that striker Craig Bellamy will continue his sparkling form up front – with new £7.5m striker Andreas Cornelius a doubt – and that Steven Caulker can stop the goals at the other end.
Norwich City vs Everton
The Canaries will parade their new £13.5m strike-force of Gary Hooper and Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and hope that midfielders Pilkington and Snodgrass can compensate for the expected absence of key central defender Sebastien Bassong. John Ruddy should return after horrific injury last year and home fans are shouting about exciting new winger Nathan Redmond. Everton, crucially, have retained the services of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines and will continue to be resilient and well-organised in attack and midfield. This could also be Ross Barkley’s break-through season as the creative hub in midfield with on-loan Barcelona winger Gerard Deulofeu offering further options, as will a rejeuvenated Jelavic upfront. Darron Gibson misses the game through injury.
Prediction: Everton win as Martinez begins a new era at Goodison
Arsenal vs Aston Villa
While Arsene Wenger has not been able to add to the squad, he welcomes back Jack Wiltshire to midfield after an impressive display for England on Wednesday and will also look to his other exciting England talents (Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs) to add sparkle. Santi Carzola made an instant impact last year and Oliver Giroud looked hungry in pre-season. However, defender Vermaelen is injured so there will be worries about conceding goals with only four fit defenders. Villa continue their investment in youth, with all the best young players from last season signing new contracts – notably Christian Benteke, who scored or created 49% of the club’s goals. Danish defender Jores Okore will hope to tighten up a defence that conceded 69 goals last season. Midfielder Charles N’Zogbia is injured.
Prediction: Arsenal win – but Villa will be lively and could sneak a draw
Swansea vs Manchester United
The Swans have enjoyed an astonishing rise up the table under the stylish guardianship of manager Laudrup and have won all 7 pre-season games, scoring 28 goals and only conceding one. While midfielder Jonathan De Guzman is ruled out with concussion, new striker Wilfred Bony will add to the goal threat of Michu and Ashley Williams will keep a tight ship in defence. United, with new signings glaringly absent, will rely upon key players from last season and hope that Michael Carrick will have recovered from his eye infection. David De Gea and Nemanja Vidic will be crucial in keeping the goals out as they will again rely upon Robin Van Persie to sneak the winner. Exciting youngsters Wilfred Zaha and Adnan Januzaj will be on the bench ready to inject urgency if needed.
Prediction: Draw – though United might be defeated if they are not careful
Crystal Palace vs Tottenham
Boss Ian Holloway will crank up the team spirit to make life uncomfortable for Spurs – Palace only lost twice at home last season. While their pedestrian defence looks shaky, record signing from Peterborough Dwight Gayle will look to get off the mark. Player of last season Mile Jedinak will protect the back four from midfield but Palace are desperately short of Premiership experience. Spurs have made several astute signings over the summer, adding potential star Paulinho to midfield and prolific Spanish striker Soldado to attack. Gareth Bale is ruled out through injury.
Prediction: Tottenham to sneak a win
Chelsea vs Hull City Tigers
Jose Mourinho will set his abundance of free-scoring midfield riches free against newcomers Hull City, who will need the physical presence of new signing Tom Huddlestone to break up the unending waves of attack. Eden Hazard will be more comfortable with the physicality of the English game and, with the imperious Juan Mata, will threaten any defence. In attack Romelu Lukaku will hope to continue his goal scoring exploits after netting 17 times at West Brom last season. Steve Bruce will endeavour to get the best out of the limited resources available and will hope that Danny Graham and Sone Aluko will score enough goals to keep them out of trouble.
Prediction: Easy win for Chelsea
Manchester City vs Newcastle
New boss Pelligrini will be happy with his summer shopping, adding the dynamic Fernandinho to an already formidable midfield. Defender Nastasic is out for a month but goals should be plentiful as the Italian looks to keep his four strikers happy. Negredo offers a real physical presence and Sergio Aguero should re-establish himself as on of the world’s top strikers. Newcastle will hope to put last season’s flirtation with relegation behind them. Alan Pardew will try to get more consistency out of his team with game-changer Ben Arfa part of the growing French contingent. If Chiek Tiote can maintain some discipline and they keep hold of Yohan Cabaye – and get over the inexplicable appointment of Joe Kinnear – then they will give City something to think about.
Prediction: Manchester City win – but Newcastle might cause an upset.