Crystal Palace v Arsenal:
Palace look a team to keep an eye on this season. Only the top four and Brighton suffered fewer defeats than the Eagles last term as they recorded a first ever positive goal difference in their 13th Premier League campaign. Additions of Sam Johnstone, Chris Richards, Cheick Doucoure & Malcolm Ebiowei look to have strengthened Patrick Vieira’s hand in all departments ahead of his second season in charge.
On paper Arsenal’s fifth placed finish last season represented progress, but given the position they were in and with no European football to distract them – missing out on the top four to their arch rivals would have stung. Mikel Arteta will hope his new signings can hit the ground running and given their EPL experience both the versatile Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus should do just that – with the latter looking to showcase his talent in front of goal, a he has done in pre-season, as a regular starter.
Gunners fans would have winced as the fixture computer gave them an away trip to Selhurst Park for their season opener – with memories of being bullied by Brentford in last season’s Friday night curtain raiser coming flooding back. This is an early test of Arsenal’s credentials while being just the game in which Palace thrive. As a result, I’m sitting firmly on the fence and just sit back and enjoy the return of the Premier League!
Fulham v Liverpool:
Fulham demolished the Championship last term gaining their third promotion in five years racking up 90 points whilst plundering 106 goals. That was thanks in no small part to Aleksandar Mitrovic who broke the league record by hitting the back of the net an incredible 43 times. If Marco Silva can get a player who has a fairly average EPL record of 14 goals in 64 appearances, firing – then he may just stop this yo-yo returning from whence it came.
Having pushed Manchester City to the final minutes of the season and also playing in every single game that was possible last term – Liverpool are back for more. This time without Sadio Mane for whom £64m man Darwin Nunez comes in as replacement of course. If the striker who scored every 76 minutes on average for Benfica in the league last term can adapt to life in England as well as fellow Portuguese Primeira Liga recruit Luis Diaz the Reds will be challenging on all fronts once again.
For the fourth consecutive season Jurgen Klopp sees his side open their campaign against newly promoted opposition. Having won the previous three 11-4 on aggregate this should hold no fear for the winners of last weekend’s Community Shield.
Tottenham v Southampton:
Twelve months ago, and Spurs were preparing for a daunting opening fixture at home to EPL Champions Manchester City. That was a fixture they duly won but the good times weren’t to last and much has changed at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium since then. Arguably most significantly the arrival of Antonio Conte who, despite the odd wobble, instilled his ethos into the club and guided them to a fourth-place finish after collecting 56 points in their 28 games under him. The arrivals of Richarlison, Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma and Clement Lenglet will only strengthen the fiery Italian manager’s hand.
The Saints were one of the earliest teams to reach for the flip flops as they ended their season in free fall. Ralph Hasenhüttl saw his side take just five points from their final 12 games, a decline which saw them tumble from ninth to 15th. No side dropped more points from winning positions than the Saints 29 a theme which has been consistent throughout the Austrian’s tenure with the total now at 73 since he took charge in 2018.
This game generally produces goals galore with 22 in the last five meetings – I am expecting more of the same in this clash with the home side getting the majority.
Newcastle v Nottingham Forest:
We probably expected a lot more action from Newcastle in the transfer market this summer but there has still been a combined £60m outlay on three players – interestingly on a goalkeeper and two defenders, hinting at where Eddie Howe feels his side need to improve. Regardless of this the Toon faithful go in to the new season full of optimism after seeing their team pick up 38 points in the second half of last season. A tally only bettered by Liverpool (51) and Manchester City (46).
Talking of sides who have an excited fanbase brings us neatly to visitors Nottingham Forest – back in the top tier for the first time since 1999. The key for Steve Cooper will be to get a newly assembled squad to gel as quickly as possible. An FA Cup run, which saw wins against Arsenal and Leicester before a 1-0 exit despite pushing eventual winners Liverpool all the way, will give great belief in there being a successful end to the challenge that now awaits.
It’s impossible to predict what type of Nottingham Forest display we will see given the wholesale (necessary) changes – but we do know Newcastle were a real force under Eddie Howe, especially at St. James. For that reason, I will side with a narrow home win.
Leeds v Wolves:
After surviving relegation via a last day nail-biter, Leeds are another side who start afresh this season. Key men Kalvin Phillips and 11-goal top scorer Raphinha will be big misses; however, their sales have allowed Jesse Marsch to give his squad an overhaul. Despite the new signings, keeping Patrick Bamford fit will go a long way towards preventing another frantic scrap to avoid the drop.
Only the bottom three scored fewer goals than the Old Gold last season (38) and now 6-goal top scorer from that campaign, Raul Jimenez is out for a “number of weeks”. On a positive note for Bruno Lage, only the top four conceded fewer times than his side, who only shipped 43 goals, with Jose Sa keeping an impressive 11 clean sheets in his debut season.
A new look Leeds should find this Wolves side a tough nut to crack with 43% of the visitors fixtures last term ending with one or fewer goals – I fancy a share of the spoils and a low scoring draw.
Bournemouth v Aston Villa:
Although the Cherries have returned to the top flight, their transfer business feels a bit like preparing for a swift return to the Championship. Time will soon tell whether Joe Rothwell and Marcus Tavernier will make the step up and help keep their new team above the dreaded dotted line. The jury remains out on Scott Parker also given his win rate of just 17% at this level.
Steven Gerrard guided his side to 10 wins from his 27 games in charge, but will certainly look for more improvement following a 14th placed finish last term. There is plenty of creativity across the team to ensure a positive outcome to his first full season at Villa Park, while additions of centre back Diego Carlos and midfielder Boubacar Kamara address the defensive frailties of the last campaign.
I’m concerned for Bournemouth and this already feels like a crucial game for them to set the tone and keep some momentum going. However, with the excellent Neil Critchley joining Gerrard in the dugout this looks like an away win to me.
Everton v Chelsea:
The Toffees were awful last season, safety only guaranteed after a mini run of good results at the end of the campaign. Only the bottom two, Norwich and Watford lost more times than Everton’s 21 and they will be grateful to be kicking off the season in front of their own fans after picking up just 10 points on the road last term. Since then, top-scorer and assister Richarlison has been sold to Spurs and on the eve of the season Frank Lampard suffered a severe blow with news Dominic Calvert-Lewin is likely to miss this game through injury.
Thomas Tuchel saw his side win only nine of their last 19 EPL fixtures but of course there were mitigating circumstances given the uncertainty around the club. With the takeover now complete, focus returns to the pitch where the massive hole left by Antonio Rudiger has been filled by the impressive Kalidou Koulibaly. While EPL veteran Raheem Sterling joins to provide an expected steady flow of goals to a side that saw a league high 18 different scorers last season.
Frank Lampard will almost certainly call for the Goodison faithful to be his side’s 12th man this weekend – it’s just a shame they can’t play up front. I’m not sure where the goals will come from here and on that basis, this looks like an old school win-to-nil for Chelsea.
Man Utd v Brighton:
Erik ten Hag begins the Manchester United revolution and bounce back from a truly awful season – certainly by their high standards. The addition of two defenders was no surprise given the Red Devils conceded a club record 57 EPL goals. However, with question marks over Lisandro Martinez’s height for the English top flight and thoughts Tyrell Malacia may be a better attacking outlet than defensive lynchpin only time will tell whether that issue has been successfully resolved. There’s not enough time to even begin the conversation over the problem that is Cristiano Ronaldo!
On to Brighton, who once again massively punched above their weight, finishing a club record 9th last season and while the Seagulls continue to underperform to xG, Graham Potter certainly hasn’t lost the magic touch, impressing pretty much anyone that watches his side. Talk is rife that Deniz Undav could be the finisher needed to take the club into the fight for European places – while I think a fit again Danny Welbeck may have something to say about that. With the top 4 and Wolves the only sides conceding fewer goals than Potter’s men – it is clear where the focus lays this campaign.
A new manager, system and style of play generally takes time to bed in with the odd error on show during the acclimatisation period. As a result, I can see the well organised visitors returning to the South Coast with a solid point.
Leicester v Brentford:
It’s been a quiet summer window for the Foxes so far with no incomings. However, given the injury crisis which beset them last year getting players like Wesley Fofana back and available will feel like big signings for Brendan Rodgers. Despite what was considered a below average campaign, Leicester still finished in 8th as well as making the semifinals of the Europa Conference League – more a mark of how far they have come then anything. In the weeks ahead it could be more a case of who stays at the King Power rather than who arrives in defining the expectations of the season ahead.
The Bees impressed all before them last term, dispatching Arsenal 2-0 in the curtain raiser to set the tone for the remaining 37 games which culminated in a 13th placed finish. A tail-spin was reversed by the free signing of Christian Eriksen, a player whose decision to join Manchester United this summer is a big blow for the Londoners. Solid signings like Ben Mee, mixed with the gamble on the undoubted EFL talent of Keane Lewis-Potter and the likely capture of another Great Dane in Sampdoria midfielder Mikkel Damsgaard could be enough to avoid the much feared “second season syndrome”.
Leicester’s weakness at defending set plays seems to still be “a thing” judging by their pre-season and there are few worse teams to come up against when attempting to protect that particular glass jaw than Thomas Frank’s side. Tough one to call but I’m siding with the Foxes…just.
West Ham v Man City:
A seventh placed finish coupled with a Europa League exit at the semifinal stage represented another strong campaign from the Hammers. Jarrod Bowen burst on to the scene and into the England squad as a result of his 22 EPL direct goal involvements. The £30m addition of giant striker Gianluca Scamacca will take the weight of expectation off Michail Antonio’s broad shoulders.
After a nerve-wracking final day of the season, City finally did cross the line to become champions of England for a fourth time in the last five years. As if a tally of 93 points and 99 goals without a recognised striker wasn’t enough, Pep now has the undoubted predatory talents of new signing Erling Haaland to call upon – a scary thought for all his rivals. With Kalvin Phillips brought in to add bite and extra steel in that midfield alongside or in rotation with Rodri the blue half of Manchester look an even more immovable force at the summit of English football.
Will we see a shoot-out between Scamacca and Haaland? Possibly, but regardless of that side story this promises to be a cracking conclusion to the end of the first round of fixtures and although I expect this to be a tough opening challenge, I can see Manchester City just edging it.