Those 13 seconds of fate which sealed glory for the blue half of Manchester and agony for the red seem like they only happened yesterday. Yet here we are, a day away from one of the most anticipated seasons in English football history. With last season as the benchmark, an excellent Euro 2012 in the backdrop and the London Olympics providing a wonderful spectacle to the world of sports, can the 21st edition of the Premier League live up to the lofty expectations of the ever-demanding public?
The spending by the top clubs has been curbed by the looming threat of UEFA’s FFP plan, but recent developments could trigger a ‘transfer merry-go-round’. Apart from Chelsea, who have added the likes of Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar among others, most of the top guns have been relatively quiet – City have only added Jack Rodwell, while Manchester United signed Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell early on. Expect that to change as soon as Robin van Persie lands at Old Trafford. City are interested in Daniele De Rossi, Arsenal could sign Yann M’Vila or Nuri Sahin if they let go of Alex Song, Tottenham will trigger a move for Joao Moutinho if Luka Modric heads for the Spanish capital, Liverpool are still looking to add a midfielder.
But the season is upon us now, the time for pleasantries and rumors is past. It’s time to gear up for what looks like another intriguing and pulsating battle for the Premier League crown. Chelsea look like the only real side who could challenge the might of the Mancunian clubs but inexperience among their new signings could prove to be an obstacle.
Among the newly promoted teams, Southampton look like they could have pulled off the coup of the summer by signing Gaston Ramirez from Bologna. They have beaten the likes of Liverpool, Internazionale and Tottenham to snap up the wing wizard. That should really shake up things in the bottom half of the table.
Right, let’s get down to the previews then.
Arsenal v Sunderland, 1930 IST
Arsenal are without Laurent Koscienly and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain with Theo Walcott and new signing Santi Cazorla facing late fitness tests. Lukas Podolski and Giroud are likely to be handed their debuts as Wenger prepares for life without captain Robin van Persie.
Sunderland will welcome Louis Saha into the line-up and hope he strikes up an instant understanding with the brilliant Sessegnon. Their defence remains creaky however, and could prove to be a thorn in their back throughout the season.
Prediction: Arsenal should win this but expect the margin of victory to be narrow.
West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool, 1930 IST
There is a real buzz of anticipation surrounding Liverpool as they travel to the Hawthornes for their season opener against West Brom. New signings Fabio Borini and Joe Allen are in line for a start as Rodgers looks to hit the ground running. But the future of Daniel Agger hangs like a dagger on Liverpool and his sale could be a potential hammerblow.
New West Brom manager Steve Clarke has roped in Romelu Lukaku on loan from Chelsea and has hung onto Peter Odemwingie despite some strong interest from abroad. Those two have the potential to form a deadly attacking partnership which will be crucial to West Brom’s season.
Prediction: Liverpool are known for starting well and should continue that record with a relatively comfortable 2-0 win.
Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur, 2200 IST
Newcastle were the surprise package of last season – not only was their 5th placed finish a brilliant achievement by Alan Pardew, but his transfer dealings drew widespread praise and envious glances from fellow managers. The likes of Demba Ba, Haterm Ben Arfa and Pappis Cisse were outstanding, with Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul providing the foundation at the back. They’ve added Vurnon Anita from Ajax to an already solid squad and should be challenging for a top four spot again.
Tottenham meanwhile, have been realtively quiet in the transfer market. Their biggest deal of the summer was bringing in manager Andre-Villas Boas to replace the sacked Harry Redknapp. Villas-Boas has spent most of the summer trying to fend off interest for Luka Modric (which which was in vain). Jermain Defoe is the only recognized striker in the squad as the likes of Roberto Soldado and Leandro Damiao have rejected their advances. Villas-Boas needs to add firepower soon or Spurs could be facing yet another hyped but ultimately disappointing campaign.
Prediction: Draw. Both sides will be cautious and not wanting to get off to a losing start.
Wigan Athletic v Chelsea, 1800 IST
Wigan have acquired the nickname ‘Miracle Club’ after pulling off remarkable end of season runs which have kept them afloat in the Premier League season after season. But having lost their two main players in Hugo Rodallega and Victor Moses (reportedly on his way to Chelsea), Roberto Martinez faces yet another long drawn out season which could end in relegation.
Chelsea have been the big spenders in the league having acquired Hazard, Marin and Oscar and looking to seal deals for Moses and Cesar (Right-Back). The loss of Drogba has not yet be addressed though as manager Roberto Di Matteo looks to put his faith in the erratic Fernando Torres. If that gamble fails, Chelsea only have Daniel STurridge as backup – not a foolproof plan.
Prediction: Chelsea should have too much in their tank for Wigan. Expect a convincing 3-4 goal victory for the hosts.
Manchester City v Southampton, 2130 IST
City havent strengthed much, but that’s because they don’t need to. An experience squad with the ability to pull off last-minute winners, the defending champions are the hallmark of a team ready to put everything on the line again. Tevez is back to his menacing best and has formed a formidable partnership with Sergio Aguero, hero of last season’s grand finish. It is hard to spot a weakness in this side but the lack of defensive cover for Kompany (Savic has hardly settled in) is an area of concern for Roberto Mancini.
Southampton, if they add the signing of Gaston Ramirez, could be a potential banana skin for the top clubs this season. He won’t be available for this game which is expected to be a one sided encounter.
Prediction: City started last season with a 4-0 win against newly promoted Swansea, don’t be surprised if the scoreline resembles that on Sunday.
Everton v Manchester United, 0030 IST
Everton have made 15m from the sale of Jack Rodwell and David Moyes is looking to instantly splash the cash on Kevin Miralles. He’s already re-signed Steven Pienaar from Spurs and let go of Tim Cahill. Nikica Jelavic’s brilliant start to English football is key to Everton’s success this season.
The red half of Manchester has been abuzz with the imminent arrival of Robin van Persie. He isn’t expected to start on Monday night but just the thought of him and Rooney up front is enough to striker fear into the hearts of opposition defenders. Shinji Kagawa has impressed in pre-season and will be aiming to impress his new manager. The return of Nemanja Vidic provides a much needed boost to an ailing defence but expect Antonio Valencia to start at right-back since Rafael, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are unavailable.
Prediction: Goodison Park has never been an easy ground to go to but Everton are tradiotional slow starters. United should come out of this with a slender advantage.