The Summer has flown by and with many top players still recovering from their exertions in Russia can the smaller clubs take advantage, in the opening game-week of the 2018/2019 English Premier League? John Newsome gets stuck into the early skirmishes.
MANCHESTER UNITED v LEICESTER
It’s back, after a long hot summer, past in the blink of an eye, which included a brilliant World Cup that captured the nation. The Premier League is back and starts a day earlier this season on a Friday Night live on Sky Sports. Manchester come off the back of a 2nd placed finish last term albeit a long way behind noisy neighbours City. Firstly, it’s good to see Sir Alex Ferguson up and healthy after his recent illness. Long may the recovery continue. United are still after Harry Maguire and a first for all the Premier League teams is that come kick-off of this opener, the Transfer Window will be shut so no more incomings. However, European teams can still come in for the Premier League stars until the 1st of September, which seems strange. It should be the same for everyone, whether before the season starts or the 1st of September. That’s for others to worry about, Jose will just worry about getting the best out of his stars, which this season, now includes a World Cup winner. Paul Pogba has enjoyed mixed fortunes at Old Trafford but showed his real class for France in Russia and helped Les Bleus win the World Cup, even scoring in the final on the way to a 4-2 win against Croatia. Let’s hope Jose can start to get the best out of Paul, he clearly has the ability it’s just whether he can produce it week in week out. Another United target Ivan Perisic also scored in that World Cup final for Croatia but ultimately ended up on the losing side.
Will Leicester still have Harry Maguire or will he have left for United or even Tottenham who are reportedly in for him too? Big Harry had a superb World Cup tournament for England and is now a wanted man. Fellow Sheffield lad Jamie Vardy didn’t have much game time in Russia which is a shame really for the 31-year-old, but he will certainly be back to his brilliant best for the Foxes and will want to show Gareth what he could have done given an extended run for the Three Lions. That said, Jamie plays a certain way and uses his speed to run in behind defenders, so if the defenders don’t push up Jamie can’t run in behind. That’s maybe why Gareth didn’t use him as much. International football is different. Jamie is lethal though and has come along way since working in a Prosthetic factory near Meadowhall. Fred will be key to United this season and will add a bit of steel to the midfield which is right up Jose’s street. The United faithful will hope Marcus Rashford gets an opportunity. Again, Gareth didn’t use him as much as probably he should have in Russia but at least he should be fresh for the new season. Last term Leicester visited Old Trafford in August also and a Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini goal gave United all 3 points. Romelu Lukaku missed a penalty that day. At least the Football fraternity have something good to watch on a Friday night and the Red Devil’s should be too strong. Bookmakers Come On! have United at 1/2 to win and Leicester at 13/2. Which in a 3 horse race is quite high. The Draw is 16/5 with Come On!
Home Win 2-0
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NEWCASTLE v TOTTENHAM
Early Saturday afternoon kick-off live on Sky Sports sees Newcastle entertain Tottenham at St James Park. Newcastle had a great season after promotion from the Championship and a big part of that brilliant return was Rafa Benitez. Rafa is surprisingly still at Newcastle but is publicly frustrated with owner Mike Ashley at the lack of transfer activity. Rafa has brought in a couple of players but no stellar names and has seen Aleksandar Mitrovic leave for Fulham. He’s managed to persuade Chelsea to let Kenedy come back for another season and is desperately hoping to keep Jamaal Lascelles after Everton are the latest club to show interest in the highly rated Defender. The realisation for all clubs is that come Thursday, that’s the lot. In previous season’s a team will start the term off then look at where they need to strengthen and have until the end of August to sign newcomers. This term the clubs don’t have that luxury and once Thursday 9th of August comes and goes, that’s it until January. The older end will remember when clubs could sign anyone from anywhere at any time throughout the season up until the end of March that particular year. The end of March was the cut off only to stop the teams still left in the FA Cup from going out and signing someone for the final. Tottenham also have a World Cup winner in their team. Hugo Lloris, as Captain was superb throughout the tournament in Russia guiding France to the final and picking up the coveted trophy albeit making an almighty error gifting Croatia their 2nd goal and rewarding everyone who had France to win 4-2, well done Wakster!!
Tottenham themselves have been relatively quiet in the Transfer market and whilst Mauricio Pochettino has a great first 11, the squad does need improving. The problem for prospective newcomers is that if you are a highly rated striker, are you going to sign for Tottenham knowing Harry Kane, provided he’s fit, will always start before you? Therefore Tottenham can only really shop in certain stores and Daniel Levy is notorious in the Transfer market. Coincidentally this game last term was also the first of the season and Tottenham ran out comfortable winners. Dele Alli and Ben Davies getting the goals in a 2-0 win for Spurs. Jonjo Shelvey was sent off in that opening fixture just after half-time when the score was still 0-0. Come On! have Tottenham as 11/10 favourites to repeat the win. Newcastle are 11/4 and Come On! have the draw at 49/20. Taking everything into account, the players at the World Cup, Jonjo staying on the pitch for the full 90, the draw might just be the result.
HUDDERSFIELD v CHELSEA
Huddersfield’s performance in their debut season was extraordinary and the Terriers faithful must think they are in dreamland ahead of this 2nd term. For a long time, it was touch and go as to whether Huddersfield would hang on to their coveted Premier League place and after a momentous win against Manchester United and draws against Man City and Chelsea they are back for another stint in the elite league. There have been lots of in and outs at the John Smiths stadium but the most significant deal just might be the fact that inspirational manager David Wagner is still in the Terriers hot seat. A lot of clubs are monitoring the German coach and time will only tell whether he will stay in Yorkshire. Veteran goalkeeper Rob Green, who those with long memories, will remember him playing in the World Cup in South Africa 2010 for England against USA in the group opener. Unfortunately, Big Rob spilt a shot from USA and ex-Fulham star Clint Dempsey into the net and the game ended 1-1. Poor old Rob didn’t play again for England in South Africa, however, Roy Hodgson did allow him to wear the number 1 shirt for England again. Rob was at Huddersfield for 13 months up to July this year, but never actually turned out for the Huddersfield first team and now he’s at Chelsea as cover for Thibaut Courtois and Willy Cabellero.
Chelsea are under the guidance of yet another new manager after Antonio Conte was given his marching orders and his fellow Italian countryman Maurizio Sarri came in from Napoli. He brought with him new signing Jorginho. Chelsea lost in the traditional season curtain raiser that is the Community Shield or the old timers will know it as the Charity Shield. As FA Cup winners they get to take on current Premier League Champions and lost 2-0 to Man City. Nothing is ever read into this fixture, it is just usually used as a pre-season workout and usually, the team bears no resemblance to the one that turns out on the opening day. Chelsea still have Willian and he played at Wembley against City but there was no sign of Thibaut Courtois or Eden Hazard who are still away after their exploits for Belgium in Russia. It’s whether these 3 will still be at Stamford Bridge after Thursday’s deadline. This game last term was played in the cold of December and the Blues ran out 3-1 winners. Tiemoue Bakayoko, Willian and Pedro getting the goals for Chelsea with Laurent Depoitre getting a late consolation for the Terriers. Bookmakers Come On! are offering 21/4 for a Huddersfield Win and 20/33 for Chelsea to take all 3 points. Come On! offer 3/1 for the honours to be even.
Away Win 1-2
WATFORD v BRIGHTON
Watford have had a pretty decent pre-season, holding Sampdoria and Cologne to 1-1 draws and beating Brentford, Stevenage and Düsseldorf. Andre Gray is on fire scoring in the games against Cologne, Brentford, Stevenage and Düsseldorf with Troy Deeney getting a couple himself against Sampdoria and Düsseldorf. Big Troy is a legend at Vicarage Rd and it is vital Watford hang on to him before Thursday‘s deadline. If Andre and he can stay clear of injuries they will be a match for any striking duo in the Premier League.
Brighton themselves have had a pretty decent pre-season and will be relishing a 2nd term in the Premier League after last season’s heroics. Glenn Murray, like Troy and Andre for Watford, is vital to Brighton’s survival for a 2nd time and Israeli striker Tomer Hemed can make a name for himself this season having scored a couple already in pre-season. This game last term was also in August, however, it wasn’t the opener, it was the 3rd game of the campaign and ended in a dismal 0-0. Good Bank Holiday weekend for both sets of fans. Miguel Britos was sent off early doors so Watford can be excused for putting 10 men behind the ball and manufacturing a draw. Chris Hughton, however, will not have been happy coming away from Vicarage Rd with just a point having played the majority of the game with a man advantage. Come On! have Watford at 13/10 to win the game and Brighton at 12/5. To repeat last years result, Come On! are offering 23/10.
BOURNEMOUTH v CARDIFF
Bournemouth are fast becoming Premier League regulars and under the guidance of Eddie Howe should again look to push on and maybe finish slightly higher then last terms 12th on the same 44 points as Newcastle and Crystal Palace. That said each year becomes more and more difficult and really it’s forget last term and start again for everyone. Just because you finish 12th one year as no bearing on the next. In the 2016/17 season West Brom finished 10th, Stoke finished 13th and Swansea finished 15th. All relegated the following season so Bournemouth need to be on their toes and not become complacent. In the 5 pre-season games Bournemouth have scored 10 and conceded 10 so it should be an entertaining year at the Vitality. Lewis Cook is on the radar of a few clubs and Bournemouth will do well to hold on to the young midfielder who has a bright future in the game and will be in the England squad in the coming months.
Newcomers Cardiff are back in the big time after 3 years in the wilderness. The wilderness being the Championship. They were relegated from the Premier League in 2014 and were going nowhere fast until someone at the club (whoever that was deserves a medal) decided to ring one of the English games greatest Managers, Neil Warnock. Neil just knows how to get teams promoted and worked his magic again in South Wales. The Cardiff fans must have been thinking the worst when they were 2nd bottom of the Championship in October 2016. He guided the team to safety at the end of 2017, then in his 1st full season gained promotion finishing runners-up to Wolves. This is a gentle opener for Neil and Cardiff and no doubt Neil will upset a few folk along this great Bluebird journey. Pep, Jurgen, Jose, Maurizio and Mauricio will all have an entertaining afternoon or evening in the opposite dug-out to Mr Warnock. Respect Neil. Bookmakers Come On! have Bournemouth as favourites to win this opener with odds of 21/10. Cardiff are 57/20 to get an away win and it’s 5/2 for the points to be shared. Enjoy the ride Cardiff fans.
FULHAM v CRYSTAL PALACE
Newcomers Fulham are also back in the elite league after a few seasons in the wilderness. Coincidentally they were relegated along with Cardiff in the 2013/14 season and are back in the big time after a superb play-off final win against Aston Villa. Youngster Ryan Sessegnon is a revelation at Craven Cottage and it’s unsure as to what his actual position is. He wears number 3 and plays in the traditional left back position to start with, then the next time you see him he’s just scored the 3rd of his hat-trick. Ryan doesn’t just do this occasionally, he does it regularly and scored goals in the promotion winning season. Although Fulham’s Tom Cairney scored the winner in the play-off final, it was young Ryan who played a sublime through ball to enable Tom to coolly slot home sparking mass celebrations in West London. The best thing is for Fulham fans is Ryan is only 18, wants to stay at Craven Cottage and is a twin. His brother Steven also is on Fulham’s books. Let’s hope he trains on like young Ryan has. Tom Cairney has penned a new deal to keep him at Craven Cottage but Fulham have lost Ryan Fredericks to West Ham. They have managed to sign Aleksandar Mitrovic on a permanent deal from Newcastle after his successful loan spell last term.
Crystal Palace surprisingly finished 11th last season after not scoring a goal or picking up a point in their first 7 games. After 4 of those 7, the board decided to get rid of Dutch manager Frank de Boer. Frank was a decent player, but bless him, was out of his depth at Selhurst Park. Palace owner Steve Parish brought in Roy Hodgson. Now Roy deserves a lot of respect for his managerial career, however, not for his England stint. Enough said. Roy’s biggest challenge is to hang on to superstar Wilfried Zaha. When Wilfried doesn’t play for the Eagles they simply don’t get a point. Fact! If only a club like Manchester United would come in for him. He would be excellent at Old Trafford. Both Fulham and Crystal Palace will feel that this is a winnable fixture and bookmakers Come On! surprisingly have newcomers Fulham as favourites to win this London derby at 7/5. Palace are 43/20 and the draw is 12/5 which at just over 2/1 is real value.
WOLVES v EVERTON
The final game of the Saturday fixtures sees new boys Wolves kick-off their Premier League campaign against Everton live on BT Sports. Wolves, under the guidance of Nuno Espírito Santo won the Championship last term and gained promotion along with Cardiff and Fulham. Wolves have been in the wilderness slightly longer then the other 2 and have not tasted Premier League Football since the 2011/12 season when they finished rock bottom with just 25 points. With the squad Nuno has assembled Wolves will be a real asset to the league and only Premier League inexperience will prevent Wolves from having a good season. The Premier League will find you out if you are not prepared and coming into the league as Championship winners, means nothing. Molineux is always a good ground to go to and the travelling Toffees should relish this opener.
Everton got rid of Big Sam and plumped for long time target Marco Silva. There must be something about Marco that hasn’t come through yet. He came into the Premier League at Hull and failed to save them from relegation. He then got the gig at Watford and was sacked. Now Everton, who have been after him for a while, have got their man. So there really is no excuse at Goodison Park. Everton legend Wayne Rooney who played a total of 98 games in 2 spells for his boyhood club has left after 1 season back on Merseyside and has gone off to the MLS in America for DC United. Online bookmakers Come On! have Wolves as slight favourites in this early Saturday afternoon kick-off at 7/5 with 9/4 being offered for both Everton and the Draw. Wolves might just be too strong for the Toffees.
Home Win 3-1
LIVERPOOL v WEST HAM
Early Sunday Afternoon Football live on Sky Sports. Liverpool host the new look Hammers and the Anfield faithful are in for a great season under Jurgen Klopp. Having got to the Champions League final last year and just coming up short, Jurgen has invested in a new goalkeeper and paid a World Record fee of £67 Million for Alisson from Roma to try and challenge Man City for the Premier League title. Liverpool have never won the Premier League under its current guise. The Anfield club last won the League in 1990 when it was still Division 1. Along with Alisson, fellow Brazilian Fabinho, a 24-year-old defender who can also play in midfield, signed from Monaco. Midfielder Naby Keita will add steel to the squad and ex-Stoke and Switzerland star Xherdan Shaqiri has come to Liverpool too. Jurgen will be the real challenge to Pep’s City and will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. West Ham have gone all out to satisfy the Hammers faithful and got rid of David Moyes and brought in ex-Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini. David is a good bloke and deserves respect but his management style is outdated. Being a defender he instinctively reverts to defensive tactics, yet Football is about scoring goals. As youngsters, every aspiring footballer did their utmost to score a goal between the jumpers. Every park in the 70s and 80s had jumpers for goalposts. Whoever turned up, played and tried to get the ball into the goal. No 9 year old as ever gone onto the park and thought to himself ‘I want to stop people scoring ‘ they think to themselves ‘I’m going to score more goals than them’. For some reason, Manchester United decided to appoint David Moyes after the Legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Alex was a striker and his style of football showed. David was a defender. The rest is history. West Ham and Pellegrini have brought in some good players to add to the current squad and with Marko Arnautovic and Andy Carrol, it should be an interesting season at the London Stadium. This game last term surprisingly took place on Christmas Eve and Liverpool ran out 4-1 winners. Goals from Emre Can and the Fab 3 of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane gave Liverpool all 3 points. Michail Antonio got the Hammers consolation. Come On! have Liverpool as clear favourites to win this game and are offering 2/7. West Ham are long shots at 11/1 and Come On! offer 9/2 for the points to be shared.
Home Win 3-0
SOUTHAMPTON v BURNLEY
Southampton narrowly avoided relegation last term and have seen fit to sign Mark Hughes on a permanent deal. Mark is a good man and was one of the best footballers of his generation but is one of these managers who keep being regurgitated from club to club and owners of clubs feel the need to get these guys in. Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Tony Pulis. They are just waiting to put the next club tie on and fail again. Mark only just kept Southampton in the league after being sacked at Stoke who were themselves relegated. The Saints never seem to be able to keep their players which may be a fault of their owners, not the manager but ultimately it’s the manager who ends up down the concrete. Mark has been active in the Transfer Window and has brought in 4 new players, as the new boss tries to ensure that the Saints are not in the relegation zone next season. Stuart Armstrong from Celtic should be a really good signing for the Saints if he can re-create his Celtic form and at £7 Million is a snip.
After last season’s heroics Burnley are in the Europa League, hence this game is being played on the Sunday. Not on TV though. So Thursday and Sunday football for the Claret and Blue faithful. Sean Dyche has worked miracles at Turf Moor and epitomises the fact that if a team is relegated, it’s not always necessary to sack the manager and employ one on the merry-go-round. Burnley and Dyche were relegated in the 2014/15 but bounced straight back under Sean. Then moved onto the Europa League.
Last season this game was played in November the day before Bonfire Night and Burnley took all 3 points with a solitary Sam Vokes goal. Come On! have the Saints as favourites at 5/6, the Draw is 13/5 and Burnley are 15/4to get the 3 points. Those odds might be because of Burnley’s European exploits but Southampton under Hughes won’t put up much of a threat.
ARSENAL v MAN CITY
The final game of the opening weekend live on Sky Sports sees the new look Arsenal take on current Premier League Champions Man City at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger’s long reign at Arsenal is over so it’s all new for the loyal Gooners. The Gunners top brass have brought in ex-Seville and Paris Saint Germain boss Unai Emery. The Spaniard has won the Europa League 3 times with Seville so will aim to get Arsenal far in that competition and hopefully break back into the elite Top 4. This opener against Pep’s Man City will be a real yardstick as to where Arsenal are at. Arsenal lost all 3 games against City last term, 2 in the Premier League
3-0 and 3-1 and the EFL League Cup final 3-0. The 2nd Premier League game was played on a Thursday night in the ‘Beast from the East’ snow. Arsenal will see this game as the perfect start to post Arsene Wenger era. If they put on a good display and get a result all will be well in North London, however, if they lose heavily then the Gooners will think it’s the same old same old, just without Arsene. Arsenal fans shouldn’t forget Arsene Wenger too quickly, the guy deserves respect, yes the last few seasons haven’t been great, but he did revolutionise the English game and moved Arsenal on to the next level. Under Unai, let’s see how the Gunners react.
Pep’s reigning Premier League Champions hammered Chelsea in the Community Shield and players such as Barnsley Boy John Stones, Sheffield’s Kyle Walker and Argentina’s Sergio Aguero seem to have come back from the World Cup in great shape. The display against Chelsea was awesome, yes Chelsea are in transition but Man City can only beat what’s in front of them. Old City ‘keeper Willy Caballero kept the score down to just 2, but City were head and shoulders above the Chelsea Blues. Chelsea fans should be worried if they sell Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois. Willy will fill the shoes if Thibaut leaves but there’s no one to fill Edens magic shoes and it could be a long hard season for Sarri and his Merry Men. That’s not Unai and Arsenal’s problem, they have Man City to worry about not Chelsea. Online bookmakers Come On! have City as clear favourites to win this opener and are offering 11/10, Arsenal are a massive 51/20 to beat City and the draw is 27/10. On current form, City should take the points.
Away Win 0-3
Contact John Newsome, with your own predictions, requests and feedback, at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org