The opening round of the Premier League season is one of excitement, intrigue and trepidation. Excitement at the arrival of a new campaign though marked with the absence of fans due to the coronavirus. Intrigue among several clubs ranging from incoming transfers, outgoing transfers or lack of transfers. Trepidation among fans that hope their club can spring a surprise or at the very least not become a victim of one.
Here at Breaking The Lines we’ll take a look at the games in the opening round of games in the Premier League over the weekend and Monday night.
Fulham vs Arsenal
Fulham’s transfer activity under Scott Parker has been more cautious when compared to the last time they were in the Premier League. The Cottagers have strengthened their full backs in Kenny Tete and Antonee Robinson, though not at centre back. Worryingly, their options at the time of writing this are Tim Ream, Maxime Le Marchand and Michael Hector.
Bringing in World Cup winning goalkeeper Alphonse Areola on loan is a plus, but a Championship level centre back pairing against the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé and Alexandre Lacazette is a cruel baptism of fire.
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As for Arsenal, there is a sense of real positivity among fans under Mikel Arteta, further strengthened by winning the FA Cup, Community Shield and the impending contract renewal of Aubameyang.
However, David Luiz is a doubt with a neck injury, so if Gabriel Magalhães and/or William Saliba make their league debut on Saturday they will be tested by the physicality and aerial prowess of Aleksandar Mitrović.
Prediction – Fulham 1-3 Arsenal
Arsenal should have enough firepower in their locker to pick apart Fulham’s untested defense.
Crystal Palace vs Southampton
There is no doubt Roy Hodgson will want to improve on last season’s 14th placed finish on what could be his final campaign as manager of Crystal Palace. Securing Michi Batshuayi for another loan spell might help sort out their lack of goals – Palace being the second lowest in the Premier League last season with 31.
If Wilfried Zaha was to stay then Palace will hope he can improve on his tally of four goals and five assists in the league last season beginning with a good performance against Southampton. After beating out the likes of West Ham and Newcastle for the signing of Eberechi Eze, fans will be expecting the 22-year-old playmaker to replicate his glittering form in the Championship on Saturday.
As for Southampton, last season was truly Jekyll and Hyde. A 9-0 battering at home to Leicester in October had fans worried they would be primed for relegation. Yet a spectacular revival under Ralph Hasenhüttl in 2020 meant jumping to a respectable 11th. Changing the formation along with the prolific goalscoring of Danny Ings saved their season.
Photo: Adam Davy / Pool via Getty Images
Southampton have built on their revival by rectifying their defence, making Kyle Walker-Peters’ loan move permanent to solve their woes at right back in and bringing in exciting young defender Mohamed Salisu. They will not lack goals with Ings up top, though midfield could be a problem against Palace with no replacement for Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg after moving to Spurs last month.
Prediction – Crystal Palace 1-1 Southampton
Points to be shared to kick start the season between two sides that will be looking to build on their mid-table finishes and make a push into the top half.
Leeds United vs Liverpool
Liverpool face the unfamiliar situation of defending their league title and now finding themselves as the hunted rather than hunter. Some fans have raised eyebrows at the lack of reinforcements at Anfield, with only left back Konstantinos Tsimikas arriving from Olympiakos, but if it isn’t broke why fix it?
The only worry to Liverpool is if there is an injury to either Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino. In the meantime, eyes will be on their league opener as defending champions, with anything other than a win being intensely scrutinised by fans and media alike.
That being said, facing Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds is no easy task. To see the fabled Argentinian in the Premier League will be fascinating and there is no bigger test than Liverpool. Lacklustre is simply not in Bielsa’s lexicon, with Leeds certain to go full throttle whether to their benefit or detriment.
Avoiding defeat to the league champions would show the critics their style of football in the Championship can work in the top flight. Whether it can last throughout the whole of the season is another matter.
Prediction – Liverpool 1-0 Leeds.
Fast and relentless on both sides but Liverpool to nick it courtesy of their world-class attacking line.
West Ham vs Newcastle United
A sense of negativity pervaded amongst both sides at the end of the last season. West Ham narrowly avoided relegation under David Moyes while Newcastle United’s purported takeover backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was called off after the Premier League dragged their heels. However, as both sides face each other at the London Stadium on Sunday, their fortunes have contrasted.
There is growing disillusionment amongst West Ham’s fans at the lack of transfers, failing with bids for Burnley defender James Tarkowski and links to Brentford’s Saïd Benrahma not materialising to anything concrete as of yet. What has hit a real nerve with Hammers’ fans is the club selling their best academy graduate currently in Grady Diangana to West Brom.
Allowing him to leave for a potential relegation rival elicited negative reactions from midfielder Jack Wilshere and captain Mark Noble. It makes fans feel there is a lack of direction at West Ham. The promises of owners David Gold and David Sullivan to compete for Europe upon moving to the London Stadium from Upton Park has currently proved hollow. Defeat on Sunday would only heighten the feeling that a season of real struggle awaits in East London.
Such thoughts of a tough season was also prevalent among Newcastle fans in early August when the takeover was called off. Nevertheless, the Magpies have backed Steve Bruce with positive moves in the transfer market from defence to attack.
Improving creativity with Ryan Fraser along with Jeff Hendrick on free transfers, Jamal Lewis providing a direct threat at left back and in Callum Wilson now have a striker that can score double figures in the league. Newcastle fans may be stuck with Mike Ashley as owner for now but there is grounds to feel a bit more cheerful than in early August in the North East.
Prediction – West Ham 0-1 Newcastle
The Hammers to feel the pressure early on and crumble against a new-look Newcastle side.
West Brom vs Leicester City
The first game of the season for a newly promoted club is important so to set the tone. Victory will bring confidence while a heavy defeat can dent it. Under Slaven Bilić, the Baggies will hope it is the former, though the arrival of Grady Diangana undoubtedly boosts West Brom’s attacking potency. Many observers have tipped West Brom to go down, but sometimes writing a team off can be the making of a side eager to prove the critics wrong.
Alas, Leicester City is a tough examination for West Brom, with the Foxes keen to overcome their capitulation last season in throwing away a Champions League spot. The loss of Ben Chilwell to Chelsea is a blow though signing Timothy Castagne compensates it even if the club now have three right backs in Castagne, Ricardo Pereira and James Justin. If they can acquire the hugely talented Wesley Fofana from Saint-Étienne it further bolsters a defence that was impressive before Project Restart started in June.
With very little outgoings in the starting eleven apart from Chilwell, the Foxes under Brendan Rodgers will target European football once again. Yet the squad will be tested by playing in the Europa League this season hence why a win at the Hawthorns would be the perfect start.
Prediction – West Brom 0-2 Leicester City
Leicester will have too much for the Baggies, who will be looking to avoid their fate of 2018 when they finished bottom of the table.
Tottenham Hotspur vs Everton
Both Spurs and Everton are under pressure for results this season. For Spurs, it will be José Mourinho’s first full season in charge, and they face two primary concerns.
Firstly, the debt incurred from building a new stadium means Champions League football must be achieved. Secondly, the lack of trophies is becoming the elephant in the room that is getting bigger. The problem facing Mourinho is how to balance it albeit without the funds he was used to in previous clubs.
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Focus on the league to achieve Champions League football and a lack of trophies will raise the same questions of whether players like Kane might seek a move elsewhere in the hope of winning silverware. Focus on winning trophies like the Europa League and run the risk of finishing out of the Top 4 that might result in losing star players. Furthermore, while Matt Doherty and Højbjerg are decent buys, a Plan B is urgently required if Harry Kane suffers a long term injury again.
For Everton they have again splashed the cash in their quest to try and crack the Top 6. In the last few seasons their ambition has met with calamity and sacked managers. Under Carlo Ancelotti, it might be different, their woes in midfield have been sorted by acquiring Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré. The arrival of James Rodríguez is a marquee signing though could end up being spectacular or a damp squib.
Prediction – Spurs 2-2 Everton.
A high scoring affair in North London as both sides seek a strong result to begin their respective Premier League campaigns.
Sheffield United vs Wolves
Sheffield United were undoubtedly the surprise of the Premier League last season. The Blades under Chris Wilder were effective in the period before the coronavirus break where their sturdy defence, overlapping fullbacks and resilience won them many fans. Few predicted they would finish in the top half of the league and now many wonder if second season syndrome will affect the Blades.
The Blades have made steps in the transfer market to not fall into the trap by mostly signing or loaning players under the age of 24. Aaron Ramsdale faces the task of replacing Dean Henderson who returned to Manchester United, while full backs Max Lowe and Jayden Bogle from Derby are ones to watch.
Photo: Darren Staples / Sportimage
Ethan Ampadu is a player of immense promise and Chelsea will hope he can develop at Bramall Lane while on loan. Second season syndrome is never easy to overcome but maximum effort will be the minimum requirement under Wilder.
Despite missing out on European football, Wolves have so far managed to keep a hold of their star player apart from Matt Doherty. With Nuno Espírito Santo it is a case of evolving their squad to push forward, as they try to strive for European football.
Burgeoning their Portuguese corps with 18 year old striker Fabio Silva for €40 million is quite the investment for when they are without Raul Jiménez, but Wolves will hope the partnership of Jiménez and Adama Traoré remains effective this season.
Prediction – Sheffield United 1-2 Wolves
Wolves to stunt Blades in a testy encounter between two sides that can make a strong push for the Europa League places once again.
Brighton vs Chelsea
Graham Potter’s first season as Brighton manager had draw backs yet crucially avoided relegation. What helped was having a striker that could score goals in Neal Maupay (10 in the league last season), as well as a decent defence led by captain Lewis Dunk and goalkeeper Mathew Ryan who kept nine clean sheets. Brighton managed to keep Ben White, so effective on loan at Leeds, tying him to a new contract.
The acquisition of Joël Veltman and Adam Lallana brings much needed experience to Brighton. Facing Chelsea in their league opener won’t be easy though the Seagulls had a decent record at home against the so called Big 6 – beating Spurs, Arsenal and drawing against Chelsea.
Of all the teams in the Premier League, it is likely Frank Lampard who will be under the most pressure this season. Chelsea have backed Lampard extensively by investing £200 million on players like Thiago Silva, Malang Sarr, Ben Chilwell, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.
Such investment brings expectations of a title challenge let alone finishing in the Top 4. Anything less and Lampard’s is under pressure though might take at least a few weeks for all the new players to gel into the squad.
However, despite spending big in the transfer market, they still haven’t bought a goalkeeper though negotiations with Rennes’s Édouard Mendy continue. Faced with either Kepa Arrizabalaga or Willy Caballero as the starting goalkeeper on Monday night won’t fill Lampard with confidence, but will provide a kink in their armour, Brighton might look to exploit.
Prediction – Brighton 1-2 Chelsea
Chelsea’s firepower will come out on top in the end.
By: Yousef Teclab
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Darren Walsh – Chelsea FC / Liverpool FC / Peter Powell – EPA / Victoria Haydn – Manchester City / Stuart MacFarlane – Arsenal FC