The European football leagues are back ladies and gentlemen and one could almost touch the excitement thick in the air. With the kind of heavy weight transfers we have already witnessed and the ones we might still see, there is absolutely no doubt that every top club consider themselves favourites both at home and in Europe.
Of the EPL clubs, Manchester United made the biggest splash and landed the biggest fish with the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Everton. While he had been brilliant in pre-season, it wasn’t enough to help United land the UEFA Super Cup. Big spenders, Chelsea also made a splash of their own, grabbing Alvaro Morata after losing Diego Costa. Morata had struggled in pre-season though, culminating in that penalty kick miss which helped Chelsea lose the FA Community Shield. Arsenal also landed long-term target, Alexander Lacazette. Liverpool, who might yet lose mercurial midfielder Coutinho, secured the service of Egyptian speedster, Mohammed Sallah.
The biggest splash of this transfer window however was made by PSG when they snatched Neymar from Barcelona for a world record fee in excess of 200 million Pounds. With Barcelona losing a member of their dreaded attacking trio, it would be interesting to see how they fare in their Spanish Super Cup first leg tie versus Real Madrid.
Defending Champions Chelsea have suffered three straight losses in their last three matches; the last, that loss against Arsenal in the Community Shield, as unexpected as it was unenviable. But they will be looking for the best possible start to their title defence when they host Burnley, a side that have lost all three of their previous opening day fixtures. Chelsea are unbeaten in their last six EPL matches versus Burnley. Considering that Chelsea have won more points on the first day of the league than any other EPL side, the odds are stacked heavily in their favour.
Hazard and Bakayoko are injured for Chelsea while Moses begins his suspension for that red card during the FA Cup final. Marney is out injured for Burnley.
Kickoff: Saturday, 3pm
Venue: Stamford Bridge (Chelsea)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Prediction: Chelsea to obtain a slight win.
Manchester United had a very terrible EPL season greatly mitigated by their Europa League glory and eventual qualification into Europe’s elite club competition. They look to better last season’s performance when they take on a West Ham side that were immensely active in the transfer market. But the Hammers have won only once in their last 16 meetings with United. Coupled with the fact that United have won more opening day matches than any other EPL side except Chelsea (16 tied with Chelsea), one could see why they are favourites on paper. But three of the last five matches between these sides have ended in draws. There is absolutely nothing to suggest this one wouldn’t.
Young, Rojo and Shaw are all injured for United. Carroll and Kouyate are both injured for West Ham while Feghouli, Collins and Sakho are doubts.
Kickoff: Sunday, 4pm
Venue: Old Trafford (Manchester)
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Prediction: Very close encounter. In the end I see a draw or a slight United victory.
Under New Circumstances
Liverpool have managed to hold on to their best players and at same time strengthening their squad with new ones. Very good strategy considering that they have Europe to worry about now. They would want a perfect start to the EPL season though when they visit a Watford side that have never managed a win in the first day of an EPL season. Liverpool have beaten Watford in all of their last three EPL matches. Having won all of their previous four opening day fixtures (after failing to win any of the four before), Liverpool are overwhelming favourites going into this. Yet, three of their last four defeats on opening day have come away from home, they might yet be stunned at Vicarage Road.
Zarate is injured for Watford while Deeney, Hoban, Cathcart and Kabasele are doubts. Lallana and Ings are both injured for Liverpool while Sturridge, Coutinho and Clyne are doubts.
Kickoff: Saturday, 12.30pm
Venue: Vicarage Road (Watford)
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Prediction: Win for Liverpool.
Real Madrid enjoyed a most successful season with both UEFA Champions League and Spanish La Liga glories, snatching the latter from bitter rivals Barcelona who were always reaching but always falling short. Both teams lock horns on Sunday in the Spanish Super Cup which could set their respective tones for the coming season. Barcelona have the upper hand having won four and lost just one of their last six clashes with Real Madrid. Coupled with their exceptional pre-season campaign, one would expect it to be all Barcelona. Yet, this will be Barcelona’s first competitive match since losing inspirational forward, Neymar, to PSG. What would Barcelona without Neymar look like? You can be sure Real Madrid would give us an expose.
Vermaelen and Gomes are both injured for Barcelona, Rafinha is a doubt and Neymar left. Suspended Luka Modric is the only missing player for Madrid and what a huge miss it would be.
Kickoff: Sunday, 7pm
Venue: Camp Nou (Barcelona)
Referee: Ricardo de Burgos
Prediction: I see a tight draw playing out.