The big kick-off is finally here: the 2010/11 Premier League season starts today and as usual, They Think It’s All Over… is here to bring you match previews and predictions to get you in the mood. It’s that time of the season where every team is full of burgeoning optimism, and when we’re not quite sure which teams are going to fire and which are going to struggle, with new signings, new managers and new tactics, that means predicting results is harder than ever. But here goes…
Saturday fixtures; all kick-offs 3pm unless stated.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City (12.45pm)
Much of the talk surrounding this new season has been focused on Man City’s big spending summer antics. They’ve brought in a host of new faces who all promise to add quality to what was already a string squad. However, they also look likely to add to City’s internal disharmony as many top players will be left frustrated for playing time, and such a new squad will also take time to gel. Spurs on the other hand, haven’t made wholesale changes and will be determined to repeat last season’s success, with the prospect of Champions League football leaving them full of confidence. Home win.
Aston Villa vs. West Ham United
The battle of the claret and blues see’s West Ham’s first game under new manager Avram Grant and Villa’s first game without Martin O’Neill. I think Grant is a good fit for the Hammers, he’s shown in his time with Chelsea and Portsmouth that he can get teams organised and get the best out of players and the Hammers have a lot of talent in their squad. Rumours that O’Neill’s exit was celebrated by the Villa players may suggest they will thrive in his absence but I rather think that they’ll suffer without him and with Milner looking very likely to jump ship soon too, it’s an unsettled time at Villa Park. I think this one will be tight, and will end in a draw.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Everton
Rovers are always a difficult prospect and last season they made Ewood Park something of a fortress, a place where visiting teams knew they were in for a scrap. Little will have changed this season, Big Sam only knows one way to play but looking at his squad I just don’t see a lot of footballing talent there. At Everton on the other hand, things are looking good. This time last season the Toffees were without at least six first team players, but with a near fully fit squad and a couple of summer additions, Moyes has the pick of a very strong squad – including one of the best midfields in the Premier League, no exaggeration. I can’t look past an away win.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Fulham
Bolton have made one or two handy additions to their squad over the summer but more importantly, Owen Coyle has now had a good long pre-season to really work with and mould the squad he inherited last season. He will have begun to get them playing the way he wants them to, and I think they’ll have a reasonably solid season this year. Fulham on the other hand, may falter slightly after such a good campaign last time out. The loss of Hodgson is a blow, and while replacement Mark Hughes will, I think, do well for them in time, he will need a while to make his mark in the squad. Still, these two will be evenly matched, so I think a draw unless Bolton sneak it with home advantage.
Sunderland vs. Birmingham City
I thought Sunderland had real potential last season, but they struggled with injuries and never really found any consistency. Steve Bruce will be optimistic though, he’s made some interesting loan signings – getting Onuoha from City is a great deal – and if he can keep Darren Bent firing they should have a comfortable season. Birmingham will be hoping they can relive last season’s highs, but the second season is never as easy and they will hope that Ben Foster can serve them as well as Joe Hart did last season, because he earned them plenty of points last season. I expect Sunderland to win this one, but it should be an entertaining and hard-fought game of football.
Wigan Athletic vs. Blackpool
Like last season, Wigan look set to be a team that can be really good on their day, and really poor off it. They’ve got some very talented players in their squad, but all of them seem keen to use the club as a stepping stone to bigger and better things – as Charles N’Zogbia is currently doing for instance – and that doesn’t create the unity and spirit needed to scrap it out in the Premiership. Blackpool… well, who knows! They don’t have much Premier League experience and have struggled to attract players to their cause, but they’ll doubtless give it their all and cause a few upsets along the way. I could see them snatching a point here.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Stoke City
Stoke consolidated their Premier League status last season with some more solid and pretty dour football that nevertheless did the trick for them. They’ve signed Kenwyne Jones from Sunderland, another player bound to cause havoc from aerial balls lumped into the box, so it looks as if Tony Pulis is sticking with Plan A. Mick McCarthy’s Wolves have made a few good signings in the summer themselves and have hung onto Kevin Doyle, and after improving massively towards the end of last season I wouldn’t be surprised to see them survive again. Both teams will have long hard seasons though, and this could well be a stalemate.
Chelsea vs. West Bromwich Albion (5.30pm)
Defending champions Chelsea start their title defence with a game that should be a nailed on win for them, and in saying that I mean no disrespect to WBA. These clubs will very much be operating at different ends of the table, withe the Baggies hoping to cling to their Premier League status to halt their yo-yoing between the top two flights of English football. It will not be an easy beginning for them though, with Chelsea doubtless keen to send a message to their rivals and with home advantage to boot. Easy home win.
Sunday fixture; kick-off 4pm.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
The games between these two sides in recent seasons have usually been pretty entertaining and this one should be no different. Roy Hodgson starts his time as Liverpool boss with a very tough test and it will be interesting to see what he has achieved since being brought in – they’ll need to show some real togetherness and team spirit to overcome a strong Arsenal side. The Gunners look good to me this season, with the addition of Chamakh giving them an extra edge and obviously, with Fabregas staying, they have an incredibly rich array of midfield talent. I think Arsenal will sneak this one.
Monday fixture; kick-off 8pm.
Manchester United vs. Newcastle United
It is good to see Newcastle back in the Premier League, but I think they will have a really tough season of it trying to retain that status, and this first match will obviously not help. Man Utd though, don’t look quite as formidable as usual to me though. Last season they relied all to heavily on Wayne Rooney and while young Hernandez looks a talent, they still haven’t filled the gaping hole left by Cristiano Ronaldo in their midfield, and the ageing Scholes and Giggs cannot be relied upon week in, week out. That said, kicking off at home against a newly promoted side… they should start with a win.
What do you make of my predictions? Any you disagree with? Leave your own predictions in a comment below…