August 15, 2012
The Big Kick-Off
Saturday August 18 is the start of the new season in the English Premier League, and arguably one of the most important since its inception over twenty years ago. Public perception in England of the top footballers has fallen over the past few years, with several examples of deplorable behavior from the top players and a sense that many of them are just mercenaries with no loyalty except to their pocket. The relatively poor performance of the England national team in recent competitions and the quality of teams playing in the German and Spanish leagues has only increased the sense of public apathy towards the start of the new season.
London staging the 2012 Olympic Games has only gone to exaggerate the situation. The warm reception given to the top sporting stars from around the world who do not seem to share the same character flaws and train endless hours just for the honor of representing their country shows that the public still has an insatiable appetite for sport. Perhaps the overpaid and overindulged soccer stars that seem to spend more times appearing on the front pages of the tabloid press could learn valuable lessons from their Olympic counterparts.
Once the season kicks off, some good performances from the top teams – both at home and in European action – will help to swing public opinion back towards the soccer stars. However, more negative headlines could continue this trend and take soccer from its position as the English national sport.
Arsenal v Sunderland
Perennial nearly men Arsenal will look to get to a winning start to their season against Sunderland, who will start the first full season under Martin O’Neill. Both of these teams will hope to end the season challenging for European qualification – Arsenal for the Champions League and Sunderland for the Europa League, but the home side will miss leading scorer Robin Van Persie. At Emirates Stadium it is difficult to look past an Arsenal home victory.
Last season: Arsenal won both league games 2-1, but lost 2-0 at Sunderland in the FA Cup.
Prediction: Arsenal 2 – 0 Sunderland
Fulham v Norwich
Norwich were one of the surprise teams of last season and survived the expected relegation by playing attractive passing football. They won many neutral fans, but the result of this was manager Paul Lambert leaving to join Aston Villa over the summer. New manager Chris Hughton deserves success after some rough treatment by previous clubs, but this awkward away trip to London might be too early for the team to gel properly. Expect a low scoring draw or home victory.
Last season: Fulham took the home match 2-1, and both teams drew 1-1 at Norwich
Prediction: Fulham 1 – 1 Norwich
QPR v Swansea
Another surprise package from last season, Swansea also played great football and lost their manager over the summer (this time to Liverpool). New coach Michael Laudrup might take some time to adapt to the English game. QPR also struggled last season and finished just outside the relegation spots, with a new manager. They will hope to get to a good start and should have enough to overcome the new-look Swansea at home.
Last season: QPR won the corresponding fixture 3-0, and the teams drew 1-1 at Swansea.
Prediction: QPR 2 – 1 Swansea
Reading v Stoke
New-boys Reading will hope to get the season off to a good start with victory against Stoke City, who have done well to hold on to their Premier League status. Stoke had a struggle at the end of last season, particularly away from home and may struggle against a fired-up Reading side. Reading should take a home victory to set their season off to the best possible start.
Last season: These teams have never met in the Premier League, but Reading have been victorious in the last found encounters.
Prediction: Reading 2 – 1 Stoke
West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
Supporters of both teams will have plenty of hope for the new season under their new management teams. History suggests that Liverpool will win, but performances last season suggest a lack of fire-power might leave them to struggle to win enough games to be the genuine title contenders that their supporters want them to be. This game may well end up with honors even.
Last season: The away teams won each fixture last season, with Liverpool winning 0-2 at West Brom and losing 0-1 at home in the reverse fixture.
Prediction: West Brom 0 – 0 Liverpool
West Ham v Aston Villa
Another of the newly-promoted teams, West Ham will want to have a better season than their last in the Premier League which ended in the ignominy of relegation. Last season in the Championship they struggled to find the consistent performances that many pundits and fans wanted and they finally won promotion via the Play-Offs. Aston Villa will want to get off to a good start under new manager Paul Lambert, and should have the firepower to take the points in London.
Last season: The teams did not play last year, but Aston Villa won both games in the 2010/11 Premier League.
Prediction: West Ham 1 – 2 Aston Villa
Newcastle v Tottenham Hotspur
The late kick-off match throws together two of the teams that exceeded expectations last season. Both were unfortunate to miss out on a spot in the Champions League, and will hope to improve this time out. Newcastle were formidable at home last season, and it is difficult to see anything but a home victory.
Last season: Both teams drew 2-2 in Newcastle and Tottenham thrashed Newcastle 5-0 in the other game.
Prediction: Newcastle 2 – 0 Tottenham
Wigan v Chelsea
The first of the Sunday fixtures puts the perennial relegation-dodgers Wigan at home to Champions League winners Chelsea. Both teams will hope to start the season in the same way as they finished the last, but Chelsea will be too strong for the home team.
Last season: The corresponding fixture last season ended in a 1-1 draw with Chelsea taking the points in a 2-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.
Prediction: Wigan 0 – 3 Chelsea
Manchester City v Southampton
Newly-promoted Southampton face a baptism of fire in the Premier League with their first match away at the defending champions. Anything other than a comprehensive thrashing will be seen as a good start by Southampton who will aim to consolidate their position in the Premier League this season. The stars of Manchester City should get off to a flying start with a good victory and may even end the weekend at the top of the league.
Last season: This is the first meeting between the teams for seven seasons, where Manchester City won 2-1 at home and drew 1-1 at Southampton.
Prediction: Man City 3 – 0 Southampton
Everton v Manchester United
The Monday night game pits rival teams from the northern cities of Liverpool and Manchester against each other. Manchester United will be desperate to win back the Premier League title they lost to rivals City in the last minute of the last season and a good start at Everton will certainly set them on the way. Everton will hope to improve on finishing 7th last season, but are likely to lose this game.
Last season: Manchester United took a close 0-1 victory at Goodison Park, while the reverse leg was one of the highest scoring games of the season – both teams drew 4-4.
Prediction: Everton 0 – 2 Manchester United