Last week, we witnessed the return of the Premier League and as many of you will agree with me, it was almost as if it never left.
The 2016/17 season began with a mind-blowing match at the KCOM Stadium as newly-promoted Hull City defeated champions Leicester 2-1, a result that meant the Foxes became the first ever Premier League title holders to kick-off their defence with a loss.
After that, three draws were recorded as Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough each drew one-all at home to Tottenham Hotspur, Watford and Stoke City. The high-profile names taking charge of their clubs for the first time received some welcomed wins as José Mourinho’s Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 victory at Bournemouth whilst Antonio Conté’s Chelsea and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City both won 2-1 at home to West Ham United and Sunderland respectively.
Elsewhere, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion also shared the same scoreline victory, recording 1-0 wins over Burnley and Crystal Palace. All of that before the result that crowned the weekend of every Liverpool fan, a 4-3 victory for the Reds at rivals Arsenal.
This weekend, each side will be looking to make an improvement on their first outing of the season as the Premier League gets in full swing. With only three results going my way last week, let’s see if I too can improve on that tally with another round of predictions.
Burnley vs Liverpool
I say this at the risk of sounding a little ignorant, however, I was pleased with Liverpool’s resurgence at Arsenal last Sunday.
Inevitably, this entire week has been filled with Moreno-madness but keep things as they are in attack and improve massively on their form in defence and I can see another three points going the way of the Reds at Turf Moor.
Burnley endured a rather frustrating start last week against Swansea and to be honest, their last season in the Premier League wasn’t much different. Sean Dyche’s men are good at compact defending, making them
a tough side to break down but that’s never going to win you matches if you don’t combine it with scoring goals. They’ve got top scorer André Gray for that and he will have to get up and running in the top flight sooner rather than later.
Liverpool did the double over the Clarets two seasons ago and I think we’ll take the first step to repeating that this season with a win at Turf Moor.
Prediction: Burnley 0-2 Liverpool
Manchester United vs Southampton
This will be the league’s first Friday night fixture of the season – a decent way to start your weekend after work.
Manchester United’s level of confidence won’t be dropping after a great day out for them on the south coast last week and I think the prospect of big money acquisition Paul Pogba making his Old Trafford debut will only strengthen them. I just wonder, like most people, how boss José Mourinho plans to fit all his summer signings into one unit and which player may lose their place in the United squad as a result. Which ever way he does it, I think they’ll still be a difficult side to live with this season.
As for Southampton, who earned a point at home last week, their last two league visits to Old Trafford have resulted in two wins for them so they’ll fancy themselves to make it three this time around.
But, ironically, I’m siding with the Red Devils, I think they’ll just be too strong for the Saints.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Southampton
Stoke City vs Manchester City
This fixture excites me because ever since Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola took charge of his side, I’ve been looking forward to seeing how he would do at a ground like the newly-named Bet365 stadium, home of Stoke City.
On their day, the Potters can beat any side in the Premier League – even Liverpool have had their days at the Brittannia stadium. Stoke beat both the Citizens (and Man United) at home last season and ever since then I’ve always felt like the level of quality they showed on both occasions is the kind boss Mark Hughes wants his side to display more consistently. They certainly don’t lack the attacking talent to do so and I think a top eight finish would be a realistic
aim if they do.
Man City weren’t necessarily at their best in their first outing at home to Sunderland but their 5-0 first leg win in the Champions League play-offs in midweek will only give them confidence ahead of this lunch-time kick-off.
I really fancy Stoke at home but I’m just going to predict that City will take the three points with a narrow scoreline.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-2 Manchester City
Swansea City vs Hull City
Both these sides had ideal starts to their respective campaigns but I think Hull City’s will have them walking into this tie with their heads lifted a tad higher.
Everyone put an opening day win over the champions beyond them, for justifiable reasons, but they proved that a strong team spirit both on and off the field – even in the midst of trouble – can carry just about anyone over the line. Our beloved Reds could use a page out of that book.
Swansea were good value for their win at Burnley last week. I was impressed with how well they did to stay in the contest despite the new boys’ resilience and it all payed off in the end thanks to a goal by Leroy Fer. It was always important for them to head into their first match of the season at the Liberty stadium with three points so having attained them, I think they’ve got a good chance of making it six on Saturday.
I’m going to back them to win this game.
Prediction: Swansea City 2-0 Hull City
Tottenham Hotspur vs Crystal Palace
Crystal Palace disappointed me last week, losing 1-0 at home to West Bromwich Albion after I so confidently backed them to win. Manager Alan Pardew will know better than anybody else that his side need a goal-scorer after selling striker Yannick Bolasie to Everton in midweek.
That obviously leads me to their rejected bid for Reds striker Christian Benteke. If what was reported about the clause inserted in the bid, stating that full payment relied on Palace reaching the Champions League, was true then yes, it was certainly a laughable bid. But the Eagles need to get serious about acquiring the services of the Belgian, not only because Liverpool fans are already tired of talking about him but because they need a player of their quality before the transfer window closes.
Meanwhile, Tottenham have all the quality they need in their squad. It was a closely contested match which they drew last week against Everton, but I think they’ll get their first victory of the season in this London derby, ahead of a clash against Liverpool next week. Palace are still a tough side to overcome but they’re toothless at the moment and Spurs will be at home so this is a good opportunity the Lily Whites.
Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Crystal Palace
Watford vs Chelsea
I’ll admit that I may have judged Watford a little too early before their 1-1 draw at Southampton. The Hornets did okay at Saint Mary’s and this home match against Chelsea provides another opportunity to get a result.
It took the Blues a while to get a goal against West Ham on Monday night and Watford coach Walter Mazzarri could look at that and feel like perhaps his side could keep countryman Antonio Conte’s men at arms length, before relying on Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo to score a goal or two.
However, Conte will also feel like strikers Eden Hazard and Diego Costa gave him a reason to be bullish about his side’s chances in this match as the duo played well against the Hammers and a goal each would’ve been the perfect way to get them back on track after a below par campaign last year.
I’m going to predict an away win for this match. I really think Watford will provide a tough test for Chelsea and I wouldn’t be surprised if they earned something from this one but I just (only just) fancy the Blues to nick it.
Prediction: Watford 1-2 Chelsea
West Bromwich Albion vs Everton
This is a difficult match for Merseysiders Everton.
West Brom are the Premier League’s draw specialists as they’ve got a solid defensive style about them and on a day like the one they had last Saturday at Selhurst Park, they can just sneak a win through a perfect set-piece as they’ve got some aerially powerful players in their squad.
The Toffees could struggle with that as they lack height in their back four and squad as a whole. Thankfully they’ve got a decent attacking unit which could make up for that on most occasions.
I just don’t think this Saturday will be one of them. I’m going to back West Brom to hold them to a draw at The Hawthornes as Tony Pulis knows very well how to keep an attacking line-up quiet.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Everton
Leicester City vs Arsenal
I wrote last week that for Leicester City, keeping last season’s PFA player of the year, Riyad Mahrez beyond the summer would represent their best piece of business this summer. They’ve all but done that after the winger most recently signed a four year contract extension with the club. The Foxes can now look forward to getting their season underway as their second outing of the season sees them host Arsenal at the King Power stadium.
Where to begin with the Gunners…
I have no idea but I do believe some changes have to be made in the transfer market before they start to occur – by any slim chance – in management. Arsenal’s 4-3 defeat to us meant that they’ve now lost their opening game of a Premier League season three times in the past four seasons. It doesn’t get any easier for them with this fixture.
However, Arsene Wenger’s men will be buoyed by the fact that they were the only side to complete a double over the defending champions last year and I’m gonna back them to get a result from this match. A draw won’t be quite in their favour here as Gunners fans aren’t happy, to say the least, but I think Leicester, with their firepower will make this a difficult contest to win and for us an entertaining one to watch.
Prediction: Leicester City 2-2 Arsenal
Sunderland vs Middlesbrough
If Sunderland are to put a stop to, what has become, a trend of being deeply involved in the relegation battle each season then I think games like this one, at the Stadium of Light are must wins – no question about it.
Middlesbrough impressed me against Stoke last weekend, they weren’t miles away from winning that match and I must admit they’ve made an early believer out of me with that performance, they’ll be looking to go one better against the Black Cats.
But, as I said, David Moyes’ men have to win fixtures like this one and I’m going to predict that they do just that with a 2-1 result.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Middlesbrough
West Ham United vs AFC Bournemouth
This should be quite an occasion for West Ham United, it will be their first match in their new London stadium and only a win will do for Hammers fans.
I don’t think they performed too badly at Chelsea on Monday, they were just unfortunate to give away a penalty but even after that they showed good resilience to equalize through James Collins before Costa won it for the home side.
Bournemouth were poor (in the nicest way possible) against Man United last week, that defeat wasn’t completely down to their opponents’ new found quality but their poor decision-making in defence. With attacking stars the likes of Sofiane Feghouli, Andy Carroll and Dimitri Payet in West Ham’s ranks, Eddie Howes men will need to improve on that performance lest they’ll be heavily beaten again.
I’m predicting a Hammers win. I feel like their London stadium debut will give them a great boost in confidence. That, as well as their overall quality should be enough to see them earn three points against the Cherries.
Prediction: West Ham United 2-0 Bournemouth