Ah yes. Here it is. The start of the new football season. Watching the Olympics has merely filled in the gaping space between the end of last season and the start of this season. Sure enough, a new season brings new hope, both on the pitch and, more importantly, on our betting slips. So, here is my guide to the opening games of the new Premier League season, with my favoured bet for each game.
With no lunchtime game, it’s Arsenal and Sunderland who will top Saturday’s coupon, and there’s not much you can say about this game without bringing up a certain Dutchman. Robin van Persie’s sad but inevitable departure will no doubt leave the Gooner fans wondering if their club has any ambition left to challenge once again for a title. Well, maybe not this year, but they have looked to cover up the absence of RvP by bringing in experienced German Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud from Montpellier and highly-touted Santi Carzola from Malaga. They won’t have the firepower to cope with the two Manchester clubs, but they should just have enough to fend off Martin O’Neill’s brave battlers. It will be interesting to see how quickly the new signings adapt to the unique style of the Premier League. PREDICTION: 1-0 Best Bet: Under 2.5 goals at 11/10 (Bet Victor/Paddy Power)
Another team that has been hit with a player boycott is Fulham, who have been told in the past day or two by Clint Dempsey that he refuses to play for the club again. Just what you want to hear in the week leading up to the new campaign starting. Norwich go to Craven Cottage with an almost-identical playing cast to last season but a tweak in the dugout, as Chris Hughton is the man in charge now following Paul Lambert’s departure to pastures new. The style should still be there from the Canaries and, with Fulham’s knack of scoring goals at home, I can this clash being the highest-scoring of the weekend. Cue a 0-0, then. PREDICTION: 3-1 Best Bet: Hugo Rodallega to score anytime on his debut at 2/1 (Coral)
Having made a raft of signings, there is a wee bit of pressure on Sparky to succeed and it starts with a home game for QPR facing off against Swansea. Some seasoned finishers up front added to a strengthened defence adds up to a top-half finish in my book, and should be looking to get off to a winning start against a Brendan Rodgers-less Swans outfit. Having not seen an ounce of Michael Laudrup as a manager (and frankly, not much more of him on the pitch), Swansea will be a bit of a unknown quantity early on in the season, as they will surely be playing a contrasting system to the one employed by Rodgers. With the smooth passing style such a success last season, will Laudrup be able to keep this up to suit the players that reside in his small but talented squad. Time will tell on that one, but talent will sort this one out and I think QPR have plenty more than the men from South Wales. PREDICTION: 3-0 Best Bet: QPR to be the first team to score at 4/5 (Blue Square and 888sport) TIP OF THE WEEKEND!!!
A tight and tense match lies in store at the Madejski on Saturday. A team built on defending and finding a winner later on in games (that’s Reading by the way) comes up against another side that is built on defending and taking advantage of a set-piece (that being Stoke). There are just some opening day games that fail to get out of neutral, and I fear this will be one of them. *LAST ON MATCH OF THE DAY CANDIDATE* PREDICTION: 0-0 Best Bet: HT/FT Draw/Draw at 4/1 (SkyBet, BetVictor etc)
Anfield has experienced a lot of turbulence over the past few years, and now it hopes it has begun a peaceful period piloted under Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers. His acclaimed passing style will surely be to the liking of one of England’s finest in Steven Gerrard, and will bring key playmaker Luis Suarez onto the ball in more attacking positions than he found himself last season. The new boss has promised goals, the question is can he feast on a West Brom side who, to me, look vulnerable under rookie manager Steve Clarke. I say they set off very nicely. PREDICTION: 0-2 Best Bet: Luis Suarez to score in a Liverpool win at 3/1 (Betfred)
Do you know what pressure feels like? I know one man who does, and his name is Sam Allardyce. Poor old Sam. Should West Ham suffer a slow start, and he is a dead man walking. His sole aim at the start of last August was to get the Hammers back in the big time, which he was able to do via the play-offs. Even so, the fans were not happy and will remain so until he turns his lump and thump football into the sexy stuff that the ‘Home of Football’ has a stubborn tradition of requiring at all costs. Visitors Villa will look to play some of that this season with Paul Lambert being hired to replace the dour stuff that was rustled up by fellow Scot Alex McLeish. I think both teams will be happy to take a point from this one. PREDICTION: 1-1 Best Bet: Darren Bent to score anytime at 2/1 (Coral)
The first televised game will come from the North-East, and will show a new manager looking to redeem himself from previous misfortune. Andre Villas-Boas was removed halfway through Chelsea’s Champions League last-16 tie against Napoli. The suicidal high-lines that his team was playing led to too many breakaway goals from the opposition, highlighted in the second half of the disastrous 3-5 shocker at home to Arsenal. If he can show some nous, and adapt his gung-ho approach, he can have success over the course of the season, but a finish in the Champions League again would be a major surprise in my eyes. Travelling to the Geordies first-up is far from ideal, and I have the Geordies having another quietly effective season. Papiss Cisse could be up there for the Golden Boot if he can keep it up for an entire 38 games. He gets his first one against the Spurs. PREDICTION: 1-0 Best Bet: Newcastle to win at 9/5 (BetVictor)
Following on from a heroic Champions League success, it seems that Roberto di Matteo has a lot to live up for, and many see him as a sitting duck for when big Roman decides it is time for Pep Guardiola to come to Stamford Bridge. Until then, he has to manage a raft of big-money signings to beat a Wigan side that found their best formation at the end of the season and will look at avoid their annual flirt with the bottom three places. Hazard to Torres could become a cliché by the end of the season. PREDICTION: 0-2 Best Bet: Fernando Torres to score anytime at 6/5 (Blue Square)
Now we’ve got one, let’s go get another one. That’s the mentality at the Etihad, and I’m sure that there will be a party atmosphere as City fans re-convene at the stadium for the first time since that historic moment in early May. Southampton have the unfortunate task of dealing with Bobby Manc’s charges; I don’t think you should judge the Saints on this game alone. I feel they could be like Norwich from last season, a team who love to pass the ball and will not be short of firepower when it comes to putting the ball in the net. For Nigel Adkins, it’s a shame that City will have a choice of Balotelli, Dzeko, Tevez and Aguero to play up front. Ouch. PREDICTION: 4-0 Best Bet(s): Manchester City to win 4-0 at 11/1 (Coral), 5-0 at 20/1 (Bet365) and 6-0 at 50/1 (William Hill)
Sir Alex Ferguson has likened his new quartet to the strike force from the Treble-winning 1999 team. Now they have to go out and show that they can be even better than that superb set of goal-getters. A starting partnership of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie would grace many international sides, never mind a club side. Everton know how to defend well but United will be too strong for them and many other Premier League sides, and expect them to put up some huge score-lines over the season. Don’t forget that the Toffees have been a bit sticky to start off their campaigns, so a United win is a near must for the accumulators this weekend. PREDICTION: 0-2 Best Bet: Manchester United -1 at 13/5 (Blue Square)