By Niall Clarke
- Five burning questions ahead of the first round of Premier League fixtures
- Predictions for all 10 of the weekend’s matches
Football fans, the waiting is over. The Premier League finally returns this weekend for the start of what should be one of the greatest seasons yet. And to kick things off, here are five questions heading into the first round of fixtures.
How will Leicester City handle the pressure of being Champions?
It was one of the most remarkable stories of 2015, and the biggest shock In the history of the Premier League. This time last year, the Foxes were tipped to be relegated by many commentators and pundits alike. However, Claudio Ranieri led his side all the way to Premier League glory in one of the most remarkable feel good stories in the history of the beautiful game.
The first match of the new season will see Leicester kick off their title defence against newly promoted Hull City who lost their manager Steve Bruce earlier on in the week. This time around there is a different feeling surrounding Leicester. They are now the hunted rather than being the hunter, and although nobody will be expecting them to repeat last season’s success, there will be pressure on them to retain a good position.
We saw in the Community Shield that Ranieri will set his team up exactly the same way as last season, but that was against Manchester United. Hull will be more defensive minded and will invite Leicester on to them instead of allowing them to play on the counter. It may only be the first game, and you will not be able to draw a full conclusion on how Leicester will handle the pressure. However, if they fail to beat Hull then early question marks could be raised.
How will the newly promoted teams fare?
Speaking of Hull City, every year there is a burning question on how well the newly promoted teams will perform. Can they get off to a dream start? Or will their confidence be shaken with a heavy defeat on the opening weekend? The Premier League is a different class to the Championship, how will they cope?
Hull, as mentioned, will welcome Leicester to the KC stadium to kick off proceedings in the new season. They are manager-less for the time being and come into a match against the defending champions in a far from ideal position. The Tigers have also failed to add to their squad during the transfer window which could lead to struggles during the season. A good result against Leicester will quell some of the doubts and will be a perfect start for Hull City in their return to the top flight.
Middlesbrough will be the most fancied of the promoted clubs to stay in the Premier League and avoid relegation. The Boro have made big name additions to their squad at both ends of the pitch with Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo joining the club for the new season. Valdes in particular is a signing that could earn the newly promoted club much needed points. The Riverside will be rocking for their Premier League return against Stoke City on Saturday. Can Middlesbrough kick their campaign off with a win?
Burnley fall in the same boat as Hull. They are expected to be relegated, but so did Leicester last season right? The Clarets have arguably the easiest opening fixture of the three promoted clubs as they welcome Swansea City to Turf Moor. Like Hull, Burnley have failed to really add to their squad in the transfer market. It is a dangerous game to play when coming up from the Championship, but the first game will give an indication on how that will be handled.
How will Manchester City adapt to Pep Guardiola’s style?
Pep Guardiola has proven himself to be one of the best managers in world football after achieving success with Barcelona and Bayern Munich over the past decade. The Spaniard’s sides mastered the ‘Tiki Taka’ style of football that revolutionised how the modern game is played. Quick one touch passing to open up defences, coupled with high pressure from defence means that opponents struggle to hold possession whilst being under relentless pressure. It is a style that takes time to adapt to, but when working can be a successful tactic that yields huge success.
Manchester City kick off their season at home to Sunderland on Saturday evening. Many will be expecting the Citizens to make a big statement on the opening day by dominating the inferior Sunderland side. However with a new manager and new players to integrate into the squad, this match may be more difficult than many think. The opening game will give an early indication on how the City squad are adapting to their new style of play. It will not be the be-all and end-all of their season, but a positive start under the new manager is never a bad thing.
How will the English players be received by the crowd?
After a poor Euro 2016 campaign that ended in defeat to Iceland, it will be interesting to see how the Premier League crowds will react to the players that disappointed in France.
Players such as Harry Kane and Joe Hart who under-performed during the summer tournament may be subject to boos and taunts from opposition fans, and there will be pressure on them to perform for their clubs after such a disappointing showing.
We saw many England players get booed and taunted after the World Cup in Brazil two years a go, and there is nothing to say that will not repeat itself. It depends on how forgiving the fans are, or how short their memories are, but do not be surprised to see England’s Euro 2016 squad be booed over the course of the weekend.
How will Manchester United’s big name signings perform?
There has not been many clubs as busy as Manchester United during the transfer window. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly joined in big money moves, but they pale in comparison to the fee paid for Paul Pogba. The Frenchman returned to Old Trafford in a record breaking £89 million transfer from Juventus, and although the fee may seem very heavy, there is no denying his talent.
Pogba is a strong, powerful, and skilful midfielder who is capable of winning games on his own, however he will not feature against Bournemouth due to suspension. Therefore all eyes will be on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is one of the most polarising figures in the game, and even at 34 years old he is still considered one of the best players in the world. The man simply known as Zlatan has won titles around Europe, but he is now dipping his toes into the Premier League for the first time.
How will Ibrahimovic adapt to the more physical nature of the English game? He made an impact by scoring the winning goal in the Community Shield, can he lead Jose Mourinho’s side to their first Premier League win under the new boss?
Hull 1-2 Leicester
Burnley 0-1 Swansea
Crystal Palace 2-0 West Brom
Everton 1-1 Tottenham
Middlesbrough 1-1 Stoke
Southampton 2-0 Watford
Manchester City 2-0 Sunderland
Bournemouth 1-2 Manchester United
Arsenal 3-2 Liverpool
Chelsea 1-0 West Ham
The Premier League kicks off at 12:30 BST on Saturday August 13th where Hull City host Leicester City.
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