Saturday 13th August
And we’re off. Welcome one and all to the latest instalment of the BPL football bonanza. There’s new managers, world record-breaking transfer fees and, eh, lots of other things. And there’s Hull. Still without a manager and hardly 11 fit players, without a ball being kicked in anger it already looks like they are nailed on for relegation. So, 19 teams it is then. But enough of the cheery talk, let’s get down to some previews.
15.00 Everton v Tottenham Hotspur
Since last we saw the boys in blue, Everton ditched perma-optimist cum manager, Roberto Martinez, in favour of Dutchman, Ronald Koeman. For a club with new-found ambitions and wealth (British-Iranian businessman, Farhad Moshiri, is new club owner), Koeman represents an excellent move having shown BPL fans just what he is capable of after two successful seasons with Southampton.
Although seemingly content with the Saints, the lure of greater financial clout turned his head and north to Everton he went. His first league outing with his new charges sees him take on his predecessor at Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino, with his Spurs team. He does so without young central defender, John Stones. The Briton was bought by Manchester City for a fee of about £50 million, making him the second most expensive defender of all time, assuming you count David Luiz as a defender.
Although Koeman might well have expected this move to happen, as one of the finest centre backs of modern times, he will surely rue the chance to work with Stones. Still, they have recruited Ashley Williams from Swansea and although he is a very different type of player, he has the skills and leadership qualities that Koeman requires to marshal what was a dodgy defense.
Spurs, true to form, have had a relatively difficult summer transfer market with deals falling through and their head of recruitment recently resigning his post (cough, cough, Daniel Levy, cough, cough). They have managed to recruit Victor Wanyama and Dutch forward Vincent Janssen, two good players so it’s not all doom and gloom but one assumes that Spurs fans aren’t exactly overwhelmed by them, either.
The greatest issue the team faces, however, is mental. Their unseemly collapse at the finish line last season will have left their boss fuming and if they think Pochettino went tough on them last season, they’re likely to be in for an unwelcome surprise this year. The Argentine takes his job very seriously and if he can get the emotional end of their game right, Spurs should be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.
Koeman has recently said that his team is far from fully fit but Spurs are also down some key players so it’s difficult to call the result here. The lunacy of the transfer window still being live as the season starts means that some players with an eye on a move elsewhere might not put themselves about quite as much as they might otherwise do. It’s a farcical situation but that’s how things are. Expect an exciting if somewhat loose match. This column is going to plump for a draw and BetFred amongst others are offering 12/5 on that outcome.
17.30 Manchester City v Sunderland
Pep Guardiola makes his BPL debut with Man City in the late Saturday match. Fellow ex-La Liga manager, David Moyes, is also making his league debut with new charges Sunderland. So then, two heavyweights? Not according to the market but we’ll touch on that at the end.
Guardiola has made some big signings since arriving and in truth, he had to. City of last season had some players that were big on transfer fees but not so much on skill – we’re thinking of Mangala and Otemandi to name but two. If they are to compete seriously in the BPL and the CL, massive change is required and the money men are backing Guardiola to do it. The Spaniard is objectively one the finest managers in the world but it will take him some time to infuse his way of thinking into a team that did precious little of it last season.
Sunderland have given David Moyes the chance to resurrect his reputation as a manager with his first gig in England since Manchester United gave him the heave-ho a couple of years ago. He is nothing if not a solid British manager, consistent with few thrills. If he can keep Sunderland clear of their near-annual dalliance with relegation, he will have done a good job.
Although clearly the superior team, City could have been given a handier team for their opening game. No-one is expecting Sunderland to run them ragged but they will likely be tough, obdurate and niggley, unwilling to let City fall into pleasing patterns. This will be the first of many frustrating days for Guardiola as Sunderland won’t be the last team set up to disrupt his artistry.
A Sunderland win is the longest price on offer this weekend – 14/1 if you must know – and just about everything points to a City win at 1/4 but where would this column be without random bouts of stupidity romance? Why not go out on a limb and throw some shrapnel at the draw, priced at 6/1 from MarathonBet.
Sunday 14th August
16.00 Arsenal v Liverpool
Ah, Arsenal. Is there anything new we can write about them that couldn’t just be copy-and-pasted from previous years? The answer is, of course, no. Having spent the summer signing very few players, Arsenal now have an injury crisis. Already! Yes, they are three centre backs down and have yet to sign one. Up front, sole striker Olivier Giroud is unfit to start meaning that winger-striker-winger Theo Walcott might get the nod or Alexis Sanchez, who is currently stalling on a contract extension. And of course, Arsenal have yet buy a striker of real quality despite looking to do so since May.
Liverpool have thus far decided to leave Alberto Moreno as their first choice left back, a decision which if left as is will provide many laughs and easy points for rival fans and teams respectively. For a second season in a row, Lucas Leiva might well be retained due to a lack of any defensive midfield signings (too early to tell how effective Marko Grujic can be there and Emre Can lacks the maturity). Still, at least they have Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane to add to their list of attacking midfielders and forwards.
Klopp has said that for Liverpool and him, there can be no excuses this season. He has had time to bed in with the squad, make some new acquisitions and go through a full pre-season programme with his team. Naturally there have been injuries along the way and both Daniel Sturridge and James Milner look unlikely but remember, no excuses!
If one is to think of Arsene Wenger as an intelligent and considered man, then for him too, there can be no excuses, as to forgive him his negligence in terms of squad management, would be tacit admission that he has no capacity to learn from his mistakes. Every year he dillies and dallies with regard to signing the players he needs to seriously challenge for the top trophies and every year he is hit by injuries and lack of form from starting players when he doesn’t. For good or ill, he seems to be a hopeless romantic, utterly convinced that the purity of his ideals will win out in the end. Sadly, the evidence doesn’t suggest that his brand of utopianism is an effective realizer of dreams.
The opening weekend of the league is all about gut feeling and instinct, given the lack of form coming into it- hit and hope. In this match, we know that Arsenal are seriously shorn of defenders and that Liverpool have many, many attack-minded players. Liverpool, too, have their issues in defense but they are unlikely to have to deal with a proper striker. Taken as simply as that, Liverpool seem to have more going for them. On that basis, we’ll back them to win at 28/13 from 188Bet.