By Timothy Dehinbo
Months, weeks, days have gone by, and now, its hours to kick-off of the 2016/2017 English Premier League Season. Last season saw the greatest underdog story in the footballing world as Leicester City,
who had survived relegation in the final games of the 2014/2015 season pulled off a shocker as they won the Barclays Premier League with three games to go.
This season however, could be the toughest season ever yet, with the world’s best managers pitting their tents against each other in the coming weeks of this rollercoaster season. Pep Guardiola has taken over the top job at the Etihad, although his confirmation as the new manager was done back in Ferbruary which kick started the managerial merry go-round that would follow.
Antonio Conte has taken over at Stamford Bridge following a successful Euro 2016 with Italy and will be keen to banish memories of their disastrous title defence in the past season. Former Lyon manager Claude Puel, has taken over the top job at St Mary’s after former coach Ronald Koeman joined Everton who sacked Roberto Martinez prior to their final game of last season. Former Preston, Everton and Manchester United boss David Moyes has taken over the reins at the Stadium Of Light after Sam Allardyce left his post to take over The Three Lions job.
Hull City go into the new season without a manager after Steve Bruce resigned from his job in July and the Tigers have seen attempts to bring in Wales coach, Chris Coleman rebuffed. An FA Cup title triumph was not enough to save Louis Van Gaal as he was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho, although it was the worst kept secret in football and the move had been mooted since the Portugese got the boot in December at the hand of his former employers, Chelsea.
Keeping the Hornets up, albeit with a poor end of the season saw Qique Sanchez Florez lose his job at Vicarage Road and has been replaced by former Napoli and Inter Milan boss, Walter Mazzari while Swansea rewarded Francesco Guoidolin for keeping the Swans up a new three year deal. In the transfer market, the biggest deal of the summer saw Manchester United sign Paul Pogba from Juventus in an £89m deal.
The Red Devils have also gotten Henrikh Mhiktaryan from Borussia Dortmund, Eric Baily came in from Villareal while Zlatam Ibrahimovic came in on a free transfer from PSG and opened his account in last week’s Community Shield victory over Leicester City. In the blue half of Manchester, Pep Guardiola’s arrival has heralded new signings such as Nolito, Ilkay Gundogan, Olexander Zinchenko, Marlos Moreno, Juan Jesus and John Stones. In Merseyside, Liverpool have gotten Sadio Mane from Southampton while Georginio Wijnaldum came in from Newcastle.
Chelsea have gotten Michy Batshuayi from Marseille and N’Golo Kante came in from Leicester City. Arsenal have signed Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding and Japanese wonderkid, Takuma Asano. Spurs got Vincent Janssen from FC Twente while Andre Ayew and Sofiane Feghouli have joined West Ham. The Saints signed Nathan Redmond from Norwich while defending champions Leicester City have signed Nampalys Mendy and Ahmed Musa plus a host of other deals within the country. Saturday sees seven games taking place while Sunday will have two games on board. On Monday, we have our first feel of Monday Night Football.
It has to be noted that prior to last season’s unlikey title triumph for Leicester, the past five champions dating from the 2010/2011 seasons, have gotten their campaign underway on a Monday night. So, without further ado, we begin our preview at the Kingston Communications Stadium where newly promoted Hull City hosts defending champions Leicester City at 12:45 PM.
Hull come into this game without a manager after Steve Bruce left his job in the early days of July while Mohammed Diame whose goal at Wembley saw the Tigers pip Sheffield Wednesday to the play-off ticket, has joined Rafa Benitez at Tyneside.
They still have the bulk of last season’s players who although they have a couple of seasoned EPL camapaigners like Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Robert Snoodgrass, Jake Livermore and the rest. Pre-seaon saw a couple of wins littered in between draws and they will be confident of kick starting thier season on a high especially with Diomande and Abel Hernandez in fine form.
Leicester City come into this game on the back of three consecutive defeats to PSG and FC Barcelona in the International Champions Cup and Manchester United in the Community Shield after starting their pre-season with a 2-1 win over Oxford United and a 1-1 draw with Celtic in the International Champions Cup as well.
Expect Claudio Ranieri to stick with his 4-4-2 formation which won them the league with Vardy and Okazaki starting upfront which would see Ahmed Musa drop to the bench, although the Nigerian could start in place of Riyad Mahrez who seemed dis-interested in their 2-1 defeat to United and has been distracted by several transfer links linking him with Arsenal and Chelsea. As the first day of the season, expect sunshine in almost all of the stadiums with the KC not left out. A score draw looks a possible result here.
PREDICTION: HULL CITY 1-1 LEICESTER CITY.
The Eagles were the subject of a £30m bid from Everton on Wednesday for Republic Of Congo winger Yannick Bolasie. However, Alan Pardew re-iterated his desire to keep the player at Selhurst Park during Thursday’s press conference. The Eagles defeated Valencia 3-1 on Saturday in their last pre-season game with Connor Wickham scoring twice.
They’ve also defeated Colchester United 3-2 in pre-season and played out a 2-2 draw with Philadelphia Union in their pre-season tour of the U.S. They started last season in fantastic form which saw them move to 5th position prior to the Christmas games after which their formed nosedived culminating in a spate of poor results which threatened to plunder the team into relegation waters before they picked up a few wins towards the end of the season to guarantee survival.
The last fixture between these two sides saw the visitors edge Palace 3-2 in a five goal thriller after Stephane Sessegnon, Craig Gardner and Saido Berahino’s goals had seen Albion race into a three goal lead before two second half goals from Connor Wickham threatened a comeback at the Hawthorns in May. West Brom come into this game after they lost 2-0 to non-league side Torquay United on Monday after returning from their pre-season tour of the Netherlands where they played Vitesse Arhnem and a host of other clubs. They also lost 2-1 to PSG in their first pre-season game.
Expect a very tight game with West Brom sitting deep with a view of hitting the hosts on the break. The pace of Saido Berahino and Stephane Sessegnon will be crucial while coming in from the flanks while burly foward Salomon Rondon will give the Eagles backline something to think about with his height and strength. Yannick Bolasie if he plays could be a lethal weapon on the left flank with the mazy dribbles of Wilfried Zaha coming in handy against a defensive West Brom side who will provide little space for the Palace wingers to wreck havoc. Palace, with a more attacking and cutting edge should nick this!
PREDICTION: CRYSTAL PALACE 2-1 WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Goodison Park comes alive on Saturday afternoon as the Toffees host Spurs in what promises to be an entertaining clash. Everton, under Ronald Koeman will be hoping for a better season after finishing a disappointing 12th last season which saw Roberto Martinez lose his job.
They were plagued by poor defending throughout last season especially Martinez’s insistence on building from the back which saw his team give away a lot of goals. Under Koeman, they’re sure to be better defensively and also more direct in attack unlike under Martinez, with the Spaniard’s insistence on ”sterile” possession culminating into a lot of lethargic and insipid displays from his side. Romelu Lukaku scored 23 goals in all competitions but has been the subject of interest from Chelsea who wants to resign the Belgian they let go just two years ago.
They’ve also lost Tim Howard whose contract had expired, John Stones joined Manchester City on Wednesday for £47.5m while Oummar Niasse who joined from Spartak Moscow in January in the most bizzarre transfer under Martinez is also set to leave. Just like last season, they won’t find Spurs easy to crack. Spurs won their last pre-season game with a 6-1 anhilation of Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup after they had lost 2-1 to Juventus and an improved performance in their second game could not prevent them from losing 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in Melbourne.
A couple of youngsters have impressed in pre-season and will be hoping to get some minutes under their belts; while the arrival of Victor Wanyama from Southampton will add bite and steel to their midfield which capitulated towards the end of last season. Both sides played out draws last season with a goaless draw at White Hart Lane followed by a 1-1 draw in March at Goodison Park.
Ronald Koeman’s Southampton came from behind to beat Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane, and will be looking to beat the North-London based side again. A repeat of last season’s results looks possible here.
PREDICTION: EVERTON 1-1 TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS.
You can feel almost feel the joy in the air, excitement and anticipation of a roller-coaster season ahead with a boisterous atmosphere lying in wait at the Riverside Stadium. Its been seven years since Boro last played a Premier League game and come Saturday, it promises to be a sold-out crowd. Aitor Karanka’s men come into this game against Stoke as marginal favorites having had a good pre-season under their belt. They defeated Aston Villa 3-1, drew goaless against Real Sociedad, lost to Betis and thrashed Crawley Town 6-0 in their first pre-season game.
Alvaro Negredo had a fantastic first half of the season in 2013/2014 but his form nosedived in the second half of the season which saw him shipped out on loan to Valencia the following season, and later, On a permanent transfer. He’s joined on a season long loan deal and opened his account in their 3-1 victory at Villa Park. Expect the likes of Clayton, Albert Adomah, Stewart Downing and a host of other regulars to start this game which could see club record signing Jordan Rhodes sit on the bench.
Stoke City come into this game looking to start strongly unlike last season when they started and ended poorly. Marko Arnautovic will be expecting to lead the frontline ably supported by Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf. Their midfield duo of Whelan and Imbula is expected to start although summer signing Joe Allen could start in the place of the former. It’ll be a very tight game, and Stoke not usual strong starters will succumb to Boro. Fancy a home debut goal for Negredo or a second half winner from Jordan Rhodes
PREDICTION: MIDDLESBROUGH 1-0 STOKE CITY
Southampton come into this game as clear favorites following an impressive pre-season camp in the Netherlands. They thrashed PEC Zwolle 4-0 in their opening game, which was followed by a 2-1 win over FC Twente Enschede and a late Charlie Austin’s goal saw them defeat FC Gronigen 1-0 while they also defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 at St Mary’ thanks to a solitary strike from summer signing, Nathan Redmond.
Ronald Koeman has left the club to become Everton’s manager while Granziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama both left for Shandong Luneng and Tottenham Hotspurs respectively. The Saints won this tie last season after drawing the first leg 0-0 at Vicarage Road. Walter Mazarri’s arrival at Vicarage Road has seen Watford set out in some new formations and shapes in pre-season. An opening 1-1 draw against Working FC was followed by a 2-0 win over Union Berlin. They also played out a couple of 2-2 draws against Torino and FC Lorient, the latter which they threw away a two goal lead. They’ve played 4-4-2, 4-5-1 4-3-3 and 3-5-2.
It’ll be interesting to see what formation the Italian decideds to use. Summer and club record signing from Granada C.F, Isaac Success is expected to start from the bench with Ighalo and Deeney leading the attack. Its hard to look beyond a home win here though.
SOUTHAMPTON 2-0 WATFORD.
This game has a history of producing goals in recent times and hopefully, this weekend’s game won’t be an exception as Pep Guardiola makes his EPL bow. The Citizens have recruited for the future with their recent summer signings. John Stones, Leroy Sane, Olexander Zinchenko, Marlos Moreno and Juan Jesus have all joined and are all below 23 years which shows the long term plans.
Experienced duo of Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito have also joined from Borussia Dortmund and Celta de Vigo respectively, although the former arrived with injury and is not expected to be in action till October at earliest. The Citizens started pre-season with a 1-0 defeat at Bayern Munchen, a scheduled International Champions Cup tie in Shanghai against Manchester United was called off due to bad weather conditions which was followed by a penalty shoot-out victory over Borussia Dortmund after it ended 1-1 in regulation time.
Their last pre-season tie saw them lose 3-2 to Arsenal in Grothenburg on Sunday evening. The Black Cats have also had a good preason as well. They defeated Dijon and Lorient 3-1 and 3-2 respectively, drew 1-1 with Dortmund, thrashed Hartlepool 4-1 and have shown no signs of missing ‘Big Sam’ who left to become England’s new coach. City won this game 5-1 on Boxing Day last season and also picked up a 1-0 win at the Stadium Of Light thanks to an early goal from Sergio Aguero. The Black Cats will try to keep the score low but the hosts will stroll to victory.
PREDICTION: MANCHESTER CITY 3-1 SUNDERLAND
What a summer its been for Manchester United! From appointing one of the biggest names in the managerial world; Jose Mourinho, they’ve also signed the most expensive player ever in world football, Paul Pogba. One of the best players last season from Germany Henrikh Mhiktaryan also joined while Eric Baily and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all joined to strengthen the Manchester based outfit.
They started pre-season with a 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic, which was followed by a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Borussia Dortmund. Their International Champions Cup tie against Manchester City in Shanghai was called off due to bad weather conditions. The dissppointment of the cancelled game didn’t stop them from thrashing Galatasaray 5-2 in Stockholm where Zlatan Ibrahimovic mark his debut with a bicycle kick goal.
Their last pre-season game was a goaless draw at Old Trafford in what was Wayne Rooney’s testimonial match against Everton. Four days later, they defeated Leicester City 2-1 on Sunday. The Cherries come into this game after a pre-season tour in the U.S. They thrashed Minnesotta United 4-0 and also picked up a couple of draws and wins along the way. Jordon Ibe joined from Liverpool for £15m in a club record deal and has already scored twice in pre-season.
They did well last season and this season will be even more difficult for Eddie Howe and his team as they aim to cement themselves are Premier League regulars. They defeated Manchester United 2-1 last season with goals from Josh King and Junior Stanislas but I see a score reversal here.
AFC BOURNEMOUTH 1-2 MANCHESTER UNITED.
With a depleted squad, shorn of its regular defenders like Laurent Koscienly, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista, Arsenal go into their week-end tie against Liverpool with Rob Holding as the only recognised centre back. Mertesacker was injured in training which would see him out for five months. Laurent Koscienly is out due to match fitness while Gabriel Paulista was injured against Manchester City in Grothenburg on Sunday evening which could see Nacho Monreal shoe-horned into central defence.
Their pre-season games saw them draw 1-1 with Nice, which was followed by a 2-1 win over Lorient. A 2-1 win over an MLS All Stars team was followed by an 8-0 bashing of Vikings FC of Norway while their final pre-season game saw then beat Manchester City 3-2 in Grothenburg. Chuba Akpom, Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have impressed in pre-season. Summer signing Granit Xhaka will be looking to start in central midfield for the Gunners having looked assured in pre-season while in possession which is a key component of their play. Liverpool on the other hand, have had a fantastic pre-season winning their first four games without conceeding, before a 1-0 loss to Chelsea in the International Champions Cup was proceeeded by a 2-0 victory over AC Milan.
A breathless performance at Wembley saw them pound FC Barcelona 4-0 before a much changed line-up saw them receive the same battering a day later in Mainz on Sunday. Origi, Coutinho, Firmino and Mane have all looked sharp in pre-season and will surely cause Arsenal no end of problems. The missing players on Arsenal’s end could hand the initiative to Liverpool
PREDICTION: ARSENAL 2-2 LIVERPOOL
Antonio Conte will be seeking to kick-start his Stamford Bridge tenure on Monday night with a victory against the Hammers. The Blues looked good in phases in pre-season especially in attack. However, the defensive issues which bedeviled them last season has been apparent in some of their games. Efforts to sign Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli has proven difficult thus far, while Everton have made it clear that they don’t intend to sell Romelu Lukaku. They started pre-season with a 2-0 defeat to Rapid Vienna in Austria which was followed by a 3-0 win over Wolfsberger three days later.
They also recorded an 8-0 behind-closed doors friendly win over a local club in Austria the following day. A 1-0 win over Liverpool in the International Champions Cup was followed by a 3-2 defeat to Real Madrid where a shambolic display in the first half almost lead to them conceeding an avalanche of goals. They made up for that defeat by beating AC Milan 3-1 four days later while a 4-2 win in Germany saw them wrap up their pre-season tour against Werder Bremen in which the German side constantly exposed the Blues defensive issues which could be exploited by the Hammers on Monday.
The Hammers started pre-season poorly drawing 2-2 with Mainz 05, which was followed by another 2-2 draw against a Canadian based side. They lost 3-0 to Rubin Kazan before finally picking up their first pre-season win when they defeated Karlshrer 3-0. They lost 2-1 to NK Domzale in the first leg of their Europa League qualifiers before a Cheikhou Kouyate’s brace saw them win 3-0 in the reverse leg in their maiden appearance at their new home, The Olympic Stadium.
This tie ended 2-2 last season after a late Cesc Fabregas penalty denied West Ham a win. West Ham had earlier won the first leg 2-1 at Upton Park thanks to a second half header from Andy Carrol who also scored at the Bridge. This should be an exciting game with goals at both ends but the Blues could nick a slim win here.
PREDICTION: CHELSEA 2-1 WEST HAM.