Anticipation for the 2017/18 Premier League season is high as we approach its kick-off at the Emirates on Friday. Arsenal host Leicester City before the remaining eighteen teams feature over the course of the weekend. As is typically the case for the opening weekend, every game tends to carry some sort of narrative importance.
Brighton and Huddersfield will become the 48th and 49th teams to feature in the Premier League when they make their debuts against Manchester City and Crystal Palace respectively. Unlike their fellow promoted rivals, Newcastle are no stranger to the top division, yet their opening fixture against Tottenham comes in the shadow of their last meeting on the final day of the 2015/16 season when an already-relegated Newcastle stormed to a 5-1 victory.
Several teams will be confident of improving on last season after enjoying a productive transfer window. Everton have impressed many and will feel confident against a visiting Stoke City who - in contrast to the hosts - have endured a frustrating window. Likewise, the recruitments made by Bournemouth are encouraging and they will be hoping to make an instant impact when they travel to last season's over-achievers, West Brom. Similarly, West Ham face a tough opener against Manchester United with the additional subplot of Javier Hernandez returning to Old Trafford. In contrast, Swansea City and Southampton face losing an influential player and that could go a long way in determining how they fare this season. At the other end of the spectrum, Burnley head into their opening clash with Chelsea having still failed to replace Michael Keane and the recently departed Andre Gray. The latter links up with new manager, Marco Silva at Watford and, whilst this has left many fans optimistic in the wake of a dire 2016/17 campaign, Liverpool will be expected to make life difficult on Saturday.
All that comes without even mentioning the title race. Pep Guardiola will be expected to kick on this season - starting with a trip to the Brighton - and Jurgen Klopp will need to get points on the board early before European commitments congest the fixture list. Whereas Chelsea and Tottenham face being left behind, especially given the signings made by Manchester United and Arsenal. With all this in mind, here are the three fixtures we have identified as the ones to watch this weekend:
Crystal Palace vs Huddersfield Town (Saturday, 3pm)
Much on how both Crystal Palace and Huddersfield's seasons go will depend on how their manager takes to the Premier League. David Wagner has earned plaudits for leading Huddersfield to promotion after taking over when they were 19th and the Terriers will be confident his success continues after spending big this summer. Frank de Boer takes over from Sam Allardyce after a disappointing spell at Inter Milan. Regardless, it was not long ago when de Boer led Ajax to four consecutive Eredivisie titles, so this is a man who knows how to win. The Premier League does represent a significantly bigger obstacle, but it could turn out to be a coup for Palace.
The difference between the two new Premier League managers lies within their respective teams. Huddersfield have been converted to Wagner's style of high tempo pressing and thrived under his tactics in the Championship. Crystal Palace, on the other hand, will need to adapt to de Boer's possession-based style and that could be easier said than done after spending a season following the pragmatic, counter-attacking tactics of Sam Allardyce. Despite the signings of Jairo Riedewald, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, you feel that more players are needed to speed up the transition.
It is a winnable game for both sides and it should make for an intriguing clash of styles. It is easy to read too much into the opening game of the season, but it should at least provide an insight into how well-equipped Huddersfield are to survive and if Crystal Palace will spend a large part of the season adapting to their new manager's demands.
[caption id="attachment_10726" align="aligncenter" width="393"] £10 million signing, Aaron Mooy can shine against Palace (Credit: Tim Hoggarth)[/caption]
Key Player: Aaron Mooy
A key player for Huddersfield last season, the permanent signing of Mooy was more of a formality than anything. If Huddersfield are to impress, Mooy will continue to be a key cog in the Wagner machine.
Newcastle United vs Tottenham Hotspur (Sunday, 1:30pm, Sky Sports)
It is fitting that Newcastle's first game back in the Premier League was also their last. For Tottenham, it is an opportunity to banish the demons of that 5-1 defeat. Yet, neither side appears to be entering the new season particularly happy.
Danny Rose's recent revelations mean it is very likely that Tottenham will lose both their first choice full-backs this summer. Even with competent replacements already at the club, it has exposed a worryingly lack of depth in the squad. This season was already shaping up to be a challenging one for Spurs - what with the temporarily relocation to Wembley - and it is difficult to see them competing with the rest of the 'top six' if Daniel Levy continues to refuse to spend. Rafa Benitez has also expressed a frustration with Newcastle's transfer business up until this point. Javi Manquillo and Jacob Murphy are good signings, but more is needed with Benitez unlikely to settle for another relegation battle.
Can lightening strike twice? It's unlikely, but Newcastle might just be able to capitalise on the disruptions plaguing Tottenham to open their campaign with an impressive three points.
[caption id="attachment_10722" align="aligncenter" width="237"] Eriksen can punish this Newcastle side (Credit: ¤ Chris ¤)[/caption]
Key Player: Christian Eriksen
Given Harry Kane's well-documented struggles in August, Eriksen might have to carry the torch for the first three games of the season. He is a class above most of the players in the league and that should be evident against Newcastle.
Prediction: Spurs win
[caption id="attachment_10721" align="aligncenter" width="634"] Credit: Sean MacEntee[/caption]
Manchester United vs West Ham United (Sunday, 4pm, Sky Sports)
All eyes will be on the strikers at Old Trafford on Sunday. Javier Hernandez is poised to make his debut for West Ham against his former side, whilst Romelu Lukaku arguably could not have dreamed of a more suitable team to make his debut again.
Having scored in nine consecutive games against the Hammers prior to that run being stopped this April at the London Stadium, the Belgian will be confident his record for Everton against the Hammers will continue for Jose Mourinho's side. The winner of his battle with Winston Reid will likely go along way in deciding the outcome of the match. The visitor's biggest threat is arguably Hernandez, but anything of threat will have to go through Manuel Lanzini. If either of those two struggle to make an impact, it is difficult to see where the goals for West Ham will come from - especially against a team who only lost five and conceded twenty-nine last season.
The hosts are understandably the favourites and it will take something special from West Ham to take the three points back to East London. That said, it is the type of game that West Ham typically do well in after a lacklustre pre-season, but they will need to stop Lukaku if they stand any chance of getting anything from the game.
[caption id="attachment_10720" align="aligncenter" width="455"] Can Lukaku continue his record against West Ham? (Credit: Aleksandr Osipov)[/caption]
Key Player: Romelu Lukaku
It's hard to go against Lukaku in this particular match. Everything is in place for him to make an immediate impact in front of the Stretford End.
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