Ambition and optimism ride high at the start of any professional sports season. It is the proverbial blank slate, the time of year where hope springs eternal for all teams. However, unlike American sports, in which most every team starts the year with visions of the playoffs, whereupon anything is possible (more or less), the model of European soccer allows and almost dictates that all participating teams have some perspective. The tiers that separate contenders from the middle men, and the middle men from those fighting to stave off relegation goes much deeper than just than being given a moniker, it means dollars. The cost of being relegated from the BPL is valued at around 40 million dollars, which for small market teams who depend on revenue to keep them afloat, can be devastating. Then there are the European spots, usually the top 6 depending on the league, which mean an influx of revenue for the club, and a chance to ply their trade across Europe. Now with all these housekeeping items out of the way, let's make some picks for week 1:
Saturday Aug 17, 2013
Liverpool 2 vs. Stoke 1
Notoriously a difficult team to play against, not necessarily because of their quality, Stoke City's stubbornness and physicality are their best assets. Not to mention they boast the highest contingent of American players in any of the top European leagues, makes them a little easier to root for. Fortunately for Liverpool (and Arsenal) fans the Luis Suarez saga has an end in sight, as the close of the transfer window is fast approaching. With his suspension for bitegate having 6 more games to go, the reds will be forced to rely on a young core along with their legendary captain Steven Gerrard to keep them afloat until the situation is resolved. Stoke presents a unique set of difficulties, but Liverpool should be buoyed by the home fans at Anfield.
Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 1
With seemingly another summer gone without major signings, and their last trophy of any kind coming via the 2005 FA cup, Arsenal fans have the right to be edgy, angry, and easily annoyed at management. Even with a thin squad entering the Emirates on opening day, Arsenal should have enough firepower to roll through an Aston Villa squad that might be near the bottom half of the table this year. For those who like to kick the gunners when they're down, google "things that have happened to arsenal since they last won a trophy," as usual, some more clever then others.
Norwich 1 Everton 1
Losing their longtime steady manager to Manchester United could be a bit of a blow to Everton, but in the newly appointed Roberto Martinez they have someone who managed to both win the FA cup and get relegated in the same season last year, which I'm fairly certain has never happened in the history of the competition. Notoriously slow starters, I like Everton to eek out a draw on the road at Norwich, who did well to stay up in the league after being newly promoted last term,
Sunderland 1 Fulham 0
In the midst of the best stretch of his international career, Jozy Altidore makes his return voyage to the premier league after his failed stint with Hull City. Might be tough sledding for both clubs this term as managerial and player changes may make it difficult to generate consistency.
West Brom 3 Southampton 2
Always goals to be had both ways at the Hawthornes, and this match should be no different. West Brom was the surprise team in the early months last season, only to tail off towards the end. Southampton managed to avoid relegation relatively comfortably last season after being promoted. I like the Baggies in a goalfest.
West Ham 2 Cardiff 1
The Hammers finished respectably last year after starting very slow and being in relegation talk. Their opponents, fresh off promotion, add to the Welsh join Swansea as the Welsh representatives. Everybody enjoys the cinderella starting the year off right, and they have a good opportunity to get a point here, I smell a heartbreaking late winner for the hammers.
Swansea 1 Man U 4
Beginning their first season without Sir Alex Ferguson in charge in literally decades, United has quietly made some additions to strengthen their attacking play. With rising english stars like Phil Jones and Tom Cleverly, combined with the class of Robin Van Persie and (possibly) Wayne Rooney, United should cruise against Swansea who to their credit enjoy testing their playing style against the big teams instead of sinking into a defensive shell.
Sunday August 18, 2013
Crystal Palace 1 Tottenham 2
With their $100 million man nursing an "injury" Spurs enter this season in an odd position. Unquestionably the best player in the league last season, Gareth Bale's status as a Tottenham player dictates the level of expectation for the club this season, don't be surprised to see an uneasy start from Spurs until that situation is resolved. I see them struggling a bit with the home energy of newly promoted Crystal Palace, but their talent winning out in the end, tight game.
Chelsea 3 Hull City 0
The blues enter this season as one of the odds on favorites to win the title, their squad depth and manager are two of their biggest assets. With the mix of a young group of players combined with some of the veterans, chelsea are well poised to make a significant challenge both domestically and abroad after someone of a disappointing campaign last year.
Monday August 19, 2013
Man City 2 Newcastle 1
Free spending Manchester City have done exactly the same thing they have the last few summers, added talent and depth to a seemingly never-ending squad. However the question remains whether or not newly appointed Manuel Pelligrini can juggle the egos and consistently put out the best 11, which, even if you were playing Fifa, would be hard to find with this group of players. Newcastle endured an extremely difficult season last term and will be looking to bounce back with a strong contingent of young french players looking break through and provide consistency and structure to the storied club.
Enjoy the ride