The Premier League is back and here at AS English we will be bringing you our views on how we think each matchday will turn out. With it being week one, we give you our predictions on the individual games as well as a feel for their business in the transfer market – which is not closed until the end of the month – and the season’s preparations. Bring. It. On.
Arsenal vs Leicester (Draw)
The opening fixture of the Premier League 2017/18 season, on a Friday night to boot, sees two teams that competed in last year's Champions League meet. This year neither club has that distraction and can put the majority of their focus on improving on relatively disappointing league positions. Whilst Leicester's top-table European adventure surprised any honest person, Arsenal's failure to qualify in the top four positions was a shock to the system, and some would say a much-needed jolt to the establishment at the Emirates.
The Gunners went out early in the summer transfer window and bought one of the most sought after strikers in Europe in Alexandre Lacazette and he'll hope to start strong and prove to be one of the missing pieces of a squad not far from competing at the very top. The Frenchman should take the pressure off top scorer Alexis Sanchez (who Arsene Wenger has said is not ready for the opener) to save games and that just creates more problems for opposing defences, and therefore, likely more opportunities. Likewise, bringing in Sead Kolasinac from the Bundesliga could improve the starting XI, with him impressing fans in the Community Shield victory over Chelsea.
The Foxes are in a strange position, with few commentators knowing how this year, the post-post title-winning season, will pan out for them. Craig Shakespeare had the side reinvigorated after the Ranieri malaise and enjoyed a good run across the second half of the season to end in 12th place. Holding onto their players, as per last summer, has been key to them looking to battle towards the European places - at the time of writing Riyad Mahrez is still a Fox - and recent additions of Vicente Iborra (Sevilla) and Kelechi Iheanacho (Man City) among others should give the freshness and competition for starts the team needed. An impressive final pre-season win over Borussia Monchengladbach gave a sense that they could make it hard for Arsenal, favourites going into the game, to get off to a winning start.
Watford vs Liverpool (Away win)
Watford welcome Jürgen Klopp's side to Vicarage Road knowing that, once again, The Reds come with a high pressing, attack-minded approach. New players have been added to the squad, including Everton's Tom Cleverly fixing permanently after a loan spell, Derby's Will Hughes and the lesser-known quantity in English football of Brazilian U-20 forward Richardson from Fluminense for £11.5 million. But the Hornet's biggest signing ahead of the new campaign could indeed come in the form of manager, Marco Silva. His five months at Hull ended in relegation for the northerners but he showed enough in his time there to have several clubs around Europe interested, with Watford the grateful winners of his signature. He will be aware that the owners are not afraid of pressing the managerial reset button and the final pre-season game against Real Sociedad, which ended goalless, showed again that scoring is an area of concern. Silva described that aspect of the game as "shy" and the recent capture of Andre Gray from Burnley, along with the much-needed return after injury of record-transfer Roberto Pereyra, has the ability to light up Vicarage Road.
Liverpool have enjoyed a relatively successful preseason with the most notable performance against Bayern Munich, winning convincingly 3-0. Although a friendly, Klopp was pleased to see individual improvements from his side, an obvious part of how the German views his role - coach players to be better, not just buy perceived finished articles at top dollar. Adding to an impressive frontline comes Mohamed Salah, who showed fans why Roma valued him so much last season during the preparations, and along with Mane provides lightning pace to compliment other attributes of teammates such as Firmino, Coutinho (if he stays!) and Lallana. Defence was the problem area for The Reds last term and so Andy Robertson has been brought in to fight for a place with the much-maligned Alberto Moreno (who's actually impressed in the season's preparations), and the friendlies suggest a slightly different style to the overall play, in an attempt to thwart opposition advances. Another defensive signing is likely too but not in time for this game. On New Year's Day earlier this year, fans were eyeing an elusive Premier League title only for a nightmare January to take its toll. A solid three points away from home is the confident start they need.
Chelsea vs Burnley (Home win)
Antonio Conte will have been pleased to see a opening day fixture at home to one of the teams expected to be in the bottom half of the table. The Italian should be puffing his chest out after a Premier League title win in his debut campaign but there have been noises coming from the club that not all is well. A comfortable win will help settle this.
New signings Álvaro Morata (Real Madrid), Tiemoue Bakayoko (AS Monaco) and Antonio Rudiger (AS Roma), for over £130 million, along with the free transfer of goalkeeper Willy Caballero from Manchester City seem decent business in the current market, but time will tell how they fit into the plans. Included in the players going in the other direction are Juan Cuadrado to Juventus and Nemanja Matic to league rivals Manchester United, although Bakayoko is seen by many as an upgrade on the latter. The manager has suggested that he's not completely satisfied about how the transfer market has gone and the depth of his squad - more signings almost guaranteed - but questions have been asked about the number of players sent out on loan, not to mention the Costa fall-out. Make no mistake though, this Chelsea side are strong and have every chance of going on to retain their crown, but they'll have to manage European games this year unlike last.
Burnley manager Sean Dyche won't need to be reminded of his side's away results last season, one win in 19, and will aim to improve on this while remaining resilient at home. The problem with the impressive 10 wins at Turf Moor is that opposition teams will go there this season knowing the challenge that faces them, with some cavalier approaches last year being weathered and countered. Bringing in Jack Cork, Phil Bardsley and Jon Walters seems to follow the Dyche model: strong, reliable and good for the group unity. Unfortunately he has been unable to hold on to forward Andre Gray which, one would expect will need to be resolved quickly in order to offer rivals a real and constant threat. Very little is expected of the team at Stamford Bridge and their season is not going to be defined by this opening day result.
Bakayoko and Hazard are both still out for the champions but they should still have enough to come through this by a couple of goals, with Morata and Batshuayi likely to both be called upon to put the ball in the net.
Crystal Palace vs Huddersfield (Draw)
New boss Frank de Boer takes over a Crystal Palace side sprinkled with talent but in need of some additional strength. The Dutchman, however, is likely to want time to work with what he's got before making any major investments, the chairman too. Ruben Loftus-Cheek on loan from Chelsea appears to be a sensible addition, while Jairo Riedewald is another to jump from the developmental stepping-stone known as Ajax. Keeping hold of Wilfried Zaha, Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend mean Palace has the potential to put defences under pressure from a variety of situations and De Boer will look to work on these strengths, particularly on the break and from set pieces. The former Ajax and Barcelona man has his ideas on how the team should play - which is likely to contrast with some of those that have been in his position in recent times - so the question will be how quickly he can get that across to the players, and whether it functions in the Premier League.
New boys Huddersfield arrive in the Premier League for the first time full of enthusiasm, if not blind optimism. This is the side's first appearance in the top flight since relegation in 1972 and they have made early moves in the transfer market in a bid to stay. Breaking their transfer record four times before pre-season had even started was smart, especially considering they came through the later play-offs, and their now-record signing, Steve Mounié, has already knocked in a few goals following his move from Ligue 1's Montpellier. The team's manager, David Wagner, and chairman, Dean Hoyle, have both done their best to kill off too much expectation: one saying they're the biggest underdogs in Premier League history, the other that the person saying that will not be sacked if the results follow the prediction. Finishing off the numerous chances created by their fluid, speedy attacks was an issue last season so Porto's Laurent Depoitre will be expected to make a difference in that department. Securing Tom Ince from Derby and making Aaron Mooy from Man City their own should also help. Optimism of making it to the top table may be able to keep them going for a while but reality will bite at some point.
Everton vs Stoke (Home win)
Seeing the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu leave for the brighter lights of Old Trafford and the Camp Nou respectively may have given Toffees' fans an all-too-familiar feeling, but this is far from the sense around Goodison. Manager Ronald Keoman impressed last year and although has lost his top marksman went into the transfer market early and strong. Jordan Pickford (Sunderland) at £25m was a statement that he wanted extra security in the last line. Then additions of highly rated Ajax midfielder Davy Klaassen, Spain's U-21 striker Sandro Ramirez from Malaga, and Burnley's solid Michael Keane all meant plenty of time to work together on the training ground and in pre-season. Then came the announcement that Wayne Rooney would return to the club he made his name at and people started to talk about them nibbling again at the toes of the top six, maybe this time breaking into it if any of the top teams falter.
Mark Hughes has slowly been building his Stoke side. They finished last season in 13th position which is respectable enough but even more so when you consider that they were just two points off Southampton in 8th. Kurt Zouma and Darren Fletcher are reliable additions to the side however the loss of Mark Walters and, more importantly, the creative talent of Marko Arnautovic may be missed. Even more expectation will be put on the broad shoulders of Sheridan Shaquiri to deliver and Hughes will look to Shalke arrival Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to help. With Jack Butland, and likewise his deputy Lee Grant, very capable in goal, and a decent structure throughout the side, revolving in part around Welshman, Joe Allen, Stoke fans will again be looking for a battle for those higher mid-table positions.
Everton's new look side, and the fact that they should have had enough time to gel, gives them the edge in this match. Don't be surprised if Rooney steps up with a goal to take the headlines too.