Premier League Preview: 6 Key Battles to Watch This Week
Football fans, rejoice. The Premier League is back!
Business starts straight away. Many of the opening fixtures feature battles that must be won, especially in the context of the entire year.
This is shaping up to be the most competitive Premier League season ever, so a good start is vital for all.
To kick things off, here's six key matchups from the first round of games.
Manchester City vs. Southampton
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Let's start with the Premier League champions.
City will be extremely happy with an opening-day fixture against newly promoted Southampton, especially at the Etihad.
Last year, the Blues went unbeaten all season at home, often romping to victory against struggling opposition.
While there's nothing to suggest Southampton will be an easy match, Nigel Adkins' side couldn't kick the season off with a greater challenge.
With Joe Hart expected to return from injury (via Daily Echo), City will be looking to build on an impressive display in the Community Shield.
Carlos Tevez received praise from Roberto Mancini after his excellent goal last weekend (via John Curtis of The Independent), and with Tevez in form, the champions will be looking to send a message of intent towards the rest of the league.
Fernando Torres vs. Wigan and Reading
David Rogers/Getty Images
After the 3-2 Community Shield loss to Manchester City, Chelsea have two Premier League games within the next week.
The European Champions are due to take on Atletico de Madrid at Monaco's Stade Louis II, but Roberto Di Matteo's men have plenty of work to do before the match on August 31st.
First up is Wigan on the 19th, followed by Reading on the 22nd. Although the club also face Newcastle before heading to the Super Cup match, immediate attention will be on the first two fixtures.
As we saw in the Community Shield, much of the onus will be on Fernando Torres to perform.
He didn't see much of the ball in last weekend's match, but still managed to grab a goal with expert movement and a cheeky finish.
If Torres can score in the games against Wigan and Reading, his confidence will continue to grow.
Eden Hazard has already shown he will need time to adjust, so Torres' role is more important than ever. The Spaniard's opening performances will set the tone for the rest of his and Chelsea's season, so an early goal or two is important moving forward.
West Brom vs. Liverpool
Gareth Copley/Getty Images
New Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers won't be looking forward to visiting the Hawthorns.
Although the Merseyside club recorded a 2-0 victory in their last visit, the Baggies nabbed a 1-0 win in the return fixture, right when the pressure was on former boss Kenny Dalglish.
Both sides have made quality signings this summer.
For West Brom, the arrival of Marcus Rosenberg and Romelu Lukaku will rejuvenate an attack that has relied on Peter Odemwingie too readily across the last two years.
Both of these signings will want to make an immediate impact in front of the home crowd, especially Lukaku. He told The Sun that he is relieved to be spending the year away from his parent club (via Simon Blaquiere of goal.com).
Reports suggest Manchester City are circling around Liverpool's Daniel Agger, and if this is true, his focus may be elsewhere going into this match (via BBC Sport).
Rodgers has undoubtedly bulked his squad up before heading into the Premier League season, and if players like Joe Allen can dictate the game, the side from Anfield should overcome a difficult test.
Newcastle vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Michael Regan/Getty Images
In the long run, this might be the most important opening fixture of the lot.
Spurs finished four points ahead of Alan Pardew's side last year, indicating just how tight the battle for a Champions League place has become.
Both sides will be aiming to qualify for Europe's top competition this year, and it all begins in this heavyweight clash.
This is two major losses for the club, who now have significant voids to fill.
Newcastle's side has remained largely the same over the summer.
Starting at home provides a huge advantage over their North London rivals, especially with the crowd at St James' Park (I refuse to say Sports Direct Arena), cheering them on.
This match is an early pace-setter.
Arsenal vs. Sunderland
Julian Finney/Getty Images
Most Arsenal fans will have resigned themselves to losing Robin van Persie, but with the deal finalized (via Mark Ogden of The Telegraph), reality will set in.
Arsene Wenger has made some excellent signings with the likes of Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla joining the club, but they all need to make an instant impact.
RVP's 30-goal haul in last season's Premier League isn't something that can be replaced quickly.
The Gunners have always overcome the loss of club superstars, but this time they need the new attacking talent influence with style.
Sunderland will be looking to cause an upset. If Arsenal fail to win, pressure will immediately loom over the side, and indeed, the coaching staff.
Life after the prolific Dutchman must go on starting on August 18th.
Everton vs. Manchester United
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Arsenal's loss is Man United's gain.
Opening the season with a trip to Goodison Park, Fergie's boys will certainly hope that's true.
Matches between the two teams were extremely close last season. A single Javier Hernandez goal stole the points in the corresponding fixture, while Everton produced a stunning fightback to draw 4-4 at Old Trafford.
The latter result had a massive say in where the Premier League crown ended up, and United will be looking to put this right.
It'll be difficult for Robin van Persie to shine straight away, but the Red Devils have enough experience to beat an Everton side that is notoriously weak in the opening stages of the campaign.
Wayne Rooney will need to be in top form. If he is, the crowd supporting the Toffees might be uncharacteristically quiet.