Opening weekend of the 2013-14 Premier League season begs to produce a number of shocks.
Champions Manchester United travel to a Swansea side who ran them all the way last season, while Manchester City face a Newcastle team that has nothing to lose at the Etihad. All three promoted outfits will be quick to make an impression on the big stage, but which teams can make good on their promise?
The first week will be full of drama. Adding a little spice to an already scrumptious round of fixtures, here are some bold predictions to get the mouth watering.
Saturday, Aug. 12
Liverpool 1-2 Stoke City
A difficult summer continues to roll on at Anfield.
Liverpool want Luis Suarez to stay at the club and apologise for his willingness to spew dirt on the Merseysiders. As John Cross of the Mirror reports, the Uruguayan only sees his future away from Brendan Rodgers' team and is not willing to make himself look a fool by saying sorry.
Mark Hughes' Stoke City can take advantage of such a situation. The Potters grabbed a 0-0 draw in last year's corresponding fixture but should feel confident of challenging Rodgers' men for all three this time. Stoke have improved with the likes of Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa joining the club across the summer. They will be playing under little expectation, while their hosts will be playing under a cloud.
Jon Walters with a late winner in this one.
Arsenal 0-2 Aston Villa
The Gunners have flitted between brilliant and boring in preseason, while Aston Villa have enjoyed a number of decent wins against lowly sides. Paul Lambert's men have something Arsenal do not: a superstar forward who is going to bang in the goals.
Christian Benteke will remind the Emirates club exactly what they are missing. Lambert's team have the ability to play exciting, breakneck football at their best and will favour coming up against Arsene Wenger's counter-attacking side. A Belgian double to begin the season? Why not.
Norwich City 3-1 Everton
Chris Hughton's Norwich have done some excellent business over the summer. As such, there's a growing optimism around Carrow Road. Signings such as Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Nathan Redmond and Leroy Fer have added to a squad of players who often worked hard to little reward last season.
The home crowd will be jubilant and ready to amplify pressure on new Everton boss Roberto Martinez. Toffees fans will be pleased to see an attacking, short-passing game employed from the off, but an Arouna Kone goal won't be enough to rack up any points. Norwich will outline their potential for the entire campaign with a stunning win.
Sunderland 3-0 Fulham
Paolo Di Canio underlined his potential as Black Cats boss at the end of last season. The Italian should be fancied for a heavy win this time round and will be eager to improve on the side's 2-2 draw with Fulham last year.
An exciting lineup including Adam Johnson, Stephane Sessegnon, Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore will see the Stadium of Light come to life. Fulham's new-look defence will struggle to cope.
West Bromwich Albion 1-3 Southampton
How will West Brom manage without Romelu Lukaku? It's a question that will be answered with the term "badly" on opening day. The Hawthorns witnessed many astute home victories last season, but Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton will be ready to highlight their summer improvements with a stylish display.
The Argentinian manager's first preseason with the club will see the Saints fully adapt his type of football. Expect Southampton to retain possession, interlink seamlessly and muscle their way through a Baggies team that will lack cutting edge.
West Ham United 0-0 Cardiff City
Sam Allardyce's men always compete with relentless energy at the Boleyn Ground. Even so, Cardiff City's overdue Premier League debut will see Malky Mackay's Welsh side battle their way to a valuable point.
Both sides will come up short in the striking department here. Early-season rust and fatigue will ensure this is a slow-paced affair, lacking in excitement and goalscoring opportunities.
Swansea City 3-1 Manchester United
A Welsh win on opening day seems entirely conceivable, especially when you consider all the pressure is on Manchester United to gain three points at The Liberty Stadium. Whether it's talk of David Moyes, Wayne Rooney or the influence of Sir Alex Ferguson, travelling Reds have plenty of new worries to handle.
The likes of Michu, Wilfried Bony, Jonathan De Guzman and Pablo Hernandez have the ability to remind everyone what a fantastic side the Swans are. The Welsh outfit are already match-fit after playing in the Europa League and will have an extra spring to their step in front of a crowd that will want nothing less than victory. A difficult opener for United, that's for sure.
Sunday, Aug. 18
Crystal Palace 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Even if Gareth Bale stays at Spurs, his preseason has deemed him largely unfit for this match. The world-class player has struggled under "injury" and will be preoccupied by a potential move to Real Madrid.
Crystal Palace have nothing to lose at Selhurst Park. Despite the added firepower of Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli and Paulinho, Andre Villas-Boas' men will suffer a few teething problems during the first match. The legendary Kevin Phillips will snatch three points with a terrific finish only he could muster from the bench.
Chelsea 8-0 Hull City
Many expect Chelsea to win the Premier League this year. Jose Mourinho's return will be ushered in with a victory of ridiculous proportions. Although Hull City's season is likely to be defined by gritty, battling performances, an opening-day blitz will force Steve Bruce's Tigers into a subtle rethink of tactics.
Fernando Torres' opening day hat-trick will give everyone false optimism, while Lukaku's substitute strike will have many calling for him to start. As another lucky bet, Andre Schurrle will net on his first competitive appearance for the Blues.
Monday, Aug. 19
Manchester City 1-1 Newcastle United
Manuel Pellegrini has plenty of work to do at the Etihad, even if he has a frightening array of strikers to deploy. With the wheels not quite turning in tandem during preseason, the Chilean boss will be wary of dropping points to a Newcastle team that will show improved determination this year.
Now that most of Alan Pardew's star men are fit, the Magpies should be valued as a real force. Yohan Cabaye—who is currently being linked with a move to Manchester United, according to The Guardian's Ian McCourt—will be eager to impress and run the midfield. Although City will look particularly strong breaking forward, Pardew's men will nick a draw.
Which bold picks do you agree with for the upcoming weekend of fixtures? Make yourself heard in the comments section, and be sure to discuss the new season with me on Twitter:
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