The defending Premier League champions, Manchester United, open the season with a tougher match than you might think and a slew of questions marks.
Swansea City surprised a lot of folks finishing ninth on the table last season and have improved over the summer, making several big acquisitions and improving their depth. With last year's breakout star Michu returning, the Swans will gun for a top-seven finish this season.
Meanwhile, Manchester United have gone from champions to a team predicted by many to finish third this season behind Manchester City and Chelsea. The Red Devils had a shaky preseason, surely in part to the switch at manager from legendary Sir Alex Ferguson to former Everton man David Moyes.
Add in the ongoing Wayne Rooney transfer saga and no major signings for the club, and you have a team that will open the season on the heels of a tumultuous summer.
In other words, this match should be fun one, folks—let's break it down.
When: Saturday, August 17 at 12:30 p.m. ET (5:30 p.m. BST)
Where: Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales
Streaming: NBC Sports Live Extra
What They're Saying
Manchester United have a really tough slate of games to start the season. The team travel to Swansea City to open the season, then host Chelsea, travel to Liverpool, host Crystal Palace and travel to Manchester City.
That's a brutal start for any team, especially one that had plenty of hiccups in the preseason. And Moyes isn't pleased about it. Not even a little.
From BBC Sport:
Moyes said: "I find it hard to believe that's the way the balls came out of the bag, that's for sure."
The Premier League responded by saying: "We have absolutely assured him the process is random and above board. He has accepted those assurances."
A league spokesman also confirmed that Moyes had put his concerns to them directly.
However earlier on Thursday the Scotsman said: "I think it's the hardest start for 20 years that Manchester United have had. I hope it's not because Manchester United won the league quite comfortably last year [that] the fixtures have been made much more difficult."
It's safe to say Moyes has entered a tough situation and hasn't been given many breaks along the way. With an early slate of fixtures that could see United feasibly drop points in four of five contests, his frustration is understandable.
Manchester United Player to Watch: Wayne Rooney or Shinji Kagawa
It remains to be seen if Rooney will be in the lineup but, in either case, the most intriguing player for United will be whomever lines up in the hole behind Robin van Persie.
If it is Rooney, questions abound. Is he fit? Is he happy? Are his best days behind him? Will this be one of his last appearances for the club?
For Kagawa, the chance to return to his natural No. 10 role rather than playing out wide would be a breath of fresh air. If he starts—and shines—in that role, United may yet be convinced that Rooney is expendable.
Kagawa is a very, very good player who wasn't utilized in his proper role that season, something he'll be keen to prove if given the chance to play at the No. 10 this year.
Swansea City Player to Watch: Wilfried Bony
While Michu is still the main man in this attack, he'll slide into the hole behind new addition Wilfried Bony, who carries with him huge expectations after scoring 31 goals in 30 games for Vitesse Arnhem last season.
Bony—easily Swansea's biggest signing this summer—will surely want to hit the ground running for his new club, and the partnership between him and Michu will define Swansea's season. Keep a close eye on Swansea's new capture.
Manchester United Win If...
They play like last year's championship-winning side.
Van Persie gets the better of a pretty good Swansea defensive unit.
United can control possession and bully the technical players of Swansea off the ball.
The Red Devils maintain width on the wings and stretch Swansea horizontally.
Swansea City Win If...
They maintain possession or win the possession battle. There is plenty of skill on this team, don't forget.
Michu and Bony harass the United back-four and tally a goal or two.
United's shaky preseason extends into the regular season and they falter on the road.
Swansea's upgraded defense opens the season with a real cracker and stifles the potent United attack.
Swansea City seem poised to do big things this season and could make a serious push for a top-seven or even top-six finish. But this is Manchester United we're talking about, last season's champions and a deep, talented side.
Swansea will put up a fight, but United will come away with three points on the road. Manchester United win, 2-1.
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