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Premier League Week 1 Previews and Predictions: All Eyes on Van Gaal

Daniel TilukFeatured Columnist IIIJanuary 2, 2017

Premier League Week 1 Previews and Predictions: All Eyes on Van Gaal

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    The Premier League graciously returns to our television screens on Saturday; it almost makes you want to kiss a camera.

    Filled with passion, madness, confusion and drama, England possesses the best reality television show known to man: The storylines abound without a football even being kicked.

    Manchester City: Can they repeat?

    Manchester United: Will they rise off the mat under the tutelage of Louis van Gaal?

    Chelsea: Has Jose Mourinho's "little horse" transformed into a thoroughbred?

    Liverpool: How will the Reds deal with no Luis Suarez and Champions League duties?

    Southampton: Who is even playing?

    Wondering questions could go on for months, but happily there are just two days left until answers start lending themselves available.

    As most football enthusiasts would tell you, predictions are essentially impossible. If you could predict the future, there seems little point to watch the games. That said, we all like to test our knowledge and clairvoyant abilities on occasion, so you have stumbled on the right place should you be into these sort of mental exercises.

    Over the next 380 Premier League games, spanning 38 rounds and 281 days, Bleacher Report is going to be your crystal ball—looking over the sublime landscape of top-flight English football and providing answers, whether win, lose or draw.

Comments Section: Who Ya Got?

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    What fun are predictions if you do them alone?

    Throughout the 2014-15 Premier League season, the comments section will take on the writer.

    Put your picks of the week's games in the comments, then vote for the person you think has the best predictions.

    The highest-rated reader will be pitted against yours truly, and the following week our scores will be calculated into a running table.

     

    How does the scoring work?

    Wrong prediction: zero points

    Correct prediction: one point

    Correct prediction and exact score: three points

     

    For your copy-and-pasting pleasures

    16 AUG MU vs SWA LEI vs. EVE QPR vs. HUL STK vs. AVL WBA vs. SUN WHU vs. TOT 17 AUG ARS vs. CRY LIV vs. SOU NEW vs. MC 18 AUG BUR vs. CHE

    — EPL Predictions (@EPLPredictions_) August 9, 2014

Must-Watch Match of Week 1: Manchester United vs. Swansea City

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    When: Saturday 16 August, 12:45 BST (7:45 a.m EST)

    Where: Old Trafford, Manchester, England

    Louis Van Gaal will hope to start his Manchester United reign on a high versus Swansea City, knowing the Red Devils' board and supporters—scarred by David Moyes and last season's lacklustre exploits—expect nothing short of excellence.

    The experienced Dutch manager, however, commences 2014-15 without clinical striker Robin van Persie, among others. Van Gaal and Van Persie lead the Netherlands to third place at the 2014 World Cup, but Van Persie is understood to be recuperating from his summer duties, via ESPN FC.

    Garry Monk and Swansea City will count this omission as positive, but facing a hungry Manchester United side on opening day at the Theatre of Dreams will be a daunting task.

    Van Gaal's lauded 3-5-2 formation could see its first deployment in the EPL; should the Red Devils score first—drawing the Swans out of their penalty area—expect a free-flowing, open spectacle where Manchester United take charge.

    Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Swansea City

    Man of the Match: Juan Mata

    For What It's Worth: Manchester United (managed by David Moyes) beat Swansea City 4-1 to open their 2013-14 campaign.

Queens Park Rangers vs. Hull City

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    Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 16 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Loftus Road Stadium, London, England

    Queens Park Rangers boss Harry Redknapp has added the likes of Steven Caulker, Rio Ferdinand and Jordon Mutch to his ranks this summer, but if QPR are to remain above the relegation zone, goals are imperative.

    Strangely though, Adel Taarabt and Loic Remy have been linked with moves away from Loftus Road. Taarabt could be headed to AC Milan for £3 million, per the Daily Mail's Simon Jones; similarly Remy failed a Liverpool medical and has been tied with Chelsea, per Goal's William Joyce.

    Amid these west London dilemmas, Hull City look set to embark on their second-straight EPL campaign, complete with Europa League matches. With their next UEL qualification fixture on 21 August, how Steve Bruce manages his squad will be interesting.

    You might look for the Tigers to sit back, soak pressure and counter-attack—saving energy for their midweek battle—all leading to a rather ordinary draw.

    Prediction: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Hull City

    Man of the Match: Curtis Davies

Leicester City vs. Everton

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 16 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: King Power Stadium, Leicester, England

    What feels better than being wanted?

    If your name was Romelu Lukaku, "not much" is your answer.

    Now permanently settled in Merseyside, the Belgian striker has found a home and evaded the darkness of Chelsea's long-casted shadow. Everton received 15 goals in 2013-14 from their marquee summer signing, but Roberto Martinez's best business was retaining Gareth Barry and Ross Barkley.

    While Martinez may anticipate another year of continuity will improve his side's fifth-place finish from last year, holding serve has not exactly improved the Toffees.

    Nonetheless, Everton begin their fourth-place quest against promoted side Leicester City.

    The Foxes dismantled Championship opposition to gain promotion, amassing 102 points and 83 goals. Half of their Championship production in 2014-15 would see them safe, but the Premier League is unforgiving.

    Despite being at home, Everton's attacking thrust looks too much for Nigel Pearson's defence to cope with on their first time out. 

    Prediction: Everton 3-2 Leicester City

    Man of the Match: Leighton Baines

West Bromwich Albion vs. Sunderland

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    Richard Sellers/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 16 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, Sandwell, England

    Gustavo Poyet is a magician, possibly a wizard, but certainly a magician.

    Sunderland remaining in the Premier League after their position last December is nothing short of miraculous, but we live in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society ready to axe anyone underperforming. Should the Black Cats need an encore performance of last year, you would figure them playing in the Championship 12 months from now.

    Starting with three points on an away visit to West Bromwich Albion is paramount. Many expect the Baggies to be in the relegation zone come season's end—so can there be a relegation six-pointer in August?

    The majority's answer would be no, but three points in August counts for the same amount as three points in May—all a matter of perspective.

    In any event, both sides playing not to lose normally leads to draws, so be not surprised should each club come away with one point.

    Prediction: Sunderland 0-0 West Bromwich Albion

    Man of the Match: Ben Foster

West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    When: Saturday 16 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Boleyn Ground, London, England

    Tottenham Hotspur are mysterious.

    Tim Sherwood and Andre Villas-Boas—while arguably fighting above their weight class—have left Mauricio Pochettino a decent foundation.

    Restoring Emmanuel Adebayor to the first team and handing Nabil Bentaleb and Harry Kane senior positions while attempting to download heart into the White Hart Lane dressing room is Sherwood's legacy; Villas-Boas' legacy is being a terrific scout.

    Responsible for Juan Mata, Thibaut Courtois and others going to west London, he likewise left an abundance of riches in north London. The likes of Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen are world-class players; it is Pochettino's task, however, to make a squad of them—not just a list of talented players.

    Spurs playing West Ham United will be easier without the injured Andy Carroll, but Sam Allardyce sides tend not to fade easily; expect a fraught London derby—much to Hammers supporters dismay—where Tottenham fall behind, then come back. 

    Prediction: Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 West Ham United

    Man of the MatchChristian Eriksen

Stoke City vs. Aston Villa

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    Scott Heavey/Getty Images

    When: Saturday 16 August, 15:00 BST (10 a.m. EST)

    Where: Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent, England

    Aston Villa will not have powerhouse center-forward Christian Benteke until September, per the Mirror's Neil Moxley, as the Belgian is still recuperating from a ruptured Achilles tendon.

    Benteke has scored 34 percent of the Villains' EPL goals (29 of 86) since his 2012 arrival from KRC Genk. By comparison, Robin van Persie has scored 25 percent of Manchester United's EPL goals (38 of 150) during the same time span.

    Not having to worry about Benteke would seem perfect for Stoke City.

    The Potters finished ninth last season and will hope to fight for Europa League football this year. Adding Bojan Krkic and Mame Biram Diouf may also be Mark Hughes signaling a transition from the staunch Tony Pulis sides of the past.

    Playing a team without their talisman, Stoke City should take the initiative at home and win a physical game.

    Prediction: Stoke City 1-0 Aston Villa

    Man of the MatchMarko Arnautovic

Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    WhenSaturday 16 August, 17:30 BST (12:30 p.m. EST)

    Where: Emirates Stadium, London, England

    Arsene Wenger has opened his chequebook this summer, spending £61 million on Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina and Alexis Sanchez—via Soccerbase.

    There is an argument, though, more is needed at the Emirates.

    With their attacking prowess, the Gunners desperately need a world-class anchor man. Mathieu Flamini is Wenger's best holding option, but he does not exactly exude confidence; solving their midfield balance could make Arsenal a lethal force by season's conclusion.

    A team full of anchors would be Crystal Palace. Tony Pulis has taken his direct, physical and quintessential English ethic to south London and done wonders with the Eagles.

    An overtly defensive side, however, Crystal Palace finding goals versus a possession-oriented side like Arsenal does seem a tall order. While bigger sides could have a field day against the Gunners midfield, their on-ball proficiency seems too much for the likes of Crystal Palace to cope with.

     

    *Update: Manager Tony Pulis left his Crystal Palace post on 14 August, read more at BBC Sport.

     

    Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Crystal Palace

    Man of the Match: Aaron Ramsey

Liverpool vs. Southampton

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    When: Sunday 17 August, 13:30 BST (8:30 a.m. EST)

    Where: Anfield, Liverpool, England

    Transfer deadline day is 1 September; new Southampton boss Ronald Koeman might not appreciate playing this fixture with the window still open, as Liverpool could get more ideas. Having already sold three of their main pieces to the Reds, Southampton's squad looks a shell of the 2013-14 rendition.

    Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers have left, while Morgan Schneiderlin has expressed his disappointment in not being able to leave St. Mary's—it feels a gigantic mess.

    Liverpool, while buying three Saints, sold rampant goalscorer Luis Suarez to Barcelona and have incurred several injuries before their campaign officially kicks off.

    Taking a club's best players then playing them first seems rather unfair—yet being riddled with injuries and adjusting to life post-Suarez may temporarily quell Liverpool's full attacking capabilities.

    Brendan Rodgers' side should win the game comfortably—but are there any "comfortable" games in the Premier League...

    Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Southampton

    Man of the Match: Raheem Sterling

Newcastle United vs. Manchester City

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    WhenSunday 17 August, 16:00 BST (11 a.m. EST)

    Where: St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

    The schedule-makers apparently have a thing for repetitive Manchester fixtures coming first. Reigning champions Manchester City opened last season versus Newcastle United and ramrodded Alan Pardew's outfit 4-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

    Considering, Newcastle supporters will merely want this 90 minutes of football to be respectable.

    After organised protests in May versus Cardiff City, the Magpies have been active in the summer transfer window, adding to their francophone-heavy contingent with Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere, but nothing particularly earth-shattering.

    The same could be said for Manchester City. Having billions at their disposal, Financial Fair Play has rather stymied the Sky Blues' window—spending just £53 million to date, via Soccerbase.

    Manuel Pellegrini, though, has little to improve. Should Manchester City play to their potential—avoiding any major injuries or disciplinary sanctions—Pardew will be the first manager of many to shake Pellegrini's hand after taking zero points.

    Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Newcastle United

    Man of the Match: Yaya Toure

Burnley vs. Chelsea

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    When: Monday 18 August, 20:00 BST (3 p.m. EST)

    Where: Turf Moor, Burnley, Lancashire, England

    Finalising the week's fixtures, Premier League newcomers Burnley will be tried by fire.

    Having spent wisely this summer—bolstering an already talented roster with Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Didier Drogba—Chelsea have no excuses this campaign. Jose Mourinho has set goals for silverware, and three points versus Burnley would be an ideal start.

    The Clarets will no doubt give Chelsea the lion's share of possession and attempt to counter. Sean Dyche's problem though is Mourinho's miserly defence. While new attacking options—combined with Eden Hazard and company—are grabbing headlines, the Premier League's best defence from 2013-14 has not evaporated.

    Anticipate Chelsea to boss the game, Fabregas to seem transcendent, Costa to open his EPL account and Thibaut Courtois to earn his first official clean sheet in Chelsea colours.

    Prediction: Chelsea 2-0 Burnley

    Man of the Match: Cesc Fabregas

    Chelsea Bus Watch: Mourinho's bus will NOT be required for the Blues' trip to Lancashire.

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