Th English Premier League finally returns on Saturday, August 16. The calendar begins with the first competitive match of the Louis van Gaal era at Manchester United.
That will begin the bids of several top teams attempting to dethrone current champions Manchester City.
Here's the full list of fixtures from the opening week, featuring schedule information, plus picks for each game:
|Saturday, August 16||Manchester United vs. Swansea City||12.45 pm. BST||Old Trafford||United Win|
|Saturday, August 16||Leicester City vs. Everton||3 p.m. BST||King Power Stadium||Everton Win|
|Saturday, August 16||Queens Park Rangers vs. Hull City||3 p.m. BST||Loftus Road||QPR Win|
|Saturday, August 16||Stoke City vs. Aston Villa||3 p.m. BST||Britannia Stadium||Draw|
|Saturday, August 16||West Bromwich Albion s. Sunderland||3 p.m. BST||The Hawthorns||Draw|
|Saturday, August 16||West Ham United vs. Tottenham Hotpsur||3 p.m. BST||Boleyn Ground||Draw|
|Saturday, August 16||Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace||5.30 p.m.||Emirates Stadium||Arsenal Win|
|Sunday, August 17||Liverpool vs. Southampton||1.30 p.m. BST||Anfield||Liverpool Win|
|Sunday, August 17||Newcastle United vs. Manchester City||4 p.m. BST||St. James' Park||Draw|
|Monday, August 18||Burnley vs, Chelsea||8 p.m.||Turf Moor||Chelsea Win|
Even though an opening week usually features some nervy performances, this one will maintain the established order. That means the big boys will win out, with one notable exception:
Newcastle United 2-2 Manchester City
Champions City could find an away trip to Newcastle tough to handle. The Magpies are always a force at St. James' Park and the famous crowd will be that much more buoyant for an opening match.
Boss Alan Pardew has also done some good work in the transfer market this summer. Specifically, new boys Emmanuel Riviere and, particularly, Remy Cabella, will be a major threat to City's reshuffled defence.
It's a City defence that still needs to improve. That would have been obvious to manager Manuel Pellegrini when he saw his team lose 3-0 to Arsenal in the FA Community Shield.
Pellegrini's latest attempt to solidify things is the signing of former FC Porto centre-back Eliaquim Mangala, confirmed by Mark Booth of MCFC.co.uk. But the capable French defender doesn't have much time to acclimatise to his new surroundings and division, with less than a week to spare.
Mangala is hardly likely to be up to speed for the start of the Premier League campaign. So the champions' defence may still be vulnerable.
Expect a surprising score draw in this one.
Comfortable Wins for United and Arsenal
As for the other notable contenders, comfortable victories should be assured. United will be brimming with confidence under Van Gaal's watch. Meanwhile, Arsenal have been rejuvenated by several shrewd summer signings.
United will create a tough day for new Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianksi. The ex-Gunners stopper won't be able to thwart a rampant attack keyed by the creativity of midfielders Juan Mata and Ander Herrera.
Enthused by the new style of play installed by Van Gaal, the Red Devils will craft enough chances to win by three clear goals.
Later in the day, Arsenal will eventually break down a defensively resolute Crystal Palace squad. Manager Arsene Wenger's team will move the ball quickly and release runners behind the Palace back line.
After failing to muster much going forward, Palace will succumb to a two-goal defeat.
Leicester City 0-1 Everton
One of the more closely fought games will involve newly promoted Leicester City entertaining Everton. It will take a late goal for Roberto Martinez's Toffees to win a narrow affair.
Leicester boss Nigel Pearson runs an organised and resolute team. Their energy and graft will stifle a blunted Everton attack. The Toffees could be without marquee signing Romelu Lukaku.
Martinez has stated he may rest the striker and Kevin Mirallas after their exertions for Belgium at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, per Goal.com's Nicholas McGee.
However, new boy Muhamed Besic will keep things solid at the back. Eventually, Martinez's men will produce a stylish passing combination to net the winner.
With the predictions and picks sorted, here's a focus on some of the key players to watch out for in Week 1:
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United
Rooney is always a key figure for United no matter how many times supporters and England managers doubt his talents. His presence will be doubly important on the opening day, as fellow striker Robin van Persie is set to be rested.
Van Gaal is keen to rest his countryman following his exertions at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, according to the London Evening Standard. That should mean Rooney becomes the focal point of United's attack against Swansea.
Van Gaal has already been full of praise for the creative forward since taking over at Old Trafford this summer, per Daily Mail reporter Joe Bernstein:
I liked him when I was the manager of his opponent. He is always working very hard, has a high level and can make goals. He did that in America, four goal in his first three matches is not so bad I think!
But we have to wait and see, we are now in the beginning of the preparation. The physical training will go on before our first league match.
The last part about training has been interpreted by Bernstein as a veiled warning. Rooney has had fitness issues in recent seasons.
However, his obvious talent is undiminished. Expect a big day from Rooney in the season's first game.
Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal
Arsenal's £35 million import Alexis Sanchez is exactly the kind of player manager Arsene Wenger's team lacked for too long last season. The Chilean international is a pacy forward who times his runs well.
It's that speed and movement that will help Sanchez thrive in a team loaded with crafty playmakers. Schemers such as Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky will likely relish having the chance to release Sanchez behind defences.
The Gunners lacked that option last term while Theo Walcott was sidelined with a serious knee injury. Sanchez's first experience of competitive Premier League action is likely to be a gruelling one.
Palace are a physical outfit under the pragmatic guidance of Tony Pulis. They certainly won't be shy about seeing how Sanchez responds to a few rough challenges.
However, expect Sanchez's pace to be too much for a plodding Palace back line.
Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea
Speaking of Arsenal, it's going to be painful for the club's supporters to watch former golden boy Fabregas suit up for London rival Chelsea. But that's a sight they'll have to bear when manager Jose Mourinho's team travels to Turf Moor.
It will be his first taste of competitive Premier League activity since 2011. But Fabregas remains a deadly pass master.
He is a prolific creator of chances, a talent Mourinho is counting on this season. If it's true Arsenal lacked a player like Sanchez last term, Chelsea certainly had a need for somebody like Fabregas.
He'll be expected to supply new striker Diego Costa. That could be a decisive partnership in this season's title race. In fact, pundit Gary Neville believes the Fabregas-Costa connection will win the race, per Paul Hayward of The Telegraph:
If you look at Courtois, Cech, Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Matic, Willian, Hazard, Costa, Fabregas, they’re going to take some stopping. They’re my tips for the league.
With the addition of another goalscoring midfielder in Fabregas and a powerhouse up front, Costa, with Drogba, it makes them very difficult to stop.
Fabregas will look like he's never been away when he dissects the Burnley defence more than once to help begin Chelsea's season in style.
There won't be many surprises in Week 1 of the new Premier League season, even if City's early stumble raises a few eyebrows.
However, most of the focus will be on impressive starts for United and Chelsea.