The World Cup helped soften this summer's yearning for top-flight football, but the Premier League makes a triumphant return on Saturday.
Prior to the campaign's kick-off, a raft of questions once again lie in wait of answers: Can Louis van Gaal return Manchester United to their former greatness? Will Liverpool improve upon a stellar 2013-14 season? How will Manchester City go about defending their title?
A long journey awaits before definitive conclusions can be drawn, of course, but this Week 1 of the 2014-15 campaign will provide some hints as to what those might be, with full fixture details and key match predictions discussed.
|August 16||Manchester United vs. Swansea City||12:45 p.m. BST/7:45 a.m. ET||BT Sport Stream (UK, subscription required), NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||3-1|
|August 16||Leicester City vs. Everton||3 p.m. BST/10 a.m. ET||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||0-2|
|August 16||QPR vs. Hull City||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||1-1|
|August 16||Stoke City vs. Aston Vila||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||2-1|
|August 16||West Brom vs. Sunderland||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||2-2|
|August 16||West Ham vs. Tottenham||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||0-1|
|August 16||Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace||Sky Go (UK, subscription required), NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||2-0|
|August 17||Liverpool vs. Southampton||1:30 p.m. BST/8:30 a.m. ET||Sky Go (UK, subscription required), NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||2-0|
|August 17||Newcastle United vs. Manchester City||4 p.m. BST/11 a.m. ET||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||1-2|
|August 18||Burnley vs. Chelsea||8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET||NBC Sports Live Extra (US, subscription required)||1-3|
Manchester United vs. Swansea City
Van Gaal's first test as a Premier League manager comes with the visit of Swansea City to Old Trafford, the Red Devils having handed the Welsh outfit a 4-1 thrashing at the Liberty Stadium in last season's opener.
The Dutchman spoke to the media on Friday, revealing Robin van Persie, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck to be some of his side's key absences, per the club's official Twitter account:
However, Robin van Persie will not feature on Saturday. "No chance," van Gaal says. "He has to train." #mufc— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 15, 2014
The manager has confirmed Sam Johnstone, Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck are all injured. #mufc— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 15, 2014
A strong pre-season for United would suggest the English giants are in good shape to begin life under their new manager brightly.
However, Swans boss Garry Monk spoke to Chris Wathan of Wales Online, stating he has no fear of the daunting task ahead:
I guess the proof will come on Saturday. Look, the Premier League is full of big clubs with some of the best players in the world so, whatever the team, whether it is a good time or not depends on you and how you are on point with your game.
It's a stubborn attitude given the task and undoubtedly the right mentality for Monk to have, but Van Gaal is shaping a new and revitalised United, who have a wind in their sails that will be difficult for the visitors to take down.
Prediction: Manchester United 3-1 Swansea City
Liverpool vs. Southampton
The squad links between Liverpool and Southampton are stronger than any other two clubs heading into the new season, with Brendan Rodgers having signed no fewer than three of the Saints' stars this summer.
Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren are likely to be involved at Anfield on Saturday, but the Liverpool Echo confirm that Adam Lallana will miss out along with Lazar Markovic, while James Pearce confirms Alberto Moreno's absence:
Alberto Moreno won't be available for #LFC's PL opener v Southampton at Anfield on Sunday. Paperwork not registered in time.— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) August 15, 2014
Although Luis Suarez is gone, Liverpool haven't been shy of goals lately and recently beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0, following up their final defeat to Manchester United at the International Champions Cup with a far more promising result.
Speaking to the Reds' official website prior to Sunday's fixture, Rodgers shed more light on the status of his injured stars:
Young Jon Flanagan is still in rehab, but coming along very well. Adam Lallana is looking very well. Those two will probably start training with the group in the week beginning with Manchester City.
Young Markovic is still unavailable this weekend but doing very well. Daniel Agger has had an ongoing injury so he is unavailable; apart from that, everyone else is fine.
It's a stern first test for Ronald Koeman, who will be keen to show that his Saints side can most certainly still contend with the big guns despite their exodus.
However, the Dutchman is an unknown quantity to the English top flight, and an in-form Liverpool threaten to get him off to a most disappointing start.
Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Southampton
Newcastle United vs. Manchester City
Newcastle United have the unenviable honour of being Manchester City's first examiners in search of their Premier League title defence, something which both relieves and piles pressure on their shoulders.
The reigning champions begin their quest anew on Sunday, and Manuel Pellegrini told the club's official website that he hopes to see Alan Pardew's side attack:
The first game is always the most difficult because it is the next one but it is also difficult for Newcastle. I expect my team to play well. It is a tough game and it is not easy to play in St James’ Park but we will do our best and we hope to win the three points.
I can’t tell you what Newcastle will try to do but I hope they will try to win the three points at home.
The Chilean will still be in some state of disbelief at seeing his side dismantled by Arsenal 3-0 in the Community Shield last weekend, whereas the Magpies will see the result as one showing this City team can be beaten.
However, Pellegrini will come to St. James' with a more pressing state of concern and more first-team options at his disposal, making this a difficult but not impossible fixture for the hosts.
Prediction: Newcastle United 1-2 Manchester City