Finally, here it comes!
We are coming to the end of the countdown to the start of the new Premier League season—and what a season it promises to be!
Manchester City have been the summer's big spenders, while Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal have been relatively quiet.
There are new managers at Liverpool, West Ham, Fulham, while Aston Villa enter the new season without a man in charge after the resignation of Martin O'Neill.
Familiar faces in Newcastle and West Brom return to the Premier League, while Blackpool are in the top-flight of English football for the first time in 39 years.
So here's a look at the opening fixtures of the season and how I think each game will go.
All times are BST.
The 2010/11 Premier League Season gets off to an exciting start at White Hart Lane as last year’s 4th place side Tottenham take on the side that finished directly below them, Manchester City.
Last time the two sides met, Spurs came away with a one-nil win thanks to Peter Crouch, and the three points confirmed that the North-London side would be playing Champions League football this season.
Tottenham have historically come out on top in this fixture and have won 11 of the last 12 Premier League meetings between the two sides—no team has beaten Man City more times in the Premier League era.
However, Spurs have only won two of their last opening fixtures in the league, including a 2-1 home victory over Liverpool last season.
The home side will be a fairly familiar one, with Jonathan Woodgate the only long-term absentee through injury. Robbie Keane could partner Jermaine Defoe in attack after an impressive pre-season, and Gareth Bale (picture) will be keen to carry on his fine form from last season.
While Spurs return with the same squad that secured a top-four finish last year—although Keane has returned from his loan spell at Celtic—Manchester City have been this summer’s big spenders once again.
Midfielder Yaya Toure and defender Jerome Boateng, signed from Barcelona and Hamburg respectively, are in line to make their City debuts while fellow new-comer David Silva may miss out after having a long trip to Mexico for Spain’s international friendly. Following the departure of Martin O’Neill, it is now highly unlikely that James Milner will complete his transfer from Aston Villa in time to take part on the opening day of the season.
Craig Bellamy—left out of the squad for the upcoming Europa League tie with Romanian side Timisoara—has hardly played in pre-season and if he isn’t involved on Saturday it will fuel speculation that his time with the Eastlands club drawing to an end.
Prediction: Spurs open up with a 3-1 victory as City’s new boys take time to gel.
Mangerless Villa will start their season against West Ham still in shock after the resignation of Martin O’Neill.
West Ham also kick-off without the man who finished last season in charge as Avram Grant took over from Gianfranco Zola following the Hammers’ 17th place finish.
Grant’s biggest success of the summer so far been to hold on to midfielder Scott Parker—a target for Spurs and Liverpool—and has added some strength at the centre of defence by bringing in Tal Ben-Haim on loan to partner England flop Matthew Upson.
Carlton Cole (pictured) will lead the line after finishing as top scorer last year with 10 Premier League goals, and much will rest on his shoulders if West Ham are to avoid relegation this season.
Aston Villa have been unable to add to their squad over the off-season and this is sure to have been one of the main reasons for O’Neill’s exit. With 10 players making 30 or more Premier League appearances last season, the failure to bring in more bodies will be a worry. Wingers Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young will pose the main threat against West Ham and John Carew is a threat against a new-look Hammers defence.
Villa will be without James Milner as he gets prepared to make the move to Manchester City and this won’t help the midlands side break their voodoo in this fixture—they have won only five of the last 20 league meetings between the two clubs.
The Hammers have also taken all three points from four of the last five opening day fixtures.
Prediction: Villa’s bad week continues as they fail to keep a clean sheet for the ninth consecutive opening day fixture and they lose 1-2.
If history is anything to go by, then we should be promised goals in this one. Neither side has kept an opening day clean sheet since Blackburn started the 2002/03 season with a goalless draw against Sunderland.
And when the clubs met on the opening day two years ago, Blackburn came back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 following an Andre Ooijer winner.
Everton manager David Moyes is in the unusual position of having a fully-fit squad to choose from and may elect to give new signing Jermaine Beckford (pictured) his debut. Beckford—who joined on a free transfer from Leeds—has been on fine form in pre-season, scoring three times. The striker was prolific in League One scoring 72 goals in 126 games and all eyes will be on him to see if the 26-year-old can make the step up to the Premier League.
If he does play, he can be sure to get excellent service from Mikel Arteta, who signed a new five-year contract during the week. Alongside Tim Cahill and Steven Pienaar, Areta completes an impressive midfield that will create, as well as score, many goals.
Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce has brought in only one new signing as Mame Biram Diouf joins on loan from Manchester United. They struggled to score goals last season—hitting the back of the net just 41 times—and Diouf could come straight into the starting line-up. He made six appearances for United last season, scoring his only goal in a 3-0 win over Burnley in the league.
If Diouf does get a start, he’ll be up against a tough and experienced defence, lead by England international Phil Jagielka.
Prediction: Everton get their season off to a winning start as they run out 2-0 winners—Beckford starts and gets a debut goal.
Mark Hughes will take charge of Fulham for the first time as his side travel to the Reebok Stadium to take on Owen Coyle’s Bolton.
Fulham have won just once in their last six away games against Bolton, and they will struggle to improve this record following the news that new signing Philippe Senderos will miss the first six months of the season after getting injured on international duty with Switzerland.
Senderos, who was brought in to replace Chris Smalling after the latter completed his summer switch to Manchester United, ruptured his Achilles tendon during a training session and will now undergo an operation in Finland. Aaron Hughes is likely to take his place in the starting line-up alongside veteran Brede Hangeland.
Hughes (pictured) has so far managed to keep hold of creative midfielder Zoltan Gera and will hope that forward Bobby Zamora—who made his full England debut against Hungary on Wednesday night—can improve on his career best season during which he scored eight times in 27 games.
Coyle has made an astute signing by signing midfielder Martin Petrov from Manchester City and has also brought in Ivan Klasnic on a permanent deal after being released by Nantes.
Klasnic spent last season on loan at Bolton, scoring eight goals in 12 Premier League starts. He will partner Kevin Davies upfront, who has interestingly conceded the most fouls in six of the last seven seasons. Last season’s total of 121 was his highest yet.
Prediction: Fulham never travel well and Bolton will pose too much of a physical threat as they win 2-0.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce will be hoping that Striker Darren Bent will be available after letting Kenwyne Jones join Stoke City. Bent missed England’s friendly with Hungary but should be fit to face Birmingham on Saturday.
Birmingham have a decent record against the Black Cats, having won five of the eight Premier League clashes to have featured the two sides but have won only once on the opening day of the Premier League—a 1-0 win over Tottenham in 2003.
Sunderland will be hoping that the midfield partnership of Steed Malbranque and Boudewijn Zenden (pictured) can create a few more goals this season, with the latter having spoken publically about feeling fully fit for the first time since joining the club.
The former Liverpool, Barcelona and Chelsea man joined last September, and with a full pre-season behind him is raring to get the new campaign underway.
At the back Titus Bramble has been signed from Wigan and could well partner Nedum Onuoha, who has joined on a season long loan from Manchester City.
After seeing Joe Hart return to Man City after a loan spell, Birmingham boss Alex McLeish signed Ben Foster from Manchester United to be first-choice keeper. But Foster withdrew from England’s midweek friendly and is a doubt for the start of the season. Maik Taylor is set to play against Sunderland, and Colin Doyle has been recalled from his own loan spell at Coventry City to provide cover.
Striker Nikola Žigić is the other major new signing for McLeish, joining from Valencia. The Serbian forward—who cost Valencia £13.5million in 2007—will give Birmingham a much needed aerial threat. At 6’7”, Žigić should help Birmingham improve on their three headed goals last season, good enough for last in the Premier League.
Prediction: A tight encounter is edged by Sunderland, who win 2-1.
Blackpool will become the 44th team to appear in the Premier League when they kick-off against Wigan on Saturday. The game was originally supposed to be played at Blackpool’s home ground, but the tie was switched to allow time for stadium improvements to be completed.
Wigan finished 16th in the Premier League last season and this will be their sixth straight season in the top-flight of English football. Under manager Roberto Martinez, they will be striving for greater consistency this time out.
They took their first three points from one of the “big four” last term after beating Chelsea 3-1. But they also conceded nine goals at White Hart Lane and then got thrashed 8-0 in the return game against Chelsea on the last day of the season.
There will be a new look defence this season as Titus Bramble, Mario Melchiot and Paul Scharner have all left. Central defender Antolin Alcaraz is in line to make his debut after joining from Brugge, while Ronnie Stam should start at right back. A product of Feyenoord’s youth system, Stam was named in Holland’s squad to face Ukraine this week, although he was unused.
The attacking threat will come from Huga Rodallega and Charles N’Zogbia, both of whom will fancy their chances against a Blackpool defence untested at this level.
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway (pictured) has been frustrated by the problems he has encountered in the transfer market this summer and reportedly came close to walking out on the club.
But on Wednesday they named their first four signings and these were quickly followed by striker Marlon Harewood. Harewood is a much needed signing as DJ Campbell has returned to Leicester City after being at Blackpool on loan last season and Billy Clarke will miss the entire season with a knee injury.
Harewood, who has previously played in the Premier League with Aston Villa, West Ham and Nottingham Forest, will start against Wigan. This signing will hopefully take some pressure off of club-captain Charlie Adam, who was top scorer last year with 18 league goals from midfield.
Prediction: Sadly, I see no fairytale start for Blackpool. A comfortable 3-0 win for Wigan, which will provoke a memorable quote from Holloway—hopefully the first of many.
Record signing Kenwyne Jones could make his debut for Stoke on Saturday, and his direct, physical style of play will fit in nicely with the Stoke ethos.
Both games between these two sides ended in goalless draws but the two clubs have improved their attacking options.
Wolves have brought in midfielder Stephen Hunt from Reading and ex-Burnley player Steven Fletcher will provide support for last year’s top scorer Kevin Doyle.
Defender Jody Craddock (pictured) is coming off a strong season but will have to be at his best to counter the Stoke aerial threat.
The Potter’s have the likes of Abdoulaye Faye and Ricardo Fuller, as well as Jones, who all offer considerably height. Add to that the stat that Rory Delap created 25 goal scoring chances from his long throws last season and it’s clear to see where Stoke’s main threat lies.
This is backed up by the fact that they scored just 6 percent of their goals from outside the box last season, the lowest proportion of any Premier League club.
Prediction: A perhaps surprisingly good game ends in victory for the visitors, as Stoke finish 2-0 winners.
Newly promoted West Brom couldn’t really have asked for a harder opening-day assignment than a trip to Stamford Bridge to face the champions Chelsea.
Chelsea have won their last eight opening day fixtures and will be odds-on to make it nine on Saturday against one of their favourite opponents. All eight of the Premier League fixtures between these two have ended in Chelsea wins, and West Brom have scored only twice in those games.
Chelsea should have Didier Drogba available to start after the striker sat out Ivory Coast’s midweek friendly against Italy. Drogba (pictured) started on the bench for last weekend’s Community Shield defeat to Manchester United, but is first choice when fully fit.
New signing Yossi Benayoun is likely to be a substitute with Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou expected to start.
At the back, Ricardo Carvalho is set to join up with ex-Blues manager Jose Mourinho and Alex is out with an injury picked up in training. England’s John Terry will be partnered by Branislav Ivanovic at the centre of defence.
Petr Cech, who missed the match against Man United, is facing a battle to be fit in time for Saturday and so back-up Henrique Hilario could start in goal against the Baggies.
West Brom, managed by former Chelsea star Roberto Di Matteo, scored 89 goals in the Championship last season, but may need to curb their attacking instincts if they don’t want to be on the wrong end of a thrashing here.
New signings Nicky Shorey and Steven Reid are available to make their debuts and will bring Premier League experience. Fellow new boy centre back Pablo Ibanez is yet to train this week after suffering from a hamstring injury, but Di Matteo is hopeful he will be fit.
Ibanez—who joined on a free transfer from Atletico Madrid—has 23 caps for Spain but was out of favour at Atletico last season, making only seven appearances.
While West Brom may surprise a few people this season, I don’t think it will happen at Stamford Bridge.
Prediction: No upsets here as Chelsea run-out 4-0 winners.
Roy Hodgson’s first Premier League match in charge of Liverpool is the Sunday afternoon kick-off against Arsenal.
This has been a bad match-up for Liverpool, who have won only three of their last 18 league matches against the Gunners.
Joe Cole will make his league debut for the Anfield side after his free transfer from Chelsea, and could be joined by fellow new signing Milan Jovanović.
Upfront, Fernando Torres has committed his immediate future to the club but after a picking up an injury during Spain’s World Cup victory, he is struggling to be ready for Sunday. With his history of injury problems, Hodgson won’t want to risk the star too early.
If Torres can’t start, then David Ngog is likely to fill in. The Frenchman scored three times in Liverpool’s 4-0 aggregate victory over Macedonian side Rabotnicki in the Europa League qualifiers.
Javier Mascherano is still seeking a move away from Anfield—but neither Inter Milan nor Barcelona have matched Liverpool’s valuation of the midfielder. Mascherano is unlikely to feature against Arsenal so Lucas will start in the holding midfield role.
Arsenal have injury concerns of their own. Arsene Wenger, already without injured Nicholas Bendtner, is unsure whether Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie will be fit to face Liverpool after their exploits in South Africa.
Fabregas played 45 minutes in Spain’s 1-1 friendly draw against Mexico, but the return-flight won’t do his preparation any good. Van Persie was rested by Dutch national team manager Bert van Marwijk but Wenger told the club’s website that he expects the forward to be short of match fitness.
If Van Persie doesn’t play, then new signing Marouane Chamakh could lead the line at Anfield. A free signing from Bordeaux, Chamakh has impressed in pre-season and Wenger is a long time admirer of the Moroccan.
The other new face will be Laurent Koscielny, who will partner Thomas Vermaelan at the heart of the defence. With four experienced centre backs having left the club over the summer, Koscielny might not have been the big name signing Gunner’s fans wanted, but reports from the club seem positive.
Importantly, Andrei Arshavin (pictured) should start and he has an excellent record at Anfield. The Russian has scored five goals in just two away games against Liverpool in the league.
Prediction: Unfortunately, this game has come a little too early for a number of World Cup stars so it might not be the cracker it could be. Honours even as the teams emerge with a point-a-piece after a 1-1 draw.
Newcastle are another of the new boys to face a tough opening round fixture as they take on Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at Old Trafford—a ground the Magpies haven’t won at since February 1972.
They can take heart from the opening game of the 2008/09 season, when they held the then reigning European and English champions to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford, thanks to an Obafemi Martins header.
Rio Ferdinand will be unavailable through the injury that caused him to miss the World Cup finals, while Gary Neville is questionable. Nemanja Vidic is likely to be partnered by Jonny Evans—who played in United’s 3-1 Community Shield victory over rivals Chelsea—while Patrice Evra will start at left-back.
New signing Javier Hernandez is pushing for a start after scoring against Chelsea. The Mexican forward received rave reviews from teammate Paul Scholes earlier this week and he would have done his chances of starting no harm after scoring at Wembley—even if it was in a slightly bizarre manner.
He faces stiff competition from Dimitar Berbatov who sealed the victory with an exquisite chip in injury time. The Bulgarian is looking to put last season’s disappointing campaign behind him and United fans will be hoping he can show the moments of genius he is capable of on a more regular basis.
Newcastle—who are managed by former Spurs assistant boss Chris Hughton—won the Championship by 11 points to return straight away to the Premier League.
Steve Harper will start in goal and brings plenty of experience with him, but the back four is full of question marks. Ex-England and Arsenal man Sol Campbell has been brought in on a free transfer after it emerged Steven Taylor will miss three months through injury, but he isn’t fit to start. There are further problems at right back, where Danny Simpson will miss the game as he recovers from a foot operation.
Fabricio Coloccini is likely to be partnered by Mike Williamson at the heart of the Newcastle defence, while ex-Nottingham Forest player James Perch could make his debut at right-back.
Striker Andy Carroll (pictured) will lead the line after scoring 19 goals in the Championship last season. The 21-year-old has been given the coveted number 9 shirt that once belonged to Alan Shearer but it remains to be seen whether he is good enough to cut it at the highest level.
The midfield is easily the strongest area of the pitch for Hughton, with the experienced Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith, and Jonas Gutierrez being joined by Danny Guthrie. These four will have to be at their best to nullify the attacking threat of Manchester United.
Scholes looked especially good against Chelsea and unless he is closed down and closed down early, is more than capable of picking apart the make-shift Newcastle back four.
Prediction: Not an easy start for Man United, but the problems at the back for Newcastle mean that the Red Devils start the season with a 2-1 victory.
So there we go.
I've predicted defeats for all three newly promoted teamsCprobably not too much of a shock.
Chelsea willstart the season like the finished the last—top of the table—following a predicted 4-0 thrashing over West Brom, while Spurs get off to a promising start by beating top-four rivals Man City.
I'm bound to have a got a few wrong (it does happen occasionally), and we shall have to wait until Monday night to see how successful I was.
But one thing is for sure:
The Premier League is back baby!