The Premier League is finally back, and with new signings, new managers and sub-plots galore, it could be one of the most intriguing campaigns in years.
This also applies to opening weekend, with plenty of questions to be answered in the first 10 fixtures.
So here are my thoughts on each, and my early pick for the 2013/14 Premier League champions before a ball has been kicked.
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Liverpool v Stoke
Stoke will obviously come and defend diligently, leaving as little space behind them as possible. It will be Liverpool’s job to try and break their resolve, and though I expect a tight game, the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Iago Aspas and Daniel Sturridge should have too much for Mark Hughes’ men.
Prediction: Win for Liverpool
Arsenal v Aston Villa
There will be big expectations on Arsenal from the start, just as there will be with Liverpool, but it'll hard for them. There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm about Villa and I imagine they will come at the Gunners, knowing how fragile the home crowd can be – especially with the lack of transfer dealings. Once again, however, I think the hosts will have enough class to see off the Villans and their inexperienced defence.
Prediction: Win for Arsenal
Norwich v Everton
This is a fixture which interests me. Everton will be an intriguing prospect under Roberto Martinez, while Norwich have invested well in attacking players. The Canaries should score more through the season as a result of that but it'll probably take them a while to get going, so Everton as a team should be good value for an away win.
Prediction: Win for Everton
Sunderland v Fulham
It’s very difficult to predict much about either of these teams, as there will likely be plenty of new faces on display, all trying to blend in with each other. I think Paolo di Canio’s enthusiasm and Martin Jol’s laid-back approach are also a good contrast, but Fulham’s away form is not brilliant and I can see Sunderland nicking this one.
Prediction: Win for Sunderland
West Brom v Southampton
This could be the sleeper fixture of the weekend, thanks to both sides’ impressive showings last season. There will be enhanced expectations on both as a result, and though Nicolas Anelka is in good form already for the Baggies, I have a feeling about Southampton. I like the way they play and there’s some real talent there. I can see an away win here.
Prediction: Win for Southampton
West Ham v Cardiff
This is another good pairing to start the season, and the Hammers will remember all too well when they played host to the Welsh side on the opening day two years ago in the Championship, losing to a late goal. I think they play Cardiff with good timing now, though, and will get three points while Malky Mackay and his troops adjust to life in the top flight.
Prediction: Win for West Ham
Swansea v Manchester United
David Moyes's grumbles about the fixture list are laughable, but he does have half a point – United have a tough start, beginning with this trip. Swansea are in rude health under Michael Laudrup but have not won too many games against the big sides. That said, they don’t lose at home too much either and I envision a draw here.
Crystal Palace v Tottenham
Tottenham have bought really well to add to the great players they already have. One or two of them will need time to adjust, of course, but though Palace will be full of enthusiasm - as an Ian Holloway side always will - they will also have moments of naivety. Spurs will give them a tough start to life back in the Prem in our first London derby of the season.
Prediction: Win for Tottenham
Chelsea v Hull
A lot of people expect big things from Jose Mourinho, but there are big differences between this squad and the one Jose managed in the mid-2000s at Stamford Bridge. There are more attacking players this time around, which will be fine against the lesser teams but may need looking at in the big collisions. Nonetheless, expect this to be the widest margin of the weekend in the Blues’ favour.
Prediction: Win for Chelsea
Manchester City v Newcastle
Manuel Pellegrini’s enhanced squad should begin with a win on the Monday evening against Newcastle, and to boot they are my early pick to lift the league title – just.
It’s going to be a three-horse race I feel with United and Chelsea, and there’s a very easy case to make for any of them taking the trophy. But with all three having new bosses, I can see Pellegrini being the one to settle in first this time around.
Prediction: Win for Manchester City
EARLY PREDICTION FOR 2013/14 PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: