BY STEVE AYOO
It’s almost hard to believe that the Barclays English Premier League is back. I mean wasn’t it just yesterday when we saw Gerrard slip, Moyes’ turbulent career at United come to a crushing end, Suarez dazzle, Raheem Sterling comes of age, Arsenal celebrate fourth place ‘title’ and eventually Manchester City lift the title? Ok maybe it’s just me who is still struggling to come to terms with the happenings of - for lack of a better word – last season.
And so, last weekend, two clubs underlined just why they are on top of bookmakers’ list as title favorites. Manchester City struggled but eventually edged Newcastle United 2-0 while Chelsea had its new boys banging the goals as they collected a 3-1 win over promoted side Burnley. Manchester United learned preseason and the EPL are like water and petrol while Liverpool began their Suarez-less era with a nervy 2-1 win over their feeder club Southampton.
So what’s going to happen this weekend? Here’s you first 2014-15 season dose of Thesteifmaster EPL predictions. 36 to go…
Chelsea 2 0 Leicester (Saturday, 1700hrs)
Chelsea began their 2014-15 title hunt with a comfortable 3-1 win over Burnley last weekend. The Blues had the three points in the bag even before half time with Diego Costa opening his account in Premier League kit before Andre Schurrle and Branislav Ivanovic also netted. Chelsea’s new boys, Costa and Cesc Fabregas were particularly remarkable, the former proving he was no Fernando Torres after slotting his first goal home in his maiden Premier League appearance for Jose Mourinho’s men while Fabregas looked to have picked from where he left three seasons ago with two assists. No more goals came in the second half. Chelsea face another promoted side, Leicester at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening. The Foxes drew 2-2 against Everton in their first Premier League match since their relegation into the championship almost 10 years ago. Nigel Pearson’s side will be a tougher proponent as compared Burnley but Chelsea’s quality at the moment makes them formidable especially against such lowly opposition. A comfortable win and a clean sheet for Thibaut Courtois.
Everton 2 1 Arsenal (Saturday, 1930hrs)
Everton were forced to share spoils with Leicester last weekend after Chris Woods’ 86th minute strike drew the game 2-2. The Toffees are now without a win in their last 6 matches, five of which were in preseason against opponents you would have expected them to stick their boots in. Roberto Martinez’s side last win came on the last day the Premier League against Hull City. Record signing Romelu Lukaku played the full match but did not put his name on the scoresheet. Arsenal left it late against manager-less Crystal Palace with Aaron Ramsey scoring at the death for a 2-1 win. Ramsey then saw himself receive a red card in the midweek 0-0 draw in a Champions League qualifier match against Besiktas. This match will be a test for the two clubs and perhaps give us an early indication of who can finish where. However, with Everton at home, they will be keen to reward the fans with a win after such a long wait. My guts tell me Lukaku will be up for the challenge and score the winner here.
Sunderland 1 1 Manchester United (Sunday, 1800hrs)
Different manager, different season, different tactics, different captain, same ole same ole Manchester United. United fans thought this was the season they were going to remind all ye naysayers who have been celebrating their horrific fall last season who’s the real boss in English football. After all, they had appointed a manager who led a team to the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup, a man whose reputation as a no-nonsense manager is known to many, a man who has won titles wherever he has gone. Admittedly, it’s early, almost amateurish to judge the performance of Louis Van Gaal and indeed Manchester United on one loss but the 2-1 defeat against Swansea was a confidence batterer, even more so given it happened at Old Trafford. The Dutch coach knows only so well saying, "When you have preparation, win everything, then lose your first match, it cannot be worse…We have built up a lot of confidence. It will be smashed because of this." Very well put given that the Red Devils had a 100% record in preseason winning all their matches which included games against Liverpool, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AS Roma. But that was that. United have a chance to right the wrong when they face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday evening. The Black Cats drew 2-2 with West Brom in their season opener and will fancy themselves rocking United’s ship before it steadies. The two met four times last season with Sunderland winning thrice to United’s once and that was in the league at home to Sunderland. Will Van Gaal’s first step of steadying the ship begin here? A hard fought draw I expect.
Manchester City 2 2 Liverpool (Monday, 2200hrs)
It’s not always common that you find two clubs who will no doubt be involved in the Premier League title dogfight clash this early in the season. Liverpool pushed Manchester City to the bitter end during last season’s title run with the Manchester club just about edging in after the Merseysiders slipped towards the end. Liverpool have since lost the services of Luis Suarez but reinforced the squad by signing close to a full team as they seek to remain steady after the departure of the Uruguayan. The likes of Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Javier Manquillo, Alberto Moreno and Southampton trio Adam Lallan, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert have all been brought in to bolster a squad that will be stretched to the limit with added responsibilities of Champions League football. Mario Balotelli is also on his way but he will unlikely be ready to face his former employers after completing his £16m move from AC Milan. That leaves Liverpool with Daniel Sturridge as the main man up front heading into this early title decider match. The English forward continues to hit the heights for Liverpool and scored over the weekend in the 2-1 win over Southampton. The No. 23 alongside young Raheem Sterling are Liverpool’s new ‘SAS’ and looks like they are already in business after they both scored with Sterling setting up Sturridge for the winner. Man City are awash with world class players and are widely expected to mount yet another serious title charge. Liverpool are in the mix, though not in equal terms. The two already met during the preseason with Liverpool winning on post-match penalties after a 2-2 draw in normal time. City will be favorites to win this match but expect the Reds to give it a real go. A scoring draw on a Monday night isn’t so bad.
And That’s thesteifmastertake!!