Chelsea play host to Premier League newcomers, Leicester on Saturday afternoon, followed by Everton taking on Arsenal at Goodison Park. While Chelsea’s prospective result is all but a foregone conclusion, Everton are sure to give Arsenal a tough time of things in their early-evening fixture.
But the pick of the weekend’s matches has to be Manchester City taking on Liverpool on Monday night, in a battle that pits the league champions against the team that ran a close second in the last campaign.
Everton vs Arsenal
In last season’s corresponding fixture, Everton thrashed the Gunners 3-0 in spite of Arsenal marginally having the upper hand in terms of head-to-head matches historically. It should also be borne in mind that Everton were still under the stewardship of an underachieving David Moyes for those previous head-to-head games and that much improvement has taken place since Roberto Martinez assumed the reins at Goodison Park.
Goals from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku put Everton 2-0 up at halftime, before an ironic second-half own goal from Mikel Arteta sealed Arsenal’s fate in that match. The Gunners failed to score despite having the larger share of possession, as boundless energy and sound marking by The Toffees condemned the Londoners to defeat.
This weekend may well present a return to form though as Arsenal have made a number of key signings in the latest transfer window. Alexis Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy are the headliners and should fit neatly into the Gunners arsenal (pun intended) and their short passing style of play.
Everton themselves have added Lukaku on a permanent basis, and brought in a sound midfield general in the form of Gareth Barry to marshal proceedings in the middle of the park. The Toffees also boast the prodigious talents of James McCarthy and Kevin Mirallas, though powerhouse Ross Barkley will not feature due to a long-term knee injury.
Prediction: 2-1 to Arsenal. The Gunners should have just enough to win at Goodison Park, given that they are at full strength, and with Ross Barkley missing, I think Everton will miss much of the impetus he provides.
Sunderland vs Manchester United
Manchester United travel to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on Sunday amidst hopes of at least some redemption following their opening-day home loss to Swansea.
Gus Poyet’s has been a sensation since his appointment as Black Cats manager in October 2013, succeeding Paolo Di Canio and caretaker Kevin Ball. His career there may not have gotten off to the best of starts, but guiding the team to a League Cup final and securing Premier League safety following a season-long struggle speaks volumes of Poyet’s aptitude for the role.
In fact, Sunderland defeated Manchester United over two legs in the semifinal of the Capital One Cup last season, so Rooney and company should be well aware of the threat posed by Saturday’s opponents.
Poyet was able to inspire his side to a 2-2 draw last week against West Brom as Sebastian Larsson’s late strike denied The Baggies victory. No doubt, Sunderland will want a repeat performance this time around to further dent Manchester United’s confidence.
With that said, Manchester United will be determined to prove their worth as top-four contenders. The aforementioned opening day loss to Swansea will have stung, but I see United fighting tooth and nail for a win this weekend.
Prediction: 2-0 to Manchester United. The Red Devils should have the desire and class to avenge their League Cup loss to Sunderland last season, and a second successive league defeat is something that should be beyond the realms of possibility for Louis van Gaal’s side.
Manchester City vs Liverpool
The fact that Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool finished second in the league to Manchester City last season, and that by only two points, is ample proof of Liverpool’s desire for greater things these days. To have finished that close to a team with more than twice the budget is ample testament to Rodgers and his prowess as a manager.
Having that said, Liverpool did not have the additional burden of European competition last season, and fairly early exits from local cup competitions contributed significantly to that achievement. However, as the football season is still in its infancy and thus far devoid of cup-related activity, a titanic battle may be in the offing at The Etihad Stadium on Monday night.
Manchester City are a formidable force at home and though Liverpool did give a good account of themselves in last season’s corresponding fixture, losing 2-1 to the Sky Blues, I get the sense that these teams will be separated by rather more this time around. City have acquired even more strength for the coming season in the shape of Bacary Sagna from Arsenal , Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando from FC Porto, and Willy Caballero from Malaga.
City will also have Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, David Silva, Yaya Toure and a host of others to call upon to create a threat against the Liverpool backline, while The Reds themselves are marginally weaker following the sale of talisman Luis Suarez, and that without an adequate replacement just yet.
Prediction: 3-1 to Man City. Manuel Pellegrini is an astute manager in charge of team of world-beaters who play well as a team, while Liverpool are weaker following the sale of Suarez. Of course The Reds have a squad that remains the envy of most, but playing Manchester City with the squad they’ve got at The Etihad Stadium … need I say more?