EPL Week 1 Betting Preview
English Premier League
Saturday 18th August 2012
Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and now Robin van Persie.
Arsenal fans could be forgiven for starting to really hate the month of August which has become synonymous with their big name stars quitting the club at the worst possible moment.
At least this year the Gunners have already done some spending, bringing in three established internationals in the form of Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla and indeed the fee of around $35 million that they received for van Persie looks like a decent bit of business given his age, injury track record and the fact that he only had one year left on his contract.
But it’s still less than ideal preparation for Saturday’s season opener with Sunderland and will do little to raise any expectations fans of the North London club may have regarding their side’s potential to seriously challenge the Manchester clubs and Chelsea for this season’s title.
Boss Arsene Wenger could of course now opt to re-invest some of the fee received from van Persie from Manchester United in another top class striker, but he will more than likely settle for Giroud and Podolski despite the fact that both were largely peripheral figures for their respective countries at Euro 2012.
The Frenchman and the German are both expected to debut against the Black Cats, but the Gunners will again be without the services of key midfielder Jack Wilshere who is not expected to return to competitive action until October at the earliest.
Wilshere’s England team-mate Theo Walcott, meanwhile, is a major doubt having picked up a thigh injury, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should recover from his ankle problem in time to feature and Laurent Koscielny is also likely to be passed fit despite missing France’s midweek international against Uruguay due to a calf strain.
Like their Arsenal counterparts, Sunderland fans could also be forgiven for having more than a few misgivings heading into the new Premier League campaign.
Hopes were high on Wearside that Martin O’Neill would be able to put his stamp on the squad having steadied the ship after succeeding Steve Bruce in the Stadium of Light hot-seat midway through last season.
O’Neill’s recruitment drive, however, has borne precious little fruit, with former Aston Villa defender Carlos Cuellar the only significant new arrival to date. The Black Cats have been relentless in their pursuit of Wolves striker Steven Fletcher, but as yet, even a wildly generous offer of more around $20 million has not been enough to prise the Scottish international away from Molineux.
So Sunderland will start the new season with essentially the same squad that finished last term, minus the likes of Michael Turner, Craig Gordon, Marcos Angeleri and Asamoah Gyan, all of whom have moved on to pastures new.
And when you bear in mind that the Wearsiders won only two of their final 15 games in all competitions, it’s not hard to see why their fans are not exactly bursting with optimism.
On a more positive note, the visitors should have most of their regular starters available for the trip to the capital, with Stephane Sessegnon set to overcome an ankle injury in time to come into the selection frame, leaving David Vaughan, Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley as the only significant absentees.
In terms of recent history, meanwhile, the Black Cats may have enjoyed some success against the Gunners at home, but you have to go way back to 1983 to find the last time they chalked up a league victory in North London.
Despite the distraction of van Persie’s departure, Wenger’s men should have too much for a Sunderland outfit that will surely need to be significantly strengthened before the end of the month if a long season spent flirting with relegation is to be avoided.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland
Saturday 18th August 2012
Brendan Rodgers’ red revolution will receive its first meaningful test on Saturday in the form of a visit to the Hawthorns to take on another side under new management, West Bromwich Albion.
And it will be fascinating to see how different this Liverpool side will be from that which reached two cup finals under Kenny Dalglish last term, but laboured to a disappointing 8th-place in the league, their worst finish for some 18 years.
Rodgers has had precious little time to try and impose the passing-out-from-the-back, possession-rich style that proved so successful during his time at Swansea, but with the higher quality playing group at his disposal at Anfield, the switch to the new approach should, theoretically at least, have been easier.
The pre-season indications have been that the Reds have fully embraced the Ulsterman’s philosophies and there is a cautious optimism on Merseyside that the new campaign should bring a significant improvement in terms of both performances and results.
The club’s most expensive new recruit, Joe Allen, is poised to make his league debut on Saturday and while the $25 million price tag may have seemed excessive to some, the prodigiously-talented young Welshman undoubtedly has the potential to become the heartbeat of the side for years to come.
With Steven Gerrard recapturing both form and fitness for England at Euro 2012 and new arrival Fabio Borini offering a clever, different option up front, the Reds look to be in decent shape and if they can enjoy a little more fortune than last season when they hit the woodwork more than thirty times, a coveted top four place should not be beyond them.
Rodgers still has some business to attend to, notably resolving the Andy Carroll situation which seems destined to end in the target-man leaving the club either permanently or on a temporary basis, signing at least one additional defender and persuading in-demand centre-back Daniel Agger that he should resist the ongoing overtures of both Manchester City and Barcelona to remain on Merseyside.
Injury-wise, meanwhile, the Reds look to have a clean bill of health and may include Joe Cole in their matchday squad following his return from a successful season-long loan with French club Lille.
As for West Brom, they will begin the campaign with a new man at the helm in the form of former Liverpool assistant Steve Clarke, but many of their fans are fearful that the next nine months will be spent desperately trying to escape the bottom three rather than building upon last term’s impressive 10th-place finish.
Although the arrival of goalkeeper Ben Foster is a major plus and the signing of Roman Lukaku on loan from Chelsea could also prove significant if he can fulfil his massive potential, overall the Baggies squad is not an especially strong one.
Clarke will be desperately hoping that Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg and Argentinean midfielder Claudio Jacob make more of an impact than their indifferent track records suggest they will and that Peter Odemwingie can keep his mind focused on scoring goals rather than the possibility of moving to a higher profile club.
Keeping assists-king Chris Brunt fit and firing will be vital and from an Australasian perspective, it will be interesting to see if New Zealand striker Chris Wood can secure a decent run of games rather than be farmed out on loan yet again.
On the injury front, the Midlanders have slight doubts over Liam Ridgewell and Jerome Thomas, both of whom picked up minor knocks in a pre-season clash with Nottingham Forest, but otherwise Clarke should have a full squad from which to make his final selection.
Albion were superbly organised if a little tactically rigid under previous boss Roy Hodgson and it will be intriguing to see if Clarke, who is renowned for his work on the training pitch, adopts a noticeably different approach as he bids to make what is often a tricky transition from highly-rated assistant to successful manager.
Liverpool were fortunate to win the corresponding fixture last season having been outplayed for much of the first-half, but the Baggies duly gained their revenge by winning at Anfield for the first time since 1967.
With the feelgood factor just starting to return at Liverpool, they should have enough about them to edge a close one.
Prediction: West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Liverpool
Sports Direct Arena
Saturday 18th August 2012
While Newcastle United will bound into the new season full of optimism having thus far retained all the key men who made last term such a success, it’s not as easy to gauge the mood of the Tottenham Hotspur fans who will make the long trip north this weekend.
Most had of course expected manager Harry Redknapp to leave White Hart Lane, but when he was surprisingly overlooked for the England job, few could have expected the former West Ham man to then be axed quite so ruthlessly by club chairman Daniel Levy.
A breakdown in the personal relationship between the two men is said to have been behind the split and it provided the opportunity for Andre Villas Boas to take up the reins in an attempt to prove that last season’s debacle at Chelsea was simply a minor blot on an otherwise accomplished resume.
The youthful Portuguese has thus far received a mixed reception from the Spurs faithful and his attempt to win over the disgruntled among them has not been helped by an indifferent summer on the transfer front.
Defender Jan Vertonghen and particularly midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson look like fine additions to what is already a generally strong squad, but the failure of the club to secure the services of Emanuel Adebayor on a permanent basis has left them decidedly light-on in terms of attacking options.
Although Jermaine Defoe showed that he remains a class act by scoring a superb goal for England in their midweek friendly win over Italy, teenager Harry Kane is the club’s only other striker with any significant first-team experience and it is surely too much to expect him to be a goalscoring mainstay this term.
Should Spurs fail to agree a deal with Manchester City to bring Adebayor back to the Lane following last season’s hugely-successful loan spell, they will be left searching for a major signing close to deadline day when most of the best players have already been snapped up and the prices of those that haven’t tend to go through the roof.
Luka Modric’s future in North London also remains uncertain, although Manchester United now seem unlikely to continue their pursuit of the Croatian international and Villas Boas will be desperately hoping that the talismanic midfielder will decide to stay, especially as Scott Parker is due to be out of action for at least another month after undergoing an Achilles operation.
Fortunately for Spurs, the suspended Danny Rose is their only other confirmed absentee, although Gareth Bale could be a doubt after limping out of Wales’ midweek friendly against Bosnia-Herzegovina with what looked like a recurrence of his back and hamstring problems.
No such dramas for Newcastle, however, who have crucially managed to avoid selling any of the stars who helped them surge to an impressive and generally unexpected 5th-place finish last season.
Controversial chairman Mike Ashley is of course not averse to off-loading the club’s main assets at any time should the price be right, but as it stands, Alan Pardew’s men look well placed to enjoy another successful campaign despite coming into the Spurs game with more than their fair share of injury concerns.
Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini and Papiss Demba Cisse will all undergo late fitness tests on Saturday, though most if not all of them are likely to start.
Pardew did most of his spending last summer, picking up several bargains in the process, so the only new face likely to be included in this weekend’s squad is midfielder Gael Bigirimana who was snapped up from Coventry. Former Melbourne Heart defender Curtis Good, meanwhile, is expected to spend most of this term playing reserve team football after making a surprise move to Tyneside back in June.
In terms of recent meetings between the two sides, Newcastle have failed to beat Tottenham in five attempts, but the North Londoners have won only once at the Sports Direct Arena in their last six league visits.
With a more settled camp and plenty of positive momentum carried over from last season, there is no reason why Newcastle can’t pick up three points at the expense of a Spurs side for whom the start of the new campaign looks to have come a couple of weeks too soon.
Prediction: Newcastle United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Sunday 19th August 2012
The hosts rattled in no fewer than 93 as they clinched last season’s title in the most dramatic of circumstances, while the Saints plundered 85 as they secured promotion from the Championship.
The side from the south coast will of course find defences far less accommodating in the top flight, but boss Nigel Adkins has assembled a squad full of exciting attacking talent and instilled a level of resilience in his charges that means they certainly won’t die wondering this season.
In Rickie Lambert, Southampton have a classic old-school centre-forward who has banged home nearly 90 goals in just three seasons at the club and is likely to be partnered this term by 23-year-old hot-shot Jay Rodriguez who was brought in for a fee of over $10 million from Burnley.
Then there is Billy Sharp, a genuine fox in the box, plus a couple of classy attacking midfielders in the form of Adam Lallana and Brazilian Guilherme Do Prado.
Adkins has also drafted in exciting young defensive prospect Nathaniel Clyne who was a stand-out for Crystal Palace last season, along with the experienced Steven Davis from Rangers and another player worth keeping an eye on is midfielder Jack Cork whom many pundits believe is destined for a full England cap in the not too distant future.
In short, Southampton’s is a generally youthful squad with plenty of talent and pace and one that is more than capable of emulating Swansea and Norwich’s achievements of last season and securing a comfortable mid-table finish.
That said, it’s all but impossible to see them marking their return to the top flight with anything other than a defeat at the hands of the reigning champions.
With the exception of the $20 million he forked out to sign Jack Rodwell from Everton, manager Roberto Mancini is yet to help club owner Sheikh Mansour spend any more of his seemingly limitless cash this summer, but we do still have another two weeks to go before the transfer window slams shut.
Several big names are still likely to arrive at Etihad Stadium between now and the end of the month and with several of his regulars struggling with injuries, Mancini will be keen to finalise those prospective deals sooner rather than later.
As it stands, England duo Micah Richards and Gareth Barry are both expected to be missing on Sunday, although Joe Hart and Mario Balotelli are likely to feature having recovered from a back injury and a virus respectively. And given Balotelli’s spectacular displays for Italy at Euro 2012, we can surely expect yet more fireworks on and off the field from the human headline machine in the coming months.
Rodwell, meanwhile, may well make his starting debut in midfield as City look for a repeat of their opening day performance last season when they hammered another newly-promoted side, Swansea, 4-0.
David Silva should join Rodwell in the run-on side after coming off the bench to good effect in last week’s Community Shield win over Chelsea, with the dynamic Argentinean duo of Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero again set to be paired up front.
Like their forthright manager, Southampton will not be intimidated by the prospect of taking on the champions, but a positive mental attitude will not be enough to spare them a first-up defeat.
Prediction: Manchester City 3-1 Southampton930 views