|Football Bettor's Survey|
"Scolari: This Season's EPL Hero?"
The Community Shield may have failed to cause even a ripple of excitement but fans of English football do not have long to wait before the full season kicks off.
The Wembley showdown between Manchester United and Portsmouth was a glorified friendly and Arsenal and Liverpool have kicked off their Champions League activities but the real action starts now.
Tricky Trip for the Baggies
The season's come to life just after mid-day when Arsenal play host to West Bromwich Albion, which may seem an unfair place for the Championship champions to celebrate their return to the top flight.
That said, it may be the right time to catch Arsenal as they have their European exploits on their mind and the Baggies are likely to be fired up.
Arsenal appear to have a few injuries to their midfielders so perhaps the Midlands club may be able to spring a shock. Then again, Arsenal will be buoyed by an impressive result and performance in Holland on Wednesday night where they defeated FC Twente to virtually seal their Champions League group place. No one outside of West Bromwich Albion will be expecting anything other than a home victory but stranger things have happened on the opening day of the season.
You only have to remember back to last August when champions Manchester United kicked off their campaign at Old Trafford versus Reading. United made all the running and they huffed and puffed but they were unable to break the Royals down and 0-0 was probably a fair result. To make matters worse, Wayne Rooney suffered an injury on the stroke of half-time and things looked grim for the Reds.
It took a few weeks for Manchester United to get into gear last season but they eventually powered home to do a glorious double which shows that dropping points on the first day does not always mean disaster.
Similarly, Reading would have been delighted at leaving Old Trafford with a point yet at the end of the season they were in the bottom 3. With a season in the Championship ahead of them, Reading are a good example of what occurs on the opening day does not always carry on throughout the season.
Can Stoke Shock the Wanderers?
Stoke City were second to West Bromwich Albion in last years Championship title race and they too find themselves with an away trip to welcome them to the Premier League. A visit to the Reebok and a game against Bolton may not be the glamour tie that many football fans dream of but it offers Stoke City the opportunity of getting a vital point or three on the board.
Bolton did not avoid relegation with much last season and they need to improve greatly to ensure their top flight survival. New signing Johan Elmander will be looked at for the goals to steal points but much of the focus remains on Jussi Jaaskalainen. The goalkeeper has signed a new contract that will keep him at Bolton and give the Wanderers a half decent chance of staying up.
Big spending Tottenham Hotspur start their campaign away to Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough appear to be one of the teams who are safe from relegation but unable to challenge for Europe and there needs to be some excitement this year at the Riverside.
A lot will be asked of existing forwards like Mido and Alves to fire the team to a few more wins. Whether they have enough to stop Bentley and Modric on their competitive debut and place the shackles on Darren Bent who has been on form in pre season remains to be seen. After an end to the season where the club downed tools after their League Cup triumph, Tottenham will no doubt be hoping for some consistency and form from the off.
Keane Keen to Enjoy Home Comforts Again
One club who managed an impressive opening victory last season and used it as a springboard for the season was Sunderland. An injury time Michael Chopra goal defeated Spurs by 1-0 at the Stadium of Light and this impressive home record was a factor in Roy Keane's team remaining in the top flight.
Whether they can replicate this fine start in their home match against Liverpool remains to be seen but just like last year, Keane has not been slow in spending money.
A few new players will be hoping to make their competitive debut on Saturday evening and catch a Liverpool team who may have an eye on Europe. Although the result on Wednesday night in Belgium keeps Liverpool in the Champions League hunt, it was a poor performance from Rafa Benitez's team. They were easily put off their stride by an industrious team and Sunderland would do well to replicate the hard work put in by Standard Liege.
Top 2 Have Extra Day of Rest
The top two have to wait until Sunday to get their season underway and champions Manchester United start at home with a match against Newcastle United. There seems to be talk this week that Manchester United are hopeful of having Tottenham’s Dimitar Berbatov on board in time for the game but they will need to meet the London clubs evaluation of the skilful player.
Anytime Kevin Keegan comes up against Manchester United it is impossible not to think back to his amazing outburst last decade when his Newcastle team ran the Reds close in the league. The last two matches between these teams have featured Man U romp home and many will expect the same outcome this weekend.
Opening weekend matches are invariably tight so there may not be the five or six goals but the home team should have enough to get all three points. This sensation has been furthered by the fact that Michael Owen remains a doubt for the away team. Newcastle may have outside hopes of finishing in a European qualification spot this season but they are likely to still have no points come Monday morning.
Chelsea may have ended the season on a low note with that penalty shoot-out defeat in Moscow but their preparations for 08/09 started well when the club announced that Frank Lampard has signed a new five year contract. This should put a stop to the Lampard to Inter Milan rumours for at least a season or two but now it remains to be seen if Deco and Lampard can play in the same team.
Scolari Set for His Biggest Challenge
'Big' Phil Scolari seems to think so and the first opportunity to see this partnership may come on Sunday, when FA Cup holders Portsmouth come calling at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea still remain hopeful of signing Robinho so their summer spending may not be over but this match promises to be a tough one. The stern defence that defined last season's success for Pompey remains but with Peter Crouch up front, perhaps they will have a bit more fire power to punish teams.
No matter what results take place this weekend nothing will be decided but after so many wasted weekends with no competitive football there is no doubt that football fans over the world will be delighted with the return of top flight football in England.
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