• Premier League Preview

Champions City bid to bolt out the blocks

ESPN staff
August 17, 2012
Can Andre Villas-Boas get Tottenham off to a winning start at Newcastle © PA Photos

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The wait is over, it's time to do it all again as the Premier League rolls back into town. In an intriguing first round of fixtures, London clubs Tottenham and Arsenal will hope to put down early markers against Newcastle and Sunderland respectively, before champions Manchester City begin the defence of their crown when they host Southampton on Sunday.

Read on as ESPN previews all the games from the opening weekend of the Premier League season...


Newcastle v Tottenham - LIVE ON ESPN

Key battle: Central defender Jan Vertonghen looks to be a shrewd signing this summer following the retirement of club captain Ledley King, but the Belgian could face a baptism of fire against the lively Senegal striker Demba Ba.
Player to watch: Gylfi Sigurdsson was widely expected to follow Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool this summer, but made the decision to switch to Tottenham, a club with more potential in his eyes. He scored his debut goal in pre-season, and with Andre Villas-Boas looking to employ Sigurdsson in a similar position to his role at Swansea, expect plenty of goals from the Iceland international.
Talking point: Can Andre Villas-Boas cut the mustard? He arrived at Chelsea last summer hailed as one of the brightest young managers in the game, arriving on the back of a hugely successful campaign at Porto. Just seven months later he was on his way out having lost the backing of the dressing room. Handed the chance to restore his bruised reputation with Spurs, will Villas-Boas be given the time to realise his vision at White Hart Lane?
Bet of the day: Demba Ba to score first but Tottenham to triumph 2-1 is a tasty 85/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2

Arsenal v Sunderland

Key battle: New Sunderland signing Louis Saha still has the mobility and pace to trouble defences, and he will be confident of ruffling a few feathers if Arsenal line-up with Per Mertesacker, not known for his graceful movement, in central defence.
Player to watch: Well, take your pick of the new Arsenal recruits: Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla, who have bucked the trend of Gunners signings in recent seasons, in that they're established internationals. Cazorla should fit snugly into the Arsenal ethos and Podolski has similarities with Robin van Persie, but can Giroud avoid becoming another Marouane Chamakh?
Talking point: How are Arsenal going to cope without Robin van Persie's goals? Sure, they've brought in a couple of new strikers, but it shouldn't be forgotten just how vital Van Persie was to the Gunners last season: he scored 30 of their 74 league goals, and that's a massive amount to replace. Giroud and Podolski need 15 each to make up for that, and that's a lot to ask two players in their first season of English football.
Bet of the day: Sunderland H/T-Draw F/T, 18/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1

Fulham v Norwich

Key battle: Mahamadou Diarra, a more than capable defensive midfielder, needs to stamp his authority on the game if Fulham are to open their account with a win. Robert Snodgrass joined from Leeds for an undisclosed fee and he'll look to hit the ground running to show he can cut it in the top flight. Let battle commence.
Player to watch: Hugo Rodallega, a free transfer from Wigan, has a point to prove after going off the boil last term (he managed two goals in 23 league appearances). However, he has been known to hit a purple patch and he could well thrive if he strikes up an immediate partnership with the big Croatian Mladen Petric who has joined from Hamburg.
Talking point: With many coming and going at Craven Cottage, Martin Jol has a big job on his hands to get everyone moving in the same direction. How his new frontline performs may well determine his and Fulham's season.
Bet of the day: Rodallega to score the only goal in a 1-0 Fulham win: 18/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-0

QPR v Swansea

Key battle: Swansea's new signing Michu was brought in as a replacement to Gylfi Sigurdsson, could prove to be the bargain of the summer. A midfielder with an eye for goal, he cost just £2 million from Rayo Vallecano. Alejandro Faurlin, who is back for QPR following a cruciate knee ligament injury in January, is likely to have the task of making the Spaniard's debut a quiet one.
Player to watch: Swansea impressed with their slick passing football last season, but with key midfielders Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson flying the nest, all eyes are on Leon Britton to see if he can keep the Swans afloat.
Talking point: Both teams survived the drop in their first season in the top flight, albeit in very different ways. Swansea (11th) proved to be the surprise package with a passing game to rival Barcelona, while Rangers survived by a single point on the last day of the season. Will it be a case of second season-itis for the two clubs?
Bet of the day: QPR to lead at half-time but Swansea to grab a point is 14-1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1

Darren Bent will want to start the season with a bang to force his way into the England frame © PA Photos

Reading v Stoke

Key battle: Reading will be desperate to get off to a positive start, especially beginning their campaign at home, and for this to happen Adam Federici needs to have a good day at the office. The keeper proved something of an inspiration last term, with his 21 clean sheets the best in the division. Stoke were the lowest scorers in the league last season so goals are of paramount importance this time around, meaning Peter Crouch will be hungry to get off to a flyer.
Player to watch: Jem Karacan was the heartbeat of Reading's midfield before a broken ankle curtailed his season. The 23-year-old is back among the ranks and, although he might not be at full fitness, his energy in the engine room will be key to how the promoted team fare against the Potters.
Talking point: Stoke have drafted in Michael Kightly, Geoff Cameron and Jamie Ness among others, but it remains to be seen how Tony Pulis can take the club to the next step. He's still yet to guide Stoke to a top ten finish.
Bet of the day: Reading to bag a 2-1 win: 17/2 with bet365
Prediction: 2-1

West Ham v Aston Villa

Key battle: Striker Darren Bent is by far the most likely source of goals in the Aston Villa line-up, and will want to reassert his qualities to England boss Roy Hodgson having missed out on a place at Euro 2012 due to injury. The Hammers defence must be wise to his movement and pace.
Player to watch: Defender James Collins moved between the clubs over the summer, and is now in his second spell at Upton Park. The Wales international will be eager to prove a point against his old club.
Talking point: Sam Allardyce's pragmatic style of football kept the West Ham fans happy as they earned promotion from the Championship via the play-offs last term, but they will not be recording anything like as many victories this season - and how will the West Ham fans react to the direct approach under less-successful circumstances?
Bet of the day: The draw, 23/10 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1

West Brom v Liverpool

Key battle: Steve Clarke v Brendan Rodgers. Clarke's final match as Liverpool assistant manager was a defeat at the hands of Rodgers' Swansea - but he has now got his chance to lead from the front at The Hawthorns. He would love to inflict defeat upon Rodgers in his first game - the Northern Irishman, not surprisingly, would like to avoid that as he makes his first official bow at the biggest club of his career.
Player to watch: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has had 18 months to adapt to the Premier League - and get any, ahem, controversies put to one side - so now the time has come to deliver an imperious season from start to finish. Rodgers' ideas should only suit his style of play.
Talking point: With reports over Andy Carroll threatening to overshadow everything for a while, has Rodgers' managed to get his tactical ideas across to the squad during the summer break? He will get time to impress upon them his vision, but a quick start would be a boon for everyone at the club.
Bet of the day: Liverpool to be leading at half-time but be drawing at full-time is a enticing 14/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-1


Wigan v Chelsea

Key battle: It will be interesting to see how new Wigan signing defender Ivan Ramis, who arrived from Mallorca, settles into what is sure to be an over-worked Wigan back line. It may be a baptism of fire, however, as Chelsea new boy Eden Hazard aims to impress at the heart of the visitors' attacks.
Player to watch: Much will depend on the form of Fernando Torres. The microscope hovers over the Spaniard following a dismal return of 12 goals in 67 appearances since he joined for £50 million from Liverpool. Didier Drogba is no longer in the equation so now is the time for Torrres to soar; if not he will surely be a casualty at some point next year.
Talking point: Having led Wigan to safety last term, manager Roberto Martinez will be keen to wipe the slate clean and use last season's struggles as fuel to push up the table. However, replacing Mohamed Diame in midfield will be far from easy and, should the Latics wave goodbye to Chelsea-bound Victor Moses, Martinez's task will become particularly challenging.
Bet of the day: Fernando Torres to score twice: 6/1 with bet365
Prediction: 1-2

Carlos Tevez is raring to go for Manchester City © PA Photos

Manchester City v Southampton

Key battle:Sergio Aguero ended the season with a title-deciding goal, so what will he achieve this time around? Saints club captain and goalkeeper Kelvin Davis - a hero so often last season, but a player with a sketchy record at the top level - will want to keep the Argentine at bay as much as possible in this first game.
Player to watch:Carlos Tevez scored a fine goal in last weekend's Community Shield, and subsequently suggested he hasn't felt this confident on the football pitch for a long time. Southampton could yet receive a painful welcome to the Premier League if he is allowed to wriggle free in and around the box.
Talking point:Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has moaned this summer about his owner's reluctance to spend on additions to the squad, with Jack Rodwell the only significant signing so far. Rivals Manchester United have made a statement in paying big money for Robin van Persie - will Mancini want to respond regardless of the result in this one?
Bet of the day: With the benefit of a semi-competitive game already under their belt, City could get goals in this one. Hardly a huge yield, but more than 2.5 goals in this game is 1/2 with bet365
Prediction: 3-1

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