Hey! The Premier League is back. Barely 82 days after Pep Guardiola’s Man City lifted the 2020-21 Premier League trophy, the new 2021-22 season is here. We kickoff with Arsenal FC visiting newly-promoted Brentford in Friday’s league opener.
League winners Man City, European champions Chelsea FC, big-spending Manchester United and Liverpool look like the favorites to battle it out for the Premier League title, with Arsenal and Tottenham wishing and hoping they could be surprise title contenders.
There also promises to be a lot of drama in the lower echelon of the table as teams fight to avoid the drop. The full-capacity return of fans to stadiums across the country will also add an extra dimension — home teams could get their groove back.
Are you excited yet? Just wait until you hear the (unsimulated) crowds roar!
Let’s take a look at the first round of fixtures across the country:
Brentford v Arsenal
[ This is the one match that is scheduled to give us confirmed lineups before Fantrax managers’ hit their deadline (those lucky dogs!) ]
Brentford hosts North London side Arsenal in the opening fixture of the EPL 2021-22 season. Brentford gained promotion to the Premier League by finishing third in the Championship last season and then winning the multi-round playoff.
On the other hand, Arsenal suffered an underwhelming season that saw them finish eighth, failing to qualify for any European competition for the first time in 25 years.
Brentford comes into this Premier League fixture in good spirits following what has been an impressive preseason. Brentford’s friendlies included wins over Valencia, Wimbledon and Boreham Wood. There was also a commendable 2-2 draw against Man United and a defeat to West Ham. Brentford has had a very quiet transfer window, with Kristoffer Ajer being the only addition.
If Arsenal fans had hoped for a more improved display from their darling team, then you can be sure the club’s preseason results have done very little to alleviate their fears. The Gunners have suffered back to back losses in their last two preseason fixtures against London rivals Chelsea FC and Tottenham. Their limitations were obvious in those fixtures as they failed to create adequate chances, captain Aubameyang among those guilty of wasting multiple opportunities.
Arsenal has plugged leaks in defense, but the club’s inability to bring in an attacking midfielder might be its undoing.
Injury Report Brentford: Mathias Jenson – Out (Leg Injury)
Arsenal: Thomas Partey – Out (Ankle Injury), Nketiah – Out (Unknown), Gabriel – Out (Unknown)
Man United v Leeds
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images Last season’s Europa League finalists host Leeds in what is expected to be a very open game, so we should see both teams enjoy a lot of goalmouth action. Man United secured a 6 – 2 win in this fixture last season.
The Red Devils come into this fixture full of confidence after a 4-0 drubbing of Everton. They have had a mixed preseason, winning two (Everton and Derby), losing two (QPR and Villareal), and drawing one (Brentford). OGS has strengthened the team with the additions of Rapheal Varane and Jadon Sancho.
Leeds exceeded expectations last season to finish in the top half of the EPL table, and Bielsa’s men will be motivated to at least match their previous performance. Leeds has endured a terrible preseason with zero wins in five games. The Peacocks lost to Ajax, Betis and Fleetwood, gaining only two draws (Villareal and Blackburn Rovers). Leeds has added Junior Firpo to the squad to shore up the back line.
The Red Devils should have too much firepower for the visitors. Bielsa’s famous “murder ball” style of play leaves gaps between defense and midfield that Man United will exploit. Talisman Bruno Fernandes looks primed to start the season with a bang; I expect him to thread those gaps. OGS has added Jardon Sancho and Rafeal Varane to his squad.
Manchester United: Marcus Rashford – Out (Shoulder injury), Alex Telles – Out (Ankle injury)
Leicester v Wolves
Leicester welcomes Wolves to King Power stadium in what is expected to be a very lively encounter. This fixture will be new Wolves manager Bruno Lage’s first competitive fixture since replacing Nuno Espirito Santo.
Leicester comes into this fixture full of confidence after the Community Shield victory over Man City. The Foxes were impressive against Pep Guardiola’s star-studded side, and they will look to maintain the same level of intensity when they face Wolves this weekend. They have strengthened their side with the addition of Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare and Ryan Bertrand.
Wolves have played six friendly matches. There were wins against Real Betis, and Coventry, losses against Crewe, Las Palmas and Celta Vigo, and a draw against Stoke City. This match will see Raul Jimenez play his first competitive match since fracturing his skull against Arsenal last season. Wolves have strengthened their side with the addition of Francisco Trincao, Rayan Ait Nouri, Jose Sa, Yerson Mosquera and Bendeguz Bolla.
Leicester City: James Justin – Out (ACL), Wesley Fofana – Out (Fibula Fracture), Timothy Castagne – Out (Orbit Fracture), Nempalys Mendy – Out (Groin Injury), Jonny Evans – Out (Foot Injury)
Wolves: Jonny Otto – Out (Knee Injury), Pedro Neto – Doubtful (Knee Injury), Daniel Podence – Out (Groin Surgery), Willy Boly – Doubtful (Hamstring), Owen Otasowie – Doubtful (Hamstring).
Chelsea v Crystal Palace
Host Chelsea is favored to grab the win against Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge. The Blues won the corresponding fixture last season with a 4-0 scoreline. Palace’s new manager Patrick Viera hopes to start his tenure with a victory over the Champions League winners. Chelsea looks to dominate possession while Crystal Palace relies on counterattack to nick a goal and maybe a result.
Chelsea comes into this fixture full of confidence; having followed up May’s Champions League title with Wednesday’s Super Cup trophy against Europa League winners Villareal. The expected addition of Romelu Lukaku will buttress the club’s attacking deficiencies, Timo Werner failing to impress last season.
Crystal Palace played six friendly matches to prepare for the new Premier League season. There were victories against Walsall, Stevenage, Ipswich Town, Reading and Watford plus a draw against Charlton Athletic. The Eagles will need to be clinical on counterattack to have any chance of getting a result from this fixture. The Eagles have strengthened their side by adding Marc Guehi, Joachim Andersen, Micheal Olise, Conor Gallagher and Remi Matthews.
Chelsea: Kenedy – Out (Sprained Ankle), Charly Musonda Jr – Out (Knee Surgery)
Crystal Palace: Nathan Ferguson – Out (Achilles tendon), Eberechi Eze – Out (Achilles tendon) , Luka Milivojevic – Out (personal reasons)
Watford v Aston Villa
Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images Premier League newcomers Watford welcome Aston Villa to Vicarage Road in what should be an entertaining encounter. The last time both teams met, Aston Villa came up tops with a 2-1 scoreline.
The Hornets secured an instant return to the Premier League by finishing second in the Championship, and they will be looking to start their Premier League campaign with a victory. Watford played four preseason matches, which included losses against Arsenal and Crystal Palace plus draws against West Brom and Stevenage. Watford has been very busy in the transfer market, signing no less than eight players. The Hornets have been strengthened by the additions of Imran Louza, Emmanuel Denis, Mattie Pollock, Danny Rose, Ashley Fletcher, Joshua King, Kwadwo Baah, Peter Etebo and Jorge Segura.
Aston Villa started life after captain Jack Grealish with a very good preseason: three wins in four matches. As compensation for the loss of their talisman, Villa received £100 million from Manchester City, which they spent on a raft of new signings to strengthen the team. Emiliano Buendia, Danny Ings, Leon Bailey, Axel Tuanzebe and Ashley Young have all signed.
Aston Villa: Trezeguet – Out (Knee Injury)
Everton v Southampton
Out went Carlo Ancelotti and, against all odds, in came Rafa Benitez. Benitez’ appointment was shrouded in controversy as fans expressed dismay at the choice of a former Liverpool manager who famously branded Everton a “small club”. Benitez is eager to begin the 2021-22 campaign with a win to justify the board’s decision to employ the former rival.
Everton has added Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend and Asmir Begovic.
The sale of captain Danny Ings to Aston Villa leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Saints fans; the striker has been the primary source of goals for the Saints. Southampton endured an abysmal second half to last season, winning the fewest points of any Premier League team over the last 25 games of the campaign, even flirting with relegation. The Saints preseason form has been somewhat better: three wins in four matches.
Adam Armstrong, Romain Perraud, Valentino Livramento, Armando Broja and Theo Walcott have been added to the team to help maintain their Premier League Status for another season.
Everton: Cenk Tosun – Out (Patella rupture), James Rodriguez – Out (COVID isolation)
Southampton: Will Smallbone – Out (Knee Injury)
Burnley v Brighton
Burnley welcomes Brighton to turf Moore in a meeting between two relegation-fodder sides. Neither has been very active in the transfer market, so both could struggle to avoid the drop. Last season’s meetings between these two clubs ended in 0-0 and 1-1, so we could be treated to another low-scoring encounter.
Despite working on a tight budget, Burnley has battled against all odds to maintain Premier League status for six straight seasons. This is a team that has a rigid style of play where everyone knows what is required at every point of a game. The Clarets should take a lot of confidence from preseason friendlies that saw them win four out of five fixtures. They have signed Nathan Collins, Wayne Hennessey and Jacob Bedeau to add more options at the back.
In contrast to Burnley, where a conservative approach is taken to matches, Graham Potter deploys a rather attack-minded formation that creates chances, but the Seagulls’ inability to convert those chances remains a major letdown. That inability might cost them against a Burnley side known for giving opponents very little space at Turf Moor. The Seagulls have added Enock Mwepu, Kjell Scherpen and Kaoru Mitoma to their squad to strengthen their squad.
Norwich v Liverpool
Liverpool’s 2021-22 Premier League campaign kicks off at Carrow Road on Saturday evening as Jurgen Klopp’s side faces newly promoted Norwich. Klopp will be eager to correct the wrongs of last season after the Reds relinquished their Premier League title to Man City. Liverpool had to wait until the last match of last season to even confirm participation in the Champions League for this season. Regardless, this weekend the Reds’ firepower should be too much for Norwich.
The newly promoted Canaries secured their return to the Premier League by being crowned the Championship winners. Daniel Farke’s side plays possession-based football that held the ball more than any other side in the Championship last season. The Canaries have continued from where they stopped last season by securing four wins in five pre-season fixtures.
Although influential midfielder Emiliano Buendia has been sold, Angus Gunn, Milot Rashica, Billy Gilmour, Pierre Lees-Melou have all been brought in to strengthen the team. The Canaries have also taken up purchase options in the deals of Ben Gibson and Dimitris Giannoulis.
Liverpool long term absentees Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson have all made comebacks during the club’s preseason fixtures, and they will be eager to make up for lost time by defeating Norwich. Liverpool has had a good preseason with three wins in five games.
Norwich: Timm Klose – Out (Unknown), Rocky Bushiri – Out (Meniscal Injury), Kenn Mclean – Out (Knee Injury), Przemyslaw Placheta -Out (COVID), Andrew Omobamidele – Doubt (tonsilitis)
Liverpool: Robertson – Out (ankle), Curtis Jones – Out (Concussion protocol)
Newcastle v West Ham
In a repeat of last season’s opening day fixture, West Ham travels to St James Park for a clash that promises a lot of goalmouth action. Newcastle got the better of West Ham twice last season, so the Hammers will be keen to avoid a repeat.
The Magpies finished 12th last season with Joe Willock being the go-to man in the second half of the season. They will be encouraged that they haven’t lost in four matches against the Hammers. Newcastle hopes to carry on a preseason form of only one loss in five. Apart from the impending arrival of Joe Willock (the club is scrambling to register him in time for this weekend), Newcastle has been inert in this transfer market.
The Hammers have been impressive in preseason, beating Reading, Celtic, Brentford, Norwich and Atalanta, so they are favorites to win this fixture. But they haven’t won on GW-1 in consecutive Premier League seasons, so Newcastle might just be in line for another opening day victory. West Ham hasn’t been as active in the transfer market as previous seasons, only bringing back Alphonse Areola on loan and making Craig Dawson move from Watford permanent.
Newcastle: Martin Dubravka – Doubtful (Foot Injury), Karl Darlow (COVID)
West Ham: None
Tottenham v Man City
Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images Nuno Espirito Santo begins life as Spurs’ manager with a huge clash against league champions Manchester City. The Citizens’ public courting of Spurs’ captain Harry Kane should add more spice to this fixture. Last season’s Golden Boot winner has openly stated his desire to leave Spurs, and he has only just returned to training, so it is unlikely he will feature.
Tottenham went undefeated in five in the preseason, defeating Arsenal, Colchester and MK Dons while drawing against CL champions Chelsea and Leyton Orient.
Spurs have added Bryan Gil, Pierliugi Gollini and Christian Romero to to aid their fight for the Premier League title.
Defeat in the Community Shield against Leicester will be on Pep Guardiola’s mind as his team takes on Spurs. Guardiola will be eager to avoid a repeat of last week when his team failed to play the fluid football that saw them fly to the Premier League title last season. Man City has strengthened the team with the addition of Jack Grealish and Kayky (who will not join up with the club until January).
Man City: Kevin De Bruyne – Out (Ankle Injury), Phil Foden – Out (Foot Injury)
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Statistics and information for this article were sourced from Sportsnet.ca, brentfordfc.com, transfermarkt.com, arsenal.com, bbc.com, lcfc.com, goal.com, telegraph.com, leedsunited.com, manutd.com, sportmole.co.uk, chelseafc.com
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