Cardiff to be handed reality check
Ian Ogg and Ben Coley preview each of Saturday's seven games as the Barclays Premier League returns.
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Liverpool get the season under way at lunchtime as Stoke visit Anfield for their first competitive game under Mark Hughes.
In the 3pm kick-offs, Arsenal will be hoping for a winning start against Aston Villa while Cardiff are the first of the Premier League new-boys to get their campaigns under way.
And finally, David Moyes takes his Manchester United side to Swansea a year after he'd led Everton to an opening-weekend win over his new employers.
Liverpool v Stoke (1245 BST)
A game which will almost certainly make or break the first Premier League accumulator of the season for most casual punters, but perhaps not one to get too heavily involved in at the prices. Liverpool have to show that their undoubted, albeit steady progress under Brendan Rodgers will see them improve on what's not the best home record when starting as odds-on favourites. Last season they lost to West Brom and Aston Villa as well as sharing the spoils with Stoke, West Ham and Newcastle, while it was a near full-strength side which Swansea dumped out of the Capital One Cup here. In fairness, they did get to grips with things as the season progressed and without the distractions brought by the suspended Luis Suarez, they should be too good for Stoke. Mark Hughes may do better than many expect in charge of Stoke and I certainly don't make them fourth-favourites for the drop, but they've been quiet in the transfer market and, quite obviously, are a better side at home. Interestingly, three of the last five renewals of this fixture and each of the last two have ended goalless, but while Stoke's failure to trouble the scorer in any Premier League game at Anfield may continue I'd expect Liverpool to find a way to win. At this stage of the season it's hard to be bullish but odds-against about a home win to nil offers sufficient value and looks the way to play this game.
Verdict: Liverpool 2 Stoke 0 (BC)
Liverpool have secured only two points and scored just one goal in their last four Barclays Premier League meetings with Stoke City (D2 L2).
Three of the previous five Premier League games between these two sides at Anfield have ended 0-0.
Liverpool are without a win in the last four on the opening day of the season, drawing two home games 1-1 and losing twice away.
Arsenal v Aston Villa (1500)
This fixture hasn't been particularly kind to Arsenal in recent years, with just three wins in seven since they made the move to the Emirates. Villa have won twice, so immediately there's a temptation to take BetVictor's 4/1 about a third draw in eight. That being said, Arsenal have won the last two and their 26-point haul from the last 10 games of last season is a platform upon which they'll be hoping to build, especially with Jack Wilshere having enjoyed a trouble-free pre-season. Still, there's no denying the fact that Arsenal's summer has been disappointing, this time for the management as well as the fans. A failed move for Gonzalo Higuain has been followed by a lengthy squabble over Luis Suarez, one which appears increasingly likely to end in disappointment. Villa, meanwhile, are likely improvers. Their young squad looked sure to go down when losing 8-0 at Chelsea last year but, to their immense credit, managed to survive thanks in no small part to the goals of Christian Benteke, whose contract renewal was great news for Paul Lambert. Reinforcements arrived early this summer and there's cause for optimism at Villa Park, regardless of what happens here. Arsenal's last three season-openers have ended in stalemates - two of them goalless - while earlier victories over Fulham and West Brom came by one goal which renders their 6-1 thumping of Everton an anomaly. Consequently, siding with the draw or a narrow Arsenal victory looks a wiser move than expecting fireworks, but this doesn't look a game to get too heavily involved in.
Verdict: Arsenal 1 Aston Villa 0 (BC)
Arsenal have lost only one of their last nine Barclays Premier League meetings with Aston Villa (W5 D3).
Arsenal have not lost any of their last 12 opening Premier League games (W8 D4), though they have drawn their last three.
Villa have played their opening fixture away from Villa Park 12 times in the Premier League era and have only won once (1-0 at Newcastle in 1999), drawing seven and losing four.
Norwich v Everton (1500)
Everton are favourites for this fixture which, I suppose, is not unreasonable given they amassed 19 points more than 11th placed Norwich last season. Just 21 of their 63-point haul (four wins and nine draws) came on the road, however, and they took just one point (at home) off the Canaries last season which Makes them impossible to recommend as they, presumably, adapt to a new manager and new style of playing. They have, so far, resisted any overtures for their marquee names which bodes well for their chances of repeating last season's sixth-placed finish and Nikica Jelavic surely can't endure a campaign as barren as 2012/13 which saw him net just seven league goals. Norwich enjoyed a decent enough second season in the Premier League under Chris Hughton and have strengthened their squad in the summer. Pragmatism may always win the day at Carrow Road but the club have moved quickly to strengthen options up front and Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel should get plenty of support from a midfield which contributed some vital goals last term. Their home form (8-7-4) was a major factor in avoiding relegation and there's some temptation to side with the hosts at odds-against in the draw-no-bet market given that Everton look far too short but, with Hooper a doubt and new players to bed in, it looks best not to get involved.
Verdict: Norwich 1 Everton 1 (IO)
Norwich have lost only one of their six Barclays Premier League home games versus Everton.
The Toffees have lost seven of their last 10 opening Barclays Premier League games, winning the other three.
City scored two goals in the last six minutes to win this fixture last season.
Three of the last four meetings between these two sides have ended in a draw.
Sunderland v Fulham (1500)
Which way will Sunderland go in their first full season under the controversial Paolo di Canio? Will Fulham finally end their away day blues which has seen them win just 12 games on the road over the course of the last four campaigns? The Londoners have actually improved in that respect having won just once on their travels in 2009/10, subsequent campaigns have seen them post three, four and four victories to ease the suffering of their travelling fans. In light of that record, the Stadium of Light has been a surprisingly happy hunting ground for the Cottagers and any side featuring the enigmatic Dimitar Berbatov is always capable of hurting the opposition. An awful lot rests on his shoulders and it could be the same at Sunderland where Steven Fletcher looks set to lead the line again with Danny Graham sent out on loan having failed to impress in his short period since arriving at the club. Di Canio has been busy in the transfer market but it's (another) period of transition for both sides and it looks best to adopt a cautious approach while things settle down. Neither side has been free-scoring in the past and there's some temptation in siding with under 2.5 goals at a fraction of odds-on but, perversely, the two games between the teams last season both featured four goals and we'll sit this one out.
Verdict: Sunderland 1 Fulham 1 (IO)
Fulham are unbeaten in their last four Barclays Premier League away trips to Sunderland (W1 D3).
The Black Cats have only scored eight goals in 12 previous Premier League opening fixtures combined.
Fulham gained just five points from losing positions in the whole of last season, a league-low.
West Brom v Southampton (1500)
Two of last season's success stories go head-to-head at the Hawthorns and neither side historically excel on the first day of the season. Southampton drew seven games on the road last term and, with West Brom having lost the firepower of loanee Romelu Lukaku, the draw is not an unappealing option at 12/5. The Black Country side have brought in Nicolas Anelka and Matej Vydra in an attempt to fill the void up front and the latter is a fascinating signing having scored goals for fun in the Championship. The pair will need to bed in quickly as Lukaku scored more than twice as many league goals as any other Albion player last term and their relative deficiencies in front of goal undid a lot of good work behind the front line. Rickie Lambert led the Southampton front line with aplomb but whether the journeyman striker will be able to prove as proficient in a second season in the top-flight remains to be seen. The bookmakers firmly expect the South Coast side themselves to avoid 'second-season syndrome' and steer clear of the drop and the acquisition of exciting Kenyan Victor Wanyama could prove to be an excellent piece of business. Many pundits expect Southampton to kick on this season and that is reflected in the prices for this contest but Albion did put five past the Saints without reply in their two fixtures last term - including a fiery encounter at St Mary's featuring three red cards - and won a healthy nine home games while Southampton took maximum points just three times on the road. That said, there are too many question marks about the Baggies for the top price of 11/8 about a home win to appeal and this looks likes one to watch.
Verdict: West Brom 2 Southampton 1 (IO)
West Brom have only won two of their last 15 opening league games (D5 L8).
Southampton lost a league-high 29 points from winning positions last term.
Of all teams to have played 10 or more Barclays Premier League seasons, the Saints have the worst opening day record (an average of just 0.64 points per game).
West Ham v Cardiff (1500)
Sam Allardyce has done a typically effective job since taking over the reins at Upton Park and his squad continues to evolve with the addition of Andy Carroll on a permanent basis while Stewart Downing arrived earlier in the week. The former Anfield team-mates are sure to combine effectively this season as they look to fire themselves back into regular contention for international honours and they can fire West Ham to victory against the newly promoted Bluebirds. Malky Mackay has made some decent additions to his squad - notably club record signings Andreas Cornelius and Steven Caulker - while the experience and enthusiasm of Craig Bellamy can only be a positive but it can take time to adjust to the demands of the Premier League and the Hammers should have too much nous for the Welsh outfit. West Ham have had a decent pre-season as they look to build on last term's commendable 10th place finish and this relatively settled side can bag three points at the first time of asking. Kevin Nolan (top league scorer with 10 in 2012/13) is always of interest in the goal scoring markets as the wily campaigner teams up so effectively with Carroll but we'll keep it simple and back the home team to prevail.
Verdict: West Ham 2 Cardiff 0 (IO)
Cardiff have won four and lost none of their last five opening fixtures.
West Ham shipped a joint-league-high 12 goals in the opening 15 minutes of their games last season.
The Hammers have only drawn one of their last 18 opening games (W9 L8).
Swansea v Manchester United (1730)
David Moyes knows all about United being caught cold on the opening day of the season, having led Everton to victory on the first Monday Night Football of last term. But now he faces the task of making sure his side are ready to go and in his favour is their 2-0 Community Shield victory over Wigan, in which we learned little bar the fact that Robin van Persie remains the best striker in the Premier League. Swansea have developed a playing style which copes well with the demands of taking on the league's finest, and while they've only one point to show for their four meetings with United they have performed with credit each and every time. That comment applies in particular to Michu, who found the net in both games last season. The Spanish star also scored against Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, so with his love for the big occasion well established he's worth considering at 13/5 to find the net here. Similarly, new recruit Wilfried Bony is worthy of much respect considering his exploits in Holland and there's no doubt that this represents a stern test of United's title credentials on day one of their latest defence. Interestingly, Moyes found the key to beating Swansea with Everton - they won three of four meetings, all to nil, with the fourth and most recent game goalless - and that may count for something. I couldn't back United at the start of this new era but if pressed I'd suggest they'll edge to a momentum-building three points.
Verdict: Swansea 1 Manchester United 2 (BC)
Swansea ended a run of six successive opening day defeats with a 5-0 win at Queens Park Rangers last season.
Michu has scored in both of his two previous appearances against Manchester United.
Manchester United have lost just two of their last 17 opening league fixtures, though one of those was last year at Everton.
- The Swansea match is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports, with the Liverpool game on BT Sport.