Football Across Europe: August 11-13 | Premier League Returns

Premier League (England)

The 2017/18 Premier League season is finally upon us. Chelsea will look to defend their title. Hull City, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland have left us, relegated to the Championship, replaced by long-time Premier League regulars Newcastle as well as Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town. Many players have come, many have gone. But on opening weekend, the table is level and everyone will have their eyes on a dream finish. Here we look at the most intriguing matches from the opening weekend of a brand new season.

Arsenal vs. Leicester City: The first match of the season is a Friday clash at the Emirates between the Foxes of Leicester and the North London giants of Arsenal. A year after their storybook season for the ages, Leicester stumbled in their title defense. Manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked despite an impressive run in the Champions League, and Leicester finished a meager 12th. Key men Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, and keeper Kasper Schmeichel return, though of course the transfer window remains open until September. For the Gunners, manager Arsene Wenger has decided to stay and will look to improve on the Gunners’ fifth place finish last season when they fell one point short of the top four on the last day of the season. Star Alexis Sanchez is reportedly staying in London, though will miss the opener due to injury. Mesut Özil, however, should be fit. He’ll be joined by new £52M addition and France international Alexandre Lacazette, the former Lyon striker. Both clubs will look to start their campaign off on the right foot after both losing their opener last season.

Watford vs. Liverpool: Saturday’s jam-packed slate of EPL football begins with Jürgen Klopp’s electric Liverpool traveling to face Watford. Coming off a top-four finish last season, the Reds aim to flex their attacking muscle in Vicarage Road against a side that barely finished above the relegation zone in 2016/17. Although the Hornets are relegation candidates again this season, they’ve revamped their squad over the summer with club-record signing Andre Grey along with arrivals of Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah. For Liverpool, it’s been a turbulent summer marred by drama surrounding Philippe Coutinho’s link with a move to FC Barcelona and struggles to secure some of Klopp’s most coveted targets. Despite Coutinho and Adam Lallana being unfit for the opener, new signing Mohamed Salah should link up with Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino to create a lightning-fast strike force.

Chelsea vs. Burnley: The reigning English champions will open their title defense at Stamford Bridge expecting to overpower Burnley in front of their home fans. Despite winning the title in Antonio Conte’s first season with the Blues and returning the club to Champions League football, Chelsea have endured a surprising amount of squad turnover with Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic departing along with several squad players. Conte did secure the £70m Alvaro Morata, but only after losing the Romelu Lukaku sweepstakes to Manchester United. Fellow new signing Tiemoue Bakayoko will look to build chemistry in the middle with last year’s PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante as they face a lowly Burnley side whose point total they more than doubled a year ago.

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Manchester City: The Seagulls of Brighton & Hove Albion make their Premier League debut and first return to the top flight in over 30 years in Saturday’s final match as hosts to Manchester City. They secured the second automatic promotion last season by finishing second in the Championship. Manager Chris Hughton and his squad will be looking to put their best foot forward against one of the league’s powerhouses. Pep Guardiola’s City squad finished third last season and were busy in the summer, adding fullbacks Kyle Walker from Spurs, Danilo from Real Madrid, and Benjamin Mendy from Monaco. Guardiola will hope the trio, which cost more than £100M in total, and new keeper Ederson will help firm up City’s defense to complement their dangerous attack. Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, youngster Gabriel Jesus, and many more dangerous names will be looking to give City a win in their first test as they eye a title run this season.

Newcastle United vs. Tottenham: With their one-year stint in the second tier behind them, Newcastle United rightfully return to the EPL with a daunting challenge looming on their first matchday. Tottenham Hotspur come to town Sunday, a club that’s come up short in the past two seasons but have surprisingly mounted the biggest title challenge in each. While some Spurs fans are frustrated with a lack of transfer activity and the loss of full-back Kyle Walker, the squad largely remains intact from the last two seasons headlined by Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. Tottenham’s dominant attack notched the league’s largest goal differential in each of the last two seasons, and Newcastle will have their hands full limiting them in their return to the Premier League.

Manchester United vs. West Ham United: It was an up and down season for Manchester United last year, finishing sixth but winning both the League Cup and the Europa League, granting them a berth in this year’s Champions League group stage. José Mourinho will no doubt be looking for more this season, however. United welcome former Everton striker Romelu Lukaku to Old Trafford, as well as former Chelsea man Nemanja Matic. Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and world-class keeper David de Gea all remain as well. West Ham endured an 11th place finish last season, but they have welcomed a number of new names this summer, including former Man United player Javier Hernández, better known to the footballing world as Chicharito. They’ve taken former City keeper Joe Hart on loan to fix last season’s issues between the posts, and also added fullbacks Marko Arnautovic and Pablo Zabaleta. Manager Slaven Bilic will be looking to lead the Hammers to an upset victory away from home to start their season with a dream result.