The 2009-2010 English Premier League season is less than 24 hours away and, for the next few hours, everybody is in a Champions League spot.
Of course, a pessimist would point out that everyone is also in the drop zone.
Let’s get into some previews for week one, shall we?
Chelsea vs. Hull City
The Community Shield holders host Hull City in the first match of the new season.
The first domino: Last season at Stamford Bridge, the Tigers held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw – a result that led to the ouster of Luiz Felipe Scolari, the interim appointment of Guus Hiddink and the eventual arrival of Carlo Ancelotti. Who knew Hull City has so much influence?
History lesson: Hull hasn’t won in a cup or a league visit to the bridge since 1905. … Chelsea has won its last seven league openers and have taken nine of 10. … Hull won its league opener last season, taking a 2-1 win over Fulham at the KC Stadium. … Chelsea leads this series 25-9-4.
The Jozy watch: U.S. International Jozy Altidore, with his freshly minted U.K. work permit, is a likely choice to earn a starting spot up front for the Tigers on Saturday. The 19-year-old striker came on as a substitute in the second half of the U.S. team’s 2-1 loss in Mexico City on Wednesday.
On the training table: Chelsea’s Joe Cole is out with a knee injury while Yuri Zhirkov and Paulo Ferreira are also doubtful. … Ian Ashbee, Jimmy Bullard and Richard Garcia will miss out for Hull.
Key to the game: Chelsea, wearing the mantle as preseason favorites for the title, will look to pressure Hull early. The Tigers will need a big time defensive effort, particularly early, to survive the trip to London.
Portsmouth vs. Fulham
Fulham begins its campaign at Fratton Park with a date against Portsmouth on Saturday.
Rude guests: The Whites are unbeaten in their last three trips to the south coast, leaving with a win and two draws, including a 1-1 result last year. That said, Fulham won just three matches on its travels last season.
They said it, part one: “As far as I know there hasn’t been a takeover yet and everyone has been made well aware of that. Obviously, I think it would be in the best interests of the club to get it sorted out sooner rather than later, but I am just concentrating on the football side of things at the moment, that’s my job. That’s what I’m here for, the finances are for someone else to deal with. I’m an employee of the football club I’ll get told when its right to be told and as it stands at the moment my job is out there with the players and producing a team that is going to be competitive by the start of the season.” – Phil Hart, to the Daily Telegraph about the possibility of an ownership change at Portsmouth.
They said it, part two: “It would be foolish of me to say there is no chance of (Europe proving a distraction this season.) I think the team are still strong. We’re even getting stronger if anything. But last year we were extremely lucky with injuries. I don’t know quite whether that will happen to us again.” – Fulham boss Roy Hodgson, to the Telegraph.
What to watch for: Will there be any goals? Fulham tends to pack it in away from Craven Cottage, and you wonder if Portsmouth will have much punch with its recent departures and overall instability.
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. West Ham United
The champions of the, well, Championship entertain West Ham in the opener for both sides.
They said it – a dose of realism: “We’re trying to stay up. Sometimes that sounds a bit negative – aim for the stars and you could end up hitting the moon – but let’s just go in and try to be a success. Take out the top six or eight, and the rest of them just want to stay there.” – Mick McCarthy, Wolves manager to the Sunday Mercury.
Been a while: These teams haven’t met since 2005, where Wolves took a 4-1 win.
The questions: Can Wolves stay up with a young squad and a skipper that lacks top flight experience? Can the Hammers push for Europe with a depleted squad with more defections likely?
Aston Villa vs. Wigan
After last year’s stumble from what seemed like a sure Champions League berth, Aston Villa is back for another push for the top four as they host Wigan.
Something’s got to give: Aston Villa has never won a home league fixture with Wigan, while Wigan has never earned a point from a league opener.
History lesson: Villa’s only win against Wigan at Villa Park came in a cup match in 1994. … The Latics have dropped four straight on the road.
New faces: Jason Scotland and Jordi Gomez could feature for Wigan on Saturday. I’d mention some newcomers for Aston Villa, but there doesn’t seem to be any…
Stoke City vs. Burnley
Burnley’s debut in the EPL comes with a visit to the Potters on Saturday.
Managing expectations: “There’s no doubt we will be written off as the underdogs in each and every match. I don’t have a problem with that and, let’s be honest, we’re in the Premier League on the smallest budget by a country mile. The more money you pay, the better players you can get, but it’s not always about having the best individuals. It’s about the best team.” – Clarets gaffer Owen Coyle, to The Sun.
The team approach: Stoke City knows all about the team-first philosophy, having survived last season with a stifling defense and gritty play.
Blackburn Rovers vs. Manchester City
City’s “big four” dreams get their first test Saturday with a trip to Blackburn.
Grab bag: Blackburn has won its last two openers. … City’s only two opening day wins in the Premier League have come in away fixtures. … New City signee Emmanuel Adebayor (doubtful, groin injury) has scored five goals in his last three starts against Rovers, including a hat trick at Ewood Park for Arsenal last season.
Pressure cooker: City boss Mark Hughes, with nearly £200 million worth of transfers to play with, needs a fast start and a season-long challenge for a berth in next year’s Champions League. Anything less will likely mean the sack.
Bolton vs. Sunderland
Two teams that avoided relegation last season begin the trick of doing it again at the Reebok Stadium Saturday.
A facelift?: Bolton didn’t exactly splash the cash around, but it did add Sean Davis, Zat Knight, Sam Ricketts and Paul Robinson to the squad.
Another makeover: New Black Cats’ boss Steve Bruce has a few new pieces himself this season, as Darren Bent, Lee Cattermole, Lorik Cana, Frazier Campbell and Paulo Da Silva are all new signings.
Everton vs. Arsenal
Probably the best match of the weekend as the Toffees host the Gunners on Sunday Saturday.
History lesson: Arsenal leads the all-time series 85-37-54. … Arsenal has drawn in the last two meetings to Goodison Park.
Injury worries: Everton is hoping that Jo and Marouane Fellaini will be in the squad while Arsenal doesn’t have any major concerns in this area.
Key fixture: It might be an opener, but with both of these sides likely challengers for the top four, this result might loom large all season long. The tactical matchup between David Moyes and Arsene Wenger should make for must-watch football.
Manchester United vs. Birmingham
Welcome back to the Premier League, Birmingham. Here’s a ticket to Old Trafford…
A quick first step to title No. 19?: The Red Devils have won 21 straight meetings against Birmingham, dating back to a 5-1 loss in Nov. 1978.
A long medical list: United are heavy favorites, but with Nemnaja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Gary Neville and Rafael Da Silva unlikely to play, the defense will surely be a makeshift one.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Another nice first-week encounter as the Reds invade White Hart Lane.
Will he or won’t he?: Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard is doubtful with an injured groin.
A tough road: Spurs haven’t lost a league match at home in 10 months, making Liverpool’s job all the more difficult.
Recent history: Tottenham took two wins off Liverpool last year, a 2-1 win at home and another triumph in the Carling Cup in November.