So here we are again, on the cusp of another Premier League season. After a three month amnesty during which we have tried to fill the footballing void with a plethora of other sports and competitions, the real thing is back at 10am ET/3pm BST on Saturday. Get ready to welcome back the drama, controversy and unrestrained emotion that this competition brings to so many people around the world.
Following on from what was undoubtedly the most thrilling season in history, the teams contesting in this year’s campaign have a lot to live up to. But such is the nature of English football, would anyone really deny the possibility that this season might even go one better?
Included is the lowdown on the weekends opening fixtures to make sure you don’t miss any of the action. Also included is a key player for each team who will no doubt go someway to determining their respective sides fortunes for the upcoming nine months.
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Arsenal vs Sunderland (10am ET/3pm BST) on ESPN and ESPN3.com
Thomas Vermaelen: Forged a formidable partnership with Laurent Koscielny towards the end of last season. If he can stay fit he is an absolute rock at the back and also offers a significant goal threat from set pieces.
James McClean: Emerged last year as a genuine threat from wide areas. The young Irishman can surely only improve with more playing time under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill. It will be interesting to see how he progresses in his second full season.
West Ham United vs Aston Villa (10am ET/3pm BST) on FOX Soccer 2Go
James Tompkins: Made significant strides in the last season and was one of the best centre backs in the Championship. He has sampled the Premier League before, but must take it up a notch in order to provide West Ham with the solid foundations that Sam Allardyce will look to impose.
Darren Bent: With the England hit-man either injured or struggling for form last season, it is no coincidence that Villa were also found lacking in the goals department. If the England striker can hit the ground running then it will make new manager Paul Lambert’s job significantly easier.
Queens Park Rangers vs Swansea City (10am ET/3pm BST) on FOX Soccer 2Go
Adel Taarabt: A genuine match winner on his day, Mark Hughes seemed to get the best out of him towards the end of last season. The Moroccan can be as frustrating as he is fantastic, but if QPR can get him going then he could steer them to a comfortable position come the end of the season.
Michel Vorm: One of the signings of last season and the main reason the Swansea goal was rarely breached in the early part of the campaign. With Swansea losing a couple of key players, he could see even more action. How he stands up to the task could be the difference between the Swans staying up or be relegated.
Fulham vs Norwich (10am ET/3pm BST) on FOX Soccer Plus and FOX Soccer 2Go
Moussa Dembele: Initially brought in as a forward, the Belgian has gone on to excel in a midfield role at Craven Cottage. With excellent ball control, a wand of a left foot and bags of energy, it is easy to see why Spanish giants Real Madrid have been linked with the player. Fulham could push for a European spot if they can keep hold of him.
Grant Holt: After some unrest earlier this summer regarding Holt’s future, he has signed a new contract at Carrow Road lending his support towards new manager Chris Hughton. A physical presence, but not given enough credit for his work on the ball, Holt delivered the goals to keep the canaries in the division last season. Norwich need him to do the same again.
Reading vs Stoke City (10am ET/3pm BST) on FOX Soccer 2Go
Jimmy Kebe: The winger has recently signed a new contract after interest from abroad and it will be interesting to see how his unique style fares in the Premier League. An imposing winger who can be up there with the best on his day, Readings chances of survival will be increased if he can put in some consistent performances at this higher level.
Matthew Etherington: The winger offers an outlet for a Stoke side that is often lacking in pace. He provides excellent delivery from crosses and set pieces which is key to the way in which Stoke go about their business. Sometimes injury prone, he is a big loss to the side when he is absent.
West Bromwich Albion vs Liverpool (10am ET/3pm BST) on FOX Soccer
Shane Long: Started the previous season excellently but faded away towards the end of the campaign. Whilst Peter Odemwingie’s place in the side is settled, Long will be vying with a starting berth with new signing Marcus Rosenborg. Impressing new manager Steve Clarke early on could result in him getting more playing time and recapturing his form from the early period of last season.
Lucas Leiva: At the time of his injury last year, the Brazilian was in sparkling form and the dip in Liverpool’s performances coincided with his absence. Ferocious in the tackle and an athlete in the middle of the park, he can provide the insurance needed as Liverpool look to implement a new style of play. Having him back from injury is a big plus for The Reds.
Newcastle United vs Tottenham (12:30m ET/5:30pm BST) on FOX Soccer
Yohann Cabaye: The Toon took a gamble on the Frenchman last summer after a lot of clubs decided against taking the former Lille player. It is a gamble that certainly paid off as Cabaye forged a fruitful partnership with Cheik Tiote in the Newcastle midfield. A classy midfielder who can take games by the scruff of the neck, keeping him on board this summer could prove crucial if Newcastle are to challenge the top 4.
Gareth Bale: The complete wide man. Pace, strength and a final ball to boot, Bale has developed into one of the games best left sided players. He could see him self playing further forward under the stewardship of new manager Andre Villas Boas, which is a role he will no doubt relish. If he can add more goals to his game, we could be talking about him as one of the worlds very best.
Wigan vs Chelsea (8:30am ET/1:30pm BST) on FOX Soccer
Ali Al Habsi: Was a one man wall for Wigan at times last season. Whilst prone to the odd calamitous moment, his shot stopping ability is second to none in the Premier League. A commanding and settling presence for the Wigan defence.
Fernando Torres: There can be no more excuses for Fernando Torres can there? With Hazard, Lampard and Mata now there to provide service for the Spanish striker, scoring opportunities should be plentiful. With Drogba gone, he is going to have the chance to become the main man at Chelsea. Rediscovering his old form could spark a genuine title challenge from Roberto Di Matteo’s side.
Manchester City vs Southampton (11am ET/4pm BST) on FOX Soccer
Yaya Toure: Proved himself as not only one of Europe’s top midfielders last season, but a man for the big occasion. Has scored important goals for City time after time. Whether he operates in a deep lying midfield role or unleashed in a more advanced one, the Ivorian has dominated many a contest since his arrival from Barcelona.
Adam Lallana: As Southampton have climbed the football league ladder, Lallana has developed and added to his own game too. Whilst many will have noted the performances of Ricky Lambert last season, the Saints fans will be quick to advise you it is Lallana that really makes them tick. He looks to have all the traits required to be a success in the Premier League.
Everton vs Manchester United (3pm ET/8pm BST) on ESPN2/ESPN3.com
Marouanne Fellaini: Whether used as a holding midfielder, or more recently as a second striker to Nikica Jelavic, Fellaini has proved himself to be a very useful acquisition for Everton. His performance at Old Trafford last season in the 4-4 game in particular, was majestic and it looks as though Everton have fought off interest from the likes of Chelsea to keep him at Goodsion Park. Jelavic and Fellaini will prove to be a handful for many a defense this campaign.
Nemanja Vidic: A major, major plus for the Red Devils is that their captain looks raring to go this season. Whilst United have invested in attacking talent this summer, Vidic returning will surely them tighten up defensively. United fans will be hoping that his return will cut out some of the catastrophic defending they witnessed towards the end of last season. A captain who leads by example on the pitch.
Which games are you most looking forward to this season? Which do you think players will play a key part this campaign?
Follow Matt on Twitter: @13mattj13