10 key questions for the opening round of the 2014/15 Premier League season
Published 15/08/2014 | 12:40
Has Yaya forgiven City? Will Roy Keane explode? Here are 10 key questions ahead of this weekend's action.
1. Can Louis van Gaal secure a winning start to his Manchester United reign?
The former Dutch coach has overseen five victories and a draw in the six pre-season games he has taken charge of, and a home match against Swansea first up should be easy enough to kick-start United's Premier League campaign, at least on paper.
But stranger things have happened, and the memories of last year's horror show will not have been completely expunged from the minds of the Old Trafford faithful.
With the most expensive teenager in world football, Luke Shaw, out for a month and Van Gaal seeking defensive alternatives to shore up his side in the transfer market, they could well concede against the Swans, for whom new signing Bafétimbi Gomis will be looking to announce himself to the Premier League.
2. Will Romelu Lukaku justify his £28 million price tag for Everton?
Sixteen goals on loan last term convinced Everton manager Roberto Martinez to smash the club's transfer record (by almost double: previous holder Marouane Fellaini cost £15m in 2008) and tempt the 21-year-old Belgian striker to move from Chelsea.
It was a statement of the Toffees' intent, and under their Spanish leader they will be looking to improve on the fifth place achieved in the 2013-14 campaign.
Central to their success will be the goals from Lukaku, who was less than convincing at the World Cup (as his country proved equally underwhelming), netting just once; indeed he was often forced to make way for teenage forward Divock Origi, a player who has since been signed for that lot on the other side of Stanley Park and been loaned out.
In an away trip to new boys Leicester the attacker will have a good chance to set the tone for a goal-heavy campaign.
3. Will Queens Park Rangers' 3-5-2 formation work against Hull City?
Glenn Hoddle has been drafted in by Harry Redknapp as guru of the system, which is also the one favoured by Van Gaal. In this instance, the catalyst for the switch has been the signing of Rio Ferdinand, who links up with Redknapp for the first time in 14 years when the pair were at West Ham United together.
The former Manchester United captain will be 36 in November and has struggled with injuries over the past couple of seasons rendering him slightly less mobile than in his heyday.
Deploying two more nimble centre-backs alongside him will, in theory, ignite sexy, continental football at Loftus Road. And against Hull City in their opening clash, the Super Hoops will hope to keep a clean sheet.
However, in the past two Premier League seasons things have not started well. In 2012 they lost 5-0 at home to Swansea City, and the year before – also at home – they were humped 4-0 by Bolton Wanderers.
Also, Hoddle has only been employed this past week; will he have had enough time to work his 'magic'?
4. With Roy Keane in the dugout, will Aston Villa's players dare to lose against Stoke?
There was once a theory posited that the length of the former Manchester United captain's beard served as an indicator to his mindset: the longer it was the nearer to losing it he was.
Well, he is looking pretty hirsute at the moment, unfortunately for the Villa players.
Perhaps that is because since Keane joined the club as Paul Lambert's number two, the club have endured a very ordinary pre-season. In the last four games Villa have suffered defeats to Chesterfield (3-1), Dutch side Groningen (4-1) and played out a goalless draw with Parma at home.
Their only win has been a 1-0 success over League One Walsall. An away trip to the Britannia Stadium and defeat could lead to more stubble growth and detonation point could be close. Beware!
5. Will Alan Irvine prove his doubters wrong and impress at West Bromwich Albion?
The Scot was named Steve Clarke's permanent replacement in June and some critics, rather cruelly, labelled the 56-year-old's appointment as the most underwhelming in Premier League history.
True, Irvine has never before taken charge of a top-division side (and hardly set the footballing world on fire in his short-lived stints at Preston North End and Sheffield Wednesday), but the Baggies have won four pre-season games, against high calibre sides like Bury (2-0), Shrewsbury Town (2-1), Sacramento Republic (twice, 1-0 and then 3-1).
More alarmingly, however, is that they have lost their last three matches, against Nottingham Forest (1-0), Port Vale (3-2) and Porto (3-1). Can they shake off those poor results and start in a blaze of glory at the Hawthorns against Sunderland?
6. Will the bubble burst for Sam Allardyce if West Ham lose at home to local rivals Tottenham?
The big man senses that he has a gallop on his rivals in the sack race, and in the close season spoke to the media to address his worries after co-owner David Gold appeared to condone his removal from the dugout by favouriting a supporters' tweet asking if he would be sacked.
Perhaps he was being overly sensitive, but it's true Hammers fans have failed to embrace his dose of roughhouse football, and with record signing Andy Carroll's extended absence – he is not expected to return this year after yet another injury – patience is wearing incredibly thin.
A defeat to Spurs at Upton Park could spark renewed calls for his head, and Gold could be minded to do more than favourite a tweet.
7. Will Alexis Sanchez prove he is worth the hype for Arsenal in their opener against Crystal Palace?
For once Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has not been reluctant to splash the club's cash in the summer transfer market, and after last year's final-day coup of signing Mesut Ozil for £42.5m the club have added yet more expensively-lured players this term.
French international Mathieu Debuchy has come in as a replacement for Bacary Sagna, who has departed for pastures blue in the form of Premier League champions Manchester City, and teenage defender Calum Chambers has joined for £16m.
But the man who has caused most excitement is £30m Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean who was nudged out of Barcelona by new manager Luis Enrique.
In the 3-0 Community Shield victory over City there were glimpses of his pace and skill, but against Palace at home the forward will have an ideal chance to convince the Gunners supporters – and beyond – that he is not just an overhyped La Liga reject (a charge levelled by some at Ozil after an injury-hit, stop-start season).
8. Will Southampton's old boys star for Liverpool against their former club?
The Premier League fixture list can be cruel at times, and as new Southampton manager Ronald Koeman attempts to halt the exodus, feelings will be raw for Saints fans with three of their top performers from last season now in the red of Liverpool, who they play in their Premier League opening fixture on Sunday.
Six players have departed St Mary's over the summer (and that figure will soon become seven if Morgan Schneiderlin has his foot-stomping way), and Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren ("the new Jamie Carragher", according to Brendan Rodgers) and Rickie Lambert will be cheering for the home team at Anfield against their former club.
Lallana is a doubt due to a knee injury, but the other two could well feature and should they perform well spare a thought for the heartbroken Saints supporters, who have endured a close season from hell and probably don't deserve to have their old heroes rubbing salt in their wounds.
9. Has Yaya Toure forgiven Manchester City for not gifting him a birthday cake?
Fresh from his second Premier League title in the space of two years star player Toure made it clear he was unhappy at the Emirates, sending out a spate of confusing and conflicting messages on Twitter.
What it boiled down to, according to his agent (who may or may not have been rocking the City boat in an attempt to a) improve his client's already significant wage or b) tee up a move to, say, Paris Saint Germain), was that Yaya had been disrespected by the club for failing to roll out the bunting etc for his birthday celebrations.
After those rumblings a clearly upset Toure failed to shine at the World Cup for Ivory Coast (though there were question marks over his fitness and his brother Ibrahim, who has since passed away, was gravely ill at the time), and he has now pledged his future (again) to City.
He was handed the captain's armband in the Community Shield, in the absence of Vincent Kompany, but performed listlessly – as did his team-mates – in the 3-0 loss to Arsenal.
Will he show the Yaya of old when the reigning Premier League champions start the defence of their title at Newcastle on Sunday?
10. Will Chelsea's new signings gel in their first Premier League game against Burnley?
Cesc Fabregas knows what the Premier League is all about, having enjoyed eight seasons with Arsenal, and after failing to fully convince the Barcelona supporters in his longed-for homecoming he will be desperate to impress in the Monday night match at Burnley.
Diego Costa is finding his feet, too, and José Mourinho said he was delighted with his new £32m striker Diego Costa after he scored twice in the opening seven minutes of a pre-season friendly against Real Sociedad, his first appearance for his new club at Stamford Bridge.
But can they do the business against Sean Dyche's newly promoted side? Turf Moor has its charm, undoubtedly, but the Nou Camp it is not.