Emma Njoku (with agency reports)
The 2019/20 English Premier League (EPL) season got underway yesterday with Liverpool and Norwich City setting the tune.
But cup holders Manchester City begin their title defence this afternoon with a mouth-watering fixture against West Ham at the London Stadium.
The Hammers couldn’t have imagined a tougher start, against a Pep Guardiola side that won every domestic trophy up for grabs in the last 12 months.
However, Manuel Pellegrini’s rejuvenated West Ham squad, that boasts of a new-look attack comprising Felipe Anderson, Manuel Lanzini, Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller, could cause the champions some problems.
Manchester City’s squad is typically littered with immense talent and since Rodri, Angelino and Joao Cancelo signed over the summer, the Citizens look more formidable than ever.
Raheem Sterling, will look to take the rich form that saw him win last season’s Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year into the new season.
Sterling netted a magnificent 25 goals in all competitions last term, but will have to be more creative and dynamic against West Ham’s defender, Ryan Fredericks, who is likely to match him for pace.
The 26-year-old right-back had an injury-riddled pre-season, but after playing 80 minutes last week against Athletic Bilbao, he looks set to start.
Record signing, Sebastien Haller will lead the line as he bids to impress the West Ham faithful straight away. He enjoyed a stunning campaign for Eintracht Frankfurt last season – 20 goals and 12 assists in all competitions – so West Ham are rightly expecting plenty from the powerful centre-forward.
However, his Premier League debut will be spent tussling with the experienced Nicolas Otamendi expected to be on duty in the defense line of Manchester City.
Both need to play well, albeit for different reasons, but that’s exactly why it will be an intriguing battle.
It will also be interesting to see how West Ham’s Young Hammer of the Year, Declan Rice will come up against City’s David Silva, a Premier League legend, who begins his last season as a Manchester City player. Silva has been handed the team’s captaincy by Guardiola with the departure of former captain, Vincent Kompany at the close of last season
The Spaniard usually wreaks havoc against West Ham having scored in four of his last five games against today’s opposition.
Protecting West Ham’s back four is solely down to Rice, who will need to be on top of his game to stop a bombardment of attacks coming the hosts way.
There is no tougher opponent Rice and West Ham could have come up against to start the season, but if he picks up where he left off with an impressive, confident performance, the considerable threat of Silva could be nullified.
Villa seeks upset versus Spurs
Another juicy fixture today is the one between Premier League returnees, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur at the latter’s new home.
Spurs are after a league title, and they came so close last season when they defied Ajax to reach a Champions League final, but lost the title to Liverpool and are now mocked.
Greatness is purchased with victories, but, at least, earning the shot is something. They’ve got the credentials to compete.
‘Poch’ knows his stuff. He knows he doesn’t have a say in club transfers – or bidding or bargaining – but he’s a fantastic coach and a brilliant man-manager. His free-flowing style of play lines up well alongside the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
A cool customer, Pochettino is desired by Manchester United – and he’ll end up there one day – but not before he cements his legend at Tottenham and he could do that this season. Anything seems possible with him in charge and he’s got plenty of goodwill in reserve at Spurs.
Able to adapt with a back-three, happy to push his entire team up the field. Mauricio Pochettino favours an attractive form of footballing domination.
He won’t take a loss lightly – and isn’t afraid to reconfigure the plan. Poch will miss the services of South Korea international, Son Heung-min due to suspension, Dele Ali who is injured while Harry Kane may make his return from injury if the manager considers him fit enough.
However, Tottenham’s first ‘superstar purchase’ Tanguy Ndombele, is sure to start today. He’s come through to the top by sprinting up the hard way. The 22-year-old was once unwanted and wasted away as an unfit midfielder. Now he’s here, at Tottenham, with the world at his feet and almost walks into this first team as one of the first names on the team sheet. He’s ready to take his chance, and he’ll try to boss Villa from the get-go in the midfield.
For Villa, this really is the match of two people: Mings and Grealish. Grealish now has the chance to demand a place in the England setup thanks to his Premier League status. What’s more, he’s opening up the team that courted him for a move just a year ago. Time to show them what they are missing, Jack.
As for Tyrone Mings – he’s got a right job on his hands with Kane. The centre-forward isn’t renowned for bagging a lot of goals early on, but he’s a creator as well. Despite the ‘August Curse’ for Kane, he’s still a danger and will likely be firing on all cylinders to remove that particular tag. Mings can’t afford to lose out – and he’ll want to justify his transfer fee to the watching world. Go get ‘em, T.
The ‘big six’ might kick lumps out of Villa this season, but if there’s a time to face one of them, it’s on the first day of the season. No team in the league can claim to be the finished article on day one – so this is effectively a ‘free hit’ at Spurs. They won’t be easy – but this is Villa’s best chance to make a statement.
Also this afternoon, Everton will take on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.