As football fans, the opening weekend of the season is greeted with excitement, anticipation, optimism and just a little dose of fear and trepidation.
Another nine months of joy, pain, ecstasy and agony await us, not necessarily in equal measure, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
As punters, however, the first game of a long and gruelling campaign offers something of a different challenge as we very much step into the unknown.
Whereas our supporter head tells us that everything will be fine this time around, despite being just a month ago – for those of us wanting a bet, the past can’t simply be ignored.
The 2020/21 season is very much a voyage into the unknown with the extraordinary circumstances which shrouded the previous campaign still very much playing a part.
So who will overcome these obstacles and thrive in the face of adversity this weekend and who will fall by the wayside, only to be booed off the park by a sea of angry, non-existent fans?
Curtain up at the cottage
Newly promoted Fulham host FA Cup winners Arsenal on Saturday at 12:30 in a battle of two sides with very different ambitions
On the back of winning the FA Cup and Community Shield, the Gunners will be looking to challenge for a top-four place under Mikel Arteta.
As for Fulham, after the euphoria of returning to the top-flight via the playoffs, survival is the name of the game this time around.
Home form could be essential to their hopes of staying up as, prior to the play-off defeat to Cardiff, Parker’s men had won 10 of 13 home fixtures.
Their head-to-head record against Arsenal is not encouraging though, having flost five and drawn one of the past six meetings with the Gunners.
They went down 5-1 the last time they met here in October 2018 with their last victory coming back in 2012.
Saturday’ only 3pm game sees Crystal Palace host Southampton in a battle of two teams who enjoyed very different campaigns last season.
The Eagles finished nine points clear of the relegation zone but ended the campaign in poor form, with seven defeats in their last eight games.
After a humiliating 9-0 home defeat to Leicester City, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men eventually finished 11th place after a seven-game unbeaten run at the end of the campaign, winning seven of their final 11 matches on the road.
Liverpool provide toughest of tests for Leeds
The pick of Saturday’s games has to be Leeds United’s trip to Anfield to meet newly crowned Champions Liverpool.
The Reds ran away with the title last season, finishing 18 points clear of Manchester City to end a 30-year wait for English football’s biggest prize.
As for Leeds, they are back in the Premier League after a 16-year absence and will be eager to make an instant impact in their first game.
You have to go back to April 2017 for the last time Liverpool lost a league game at Anfield – 59 matches in total – with Jürgen Klopp’s men recording 25 wins in 26 home league games.
But Marcelo Bielsa will be determined to make a statement on his side’s return to the big time since 2004.
Very much the entertainers of the Championship, Leeds found the net 77 times in the league last season on their way to winning the title, winning five of their last six and scoring 12 goals.
Meanwhile, the addition of Spanish striker Rodrigo, who moved to Elland Road in a £29million switch from Valencia, can only bolster their attacking options.
Goals have featured heavily when these two sides have met down the years with 36 scored between them in their last 10 top-flight encounters.
In fact, they have shared just one 0-0 draw in 24 Premier League meetings and that was at Elland Road back in the 1998/99 campaign.
Saturday’s action concludes with Newcastle United’s trip to the capital to face West Ham United at the London stadium in what could be a pivotal season for both of these clubs.
With talk of a huge takeover at the Toon and untold riches to spend on players, it hasn’t quite worked out that way at St James’ Park just yet.
Even so, they have added Ryan Fraser to their ranks who will team-up once more with other former Cherry Callum Wilson.
As for West Ham, they appeared to be going well in what has to be the shortest pre-season ever with David Moyes’ men winning all three of their games, only to be hit for five by relegated Bournemouth.
Newcastle won 3-2 at the London Stadium last season followed-up by a 2-2 draw in the North East – so don’t write off a close encounter of the third kind on Saturday night.
Everton Trio out to prove their Worth at Spurs
West Bromwich Albion host Leicester in Sunday’s first offering on their return to the Premier League.
They gained promotion behind eventual Championship winners Leeds, but only stumbled over the line by winning three of their last 11.
Despite that finish, The Baggies impressed in the Championship last term, and are now on a quest to secure top-flight survival with new additions Grady Diangana, Cedric Kipre, and David Button at their disposal.
Much will also be expected of Matheus Pereira who was involved in 24 goals from 42 appearances in the second-flight last season and will surely pose a threat in the Premier League.
As for Leicester, Brendan Rodgers’ side should be embarking on a Champions League campaign this year.
Having sat comfortably in the top-four places for much of the season they went on to miss out on the final day of the season.
The Foxes are still without James Maddison, who barely featured after the restart after picking up a hip injury while Ben Chillwell moved to Chelsea in the summer.
The last time these two met, back in March 2018, Leicester ran out 4-1 winners, but things are very different know as both sides look to begin the season on the front foot for very different reasons.
Tottenham’s first full season under the leadership of Jose Mourinho gets underway with a clash against an Everton side boasting a number of new recruits.
Spurs finished sixth last time out and will be hoping to mount a stronger challenge for the top four, while Everton ended a lowly 12th last term and know a big improvement is required.
Tottenham scored 61 league goals in the 2019/20, the sixth-best in the division, and have hit the back of the net in their previous eight home league matches.
Much of this was down to England skipper Harry Kane, who scored 18 league goals last season.
He was ably backed up by Son Heung-Min, who netted 11 times in 30 top-flight appearances.
Everton also boast some good attacking talent, with Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin sharing 26 Premier League goals last term.
So with the addition of James Rodriguez, who joined this week from Real Madrid, the Toffee’s will hope to be more ruthless up front.
James is just one of three big names to arrive at Goodison Park this summer along with Allan, and Abdoulaye Doucoure as Carlo Ancelotti looks to improve on what was a disappointing season.
Big Spending Blues out to prove a point
Sheffield United will hope to rediscover the form they enjoyed in the early part of last season as they welcome Wolves to Bramall Lane on Monday.
Finishing in ninth place, the Blades were one of last season’s surprise packages, but Wolves will be tough opponents, having finished two places above them last term.
Last season’s meeting between these two finished in a 1-1 draw at Bramhall Lane while a last minute goal for Wolves saw them take all three points at Molineux.
Chelsea’s new-look squad will get its first run-out as they visit the Amex Stadium to face Brighton on Monday night.
The Blues have been one of the busiest clubs during the current transfer window, adding six new faces to their squad.
But after finishing fourth in his first season in charge of Chelsea, Frank Lampard will be aware the pressure is now on to win silverware.
Chelsea found the net 69 times last season and the addition of Germany striker Timo Werner will surely make them even more potent in front of goal.
Thiago Silva arrived on a free transfer from PSG, while left-back Ben Chilwell was signed for £50m from Leicester City.
They join Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz with the Stamford Bridge club splashing over £200 million in this transfer window already.
As for The Seagulls, they’ve never beaten Chelsea in the Premier League, losing five and drawing one of the six previous meetings.
However, Graham Potter’s men proved to be hard to beat last season, drawing 14 matches – the joint-highest number in the division.
Meanwhile, the 54 goals they conceded was the same number as Chelsea – who ended the season in fourth place.
So much to consider
The problem with such high expectations going into a new season is that the disappointments can be even more crushing than normal.
Heading into any other weekend there is a sense of realism born out of experience and a greater wealth of knowledge – but right now we have nothing to be guided by.
And that’s what makes this stage of the season such fun for football lovers the length and breadth of the country – the unknown.
Spending £200 million on new players is bound to fill any supporter with joy but, unlike if you spent that money on any other purchase, in football there are no guarantees.
There are plenty of examples of big name stars who have failed to live up to expectations, or been unable to settle in their new surroundings with the form of their club suffering as a result.
Factor-in an almost non-existent pre-season and, from a betting point of view, we may well be going into a weekend tougher to predict than ever before.
Any top manager will say that one game doesn’t make a season and it’s the same from a punter’s point of view.
So watch carefully this weekend in order to better inform your future wagers as no league title, relegation battle or top-four place has ever been decided after just one game.
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