Manchester United v Leeds United, Saturday 12:30 pm
Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s men may have lost in underwhelming fashion to Crystal Palace when beckoning in last season but generally, the Reds boast a formidable opening day record during the Premier League era. In 29 curtain-raisers they have won 19, drew four and lost just six.
If that historical average of 2.1 points per game doesn’t faze the visitors then remembering last seasons’ 6-2 reverse at Old Trafford probably should. Leeds found themselves three down after 20 minutes that afternoon and despite registering 17 attempts on David De Gea’s goal, at the other end they were cut open far too easily.
“We lacked efficiency; they scored their opportunities, and we didn’t,” Marcelo Bielsa said post-match, summing up the story behind at least ten of the Yorkshire side’s 15 defeats last term.
Because that’s the thing with Leeds: they will always create chances regardless of the opponent or score-line, as evidenced in their own opening day fixture last season when they bloodied Liverpool’s nose in a thrilling 4-3 loss.
This is why it is a fool’s errand to try and predict the outcome of this intriguing first day back at big school. Far better to assess the merits and flaws of both teams – presently and from their DNA of last year – and arrive at the conclusion that this Saturday lunchtime there will almost certainly and nearly definitely be lots of goals.
United’s last 0-0 for an opening day commitment was all the way back in 2008 while in recent years their premieres have exclusively been extremes. Against Palace twelve months ago they were very, very bad, losing 3-1. Against Chelsea in 2019 they were extremely good, blasting aside a team that eventually finished fourth, 4-0.
As for Leeds, the last five seasonal introductions featuring them have averaged 4.6 goals per game. With some understatement, it can be said that Bielsa’s sides tend not to make themselves known with a tepid handshake.
Take your pick from over 2.5 goals and for both teams to score at 20/21 for a pragmatic option, or over 5.5 goals at 7/1 for the chance to kick this season off with a bumper pay-out.
Leeds have their eyes on a European spot..
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 11, 2021
Leicester City v Wolves, Saturday 3 pm
There are so many sensible reasons to back the Foxes this Saturday as Brendan Rodgers’ side – buoyed by having won two titles, both at Wembley, in their last two competitive fixtures – kick off their new campaign at the King Power.
This is a repeat opening day bout from 2019, that saw Wolves depart the East Midlands with a point but revisiting that game only highlights that these clubs have moved in different directions since. Leicester have evolved; grown bigger, better, and stronger in every department and they now have the silverware to prove it. Wolves by comparison stalled sometime around the beginning of last season and it could even be argued that from that game two years ago to the present day, there has been a notable regression.
It is perhaps possible to identify exactly when momentum was lost. In late November last year, their talismanic striker Raul Jiminez suffered an awful clash of heads with Arsenal’s David Luiz, fracturing his skull in the process. So severe was the injury that some in the ground that evening feared a tragic consequence.
To that point, Wolves were lying seventh in the table, with Jiminez continuing the fine goal-scoring form that saw him fire home 17 the season before. In his absence however the goals dried up, a situation not aided by having sold Diogo Jota two months before.
With Nuno Espirito Santo now gone too, to Spurs, the grand Wolves project that felt so invigorating when they secured European football at the first time of asking now feels somewhat broken; in need of a reset. At the helm is Bruno Lage, an unknown quantity, a risk.
Whereas Leicester are close to being the finished article. Last term they spent 94% of the season inside the top four only to stumble at the final hurdle once again, but they’ll get there soon. More so, that goal-less draw with Wolves aside, the Foxes are typically strong starters under Rodgers, sprinting from the blocks in both of his full seasons in charge.
Lastly – and significantly – they have also just had a great summer, recruiting Boubakary Soumare and Patson Daka, impressive signings both.
And yet. And yet instincts point to an upset here. Jiminez is back and scoring again, finding the net twice as Wolves enjoyed a solid and comprehensive pre-season, unlike so many of their peers.
And regarding Lage, is being an enigma necessarily a bad quality at the season’s unveiling?
Wolves are a very generous 17/4 to prevail at the King Power. The sensible punt is for Leicester but is there even such a thing as sensible at this nascent stage?
This guy is going to be a lot of fun this season…
— Wolves (@Wolves) August 10, 2021
Norwich City v Liverpool, Saturday 5:30 pm
Norwich’s head-to-head record against Liverpool is a consistent tale of woe that goes all the way back to the mid-nineties. The Canaries have failed to beat the Reds in 14 attempts, all of them in the Premier League and among the 12 defeats in that number are some real hammerings too. Indeed, Liverpool have scored three-plus goals in nine of the 14 encounters, with Luis Suarez so often their tormentor-in-chief.
This is a rerun of their opening fixture of 2019/20 – albeit with the venue switched from Anfield to Carrow Road – and like then, the East Anglian side are in high spirits after coming up as champions. Norwich will hope that’s where the similarities end.
Because two years ago Daniel Farke’s aesthetically pleasing collective travelled to Merseyside and refused to compromise, sticking with their possession-based brand of football that served them so well in the Championship. They were four down at the break.
Staying true to themselves, but at a cost, became the narrative of Norwich’s season, winning them plenty of plaudits but scant points as a club that has been up and down the upper echelons more times than an outdated innuendo once again endured relegation.
The big question ahead of their return is – have Farke and Norwich learned from painful lessons and going off last season’s 18 clean sheets in the league it would appear they may have. Throughout the year their German gaffer made all the right noises, overly praising the parsimony of his defence while the addition of Ben Gibson at the back – a loan signing now made permanent – has been key.
At the other end, Teemu Pukki will be dead set on spreading out his goals return this time after scoring 11 by January then firing blanks thereafter though it’s pertinent to this fixture that the Finnish finisher has scored with his first big chance of the season in eight of his last nine campaigns. That is a remarkable record.
Here though is a baptism of fire for all concerned with Liverpool bolstered by the return of Virgil Van Dijk and having the rare luxury of fielding three relatively refreshed forwards for once with Salah and Mane enjoying a summer off. It’s worth noting that the Egyptian scored in Liverpool’s opening commitments of 2019 and last year.
Back the visitors to win but, unlike so many times in the past this will be no hammering and for Norwich, with more winnable games ahead, this will constitute progress. 15/2 is available on a 2-0 away victory.
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) August 5, 2021
Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City, Sunday 4:30 pm
The irony that surrounds this box-office encounter is that while all eyes will fall on Manchester City’s new £100 million signing Jack Grealish, and very possibly their next big-money signing Harry Kane, both players will very likely barely feature.
We can expect Grealish to come on as a substitute, as he did in the Community Shield last weekend to good effect, while Kane only returned to full training on Thursday after a period of quarantine. He will surely watch on from the bench or the stands.
Elsewhere, other notable absentees will be Tanguy Ndombele who, to the bafflement of Spurs supporters, has not played a single minute of pre-season while Kevin De Bruyne sits out, as City monitor an ankle problem.
For both teams, this is a top-six clash that has come far too early, and with the staggered returns of their leading men, it is reasonable to anticipate a chaotic first half before the game blows itself out.
With that in mind, both teams to score in the first period is decent value at 7/2.
City don’t have a particularly good record in North London of late and will be desperate to put that right as they mount a tough title defence. Assessing the Blues’ league aspirations this season, former City midfielder Jim Whitley told Compare.bet this week: “I find it quite difficult to predict City’s season as a lot of teams have strengthened their squads. If Kane can be acquired, then my expectations will grow twofold. To win the Premiership again will be an amazing achievement and I see them as strong contenders.”
All odds sourced from Bet365 and up to date as of 13/08/2021