Eighty-two long days we have waited patiently for the return of the Premier League but Chelsea fans must wait an extra day until they begin their title defence at home to Burnley. Last season they hit the ground running with three straight wins from the first fixtures including a 3-0 home win over Burnley. It was the next three games which saw them stumble until a change of system set them on the road to the title. Burnley surprised some with the ease at which they survived last season. Built on a solid and hard working defence they proved difficult to beat and Chelsea even dropped points at Turf Moor following a 1-1 draw. In fact, two of the last three meetings have seen both sides take away a point each.
It is Arsenal who get the new season underway as they take on Leicester City at the Emirates tonight. There is still some uncertainty around the future of a number of Arsenal players and it remains to be seen if that can be put to one side as they begin their challenge to return to the top four. Arsenal have beaten Leicester by a single goal at home in each of the past three seasons but have won just once on the opening day since 2010. Last season started with a home defeat to Liverpool so they will be hoping for a stronger start to this campaign. Leicester were beaten at Hull on the opening day last season as they struggled to defend their title. They did recover in the second half of the season but will be hoping to challenge better this year.
Huddersfield Town look to have the best chance of the three promoted sides for an opening weekend point as they travel to Crystal Palace. Joining the Premier League for the first time in their history, last season’s playoff winners will be looking to get some early points on the board. Following last season’s flirt with relegation, Palace will be looking to start strongly themselves. With three out of the first five fixtures at home, they will be aiming to maximise their points tally.
Brighton and Hove Albion are the second new side to join the Premier League this season. Although they, like Huddersfield, have been in the top division before, not since the early 1980’s have they prepared for a season against the best sides in the country. Their bid for survival begins with a tough home tie against Manchester City. City topped the league after 10 games last season but fell away to eventually finish third. After seeming to solve some of their defensive frailties that plagued them at times last year City will look for a convincing win here and get an early lead on their rivals.
Last year’s runners up Tottenham Hotspur have a big season ahead of them as they aim to go one step better and clinch the title. They were the only side who came close to challenging Chelsea last year but after a quiet summer transfer window, they may find it difficult to improve. No major signings were made and coupled with the fact that all their home games will be played at Wembley makes Spurs an unknown quantity at the moment. They begin the season away from home on Sunday as they travel to Newcastle United. After winning the Championship in the final minutes of last season Newcastle will want to start strongly. The last time these sides met was on the final day of the 2015/16 season and it was an already relegated Newcastle who came out 5-1 winners. Expect a closer game this time but if Spurs harbour ambitions of winning the league they need to be winning these sort of games.
Liverpool’s match away at Watford is the early Saturday afternoon kick off. Last season was the first time Liverpool broke into the top four since 2014 and they will be aiming to make it a regular occurrence by doing so again this season. With many of the sides behind them improving though, they will need to avoid a similar run of bad form which affected them in January of this year. Watford have the biggest room for improvement as they were the side which finished closest to the bottom three last time out. Although they finished six points clear a similar bad run could put them in early danger.
Everton have a difficult start as they face four of last season’s top six before the end of September. That makes a good performance in their opening fixture at home to Stoke City all the more important. They have brought in a number of new signings over the summer but have lost their main goal threat from last season so may need time to settle. Stoke had their worst finish to a season for a few years in May ending up 13th. More worrying for fans was that for the first season they failed to trouble any of the sides above them as they have previously. They too have a difficult start to the season and could find themselves under pressure early on if they fail to compete against the better sides.
Southampton were best of the rest after their 8th place finish but their points tally was far worse than they faired in the previous campaign. Their first five fixtures are favourable but with a new manager and some question marks over some of the squad’s future, they’ll be hoping to put that from their minds and hit the ground running. Their opponents Swansea will be aiming for a more comfortable season than the relegation battle the faced last time. They finished strongly and played well since Christmas so could carry that momentum into the new season.
The Hawthorns is the setting for the battle of last season’s 9th and 10th place sides. Bournemouth jumped West Brom on the final day as the Midlands side continued their end of season slump. After being in 8th place in the league for a lot of last season West Brom went on to win just one of their last 12 games. Bournemouth however finished the season strongly after having some early fears of relegation. Both sides won their home fixture by a single goal last season so expect this to be a close game also.
Manchester United host West Ham United in the final game of the opening weekend. Last season United drew 10 league games at Old Trafford, many to sides lower down the table. It was these dropped points which meant they were never able to build a convincing title challenge. Last season’s visit of West Ham ended in a 1-1 draw but it was Manchester who came out on top in the return tie later in the season winning 2-0. Last season was very inconsistent for West Ham as they struggled to build form. The side came under pressure at home in the early part of the campaign following their move to the new stadium. They were unable to win more than three games in a row all season, however they did finish strongly losing just once in the final seven games.
Chelsea will be thankful for the comfortable start to their title defence and will be aiming for a repeat scoreline from this fixture at the beginning of last season. Although Burnley can be stubborn to break down, Chelsea should have enough quality to overcome them.