EPL Predictions – Gameweek 1

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The first instalment of EPL Predictions for the 2013/2014 season is finally here!

Throughout the 2013/2014 English Premier League season, we’ll embark upon the daunting task of predicting the result of every single game. Putting our credibility on the line, we’ll look to beat the odds and give you the insights that will hopefully guide you through to tipping, fantasy and betting success this coming season.

The opening weekend of Premier League action is notoriously difficult to predict. Thankfully this season, several of the elite sides in the competition have been blessed with  favourable fixtures to open their campaign. Whilst thankful for a few results being open to little interpretation, there are several matches on the opening weekend which not only have the potential to derail your tipping percentages, but will provide terrific insight into the season prospects of several mid-table sides.

So without further ado, here are our predictions for Gameweek 1 of the 2013/2014 English Premier League season.

Number in brackets indicates current table position. Given that it is the first week of the season, a team is attributed its rank from the 2012/2013 season.

(7) Liverpool v Stoke City (13)Anfield

Will Liverpool respond to their off-season controversy with an unconvincing performance against Stoke, or will they see the confines of Anfield as a sanctuary from the media and the antics of Luis Suarez? Despite an unconvincing effort against Celtic, we feel that the Reds should get the job done in the opening game of the season. With Philippe Coutinho playing in ‘the hole’ behind Daniel Sturridge in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Brazilian should be central to Brendan Rodgers’ chances at getting off to the perfect start. Stoke themselves should go into the match with the same mentality that got them a draw (0-0) at Anfield last season – defend. Liverpool’s largest issue is that their diminutive side won’t threaten Stoke in the air, however it was from set pieces that Stoke conceded most of their goals last year (15). Liverpool’s propensity to shoot in high volumes (19.4 per game, highest in the EPL in 2012/2013) should see them register a goal, however the drubbing many might predict will not eventuate.

Liverpool should be too good to finish goalless after 90 minutes whilst Stoke will struggle to mount any pressure on the Liverpool goal. An unconvincing victory for Liverpool but against Stoke, the most aggressive defense in the league, no side ever finds a dominant rhythm, especially on the opening weekend.

Prediction: Liverpool 1 – 0 Stoke City

(4) Arsenal v Aston Villa (15)Emirates

Despite the fact that many predict Aston Villa to improve this season, they should prove no competition for a settled Arsenal squad. Whilst the absence of summer signings – again – from Wenger will have repercussions against stronger opponents and when the strenuous Premier League season begins to stretch the depth of squads around Christmas, the continuity from last season to this holds the Gunners in relatively good stead. Olivier Giroud has been superb in preseason (8 goals), whilst Theo Walcott’s showing against Manchester City in the team’s final pre-season match was simply sublime. From an Aston Villa perspective, Christian Benteke is the sole chance of rescuing anything from this fixture. Last season the Villains lost the corresponding fixture 2-1 after managing a draw at Villa Park earlier in the season. Their star striker has been on form this pre-season, netting twice in his last outing, however there is no doubt Agbonlahor and new signing Aleksander Tonev will need to impress if Lambert’s men are to improve on last campaign’s showing.

Arsenal have become synonymous with disappointment in recent years, however we’re expecting them to begin this season in resounding style. Theo Walcott and Santi Carzola will run riot, even if injury concerns have them both allegedly in doubt for this weekend’s fixture.

Prediction: Arsenal 3 – 0 Aston Villa

(11) Norwich City v Everton (6)Carrow Road

Norwich upset the Toffees in this corresponding fixture last season and even managed to steal a point in the return meeting. Their restructured attack will be on show for the first time however with Ricky van Wolfswinkel not the proven performer embodied by his predecessor Grant Holt. Injury to Gary Hooper in the Canaries’ final pre-season friendly may see Wes Hoolahan return to the secondary striker position he failed spectacularly in last campaign and could prove a decisive factor. For Everton, Martinez has varied between his preferred 3-4-3 and a 4-3-3 this preseason. We’d expect him to play the former in his first competitive outing as Everton manager in order to ensure Norwich’s attacking frailties are exploited. Norwich didn’t score a single goal on the counter-attack last season (only team in the EPL), meaning that Martinez can afford to deploy Leighton Baines higher up the field.

The tactical battle in this match promises to be incredibly interesting. Norwich will be intent on improving their attacking prospects (averaged just 10.9 shots per game last season, second fewest to Reading) whilst Everton will just be content to get the job done. Norwich were superb at home last season so Everton’s inability to win away from Goodison Park (4-9-6 in 2012/2013) could be exploited. A draw wouldn’t surprise at all but we’ll give Martinez the benefit of the doubt.

Prediction: Norwich 1 – 2 Everton

(17) Sunderland v Fulham (12)Stadium of Light

Arguably the two least predictable sides in the Premier League, Fulham’s 2012/2013 form has casted a doubt over what would, in years gone by, a foregone conclusion. Fulham’s record away from Craven Cottage over the past 3 seasons the two seasons preceding the last was a combined 11-21-25, or 54 points of a potential 171 points. Sunderland meanwhile, have been on a permanent decline in class with 2010/2011 the last season they were remotely relevant to anything other than a relegation battle. Fulham’s performance in the transfer market has been largely overlooked, however the signings of Martin Stekelenburg, Adel Taarabt, Fernando Amorebieta and fitness of Bryan Ruiz present a significant threat. The home side’s reliance on Jozy Altidore and Sessegnon, a former Premier League flop and a disgruntled Frenchman is a little two-dimensional, but Fulham’s away for has generally allowed the most inept of teams to snatch wins in the past.

Fulham will be understandably more reserved this season after abandoning their defensive integrity in 2012/2013. This game won’t be decided by much, however if one team manages to take all 3 points, it will be Martin Jol’s Cottagers.

Prediction: Sunderland 1 – 1 Fulham

(8) West Bromwich Albion v Southampton (14)The Hawthorns

West Bromwich’s incredible performance last season was founded on an above-average attacking performance. Whilst their defense remained average (12th in the EPL), the 53 goals netted by the Baggies guided them to 8th on the ladder. The loss of Romelu Lukaku is a major one for Steve Clarke, however the preseason form of Anelka provides some hope that the Chelsea-man’s departure will be offset. On the defensive front, West Bromwich have improved, however we won’t see the results of that for several weeks with Diego Lugano lacking fitness.

Southampton meanwhile didn’t reach their potential last campaign with their creative midfielders failing to live up to the hype surrounding them. This season, the Saints’ defensive integrity will grow with the imposition of a defensively oriented 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1, however Rickie Lambert may experience a decrease in quality supply as a result.

West Bromwich won the two corresponding matches last season by a combined aggregate of 5-0. We’re not expecting the margin to be of such significance this time, but the result shouldn’t be too different. This match constitutes the Baggies’ easiest opening fixture in 3 years and after performing admirably in the past 2, don’t expect them to take being favourites lightly.

Prediction: West Bromwich 1 – 0 Southampton

(10) West Ham United v Cardiff (P) – Boleyn Ground

In the absence of Andy Carroll, West Ham will rely heavily on their potent wing combination in Matthew Jarvis and the newly signed Stewart Downing. Without their speahead however West Ham will lack potency, with 70% of their chances last season being produced through the middle third of the pitch last season (3rd in the EPL). Whilst Cardiff will fancy their chances against the Hammers, expect Big Sam’s team to rely on their dominant, yet defensively oriented midfield to stymie Cardiff’s 4-3-3 creativity.

Unlucky to not be the first Welsh team in the Premier League, we wouldn’t be surprised if Cardiff had an impressive season in 2013/2014. Despite being the premier side in the Championship last season, their desired start is likely to elude them in Gameweek 1. Not all is lost however, with us predicting a draw in this opening clash of the season. It seems a stretch, however with Kevin Nolan coming up against a defense which conceded just 45 goals in 46 games last campaign, Cardiff should deserve a point if they play to their potential.

Prediction: West Ham 1 – 1 Cardiff

(9) Swansea v Manchester United (1)Liberty Stadium

The arrival of David Moyes, controversy of Wayne Rooney and excitement of last season’s premiership have largely distracted United fans from what has been a very difficult pre-season. Repeated failure in the transfer market has left the Red Devils under-strength heading into the season and many are predicting a tough campaign. While Robin van Persie is fit however, United are always a chance, and we’re predicting them to get their season off to the perfect start. Whilst Swansea employed an obviously defensive strategy away from Liberty Stadium (44 goals), their home games were notably more offence-oriented (54 goals).

United’s defense is their greatest concern, with Bony and Michu the Swan’s sole chance at victory. When compared to the Kagawa, van Persie, Zaha trio at the other end however, Swansea’s new attacking partnership will need at least 3 goals of take anything from this match. We can’t see it happening, but at the same time, Manchester United won’t be at their impervious best and Swansea know that. Evans will embarrass himself and the potential loss of Michael Carrick through injury could be an invitation for Shelvey to impose himself on the match, however United should hold on regardless. United won the corresponding fixtures last year by a combined 3-2 (4 points), and whilst we’re expecting Swansea to regress this season given their obligations to European competition, their depth shouldn’t be challenged until later in the year. If they’re going to knock off a title contender, it is early in the season but whilst United are ripe for the picking, we think they’ll come up just short.

Prediction: Swansea 2 – 3 Manchester United

(P) Crystal Palace v Tottenham (5)Selhurst Park

Many were surprised Palace made the play-offs last year, let alone secured promotion. As a result, the Premier League new boys will be the whipping boys of 2013/2014, the ‘new Derby’ if you will, with their squad nowhere near ready to take part in the most competitive domestic league in the world. In many ways, their presence is possibly the greatest thing that could have happened to our EPL predictions segment – always tip the loss!

Like United, Tottenham have endured a controversial off-season, however their activity in the transfer window have them looking better this season than they did last year, even if Gareth Bale leaves for Real Madrid. Stats from last season are near irrelevant not for Spurs given their fundamental formation and personnel changes, however AVB will ensure their defensive integrity remains. Palace will struggle to break down Tottenham’s back four, ever if Vertonghen isn’t fit for the season opener, and the defensive midfield duo of Paulinho and Dembele will out-muscle any squad this campaign, let alone a league minnow’s.

Soldado, Chadli, Paulinho and Lennon should run riot and offset any impact Gayle or new signing Chamakh have for the hosts. After averaging 17.9 shots per game last season (2nd most in 2012/2013), Tottenham should not only create opportunities, but should capitalise on them, making any of their players viable fantasy options this weekend.

Prediction: Crystal Palace 0 – 4 Tottenham

(3) Chelsea v Hull City (P)Stamford Bridge

The return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge has elevated the Blues’ chance of Premiership glory significantly. The ‘Special One’ has promised to rotate his squad throughout the opening Gameweek though, especially given a match against Aston Villa on Tuesday and a blockbuster against United next weekend.

Expect Torres and Lukaku to share the majority of minutes, Juan Mata to be eased into action, David Luiz to play a minimal role and Chelsea to dominate. Hull were admirable in the Championship last year and will present a serious goal threat, come this weekend. Koren and impressive new signing Tom Huddlestone will control the midfield, possibly even better than Lampard and Ramirez, however won’t have the support needed to challenge the might of Chelsea.

The Blues were the least prolific team from the flanks last campaign, and the introduction of Mourinho’s lone-striker 4-3-3 looks set to entrench that. Preferring wingers cut inside to shoot rather than cross, space should open up for Ivanovic and Cole on the flanks, so expect impressive games from the fullbacks.

Prediction: Chelsea 5 – 0 Hull City

(2) Manchester City v Newcastle (16)Etihad Stadium

The most dangerous fixture of the round and the round threatening to derail our EPL predictions, Manchester City have the potential to lose their season opener. Whilst City weren’t terrible against Arsenal mid-week, they failed to convert a domination of possession into scoring chances. Combine an apparent lack of chemistry up front with an injury to Nastasic and a dilapidated defense and the Premiership favourites aren’t looking that flash.

Newcastle were frankly appalling last season after an incredibly impressive 2011/2012. At full strength, we’d reward their potential and midfield talent, capable of offsetting City’s flair, with a draw, however the absense of Loic Remy and debate over Cabaye’s future means that there is too much doubt at St James Park for Newcastle to legitimately believe they can upset City. Last season, City won the two corresponding fixtures by a combined 7-1, however we’re expecting a much closer affair this time around.

Until City find themselves an attacking formation capable of utilizing their incredible talents, they’ll fail to implement Pellegrini’s aggressive mentality with any success. Cabaye and Tiote will have their hands full with Silva, Navas and Aguero, however of any midfield duo in the competition, they’re arguably the most likely to nullify CIty’s stars. Our main concerns for Newcastle are Debuchy and Santon, who may feel excessive pressure to attack given City’s 4-2-2-2 formation and leave their central defensive partners exposed.

Prediction: Manchester City 2 – 1 Newcastle

(3) Chelsea v Aston Villa (15)Stamford Bridge

Very few matches last season demonstrated the gap between the best and worst teams in the Premier League than Chelsea’s 8-0 demolition of Aston Villa. Over the years, the Blues have made a habit of demolishing the Villains and with Mourinho keen to assert his return to the Premier League, he’ll try and drub the visitors once more.

Chelsea will win, but the question is, by how much? Chelsea’s starting line-up for this match will depend on the result against Hull, but Mourinho is likely to rest many of his starters from the side’s previous game. Villa on the other hand will come straight from a game against Arsenal and don’t possess the luxury of squad depth.

Christian Benteke will play 180 minutes on the opening weekend and will find life no easier against Terry, Cahill and Luiz than he did against Arsenal’s defensive duo. It isn’t the Belgian striker we feel will pose Chelsea’s greatest threat though, instead Agbonlahor and Weimann, Villa’s wide men will seek to exploit a defence which gave up a greater percentage of chances against wingers than any other last campaign.

Chelsea have a decent chance at conceding this game, however should exploit a relatively poor defensive quartet in Vlaar, Luna, Lowton and Baker to secure another 3 points and top spot on the ladder after Gameweek One. Mourinho didn’t lose a League game at Stamford Bridge during his first spell at the Blues, and we don’t expect that record to break just yet.

Prediction: Chelsea 4 – 1 Aston Villa

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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