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One Game In: What Have We Learned?

August 19, 2016

- Grant Whittington

One game in and already so much has been deduced from the opening weekend. Expectations have risen, belief has grown and promise has been debilitated, but the Premier League has always been a marathon, not a sprint.

Under new management, both Manchester clubs began their aspirations to finish as top dog with contrasting victories, whilst underdogs turned reigning champions Leicester suffered a shock defeat at the KC Stadium. A humdinger of a match took place at the Emirates with the pressure increasing on Arsene Wenger as his side lost out by the odd goal in a seven goal thriller against a lively and animated Liverpool side.

There were also dramatic scenes at Stamford Bridge on Monday night with Diego Costa firing home a last gasp winner to see off a plucky West Ham side, giving charismatic Italian Antonio Conte victory in his first competitive game in charge of the Blues.

Newly promoted Burnley have been unable to avoid the drop in their two previous campaigns in the top-flight of English football and their quest to avoid making it a hat-trick got to off a disappointing start as Swansea emerged from Turf Moor with a maximum haul.

Middlesbrough are another club back in with the cream of the crop and they fared much better as debutant Alvaro Negredo’s header gave Aitor Karanka’s troops a share of the spoils against Stoke who have established themselves as a respected Premier League side Stoke.

Conte believes that as many as seven teams are in with a chance of winning the Premier League this season, but the battle down the other end of the table is going to be equally as enthralling. Here is an analysis of the early title candidates and potential strugglers after the opening round of fixtures.

Manchester City

Odds To Win Premier League: 2/1

Needed a late own goal to see off perennial relegation strugglers Sunderland, but the two-time champions will only improve under the tutelage and experimentation of Pep Guardiola – the architect behind one of the greatest eras in Barcelona’s history. Tuesday’s 0-5 crushing of Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League qualifying play-off was as ominous as it was impressive; although tomorrow’s game at the Britannia will be a stern test of their title credentials.

Manchester United

Odds To Win Premier League: 3/1

Balancing his squad, prioritising each game and how best to accommodate the most expensive player in football history will serve as tricky conundrums for the inspirational Jose Mourinho. Life at Old Trafford has begun in perfect fashion for the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ with victory in the Community Shield against Leicester and last Sunday’s comfortable 1-3 win down on the South Coast. Will push City close.

Chelsea

Odds To Win Premier League: 5/1

Chelsea are dark horses in the title race, but they undoubtedly have the quality and tactical nuance of Conte to claim a fifth Premier League crown. The Blues are without the distractions of European football and blessed with the addition of the seemingly indestructible N’Golo Kante and a return to form for the mesmeric Eden Hazard. Will be happy to go under the radar and let City and United take centre stage in the title race.

Arsenal

Odds To Win Premier League: 9/1

Another abysmal opening day result and shambolic defensive display will have done little to ease the frustrations of Gunners supporters. Wenger has since made the admission that his side were not ready for the Premier League and it doesn’t get any easier with a trip to the defending champions tomorrow.

Arsenal can always be relied on for a top four finish having made the grade for the past 20 seasons. However, the competition has never been so fierce and the under-fire Frenchman needs to rapidly ensure his side are appropriately equipped for the rest of the campaign.

Leicester City

Odds To Win Premier League: 50/1

Last season will always be the pinnacle. 5000-1 outsiders who defied the odds and saw off the challenge of the Premier League superpowers in what was arguably the greatest achievement in football history. The King Power Stadium must embrace the opulence of hosting Champions League football as I cannot see it returning to the East Midlands for quite some time after this season is up. Keeping hold of Riyad Mahrez is imperative if they want another shot at European level. However, I am not hopeful of anything more than a top ten finish for the Foxes.

Bournemouth

Odds To Be Relegated: 7/2

Lauded for their eye-catching style last season, Bournemouth comfortably avoided relegation in their inaugural Premier League campaign. A chasm of defensive blunders gifted United the opening goal in what had been an even contest up until that point.

Must improve their frailties at the back, but they are a club on the rise, as evidenced by the £15m club-record signing of Jordan Ibe from Liverpool. The stock of manager Eddie Howe will continue to ascend – Bournemouth will ensure a third successive season at the summit of English football.

Burnley

Odds To Be Relegated: 8/11

Needed a good start last Saturday and didn’t get one in front of their own fans. Burnley have not very busy in the transfer window and the majority of their squad are faces that inspired promotion from the Championship.

Tomorrow’s game at home to Liverpool represents another formidable hurdle, with nothing more than three points for the red half of Merseyside forecast. Expect plenty of tenacity and endeavour from Sean Dyche’s men, but I can’t see them beating the odds and evading a place in the bottom three come the end of the campaign.

Sunderland

Odds To Be Relegated: 5/2

The Black Cats have been near-certainties to go down for what seems an eternity, but they have somehow continuously found their best form during the business end of the season. Jermaine Defoe is still one of the deadliest strikers in the Premier League and David Moyes is looking to rebuild his reputation following forgettable spells at Manchester United and Real Sociedad. Should have enough experience and quality to survive once more.

Hull City

Odds To Be Relegated: 4/6

An incredible start saw them defeat the defending champions in their opening game. Belief will have risen amidst the uncertainty and enragement at the club, although I can’t see the Tigers coming away from the Liberty Stadium with anything tomorrow.

With just one summer signing, it has descended into a farce at the KC Stadium with Mohamed Diamé’s decision to swap the Premier League for another season in the Championship emphasising Hull’s plight. Despite a fantastic start, I can only see struggles ahead.

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