So there we have it. The pre-season fixtures have been done and dusted and we now get down to the nitty gritty of the Premier League. Of course because of the World Athletics Championships we face three fixtures away from home to begin with while they put the stadium back together again. In reality though, only one game had to be re-arranged, and that is our second match which is now a visit to the South Coast, instead of a home game against Southampton.
The opener though is just about as tough a game as we can expect, and nothing we’ve seen in pre-season leads me to expect that we can create a surprise here. The bookmakers don’t anticipate an upset, with the home side at odds of between 1/3 and 1/4, and a West Ham win quoted at between 10/1 and 12/1. You can get 4/1 on a drawn game.
Although friendly games very rarely give an indication of the real business to come, our final pre-season game in Iceland against Manchester City demonstrated very clearly the gulf in class between the very top teams, and those, like ourselves, who can really only hope to be contending for an eighth place finish. Our hosts have had an excellent pre-season including a win over City, and their only defeat was a single goal loss to Barcelona.
But you never know. Perhaps a visit to Old Trafford for the first game in the season is as good a time to visit there as any. Mourinho has added to what was already a strong squad, with their big signings of Lindelof, Matic, and our old friend Lukaku, who will be looking for his customary goal against West Ham, although to be fair we stopped him from scoring the last time he played against us for Everton in April.
The opening game can throw up some surprises, however; none more so than our visit to the Emirates the season before last when we shocked everybody with a 2-0 win. Last season we only just lost to Chelsea with a late goal from Costa, who shouldn’t really have still been on the field at the time, and they of course went on to win the league comfortably. But Manchester United began last season well with three straight wins, and every indication is that they might be even stronger contenders to finish at the top this time around.
I am writing this preview a few days in advance, as I will be watching the game in a bar in Camp de Mar in Majorca, and as such I am not sure of the likely make-up of our team, and how many injuries we will have before the season gets underway! I have a feeling that we will go into the game with a defensive 3-5-2 formation, with Fonte, Reid and Ogbonna in front of Hart in goal. Zabaleta and Masuaku could well be the wide (defensive) players in the middle (back?) five, and I would expect that Noble, Obiang and Lanzini will be the others. I would anticipate the two strikers to be Arnautavic and Hernandez. This would not necessarily be my choice of formation, but I am not paid to manage the team. If we do line up in this way then I can see us being on the back foot from the start.
Nevertheless I have dusted down my optimistic hat, and for no logical reason predict a 1-0 win, courtesy of a goal by Hernandez against the club that let him go.