Alasdair Hooper looks at this weekend’s best fixtures in the first Weekend Wanderings of the new season.
As if by magic, the football season is here once again and it’s time to push the reset button. With the EFL getting underway last weekend, and the Premier League back up and running this week, every team starts with a clean slate.
Who will challenge, who will surprise and who will ultimately flounder? All those answers will be revealed in May but for now here are your best bets for this weekend.
West Ham v Manchester City (Saturday, 12.30pm)
The Premier League’s first act on Saturday sees the reigning champions head to London to take on West Ham and their former manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Once again Pep Guardiola’s formidable side look the team to beat and it will surely be close between them and Liverpool for top spot once again – particularly if last weekend’s Community Shield is anything to go by.
However, West Ham have made some vital additions this summer and – for the first time in a while – there seems to be a direction regarding the club’s transfer policy.
Gone are the likes of Andy Carroll and Marko Arnautović, with Sébastien Haller brought in for a club record fee of £45m to lead the line.Embed from Getty Images
New midfielder Pablo Fornals also has plenty of promise having shone for Spain during the Euro Under-21 tournament in the summer.
Much is expected of both these sides this season, but opening tests don’t come much tougher for the team in claret and blue.
Tottenham v Aston Villa (Saturday, 5.30pm)
As I write this, this fixture is intriguing for two reasons.
Firstly, who knows what type of squad Tottenham will have at their disposal with the likes of Paolo Dybala and Ryan Sessegnon rumoured to be incoming before the transfer deadline while the future of Christian Eriksen also still up in the air.
Meanwhile, after Aston Villa’s splurge on players this summer (12 players incoming in total), much is expected of Dean Smith’s newly promoted team.Embed from Getty Images
The ultimate question is, will Villa be guilty of ‘doing a Fulham’ with too many new signings coming in at the one time?
All that remains to be seen, but Saturday evening’s game between the two sides could prove to be a particularly eventful one and a glimpse of what is to come.
It also gives neutrals the chance to see Tanguy Ndombélé in the league for the very first time.
Manchester United v Chelsea (Sunday, 4.30pm)
No doubt this is the blockbuster fixture of the weekend as Manchester United and Chelsea go head to head in their opening league game of the season.
But this time we are all intrigued for different reasons.
Usually this would be a game between two title contenders but here we have Manchester United and Chelsea in a totally unfamiliar position. Both are now managed by relatively unproven young managers who have been helped into their current roles thanks to their legendary status as players at their respective teams.Embed from Getty Images
The two sides also seem to be placing an added emphasis on youth – Chelsea have been somewhat forced into it thanks to a transfer ban while United are focusing more on young, homegrown players, with Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka joining the club. Both teams also have fancy new signings to show off, with Harry Maguire finally joining United after months of speculation and Christian Pulisic joining Chelsea after signing a deal before the club’s transfer ban began.
So, in a game where questions will instantly be launched at the loser – which of Solskjaer and Lampard will get their season off to a flyer?
Rangers v Hibernian (Sunday, 3pm)
If anyone is to challenge Celtic this season in Scotland then we might just be looking at two contenders here.
In all likelihood Rangers are the side to put most pressure on themselves. A lack of consistency and seeing games out until the end cost them last season and manager Steven Gerrard will be wary that if he is to be a success at Ibrox he has to get closer to their Glasgow rivals.
However, last season one of the surprise packages was Hibernian who hit flying form when Paul Heckingbottom took over.Embed from Getty Images
They have been touted for a top four finish this season and – while their opening victory over St Mirren was a bit of a slog – there is every suggestion that this squad will fancy the challenge Rangers present.
This one could well be a close-run affair.
Bolton Wanderers v Coventry City (Saturday, 3pm)
All eyes are on this League One game for all the wrong reasons.
As I write this edition of Weekend Wanderings, Bolton announced they have suspended ticket sales for the game against Coventry although they are assuring fans the fixture will still be played.
This development only underlines the plight with which this club finds itself, having already started the season on -12 points.
In their opening defeat against Wycombe just three senior contracted players travelled with Phil Parkinson’s side and eight players were given debuts.Embed from Getty Images
The Football Ventures consortium – who are looking to take over Bolton – had said previously that they would fund the game against Coventry but it awaits to be seen just what will happen in Saturday’s fixture.
Either way it could be a sign of things to come for Bolton and we are only one game into the new campaign.
But it could be worse, at least we have a game to look towards for now unlike fellow League One strugglers Bury.
You can follow Alasdair on Twitter @adjhooper1992