Sam Hendry with his pick of the weekend’s football bets
After the excitement of the World Cup and despite the feeling that football hasn’t really stopped, the Premier League returns this weekend with a fresh set of players, managers and storylines to keep fans engaged for the next ten months.
The biggest match of the weekend takes place on Sunday with defending champions Manchester City’s visit to the Emirates, where Arsenal will be managed in a competitive match by someone not named Arsene Wenger for the first time since 1996.
Unai Emery is the man tasked with revitalising a club and squad that have slowly regressed over the last decade and he could not have asked for a more difficult start to that job than with a meeting against Pep Guardiola’s swaggering superstars.
City picked up where they left off with a convincing victory over Chelsea in last week’s Community Shield and, while history and logic would suggest they cannot be quite as dominant as they were last year, there is little evidence to suggest they will not become the first team to retain the Premier League crown since Manchester United ten years ago.
If Emery can improve Arsenal’s dismal away form then they’ll have a real chance of returning to a top four spot, but it might be too soon for them to lay down a proper challenge to Man City. City to win and both teams to score is my bet here at odds of 21/10 with Ladbrokes
Liverpool have been tipped by many to be the closest challengers to City after a string of impressive big-money signings filled some gaps in their squad and they should get their campaign off to a winning start against West Ham at Anfield.
The Hammers have seriously backed new manager Mauricio Pellegrini by spending £100m on nine new players, but it remains to be seen how well and how quickly he can integrate these new players into a successful system.
Expectations have gone up a notch on Merseyside after the thrilling run to the Champions League final and the acquisitions of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Allisson are definite improvements on what they already had.
And with Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and last season’s top scorer Mo Salah providing a vibrant attacking threat Liverpool should be more than capable of mounting a title challenge.
I expect them to get off to a strong start here and given his outstanding form of last year, odds of 5/2 on Salah to score first could be profitable.
Wolves and Fulham are making the step up on the back of hugely impressive seasons in the Championship and unlike most newly promoted teams, have their sights set much higher than merely avoiding relegation.
Both like to play fluent attacking football, have spent big over the summer to improve their already talented squads and have winnable opening home fixtures against Everton and Crystal Palace respectively.
You have to go back to 1998 to find the last time more than one of the newly promoted teams won on the opening day of the season, but a double on Wolves and Fulham victories could see that run come to an end. The double pays 5.3/1 (Wolves are 7/5 and Fulham 13/8).
Have a great weekend and enjoy the footie!