BPL This Weekend: Premier League action returns, Crystal Palace crisis already?, more

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By MATTHEW LEVINE
Staff Writer

Waiting for the Barclays Premier League season can seem like an eternity, but that wait is about to come to an end.

The league gets ready to kick off this weekend. As always, it is an exciting time. It’s the first chance to get to see new teams – Burnley, Leicester City and Queens Park Rangers. It’s also a chance to see new faces in the league – Alexis Sanchez and Diego Costa to name a few – as well as a chance to see old faces in new places. Cesc Fabregas returns to the BPL with Chelsea. The man he is replacing, Frank Lampard, will temporarily be with Manchester City.

The beginning of the season also brings that eternal hope. Hopes of winning the league. Hopes of qualifying for a European place. The hopes of staving off relegation.

With the league being as wide open as it was last year, it should very well be again. There should be about six or seven teams challenging for the Top Four spots in the league and about half of those that are genuine title contenders.

In any case, it should be another exciting season in the league and one that shouldn’t be missed.

The fun is just getting started this weekend.

What To Look For

1. Crisis at Crystal Palace?– After early season struggles, Tony Pulis eventually took over as the Eagles’ boss, finishing the season soaring as one of the in-form clubs to finish out the previous season.

Now, trouble has already brewed at Crystal Palace.

Just two days before the season is set to get started, Pulis has walked away from the club after a meeting with chairman Steve Parish. Not only will it be difficult for Palace, who have to find a quick reaction in their opening fixture, the club travels to the Emirates Stadium to take on an improved Arsenal. After Pulis rescued Palace a year ago, they will now need to find a successor to rescue them after his departure. The sooner the better.

2. Manchester United’s back three– After a seventh place finish a year ago, Louis van Gaal is tasked with overhauling United. With the work-in-progress transformation, van Gaal is opting to use a 3-4-2-1 formation. Defensively, the Red Devils could struggle with Chris SmallingPhil Jones and Jonny Evans likely to play in the three defensive positions. Each has had their struggles in the past and learning a new system could be rocky — particularly in the beginning.

While United have played well in preseason friendlies, it is completely different when up against full squad BPL competition. How quickly the back three can adapt will be a decisive factor in not just this weekend’s tilt with Swansea, but how successful the Red Devils will be this season.

3. Picked apart Southampton to face several former teammates– One of the biggest story lines of the summer was the dismantling of Southampton. While adding a few new pieces, they are a shell of what they could’ve been if the squad remained together. Three of the most important cogs from last year are now playing in a Liverpool kit.

Adam LallanaRickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren could all play against the Saints for the first time since their departure. The Saints will hope their new faces can bed into the squad quickly as they head to Anfield to open the season. For the Reds, it will be a small glimpse into the window of what Southampton could have been.

4. Beginning of a repeat?– Winning consecutive titles in any league is no easy task. Manchester City will try to navigate that path and lift the Premier League trophy at season’s end. Their first step in their title defense  is a trip to St. James’ Park to face Newcastle.

After winning the title, Manchester City didn’t make too many changes from a year ago. Bacary Sagna, Eliaquim Mangala and an on-loan Lampard highlight the ins. While wanting to keep continuity is definitely important, did City do enough to keep pace with the other strengthening Premier League squads? Just one game won’t be anywhere near enough to judge that, but getting off to the right start is definitely important and Man City will definitely want to do that away from home to start any chance of repeating.