New era begins for Manchester United as Louis van Gaal looks to get team back to the top
New season begins with a host of new characters and tantalising sub-plots
The Louis van Gaal era will begin in earnest for Manchester United on Saturday when they host Swansea City in the first match of the 2014-15 Premier League season.
The 63-year-old Dutchman has impressed in his first four weeks at the United helm, overseeing five wins and a draw in pre-season, but it is in the league that his achievements will be judged.
Swansea were one of eight teams who came to Old Trafford and won last season, creating a sense of vulnerability that Van Gaal has been hired to banish for good.
Coincidentally, United also met Swansea on the opening day of the 2013-14 campaign, with the then-defending champions winning 4-1 at the Liberty Stadium in David Moyes’s first league game as manager.
The result was to prove a red herring, as United finished the season down in seventh place, but midfielder Tom Cleverley says that it will be important to set the right tone for the forthcoming campaign.
“We can’t wait to get going against Swansea and look to put right the wrongs from last year,” he told the United website.
“We started against Swansea last year, but away. This time it’s at home and I’m sure the fans will be the same as us: raring to go. It’ll be the manager’s first competitive game and I’m sure it’ll be a special atmosphere.”
Wayne Rooney will lead United out for the first time since being named captain after Tuesday’s 2-1 friendly win over Valencia.
United will have to make do without £27 million (HK$349 million) close-season signing Luke Shaw, however, after the 19-year-old left-back was ruled out due to a hamstring strain.
Another team buoyed by a positive pre-season period are Arsenal, who launch their assault on the league title at home to Crystal Palace.
Having ended a nine-year trophy drought by winning last season’s FA Cup, Arsene Wenger’s side gave an eye-catching demonstration of their title credentials by outclassing league champions Manchester City 3-0 in last weekend’s Community Shield.
New signing Alexis Sanchez, a £30 million acquisition from Barcelona, is in line to make his competitive home debut against Palace and captain Mikel Arteta has called on his side to make a positive start to the campaign.
“We’ve done our [transfer] business early this season so we can start from the off and that’s what we want,” the Spanish midfielder told the Arsenal website.
“We want to set a marker and we don’t want to miss that opportunity. We’ve got experience now, we are able to win. We have the qualities to do it, we have the structure, the fans, the club and the desire to do it.”
Palace go into the game in crisis after reports emerged late Thursday that manager Tony Pulis had left the club after falling out with owners over transfer policy.
Championship champions Leicester City will play their first top-flight game since 2004 when they host Everton on Saturday, while fellow promoted side Queens Park Rangers welcome Hull City to Loftus Road.
Champions Manchester City begin their title defence at Newcastle United on Sunday.
When City last claimed the title, in 2012, they won only two of their opening five games the following season, but captain Vincent Kompany feels that they now possess the necessary know-how to retain their title.
“We know what to look out for. We know what not to do,” said the Belgian centre-back, who has signed a new five-year contract.
“The players at City have got experience with winning trophies. It goes in phases. We’re in this phase now. We feel we can win it.”
Liverpool, who narrowly lost out to City in last season’s title race, open the campaign at home to Southampton, who saw Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren all leave for Anfield in the close season.
Lallana will miss the reunion with his former club due to a knee injury, but Lambert and Lovren are both in contention to feature in what will be Liverpool’s first competitive game since the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are expected to hand competitive debuts to new signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas when they visit the third promoted team, Burnley, on Monday.
Saturday (10pm HKT unless otherwise stated):
Arsenal v Crystal Palace (12.30am Sun), Leicester City v Everton, Manchester United v Swansea City (7.45pm), Queens Park Rangers v Hull City, Stoke City v Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland, West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur
Liverpool v Southampton (8.30pm), Newcastle United v Manchester City (11pm)
Monday (3am Tues):
Burnley v Chelsea