Why Manchester City should have too much for Liverpool
Title holders and reinforcements appear to have clicked immediately into gear for new season
Manchester City were one of the few teams that clicked quickly into gear on the opening weekend of the English Premier League season and their readiness for another campaign gives them a big advantage for Monday's early showdown with title rivals Liverpool.
Having won the title by two points from Liverpool, City had little business to do this summer but they did it early and they have a settled squad that looks even stronger than last season. Holding midfielder Fernando made an impressive debut in an efficient 2-0 win at Newcastle and waiting in the wings are defenders Eliaquim Mangala and Bacary Sagna as well as on-loan midfielder Frank Lampard.
By contrast, Liverpool have had a busy off-season after losing their best player, Luis Suarez, and reinvesting the income in almost enough players to make a team by themselves. That is reminiscent of Tottenham's situation last summer after the departure of Gareth Bale and, even if Brendan Rodgers has done a better job in revamping his squad, the new-look side will need time to settle.
That was evident at home to Southampton last week, even though the Reds managed a 2-1 win. The visitors carved holes in the Liverpool defence at times, which suggests City will be able to do the same on Monday night with the clever interplay of David Silva and Edin Dzeko that was seen at Newcastle.
With Sergio Aguero coming on to score at Newcastle and Fernando's arrival giving Yaya Toure licence to push forward, City could be an even more potent attacking force now.
City certainly will be expected to score on Monday, as they have been shut out only once in their last 69 home league games and that was by the superior Chelsea rearguard in a 1-0 defeat last February. That was one of only four losses in those 69 games and City have won 59 (86 per cent).
With that strike rate, City are good value to win on Monday and it is also significant that Liverpool won only one out of six last season when conceding on the road to top-half teams. Narrowing down those teams to just the top seven, Liverpool's record when conceding was won none, drawn one, lost three.
Rodgers has attempted to address defensive weakness with the signing of Dejan Lovren from Southampton but Liverpool's capacity to fight fire with fire has been diminished by Suarez's departure.
The pace of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling - Liverpool's scorers last week - will be a threat to City but this looks a difficult game at the wrong time for Rodgers' team.
Over 2.5 goals is worth considering, as these two sides led the way in that department last season. City were joint-top for home games with over 2.5 goals - 14 out of 19, with an average of four goals per game - and Liverpool led the away league, with 16 out of 19 over 2.5 goals and an average of 4.21 goals per game.
The other big game of the weekend is Everton v Arsenal tonight, which is an early opportunity to gauge whether the Gunners can make the vital improvement they need in away games against the top teams.
Last season Arsenal lost 3-0 at Everton, as well as 6-3 at Manchester City, 5-1 at Liverpool and 6-0 at Chelsea. If they had drawn those four matches - a big ask, given the way they were hammered - they would have finished second in the table, only a point behind City.
Taking something from Goodison Park would be a good start, but it will not be easy as Everton's home form was strong last season. Roberto Martinez's side won six and lost only one (against Manchester City) of their nine home games against top-half opponents and they look the solid choice on the handicap.
Chelsea, like Manchester City, appear close to the finished article and they look a banker to steamroller another promoted side, Leicester, after Monday's 3-1 win at Burnley. As with Arsenal, though, Chelsea must address a weakness this weekend, as their home form was surprisingly patchy last season.
They won just six out of 10 at home to bottom-half teams, ranking them only ninth in that respect and lagging seven points behind both Manchester City and Liverpool. Chelsea conceded in half of those 10 games, which was a big part of the problem, and Leicester are dangerous enough to make over 2.5 goals worth backing.
Early results can be misleading and it might be worth backing Newcastle and Stoke to bounce back from defeats against opening-day winners Aston Villa and Hull.
Southampton, Everton, Stoke, Nottingham Forest, Hoffenheim