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Premier League Preview – Is Manchester United Vulnerable?

After a great first weekend of Barclays Premier League action you’ve probably been hoping this week could just fly along so you could dive right back into the action. Well for those of you that just couldn’t wait any longer you’re in luck! Thanks to a massive political rally in Birmingham on Saturday the Premier League is giving us a nice little treat this week – Friday Night Lights! It all gets started this weekend when Manchester United travel to Aston Villa.

After a (predictably) unpredictable week that saw nearly all my picks fall flat on my face, I’m back and determined to get it right this time, so let’s get to it.

Aston Villa vs. Manchester United (2:45 pm ET Friday)

Here’s what we know. Aston Villa is bad. How bad? Really bad. But they also have a really good manager who can help them overcome that and who can help them tactically exploit their opponents weaknesses.

Manchester United is good. How good? Really really freakin’ good. But they have a manager who is determined to play the most boring style and take every single bit of creativity, speed, and fun out of the game. It’s actually confusing why Louis van Gaal keeps paying more than a small country’s GDP to bring in the best players in the world if he doesn’t let them actually play.

Villa is coming off a 1-0 win over newbies AFC Bournemouth thanks in part to Bournemouth’s inability to finish in front of goal and from a powerful Rudy Gestede header off a set piece – the exact type of goal that United’s back line, with Chris Smalling and Daley Blind in the middle, are suspect to giving up. Villa gave up a ton of chances last week, so in theory United should get their chances, but this is a United team that didn’t get any chances last week–not because Tottenham defended so well but because United just didn’t try to set up chances.

Last season United struggled not just to win but to keep clean sheets away from Old Trafford. We know they’ll get better as the season goes on but that’s not happening this week as they struggle to a 1-1 draw. 

West Ham vs. Leicester City (10:00 ET Saturday)

When the fixture list was released back in June, right away we knew we’d be in for a treat with a top of the table clash in just the second week. Here it is! (What? You thought it was going to be Manchester City v Chelsea? Ha!)

Widely predicted to get off to a slow start and spend most of the season in the relegation zone, Leicester hit back by putting four past Sunderland. But that’s Sunderland, and even though West Ham isn’t one of the elite teams in this league, they’re certainly a step up over Sunderland. The Hammers themselves are coming off one of, if not the, biggest wins the club has ever had in the Premier League led by the fantastic play of 16-year-old starlet Reece Oxford.  Last week was Oxford’s coming out party; now he has to prove he can do it consistently. He’ll start by helping the Hammers to a second consecutive win to start the season. West Ham to win 2-1 

Manchester City vs. Chelsea (11:00 ET Sunday)

For a team with motivation issues maybe the key was having every pundit predict them to drop all the way down to fourth place this season? Manchester City was the only big club to actually play like a big club last weekend and now they get the struggling champions Chelsea at home.

Let’s take a minute to address the Chelsea situation. “What do you mean situation it’s only been one game!” Well yeah, and while it’s certainly too early to be panicking if you’re a Chelsea fan, it’s certainly time to start worrying. Not only were Chelsea held at home to Swansea last week (and losing first choice goalkeeper Thibault Courtois in the process), but they haven’t won a game since the final day of last season.

I know you’re not supposed to read that much into preseason results, but you also shouldn’t be losing to the NY Red Bulls reserves.  It’s hard to think that there’s nothing wrong with this Chelsea team and though Asmir Begovich is no slouch, he’s no Courtois either. After two matches it’s going to look awfully weird to see Chelsea sitting on just one point, but that’s what happens after City’s 3-1 win.

Liverpool vs. Bournemouth (3:00 PM ET Monday)

After losing Luis Suarez two years ago we all wondered how Liverpool was going to replace all of the goals he scored. Last year they tried and failed with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli. This year they’re going with the triumvirate of Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings, and Christian Benteke, though I don’t expect the three of them to do much better.

Does that mean Liverpool is screwed? Actually no, because we’ve all forgotten about the criminally underrated Coutinho. You’ll never hear Coutinho’s name alongside the Hazaard’s or Sanchez’s when discussing the Premier League’s best player but he absolutely should be, and by the end of the season, he will be. Liverpool to win 2-0

Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal (8:30 ET Sunday)

The Premier League’s likely “signing of the season” will be playing in this game, but unlike what many predicted, it won’t be Arsenal’s’ Petr Cech but rather Crystal Palace’s Yohan Cabaye. Palace has done a good job of building a big core of young players to mix in with some very shrewd signings, and the early signs (albeit against Norwich) are that it’s going to work out quite well.

It’s not looking great for Arsenal who are still likely going to be without Alexis Sanchez as he continues to get himself ready for the season after missing the pre-season due to Copa America. However, even though they’ll have the geriatric Cech starting in goal, this team is too talented to lose two games in a row to start the season. That doesn’t mean they’ll get the win though as Palace earns this week’s *Sorta Upset Special* as Palace holds on for the 1-1 draw.

Quick hits on the rest of the league

Is Southhampton going to be a frisky impenetrable force again this season or are the two goals they conceded against Newcastle a sign of things to come. Taking on Everton at home should go a long way to answering that. They’ll improve this week, but not all the way in a 1-1 draw. Sunderland will go back to doing what Sunderland does in a  0-0 draw with Norwich. Swansea return home fresh off of a great draw at Stamford Bridge and as a welcome home gift they’ll get a very average Newcastle side that they’ll turn away 3-0. Watford looked a little frisky in their draw against Everton last week while the supposed-to-be-frisky West Brom were demolished by City. West Brom will get back on their feet, but not this week as Watford takes it 2-1.

Enjoy the games everyone. Should be another great weekend of action.

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