United can't defend but can score goals, whilst Liverpool don't seem able to do either. Plus, will Arsenal start learning lessons, and can Southampton finish their dinner..?
Matic missing gives Chelsea a new problem, whilst Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers have decisions to make over strikers. Plus, which manager will fall first..?
It's back, friends. It's back. A long 96 days, 19 hours and 41 minutes after the final whistle of the final game of the last season, Premier League football will recommence. The World Cup was wonderful and the Football League is our bread and butter, but this is the real deal. Hyperbole, drama and unmitigated madness, new signings, local rivalries, managerial bows, goal-line technology and vanishing spray: Come on down, we've been expecting you. And we've been tingling.
You'll fall in and out of love with your team, your club, its manager, the opposition, referees and your fellow supporters over the course of the next nine months, but you'll never stop loving the game. Can you tell I'm excited yet?
Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward
The injuries clearly haven't helped (Jonny Evans, Antonio Valencia, Luke Shaw, Rafael, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie will all miss the opening match against Swansea) but there is little doubt that Manchester United, even with those players fit, remain a work in progress.
Unfortunately, much of that work should have been done by now. Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera remain the only players through the door, but by kick-off time on Saturday it will be 50 days since their last first-team signing. At a time when action was needed, inertia has been the only response.
With reports now (understandably) surfacing of Van Gaal's growing frustration and unease at a lack of activity in the transfer market, there is a real danger that this summer will prove similar to last - a damp squib in which hope and optimism are replaced by bitterness, an obvious by-product of Ed Woodward's now farcical inability to initiate meaningful recruitment.
The fact remains that in every deal completed during Woodward's time at Old Trafford (Shaw, Herrera, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini), United were either the only club in the running or the only interested party prepared to stump up the high price (in terms of fee or wages) demanded. That's nothing to be proud of.
Instead, Woodward's 'loadsamoney' boasts, although not exactly revealing anything we didn't know, have forced the prices of potential targets to the loftiest of levels. They are fishing in a pond full of the largest fish, but seem prepared to try and make do with a wooden stick and string for a rod. Woodward has that rod in his hand, the smiley gnome on the edge of the water, useless and unmoving.
United will surely beat Swansea on Saturday, and thus Van Gaal may well enjoy his Old Trafford bow, but this is a situation far less ideal than it should have been, and one will only need to look to the matchday squad to see that. Tyler Blackett, Reece James, Ashley Young - these were not expected to even be supporting actors on Van Gaal's opening night.
The question when the Dutchman was appointed was just how much difference he alone would make in comparison to David Moyes: The way this summer has transpired, we might just be about to find out.
With fewer Premier League minutes than Marouane Fellaini last season, it's fair to say that 2013/14 appeared to be Ashley Young's last in a Manchester United shirt. A move that initially seemed to announce the pinnacle of a promising career has fallen flat on its face in spectacular fashion, and the only two questions appeared to be 1) Which lower-ranking Premier League club would he move to, and 2) How big a salary hit would Young have to take?
Instead, an entirely bizarre third question has appeared during the build-up to United's match against Swansea: Is Young a better left-wing back or right-wing back? Three months ago such an inquiry would have seen you carted off to Maudsley psychiatric hospital.
In fairness to Young, his pre-season forages could not have gone better. Expected to do more running and less accurate crossing, he initially fitted in well to Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 formation, but such compliments must surely be seen in contrast to our dampened expectation.
He's actually going to start as a wing-back for Manchester United. We're not quite sure that is the redemption of a player or a regression of the club's options, but we suspect the latter.
On Thursday, Aston Villa announced a 'tourist destination partnership' with Andalucia. At the time we guffawed, but perhaps we were wrong to do so. When you consider that the club's transfer window business consists of Philippe Senderos, Joe Cole, Aly Cissokho and Kieran Richardson, the region in Southern Spain may actually be Villa's best signing of the summer.
Left with a reported budget of £10million for transfer fees and wages, it would be easy to feel sorry for Paul Lambert, but such sympathy disappears when you look at Villa's dealings last summer. £20million was spent on Libor Kozak, Jores Okore, Aleksander Tonev, Antonio Luna, Nicklas Helenius and Leandro Bacuna. Three of those seven have left Villa Park on loan this summer, whilst only Okore looks to be of the standard required to succeed.
The pressure is now truly on Lambert, with supporters growing increasingly tired last season at the turgid, tepid fayre served and, with Roy Keane installed as the Scot's assistant, it appears the writing may be on the wall.
Opening-day games shouldn't be filed under 'must-win', but once August is out Villa face Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton in five consecutive league games. Probably best for Lambert to get some points on the board before then.
"We want to start the season much better than we did last year," Manuel Pellegrini admitted before the Community Shield on Sunday. "We started poorly away from home and it took us time to repair the damage done by dropping so many points early on. Winning the FA Community Shield would be the ideal start to the campaign."
Clearly Sunday didn't go well, albeit with a weakened side on show, but it is this Sunday that Pellegrini was really targeting with his hopes of a fast start.
City's weak title defence of 2012/13, something that eventually cost Roberto Mancini his job, was established in the first five league games. They sat seventh on September 23, winning just two of their opening five games, a limp beginning to a limp season.
Pellegrini (like every manager around him) would have hoped for a gentle introduction to the season in order to bed in new players and increase match fitness, but the opposite has occurred. The average finishing position last season of their first five opponents is 5.6 - that is the hardest in the division and Manchester United's comparative figure is 16.6. A trip to St James' Park is no cakewalk, either, a Newcastle side rejuvenated and a squad fattened gloriously by summer arrivals.
In our F365 Season Predictions, I questioned my own decision to ignore an improved title winners this time around, but it just somehow feels that City have stuttered slightly this summer, despite the arrival of Eliaquim Mangala, Fernando, Wily Caballero and Bacary Sagna - it all just feels a touch uninspiring. Time to prove me wrong.
Leicester and QPR
Winnable (though by no means easy) home matches to open the season for a promoted club, and the chance to continue the optimism that promotion undoubtedly brings.
On Saturday, Loftus Road and the King Power Stadium will play host to two clubs aiming to stop their respective bubbles from bursting. The longer that lasts, the further back in the minds relegation concerns linger.
Everyone already thinks you aren't good enough. Your own fans considered your appointment to be almost amusingly underwhelming, and they would have laughed if they weren't so busy being angry and crying. You then spent a club record fee on a striker that you admitted you had never seen live, and then publicly stated your desire that he could possibly be "as good as Peter Odemwingie", although Odemwingie joined at the age of 29 and cost around a quarter of the price. It doesn't look good.
With no disrespect intended to Gus Poyet and his compadres (and I'm generalising wildly), the result of a home fixture against Sunderland could be seen as the perfect marker of expectations. Win and you'll be fine, draw and it'll be a dreary season, lose and things look really sh**ty indeed. If West Brom (and Irvine in particular) lose on Saturday, they will have 37 games to change what will undoubtedly be a mood of early despair, which is evidently bags and bag(gie)s of time.
Whether Irvine himself will get that long is another question entirely. It's worth remembering that he was sacked from his last job well over three years ago after taking Sheffield Wednesday from the Championship to mid-table League One in 13 months.
It's all very well talking up the beauty and all-round sexiness of your side in a bid to persuade supporters that everything will be okay ahead of an incredibly unpredictable season, but if you then don't beat the side that you've plundered for three of your signings, that begins to look silly.
Bigger and tougher battles await, but Brendan Rodgers will be all too keen to avoid slipping at the first hurdle.
Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho
Brendan Rodgers on Philippe Coutinho: "He is so gifted as a player. His ability is magical in tight situations. He doesn't get marked, tempts defenders out and his weight of passes. He will show at that (Champions League) level he's a top player. I see him over the next few years being on the world level for Liverpool and Brazil."
Brendan Rodgers on Raheem Sterling: His identity is he has to score goals and create goals. That's what the job is. He scored 10 goals last year and this kid is only going to get better. When you look at the finish against Manchester City in New York, how many times have we seen Messi produce a touch like that? Taking it through bodies when it's so tight in the box. The great thing with watching him now is that he gets you off your seat. His development has gone to a new level. He's way above the level from when he first came in both tactically and technically. And what has been beautiful to watch with Raheem has been his maturity. He's turning into a beautiful young man."
We get it Brendan, you definitely aren't going to miss Luis Suarez because of Sterling and Coutinho. But just saying something (and sounding quite creepy doing it) doesn't make it true, however. A reminder now that Luis Suarez scored 19 goals in his first 12 league games of last season.
No pressure, chaps.
We just can't wait to watch West Ham's all-singing, all-dancing attacking style, a sumptuous mixture of verve, élan and the type of liquid football that you daren't tell your mother about.
Well, that or Kevin Nolan playing off Carlton Cole, with Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis on the wings. Oh Sam, you loveable rogue.
For all the tears over Southampton's future, their starting XI at Anfield could well be: Forster, Clyne, Fonte, Gordos, Bertrand, Wanyama, Ward-Prowse, Taider, Tadic, Pelle, Long. It's not exactly panic stations.
One of the most interesting experiments in recent Premier League history begins on Sunday. We can't wait to see it unfold.
'Six years of an amazing journey DESTROYED in one hour!!!' Morgan Scneiderlin tweeted just over two weeks ago.
It remains to be seen whether the Frenchman is in the right frame of mind to start on Sunday, or if it's still #headsgone. Modern football, eh.
It will be days before we know the exact reasons for Tony Pulis' departure from Crystal Palace, but whoever dug their heels in to such an extent that their best manager in years walked away from the club less than 48 hours before the start of the season should hang their heads in shame. It appears that co-chairman Steve Parish is that man. Silly boy.
Where once there was optimism, now worry and concern reign. Nothing like looking forward to a new season.
Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter