With Sky Sports announcing the first batch of 2018/19 Premier League fixtures which have been selected to be shown live recently, excitement is beginning to build around what the new season has in store.
Even with the World Cup still in full swing at the semi final stage, it is hard to not be excited about the prospect of a brand new Premier League season and the anticipation to see what the 20 teams of the English top flight have to offer.
Defending champions Manchester City will be looking to build upon their record-breaking 100 points title-winning haul from last term, whilst Wolves lead the pack of sides looking to make the ultimate step up from the Championship to the elite level of English football.
From top to bottom and right the way through the juicy middle of the division, the upcoming Premier League campaign promises to be full of more action, drama and excitement than ever before.
Here is a list of six things to look out for on the highly-anticipated opening weekend of the 2018/19 Premier League season…
1. The Return of Arsenal Fans at the Emirates
Much of the off-field Premier League discussions and agendas last season were dominated by the 22-year reign of Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager drawing to a close. For many fans, the end came much too late, as the Emirates became something of a building of discontent and more a land of protest than a field of play.
The discontent among many Gunners fans over the lack of progress and fundamental shortcomings – which eventually saw Arsenal finish both outside of the Champions League places and without any silverware for the first time in all of Wenger’s two decades plus as manager – saw attendance levels dip to all-time lows at the Emirates.
With Unai Emery now installed as the Gunners’ new head coach and the apparent dawning of a new era in north London, it can be expected that a new sense of unity will be established among the Arsenal fanbase. Of course, the opening weekend’s match against champions Manchester City could change that very quickly.
The ‘Emery out’ banners are no doubt in provisional printing already and it surely won’t be long before opinionated message-bearing planes are spotted flying over the Islington area.
2. The Return of Jamie Carragher to our Screens
One of the most interesting draws of Sky Sports’ coverage of the Premier League next season aside from the football itself will be the return of Liverpool legend and exiled pundit Jamie Carragher to our screens.
Carragher was suspended by Sky following an altercation with a rival fan in March following Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United, but is now set to return as one of the regular pundits for Sky coverage.
With the Anfield icon’s Liverpool side set to take on West Ham live on Sky Sports on Sunday 12 August, one can only hope that Carragher opts to travel to and from the ground with his car window firmly shut, should a West Ham fan decide to heckle the former defender over the result.
3. First Class Punditry From the Sky Sports Team
Aside from the return of Carragher, who is sure to be on his best behaviour for the opening weekend at least, Sky boast an all-star selection of pundits who always make the half-time talk worth a watch and manage to liven up even the most dull matches for our entertainment.
Thierry Henry typically makes the switch from Sky to BBC for coverage of international tournaments, but with the Arsenal legend on duty in Russia as Belgium’s assistant head coach, Henry’s punditry excellence has been greatly missed at the World Cup. Prepare for a whole new season on Sky of Henry’s endearing laughter, exquisite suits and impassioned battering of his beloved Arsenal.
If that isn’t enough, Gary Neville’s brotherly arguments with a red-faced Carragher, Graeme Souness’ spine chillingly brutal honesty and Jamie Redknapp’s painfully shameless best efforts to cosy up as Thierry’s best pal should provide something from the studio for everyone.
4. The Rise of Wolves
Onto the football. Wolves’ meteoric rise to the summit of the Championship was so mighty that they can already be considered strong contenders in the top flight without having even kicked a Premier League ball since 2012.
Then under the management of Mick McCarthy and crashing to a rock bottom finish which sent the Wanderers on a collision course of two consecutive seasons down to League One by the 2013/14 season, Wolves are now back in the big time, and times have changed at Molineux.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side played some of the most exciting attacking football ever seen in the Championship last season as they roared to title success and clawed their way back up to the top flight.
With star man Ruben Neves recently extending his contract with the club and his compatriot Rui Patricio joining him at Molineux following the goalkeeper’s World Cup exploits with Portugal, Wolves are showing no signs of slowing down in their continued rise.
Their opening match against Everton will be a highly anticipated trial by fire to see just how ready Wolves are to compete in the top flight once more.
5. Second Time Lucky for Cardiff?
Following a disastrous previous campaign in the Premier League during the 2013/14 season, their debut in the Premier League era and first top-flight showing in 51 years, Cardiff City are back among the elite of English football and looking to mount a stronger challenge this time.
Their previous attempt quite simply fell on its face. Initially under the management of Malky Mackay, the Bluebirds ended the season having had three different management periods, with David Kerslake taking interim charge following the sacking of Mackay in December 2013 and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer eventually taking over as Cardiff were inevitably relegated within their first season in the Premier League.
Having waited over half a century for that failed attempt at reclaiming a prolonged stay in the top flight, Cardiff only had to wait four seasons before they earned another crack at the top level – having finished as runners up in the Championship last term.
Now under the management of Neil Warnock, Cardiff begin their campaign away to Bournemouth, a game which offers as good an opportunity as any for the Bluebirds to kick off their season with three points and build a strong start to what will be a testing season and a big step up for Warnock’s side.
6. Battle of the ‘Big Six’
Of the four fixtures which have been given the distinct privilege of Sky Sports coverage on the opening weekend, five of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ will be immediately cast under the spotlight of the television cameras.
These opening fixtures are not only intriguing matches in their own right, but they should also go a long way in indicating which of the country’s finest sides are most up for the fight in this season’s Premier League race for the title.
Of course, Manchester United began last season on fire and seemed set to storm to title glory under Jose Mourinho, before ultimately falling by the wayside of Pep Guardiola’s rampant Manchester City team. Whilst the early doors are not always much to go by, it is without doubt that each of the big six will be desperate to get off to a flying start, for confidence if nothing else. Both Manchester sides will once again be keen to fire from the outset.
Unai Emery comes up against the most unenviable task of facing the imperious champions in his first competitive match as Arsenal manager, and will be anxious to get off to a strong start at home to get the Gunners’ faithful on his side from the off.
Subplots are aplenty, and the action is set to provide a great opening weekend of Premier League football.