Manchester United open the new English Premier League season at home to Tottenham Hotspur today looking for signs that they are ready to mount a sustained assault on Chelsea’s title.
Last season’s equivalent fixture, a 3-0 home win on March 15, proved the belated catalyst for a run of form that ensured Louis van Gaal ended his first season as manager with United back in the UEFA Champions League places, but with ￡77 million (US$120 million) having been spent on new players including Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, United have set their sights a little higher.
“[Last season] we could see that we were getting better gradually, but we just needed that consistency in our performances and then, obviously, in results,” United captain Wayne Rooney told ESPN. “But we could see in each game we were getting better. I feel this season for the first time, rather than the last two seasons, we’re ready to challenge again.”
Today’s lunchtime game at Old Trafford will give United’s fans a clearer idea of how their team will line up this season, with Rooney expected to lead the line as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 formation.
Tottenham finished fifth last season, six points below fourth-placed United, and will hope to make a more convincing case for UEFA Champions League qualification, despite a relatively quiet summer transfer window.
Spurs’ defense has been bolstered by the arrivals of Toby Alderweireld, Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier, but in attack Harry Kane is under pressure to repeat the feats of his stunning 31-goal breakthrough season.
Chelsea begin their title defense at home to Swansea City, who will be looking to repeat their sensational opening-day exploits from last season, when they won 2-1 against United at Old Trafford.
The champions have spluttered in pre-season, failing to win any of their five games and losing 1-0 to Arsenal in the Community Shield, and they could be without last season’s top scorer Diego Costa due to a hamstring injury.
Chelsea finished eight points above second-placed Manchester City, the outgoing champions, in May, but manager Jose Mourinho believes this season’s title race will be a much tighter affair.
“Maybe I’m wrong, but I think fewer points will win the title,” Mourinho said. “You have a minimum of five title contenders and the other teams get stronger and stronger. Every club has very good players, so I think it’s difficult for the top teams in England because of the competitive nature.”
Arsenal, bolstered by the arrival from Chelsea of goalkeeper Petr Cech, begin their season with a home fixture against London rivals West Ham United, who now have their former defender Slaven Bilic at the helm.
City travel to West Bromwich Albion on Monday, while Liverpool, sixth last season, start out at Stoke City, where they were dealt a humiliating 6-1 defeat on last season’s final day.
“We didn’t end the last season particularly well and I think we owe it to the fans to make amends,” Liverpool midfielder Emre Can said. “This is why the first few matches are especially important. I think we can start to put [the Stoke result] right with a few good results.”
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is expected to hand competitive debuts to a number of new signings, including James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke.
All three promoted clubs are in action on the opening day, with Watford visiting Everton, Norwich City hosting Crystal Palace and AFC Bournemouth tackling Aston Villa in the first top-flight match in their 116-year history.
Having romped to the Championship title, Bournemouth are expected to make a mark in the Premier League, but manager Eddie Howe has warned his players that he will not show them “foolish loyalty.”
“I do what’s best for the team, and if that means being ruthless and making some tough calls, I’ve proved in the past I’ll do that,” Howe said.
Former England manager Steve McClaren begins his Newcastle United tenure at home to Southampton, while Claudio Ranieri starts life as Leicester City manager with a home game against Sunderland.
Chen Jifang hits the gym for at least two hours every day and has the physique to prove it. At nearly 70, she is being held up as a shining example as China orders its vast population to get fit and lose the bulge. The grandmother from Shanghai has become a minor celebrity in in the past few months after her newfound and unlikely love for working out made national headlines. After becoming a gym regular in December 2018, Chen lost 14kg in three months, and now sports the kind of flat stomach and toned muscles that people decades younger aspire to. She
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
ANOTHER SCANDAL: Searches focused on several riders, including Dayer Quintana, a source said, while the two being held were reportedly a doctor and physiotherapist French police on Monday detained two people as part of an investigation into suspected doping in the Arkea-Samsic team at this year’s Tour de France, prosecutors announced. The probe is the first significant one in several years for the repeatedly scandal-hit tour, which on Sunday wrapped up in Paris with a victory for 21-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who became the youngest winner in more than a century. Prosecutor Dominique Laurens in Marseille said in a statement that an investigation was being carried out into a “small part” of France-based Arkea-Samsic, without specifying who had been placed in custody. Laurens added that the two
Former MLB pitcher Wang Wei-chung has signed the biggest contract with a local team in Taiwan’s professional baseball history, the Wei Chuan Dragons said yesterday. The 28-year-old left-hander signed a five-year US$2.08 million contract with the Dragons, team chairman Hsu Wen-fang told a news conference. It is the biggest contract in the CPBL’s 31-year history, surpassing a three-year, US$1.36 million deal Lin Chih-sheng signed in 2016 with the CTBC Brothers. Although the overall value of Wang’s deal set a new record, his average monthly salary of NT$990,000 (US$33,886) is lower than Lin’s pay of NT$1.2 million per month in 2017