Champions City ready to defend their crown
There's an old idea that one shouldn't look at the league table until about 12 matches into the season. Certainly whoever sits top of the pile after the first round of fixtures is of little significance -- in the entire Premier League era, only three teams who were top after the opening weekend have gone on to win it.
Last year, Manchester City joined the club. Having beaten Newcastle on the opening weekend, they climbed to the league's summit. Interestingly, they went on to win the league, having spent the shortest time at the top.
By a quirk of the fixture list, they face the Magpies on the opening day again.
The last few years have been tough at St James' Park for the visitors; something has always managed to put the fans on edge. Be it last year's disallowed goal with the score 1-0 to City that upset the home supporters or pressure building after the hosts pulled one back, they rarely have it easy in the north east. Yet they seem to win more often than not.
In the Premier League, the champions have won the past nine meetings and are unbeaten in the last 15. The last time they lost against Newcastle was in September 2005. To give some perspective, Stuart Pearce had just been made full-time manager of the club.
In that respect, Manuel Pellegrini couldn't have asked for a better start. Newcastle have scored just once against Sunday's opponents in the past six meetings, while Pellegrini's men have netted 17 times -- seven of them at St James' Park.
The stadium is something of a hotbed for the strikers, too, with Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo bagging two goals each in the last two victories up there. The latter will miss the match through injury, but there's a strong possibility the former will be given a start, based on his form in the final months of last season. If anything, Dzeko deserves to be the first choice heading into the new campaign.
The team selection will bring up some interesting choices. How the manager will set up shouldn't be too difficult -- it's unlikely Pellegrini is going to alter too much from his winning formula of last time out -- but which personnel he picks is where it will start to get a bit tasty.
Those returning from the World Cup haven't had the longest of preseasons, but they do form the strongest part of the squad. Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta were both missed in the 3-0 Community Shield defeat to Arsenal, but with Bacary Sagna and Martin Demichelis available for selection, the manager may give them an extra week or so off. Eliaquim Mangala, meanwhile, is unlikely to play straight away following his protracted move from Porto.
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There could also be a hostile reception at the stadium on Sunday. The last time they visited, there was bad blood between the two managers, with Alan Pardew clashing with Pellegrini on the touchline while Samir Nasri departed on a stretcher following a challenge that seemed to be borne out of frustration from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
In terms of the title defence, supporters will be hoping for a better response than the last time their side took to the field with the golden badges on the sleeves. In 2012-13, Roberto Mancini's team drew far too many games, and a tough set of opening fixtures isn't going to make life easy for his replacement this time out.
However, if they are going to drop points to their rivals, they may as well do it early on. Should they lose to Arsenal, Liverpool or to Chelsea, it's best to do it in the first five games, then at least there's the chance to catch up the deficit later in the campaign.
But that's for the coming weeks. For now, Pellegrini and his team should be focused on getting off to the best possible start on Sunday.
The domestic football is back. Here we go again.