THE noisemakers (fans from various clubs across Europe) are back. Families are poised to be ‘divided’ along different club lines for 90 minutes. Fathers pitched against sons, with the former condescending to listening to their kids and ready to accept their jokes in defeat. Wives are happy again. They prepare the delicacies the family likes. They are happy to have everybody at the table. The 90 minutes of fun filled and family bonding are out of this world, as some European commentators aptly describe incredible goals scored during matches.

The biggest introduction to the Barclays English Premier League this season is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), which will validate some of the decisions which the human eyes cannot capture due to the speed of the ball. With VAR in the Premier League, there will be more disallowed goals. So players should be aware that they will still receive a yellow card for an ‘’illegal’’ celebration, such as removing the shirt, even if the goal is disallowed. Dear EPL organisers, the fans need to be educated on the changes to avert fracas at match venues.

For many soccer faithful, watching matches is akin to going to worship. It is jigsaw that was on the sidelines when the league ended last June. The faithful are the ones who throng matches and follow their clubs religiously, irrespective of where the games are held. They roar when their teams are doing well. They sulk when things go awry and sometimes offer suggestions to their clubs’ managements. Other times, some of these fans could be naughty, flying posters and raising flags suggesting the exit of certain players, coaches or even managements, who in their view are the cogs in the clubs’ wheel of progress.

But without the fans, the game will be dead as symbolised in some of the matches played without spectators, whose clubs infringed on the laws of the game. Indeed, the fans have brought untold hardship to others, with the urchins and roughnecks among them taking the law into their hands. We have some fans whose racist chants at players, coaches, officials etc have brought the game to disrepute. Thankfully, the CCTV fished them out for punishment.

Today’s article isn’t meant to discuss the flaws of the game. The focus will be on those things that make the game a spectacle to behold. The most glamorous European game began on Friday with one of the promoted sides from the Coca-Cola English Championships, Norwich, slugging it out against the current UEFA Champions League winners, Liverpool FC, at Anfield. Liverpool secured 97 points from 38 matches last season, losing only one game to the eventual Barclays English Premier League winner, Manchester City.

Interestingly, both teams (Manchester City and Liverpool) met at Wembley last Sunday in the season’s opener, with the Citizens walking away with the Community Shield via the penalty shootout, after a regulation time 1-1 result. It was a befitting dress rehearsal for the game after a two  months hiatus, not forgetting the thrills, frills, joy of victory and agony of defeat that will be experienced over the next nine months.

Will Manchester City and Liverpool continue their rat race at the top as they did  last season, where the leadership position changed for 34 times, including the last week in the 38-match format? Manchester City won the title on the last day with 98 points to show how enthralling the season was. The two teams are poised to continue the drama, although other clubs such as Wolves,  Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, may give them a good fight for the title, if they get their acts together.

Manchester City begin their title defence with an away tie in London against West Ham, a match which most pundits will give to the Citizens, given their pedigree and head-to-head encounters between both teams. But football is like biscuits. No one knows where it will crack, especially when one considers the fact that the Hammers’ tactician, Manuel Luis Pellegrini Ripamonti, once handled the Citizens, only to be replaced by Pep Guardiola. On 14 June 2013, Pellegrini was appointed manager of Manchester City. He won the Football League Cup and the Premier League in his first season as manager, becoming the first manager from outside Europe to manage an English Premier League title winner.

Things haven’t been easy for Pellegrini with the Hammers losing to Manchester City 4-0 on November 24 last year. The Citizens hit the Hammers 4-0 at home in the return leg tie on February 27.

Liverpool’s opening fixture at Anfield on Friday offered the right platform for Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane to begin their goal chase, knowing that goal monger Kun Aguero will strive to convert the goal-scoring chances that will come his way today in London against West Ham. Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be eager to score against Newcastle in one of the two Sunday games. Aubameyang, Sallah and Mane tied on 22 goals each to share the top scorer’s award for last season. Salah topped with 31 goals two seasons ago.

Rafa Benitez’s exit leaves Newcastle lame in terms of depth, with many Magpies fans doubting the tactical savvy of their new manager placed against Benitez, who now manages Chinese side Dalian Yifang – he could return to the EPL, since that is where his colleagues operate in Europe. In fact, bookmakers have made Newcastle the first team to be relegated, based on the manager’s record in the elite class, coupled with the fact the Magpies lost their top scorer Perez to Leicester City in the transfer window, a move that would render the team’s attack impotent.

Interestingly, the news broke on Wednesday that Arsenal rejected a £30 million offer from Everton for Nigeria international Alex Iwobi. Gunners are willing to trade off Iwobi, if they get over £40 million. Curiously, Iwobi is favourably disposed to leaving his boyhood club as he believes he may have to struggle to get regular playing time. Iwobi is home-grown and provides versatility across the frontline in a squad that will once again compete in four competitions next season.

“I am not one to chicken out. I have had it all over the years, being told I’m not good enough. So whenever the chance comes, I always try and prove I should be starting. Obviously, my joy is to play soccer, not just sit out. If it comes to that, I would have no choice but to leave. But I would always put up a fight to play – that is what I’ve done all my life,” he said.

A last-minute effort from Everton for Iwobi was successful  as the Nigerian underwent medicals in Liverpool, two hours after the transfer deadline lapsed at 5pm Thursday.

But the biggest game for the first week of the Barclays English Premier League holds on Sunday at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Chelsea, two teams that have won the title in the past, although things have changed for them in terms of the quality of players and the stature of coaches. In Manchester United’s heydays, they had the King of the dugout, Sir Alex Ferguson. Chelsea had a long list of achieving coaches, with Jose Mourinho standing out as the most controversial.

On Sunday, Ferguson’s ‘’Baby Face Assassin’’ Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the daunting task of ensuring that Mourinho’s protégé Frank Lampard doesn’t steal the Red Devils’ thunder at Old Trafford. Incidentally, Ferguson will be sitting at the stands for the game. Solskjaer would have compared notes with his mentor armed with the tips to dislodge Chelsea with goals at dusk on Sunday.

Lampard is handicapped, with the exit of Eden Hazard and David Luiz, two former Chelsea players who helped the Blues on such days when rivals showcase their talents to admiring fans at home and at the stands.

Romelu Lukaku broke Red Devils’ fans’ hearts when he tumbled out of the Manchester United exit door, with Inter Milan completing a £72million deal, including £12m in bonuses, for the forward on deadline day for English clubs.

He incurred the wrath of another Manchester United legend, Gary Neville who described Lukaku’s last-minute exit as: ‘‘But the idea of a player being overweight for me is unforgivable. You can play badly, miss shots on goal, hit a bad cross or give goals away as they’re mistakes in football but you can’t be overweight.

‘‘You can’t go out on a Friday night and drink alcohol – there are things that you’re in control of. These two lads [Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, fellow United greats who also own 10 per cent of Salford] played until they were 38 and 40 and played for 25 years at the top, winning numerous titles. There’s no excuse for not being fit. We were never overweight, not fit or not prepared. How can you be overweight!?’’

Will Red Devils miss Lukaku? Will a distraught Paul Pogba give his all for United like he did in the past, knowing that he would have wished he was playing for Real Madrid? Will Chelsea miss Hazard and Luiz? Or will Kante and William stand up and be counted with a blockbuster performance at old Trafford on Sunday?

This is certainly the first week, with only one game played at Anfield. Yet, Manchester United fans look poised to launch a revolt against the club’s Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward (remember his brush with Mourinho over players’ recruitment last year) over his poor handling of the recruitment this season. The fans have vented their anger by getting #WoodwardOut trending on Twitter.

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