For United and the other big European sides it is probably correct to say that the season officially starts tomorrow. Players all over Europe dream about playing in the Champions League and gamblers, pundits, besser wissers love watching these high profile games.
United have not impressed so far this season, they have not disappointed either, but their displays have been a bit luke warm so far. At Old Trafford, on an European night, they usually deliver and the United squad is quite fit at the moment. They only miss P Jones and D Wehlbeck. S Kagawa is back in contention for this game. Bayer are 4-0-1 in the Bundesliga and Schurrle's old partner S Kiessling scored twice for his club at the week end. They miss the injured G Castro.
Moyes, the United coach, has one or two things to ponder over. They face Man City in a few days and he has to rotate his squad, resting one or two key players for the City encounter. Likely home winner.
Although Lyon are no the force they once were it was a bit surprising how superior Real were against Lyon in the play offs with two comfortable 2-0 wins. Griezmann and Seferovic have impressed for Real and for this match fit again Agirettxe could return. The Real injury situation has improved these last two weeks and they will face this fixture practically injury free, only missing C Martinez and D Ifran. Maybe Real are obsessed with this their big chance of playing on the big scene, but in the domestic league they have not done well this far.
Usually I am sitting here writing about the Shaktar superiority in the Ukrainian league, but it is not the case this time. In fact they are winless in their last three games (0-1-2) and when did this happen last? Looking at their squad on duty last week there were the familiar names, but no doubt, players like Willian, Fernandinho and Mkhitaryan are not easily replaced. Shaktar are an experienced side on this level, but I prefer the Real enthusiasm this time. Backing Real.
Stuttering start to the Galatasaray league season (1-3-0 so far). D Drogba and Burak Yilmaz will play upfront, W Sneijder will return for this game and Gala have an exciting new winger, Bruma. They have to manage without the influential Selcuk Inan and H Altintop is an injury doubt.
Casillas will stand between the Real sticks tomorrow, Arbeloa returns to their squad and we can expect to see both G Bale and C Ronaldo playing from the start. Marcelo and Coentrao remain on their injury list.
Just recently Galatasaray won 3-2 at home to Real. The odds were quite similar, but Real had already won the group and it was a match without importance for the star club. I remember it well, Real just stopped performing in the second half. I cannot see Galatasaray winning again.
The Danes played some strong home games in the Champions League four years ago. They ruled the Danish League at that time and their coach was Solbakken. He is back now after some unfortunate spells in Norway and Britain, but his club is struggling domestically these days. They are 1-4-3 after eight league rounds and it says it all. It is the Danish league, not La Liga. T Delaney will return from his suspension for this game and hopefully their defender K Stadsgaard will also be available again.
Juventus will most likely give a rest to Barzagli, Vucinic and Asamoah. Ogbonna could start, probably Quagliarella as well. I can only picture the away win, but the odds are 100% hopeless.
Seems like many of ther top clubs have enjoyed inifferent, or close to indifferent starts to their league season. Benfica have done so and so this far, but they have won their two home fixtures, both 3-1. Would you believe Cardozo is still very much a Benfica player and I guess I will never see this great striker in the Premiership. Benfica look pretty much the same as last season.
Anderlecht are 5-0-2 in the Belgian league. M Suarez is once again their top scorer follwed by Bruno and Acheampong. Defender O Deschacht will be back from his suspension for this game and S Proto, their first choice keeper, will hopefully be available again.
Benfica usually win their home games against all teams outside the definite top category in Europe and I can make no case for the Belgians.
The much travelled striker J Saviola is now playing for Olympiakos mostly alongside K Mitroglou and the duo scored three goals for their club at the weekend. Olympiakos are 4-0-0 in the Greek league.
PSG played their first strong game of the season away to Bordeaux last week. Cavani and Lavezzi were bench players, but I expect both back in the starting line up tomorrow. J Menez will also be available again, but Pastore and Alex will be missing.Great odds on the away win.
"We are lethargic", words from the Bayern camp after their 2-0 win vs Hannover. Bayern won everything last season and who can blame them, if they play some indifferent football from time to time. They are still winning their games. B Schweinsteiger was on the bench against Hannover and he could be back for this game. J Martinez and Goetze are not yet available.
CSKA are topping the Russian league (6-2-0 this far). Dzagoev, their Russian international forward, is injured and we will probably see their new Brazilian winger Vitinho playing from the start in their midfield alongside Zuber and Honda, with Musa playing as their lone striker. Musa has scored five goals this season.
What can I say? We all, including the bookmakers, expect Bayern to be the winners.
With K Aguero, Dzeko, Fernandinho and J Navas on the bench MAN City played rather poorly again, away to Stoke and they were lucky drawing the match. It is just not working for Pellegrini and his City and it is a caUse for concern, now that it is time for the Champions League. Pellegrini was hired to succeed in Europe and now it all begins. There is some excellent news for City as V Kompany will most likely rejoin their squad for this match. D Silva remains on their injury list.
Viktoria Plzen are a respected team on the European circuit these days and they have started their domestic season in a convincing way. They had no problems at all knocking out Maribor in the play offs.
I would like to see an improved City display to actually start backing them, but that is why you will get this rather good price on the away win.
In Spain it is a two horse race for the title between Real Madrid and Barcelona, same thing in Germany with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund the only title contenders. In Italy Juventus remain in a class of their own and I would absolutely say that about PSG in France as well.
There is no doubt in my mind that the most competitive league in Europe is the Premier League and this season it is tougher than ever with three teams, Chelsea, Man United and Man City, absolute title contenders and they are all priced around 3.50 as league winners. I will not entirely rule out Arsenal of the discussion and the advantage with Arsenal is the odds, they are 12.00 to win the title. My winners, however, are Manchester City.
When they won the title two years ago their weakest link, in my opinion, was their coach Mancini. He is gone now and Pellegrini is a better coach and City have also strengthened their offensive artillery in an impressive way. Negredo, J Navas, Jovetic and Fernandinho are awesome signings. OK, Mancini had Balotelli at his disposal when they won the title, but at that time Balotelli was no way near his present status as a player.
Chelsea are a bit over rated, but that is down to the Mourinho factor. Benitez did a great job with Chelsea last season and Mourinho cannot be expected to do a better job than the Spaniard, at least not the way I see it. I admit, should Lukaku, on loan at WBA last season, live up 100% to expectations then Chelsea can go all the way, because the sky is the limit for a player like Lukaku. He has Drogba potential and A Schurrle is also a strong new Chelsea player. I get the feeling that Wayne Rooney wants to play for Mourinho and should he leave United for Chelsea, then I do not have to tell you that the Chelsea chances of winning the title will improve quite drastically.
United do not have a weaker squad than last season and they won the title in some style, did they not? There is the obvious change of course. Alex Ferguson is no longer around and I cannot really see Moyles enjoying instant success with his new side Man United. I expect one or two late signings for United. Fellaini could be one of them.
The fact is that the "soft" Arsenal toughened up considerably during the last third of the 2012-2013 season and I will not rule out Arsenal of the title discussion. The problem for this writer, being an Arsenal fan, is that I almost always expect them losing against the top three sides. They have yet to sign a top player and this will not do. Luis Suarez joining Arsenal? I doubt that the transfer will happen, but I do think that Wenger is the man who could make the egoistic Suarez a team player.
With or without Bale 41.00 is a massive price on the Tottenham league win, while I do not even consider 34.00 on Liverpool as title winners. I expect Bale to leave, but looking at the bright side, Spurs can buy four top class players for the Bale money. Well they have already bought the Spanish international striker R Soldado, Paulinho and Chadli as well.
It looks like Everton will be able to hang on to their prime assets, Fellaini and L Baines. New coach Martinez has brought Kone and Alcaraz with him from Wigan and Everton should enjoy a positive season. As good as last season? Maybe not, but absolutely a top ten position.
Too many new players, too many injuries or lack of managerial skills made Newcastle underachieve last season. They should be able to do better this time around, or coach Pardew will have to bear the blame.
Aston Villa have been able to hold on to their great striker Benteke and this young, talented side can only get better. I look forward to a successful Villa season.
I have had my doubts about Swansea this season, but I need not worry. It looks like coach Laudrup has hit the jackpot with his some of his new signings, like W Bony, J Shelvey and J Amat. At least they have already impressed hugely in a Europa League game.
Quite often in modern times the newcomers enjoy a fruitful first season in the Premiership, but this time it looks extremely grim for Crystal Palace and Hull, at least if you want to believe the many pundits and experts. In fact both are priced as low as 1.50-1.60 to be relegated and that is rare. I have to say that it looks hopeless for Palace ( no big signings and Zaha, their former star, is nowadays a United player and their top scorer G Murray remains on their injury list) but Bruce's Hull have at least done their best to strengthen their squad. Sagbo from Evian I like, Danny Graham joins from Sunderland, Figueroa has signed up and so on, but I admit, Hull also have the look of a Championship side. Cardiff? They have done two big deals, at least from the Cardiff perspective, as both S Caulker and A Cornelius have joined the club.
WBA have to manage without both Lukaku and Zoltan Gera this season and they have only signed the much travelled N Anelka and the veteran defender Lugano. I have my doubts and 10.00 on the WBA relegation could be tested.
No Grant Holt for Norwich, but in all fairness, he had a disappointing season last year. Instead Norwich have bought a couple of quite strong strikers, G Hooper and van Wolfswinkel, along with L Fer. They look like winners on the transfer market.
Giaccherini and Altidore strike me as excellent new Sunderland signings and I am not too worried about Di Canio's side this season. They should be OK, West Ham, Stoke and Southampton as well, although they have been rather inactive on the transfer scene.
I would not trust Fulham. They were no miles from getting sucked into the relegation dog fight last season and they looked surprisingly disinterested from time to time in their matches. It is one thing for Berbatov to play like that. So maybe Fulham and WBA could face some problems this season, or they will be saved by the poor standard of the newcomers.