GW 1 – Ones to Watch

Matt: Hello and welcome to a brand new season of The Ultimate Goals, we’re very pleased to have you with us and be back doing what we do best…….bringing an added element of drama and excitement to your weekend and giving you some top tips to help you try to claim that coveted Perfect 7 jackpot (ok maybe “top tips” isn’t entirely true judging by some of the ones we served up last season!!) Football can be crazy at times though and the unpredictability of this game can’t be underestimated, but as ever we’ll do our best to bring as many goals/points to the table as we can. On that note, I’ll hand over to Ally for his opening weekend picks, good luck to you all in GW 1 and indeed throughout the 2020/21 season.

Ally: It’s always a little tricky in the early stages of the season to pick out some non-obvious picks (I’m talking the likes of Rangers, Celtic, Liverpool & Man City here to name a few!) as the off-season invariably brings about changes in personnel, and there is no recent form save for a few meaningless pre-season friendlies. My first tip though is no stranger to these pages, as Arsenal take on Premier League new boys Fulham in a lunchtime clash at Craven Cottage.

The fact it is a London derby, an early kick-off (COTEKO anyone?) and the fact the hosts will be dead keen to make a positive start coupled with Arsenal’s less than impressive away form in recent seasons all suggest this is a potential banana skin. However, since Mikel Arteta took charge early in 2020, the Gunners are starting to show more resilience and an ability to grind out results where they would previously have rolled over as evidenced by their FA Cup semi- and Final victories. It also helps when you have a talented squad at your disposal, and Arsenal have that in spades with attacking talent like the mercurial Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, supported by Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and new signing Willian, plus upcoming youngsters like recent England cap Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka.

Fulham meanwhile were the last team to secure a coveted spot in the Premier League, sealing promotion in the play off final over London rivals Brentford. They play a less expansive game now under new coach Scott Parker than previous incumbents like Slavisa Jokanovic, but arguably it is more effective and they certainly seem more well organised defensively. Arsenal will surely be eyeing Saturday’s game as an ideal opportunity to register 3 early points as they bid to improve on last season’s disappointing 8th place finish, and if Aubameyang and co fire then the Cottagers could be in for a difficult afternoon on their return to the big time.

I’m heading down to the Championship for my second pick, arguably the most competitive league in Europe with so many teams capable of beating each other, and by default one of the most unpredictable. The tie that has caught my eye is Norwich City’s trip to Huddersfield. The Canaries were relegated after finishing bottom of the Premier League last term after just one season back in the big time. To date, they have managed to keep most of that squad in tact, which in turn was largely the title-winning squad that got them promoted in the first place. Star striker Teemu Pukki scored 29 goals in that season, and a respectable 11 in the Premiership. He has been joined by fellow striker Jordan Hugill who has proven Championship quality at Preston and QPR sandwiched between an unhappy spell at West Ham. Throw in the likes of highly rated Todd Cantwell and you can see why the Canaries are expected to mount a strong challenge to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Huddersfield represent something of an unknown, having struggled badly last season after relegation from the Premiership in 2018/19. The highly rated Cowley brothers couldn’t steady the ship and were replaced by unknown Carlos Corberan, part of Marcelo Bielsa’s backroom set up at Leeds. Whether he can transition from coach to manager and galvanise a Terriers team that has got used to losing for two seasons remains to be seen, and as opening games go they don’t get much tougher than this.

Good luck with your selections.