Manchester City begin their bid to regain the Premier League title with a potentially tricky away trip to the Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion.
Tony Pulis wasted little time in stamping his mark on the Baggies after arriving at the turn of the year, turning a side which looked like candidates for relegation into one that ended comfortably in mid-table, well clear of safety. He begins a season in charge of a club for the first time in three years, and his presence alone has ensured that very few expect Albion’s Premier League status to be in doubt come May.
They have had a strong pre-season, and have made key signings at both ends of the pitch. Welsh international defender James Chester cost £8m from Hull City and adds to what is already a side with four strong centre-backs, while Rickie Lambert provides even more strength in a frontline comprising the likes of Victor Anichebe and Brown Ideye. However, the man to watch is still Saido Berahino, who they will hope to keep hold of beyond the transfer deadline.
Given the hosts’ clean sheet record over the second half of last season, they can be expected to make life tough for Man City, who took the arguably surprising step of handing manager Manuel Pellegrini a new contract on Friday. Failing to win any silverware last season meant that he was widely expected to leave in the summer, but if he can return the club to anything like their free-scoring selves of the 2013-14 title winning season, his stock will rise again.
Central to achieving that is Sergio Aguero, one of the best finishers the Premier League has seen. Keeping the Argentine fit will be essential, and he can always rely on David Silva to provide him with the ammunition by picking out the perfect pass. But many eyes will be cast upon Raheem Sterling, who is now the most expensive English player of all time after joining for £49m from Liverpool to end a long-running transfer saga. He is under pressure to perform right away.
Recent loan signing Serge Gnabry will not feature for West Brom, who also have doubts over Joleon Lescott, but James McClean could his debut after signing from Wigan Athletic.
Gael Clichy is missing for Man City with an ankle injury and sits the game out along with new boy Fabian Delph, who picked up a hamstring problem during a pre-season friendly.
Last Meeting: This encounter is likely to be a lot tighter than when Man City went three goals up after 34 minutes on Boxing Day 2014. Fernando scored his first goal for the club from close range to break the deadlock, with a Yaya Toure penalty and David Silva’s low shot giving the defending champions an unassailable lead. Brown Ideye netted a consolation late on to make the final score 3-1.
Played for both – Georgios Samaras: The Greek striker was brought to Man City for £6m by Stuart Pearce in 2006, but soon found himself the target for criticism from supporters who did not warm to his style of play. After eight goals in 53 Premier League outings he left for Celtic, where he spent six years until moving to West Brom in 2014. However, he struggled for fitness and made just five league appearances.
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