A new season brings with it a new wave of expectation and for new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and his counterpart at West Brom Steve Clarke Saturday’s opener will be an early chance to show the fans that they are the men for the job.
The start of August is generally an optimistic time on Merseyside for Liverpool fans however the arrival of former Swansea boss Rodgers not to mention talk of smaller budgets and more realistic expectations from the owners means that a top six finish rather than a title challenge will be the aim of the new campaign.
West Bromwich meanwhile, like Liverpool, turned to youth in their search for a replacement for Roy Hodgson with former Clarke finally making the step up from coach to manager. A defender in his playing day, the former Chelsea coach should build on the defensive steel instilled by Hodgson and with a settled squad enhanced with some loan and free signings, a mid table finish will once again be the aim.
Summers signings Fabio Borini and Joe Allen look set to make the Premier League debuts for the club while Daniel Agger should feature despite the uncertainty over his future, which for now appears to be resolved.
Liverpool’s new look 4-3-3 could see Steven Gerrard deployed as a false “9” in an exciting front trio alongside Borini and Luis Suarez.
The return to fitness of Lucas represents a new signing of sorts for Rodgers and the Brazilian looks set to start in the middle of the field alongside Allen. Stewart Downing looks the most likely to complete the midfield trio although an impressive pre season from Jonjo Shelvey could force a late change in the managers thinking.
Downing also impressed in recent games and if included it could mean Borini, who has a tendency to come in from the left starting in a more central role with Gerrard behind him and Suarez roaming on the right.
Clarke meanwhile could opt for a new look front line with on loan Chelsea star Romelu Lukaku and Markus Rosenberg in his squad although it is likely that the former Liverpool coach will opt for the pace of Shane Long alongside either the burly Lukaku or last season’s first choice Peter Odemwingie.
Clarke has also invested in another forward option with 22 year old Yassine El Ghanassy also joining the club however the permanent capture of keeper Ben Foster could be the best bit of business that Albion did. The former United stopper impressed last season on loan at the Hawthorns and with his future now resolved he will be keen to push on.
Prediction: Liverpool will be keen to start the new Rodgers era with a win and in reality these will be the games on which he is judged. Rodgers won 2-1 at the Hawthorns last season with Swansea while Liverpool claimed a 2-0 win last October at the same venue and the Northern Irish manager will be happy with either result.
The opening weekend of the season can often prove difficult for WBA with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all winning in recent seasons but despite the history Clarke will be hoping he can spring a surprise on his old employers.
Probable Starting Lineup : Foster; Reid, Tamas, Dawson, McAuley; Brunt, Mulumbu, Morrison, Ridgewell; Long, Odemwingie
Probable Starting Lineup : Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Allen, Downing; Borini, Gerrard, Suarez