UK: 2010-11 Leagues Preview
Football is well and truly coming home this weekend with each of the individual championships up and running in the British Isles. The Carling Premiership in Northern Ireland is already seven days old whilst its equivalents in England, Scotland and Wales all look forward to the big kick-off. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the weekend’s action.
Many pundits are predicting that this could be one of the most open Barclays Premiership titles ever with a multitude of teams catching up to those clubs who have graced the top of the league for many years, namely Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. West Londoners Chelsea, who won their fourth English title in 2009-10, have what appears to be an easy start on paper at home to newly promoted West Brom. Manchester United, who were denied a history-making fourth consecutive Premiership title by a solitary point last season, also start off against a club who have risen from the Championship (i.e. 2nd tier), namely Newcastle United. Amongst the usual suspects Arsenal have the toughest start playing against a Liverpool side who are under the stewardship of former Fulham boss Roy Hodgson and hope to challenge for the title again after a dreadful campaign last term. Amongst the other title hopefuls there is an intriging first match of the weekend when Tottenham Hotspur, buoyed by last season’s fourth place finish, meet Manchester City in the 12:45 kick-off at White Hart Lane on Saturday. Everton hope to get off to a good start but will have their work cut out away at Blackburn Rovers whilst Aston Villa, still getting used to life after Martin O’Neill after the Irishman surprisingly handed in his resignation last week, face off against West Ham United. In games affecting the predicted strugglers Blackpool FC start life in their first ever Premier League with a home tie against Wigan Athletic, Sunderland meet Birmingham City, Wolverhampton Wanderers play Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers meet Fulham FC.
Having won a record extending 53rd domestic championship last season Glasgow Rangers are under even more pressure to lift the trophy again after a very limited transfer market for the Ibrox club this time. With money scarce not just in the blue half of Glasgow but throughout the league most teams haven’t spent heavily on new recruits this time around. The only exception are Glasgow Celtic under new coach Neil Lennon and the Bhoys open up this weekend’s action in the the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League with an away tie at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who return to the SPL after a twelve month absence. Champions Rangers have a home tie against Kilmarnock at Ibrox Park where the traditional unfurling of the championship flag will take place before kick-off. Dundee United, for whom Peter Houston enjoys his first full season in charge after taking over from Craig Levein midway through last season, hope to keep up momentum following a successful 2009-10 season with an away win against St Mirren. The usual wannabes such as Heart of Midlothian, Hibernian and Aberdeen will start afresh and will hope for winning starts against St Johnstone, Motherwell and Hamilton Academicals respectively. Once again the Scottish Premier League has maintained the “split league” system whereby after 33 matches the league splits into two halves of six teams each, with teams playing every other team in their section once.
The Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League, to give it its full name, resumes this season with just twelve teams (reduced from eighteen) after the clubs voted to restructure the league in order to increase the quality of the competition and to provide a new criteria which aspirant clubs should adhere to if they wish to play in the Welsh Premier League in the future. Rhyl FC, Welsh Premier League champions in 2004 and 2009, were the biggest name casualities of the restructure as their stadium didn’t meet up to requirements and, thus, have been demoted to the Cymru Alliance which forms a new second tier of football in the principality. As a result of the restructure teams will play each other twice before the league splits for the top six and bottom six. The teams in each section will then play each other twice again to determine championship and relegation issues. This weekend sees The New Saints, who claimed their fifth title last term, get the new season under way on Friday night with a home tie against Prestatyn Town. Llanelli, runners-up in the last two seasons, begin away at Airbus UK Broughton whilst Bangor City, another team who hope to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, entertain Neath FC. Three more games make up this weekend’s opening round with Haverfordwest v Newtown, Carmarthen v Aberystwyth and Port Talbot, third in last season’s title race, facing off against Bala Town.
The new Carling Premiership began last weekend in Northern Ireland with champions Linfield FC hoping to claim their 50th league championship this season but they got off to a goalless start last weekend only able to muster a 0-0 draw at home to Ballymena United and will hope to improve on that by beating Dungannon Swifts on Saturday. Glentoran, who last won the title in 2009, are hoping to reclaim the Premiership trophy and made a fantastic start to the new campaign with a 6-1 demolition of Lisburn Distellery in the opening round of games and will hope to keep up momentum at home to Coleraine this weekend. Two teams who didn’t get play last weekend get their new seasons under way with Portadown away at Glenavon on Friday and Cliftonville starting away at Newry with Cliftonville a good outside bet for the title after they finished five points behind Linfield in the championship race last season. In the other games this weekend Ballymena United play at home to Donegal Celtic and Crusaders, who won their opening match last weekend, at home to Lisburn Distillery. The Northern Ireland championship takes on a similar “split league” system as that in Scotland with twelve teams playing each other three times before they split into two groups of six.