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The annual curtain raiser for the premier league season has delightfully come around once again. However, no sports fan could claim that they’ve been deprived over the summer with the Olympics and the European Championships providing some genuine moments of jubilation. Nevertheless, it’s still fair to say that watching Sergio Aguero drive in City’s winner on the final day of the season created an emotion that only the Premier League can provide.
Aguero will be looking to start his campaign the way he sealed last year’s, and what better place to kick things off in a tasty encounter against a Chelsea side that has a fresh zing to it.
Although Marko Marin and Oscar will be unavailable due to injury and the Olympics respectively, Chelsea fans can still lick their lips at the thought of seeing Eden Hazard line up for the first time. The Belgian is certainly a class act and despite the term being bandied around far too often, the young man does have world-class potential. Both Manchester clubs chased him, but Chelsea was his preferred destination because, as he hinted through his Twitter account, they won the Champions League. This will be the first time that many fans have seen Chelsea in action since that famous comeback in Munich and Di Matteo will be eager to ensure that his side can emulate the sort of togetherness and spirit that they showed on that historic night.
Di Matteo’s biggest concern when he scribbles out the team sheet for Sunday’s clash will be not including Didier Drogba, the talismanic centre-forward who moved on from Stamford Bridge this summer. Every opposition fan can recount the havoc that the Ivorian icon wreaks throughout a season, and his equaliser in that Champions League final win epitomises the raw desire that Chelsea will not be able to replace in a summer shopping spree. In his place will be Fernando Torres; the Spaniard finally has a bit of breathing room at the club and he should begin to relax. If he could reproduce the form he found in his heyday at Liverpool, then Chelsea will suddenly have an illustrious backbone similar to the one that saw Mourinho prance his way to successive titles. Torres clearly has lacked confidence and he will look for a strong performance at Villa Park to blast away any pre-season jitters that will be lurking.
As for the League champions, they will simply be looking to use the game as a final stepping stone in their journey to the new season. Mancini’s men will not need reminding that slip-ups are simply unacceptable if you want to legitimately challenge for titles, so they need to start on the right note. Mancini will be missing Barry and Richards who are both injured, whilst Balotelli and Silva will only have enough energy to make a substitutes appearance, having joined pre-season a mere week ago. Mancini has been infuriated by his director’s inability to secure him a stellar summer signing, as he would have been able in this friendly match to ease such a player into his squad. Mancini does “not think” that Robin Van Persie will make a hotly anticipated move from Arsenal, whilst Daniel Agger has been rumoured to have caught the eye of Mancini yet he has been unable to snatch the defender out of the iron grip of the determined Brendan Rogers. However, his first priority must be to record a convincing win to boost his side just before the Premier League rolls back into town.
Raffi Salama, football correspondent