Burnley v Manchester United, Premier League, August 19, 2009
What a way for the 72,000 inhabitants of Burnley to welcome the return of Premier League football to Turf Moor. On Wednesday night Burnley will kick off their first home match after a 33-year top flight absence by playing host to the reigning champions, and local neighbours, Manchester United.
Last season was sprinkled with positives for Burnley. Up-and-coming manager Owen Coyle, having successfully guided the Clarets out of the ChampionshipÂ via the play-offs, also managed to suggest that the newbies can hold their own with the Premier League big-boys after beating Fulham, Chelsea and Arsenal on their way to the Carling Cup semi-finals, where they eventually lost to Spurs in extra-time.
The opening day of the 2009/10 season showed though that the next ten months will be a constant battle for survival for the minnows. Stoke ran out 2-nil winners at the Britannia Stadium, but it was the porous nature of the Burnley defence – a backline which conceded 60 goals in the 46 games last season – which was all too plain to see.
In attack, the Clarets will look to Robbie Blake and Martin Peterson against United, however with the pair only managing to score 20 goals all-together last term, it may yet be a while before either man break their duck in the top flight. Also looking to open his account is new Â£3m signing Steven Fletcher – the 22-year-old former Hibs striker who has four Scotland caps joined Burnley in the summer after scoring 52 goals 190 appearances at Easter Road.
Elsewhere, there are some familiar faces for United fans in Burnley’s squad with Chris Eagles lining up in midfield and Richard Eckersley mooted for a debut after sealing his switch from the Red Devils.
While Burnley’s goal-threat is minimal, much like Birmingham proved at Old Trafford, as long as Coyle’s charges are willing to run-hard and invest bucket-loads of energy in chasing shadows, United’s task on the night will be far from smooth-sailing.
The champions already have three points on the board, but they also have a series of selection headaches to boot. At the back Sir Alex will likely be without the services of Van der Sar, Jonny Evans, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and Nemanja Vidic, although on the positives Ben Foster looked to have brushed aside his less-than-perfect performance in the Community Shield, while Wes Brown has returned to the United first team.
Having failed to impress in the season opener, both Dimitar Berbatov and Luis Nani could find themselves benched in favour of Michael Owen and Park Ji-sung respectively. Antonio Valencia should get another chance to impress down the right-hand side, while two out of Carrick, Anderson Fletcher, Scholes and Giggs will claim the final two places in the centre of the pitch.
All eyes though will remainÂ fixed on Wayne Rooney as the champions leading marksman.
101predicts: Burnley 0 – Manchester United 2 (9/2)
Full match odds here.