Depleted Man Utd set to launch new season against Swansea

Tom Williams

London (AFP) - Unheralded youngsters Tyler Blackett and Reece James were among the players hoping to feature for injury-ravaged Manchester United in their Premier League opener at home to Swansea City on Saturday.

United launch the 2014-15 campaign against the Welsh side, in what will be Louis van Gaal's first competitive game as manager and Wayne Rooney's first competitive game as captain.

The winds of change have swept through Old Trafford since last season's dismal seventh-place finish, but hopes of a strong start to the campaign have been jeopardised by a raft of injuries.

Striker Robin van Persie is still short of fitness after his exertions under Van Gaal with Holland at the World Cup, while Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and new signing Luke Shaw are all out.

Neither Blackett nor James, both of whom are 20, have ever played a competitive game for United, but despite Shaw's absence, Van Gaal does not believe that his side will have problems at left-back.

"I don't think so," the Dutchman said when asked if it was an area of concern.

"We have played in the USA (during pre-season) with Ashley Young and Reece James in that position, so that position is very well-covered."

Later on Saturday, last season's FA Cup winners Arsenal will launch their assault on the Premier League title at home to Crystal Palace, who parted company with manager Tony Pulis on Friday.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who saw his side outclass league champions Manchester City 3-0 in the Community Shield last week, is expected to hand a competitive debut to star signing Alexis Sanchez.

However, Arsenal will be without their German World Cup-winning trio of Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski, and Wenger is worried that the start of the season has come too soon for his side.

"We are a bit short in our preparation," said the Frenchman.

"We had 11 players at the World Cup. Many of them had longer holidays after that. We could have done with one week later, with all the competitions."

- Hart faces Caballero battle -

With Pulis having left Palace after a reported disagreement with co-chairman Steve Parish, assistant manager Steve Parish will be in temporary charge for the trip to the Emirates Stadium.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Championship winners Leicester City will play their first top-flight game since 2004 when they host Everton, while fellow promoted side Queens Park Rangers welcome Hull City to Loftus Road.

In the day's other games, Alan Irvine begins his career as West Bromwich Albion manager at home to Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur visit London rivals West Ham United, and Stoke City host Aston Villa.

Saturday's games will witness the first usage of vanishing spray -- used by referees to police distances at free-kicks -- in the English top division.

Manchester City begin their title defence at Newcastle United on Sunday, with manager Manuel Pellegrini refusing to reveal who will start in goal for the champions.

New signing Willy Caballero played in the Community Shield loss to Arsenal and Pellegrini hinted that the Argentine's superior fitness gave him the edge over last season's number one, Joe Hart.

"Willy Caballero played in the Community Shield because he worked for around 33 days in pre-season and Joe Hart just seven or eight days," said the Chilean.

"For me it is exactly the same as all the other positions of the team. It is very important for the team to have two good players in every position and then we see every week which player starts every game."

Liverpool, who narrowly lost out to City in last season's title race, begin the season on Sunday at home to Southampton, who saw Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren all leave for Anfield in the close season.

Lallana will miss the reunion with his former club due to a knee injury, but Lambert and Lovren are both in contention to feature in what will be Liverpool's first competitive game since the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona.

Chelsea, meanwhile, are expected to hand competitive debuts to new signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas when they visit the third promoted team, Burnley, on Monday.


Saturday (1400 GMT unless stated)

Arsenal v Crystal Palace (1630 GMT), Leicester City v Everton, Manchester United v Swansea City (1145 GMT), Queens Park Rangers v Hull City, Stoke City v Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland, West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur


Liverpool v Southampton (1230 GMT), Newcastle United v Manchester City (1500 GMT)

Monday (1900 GMT)

Burnley v Chelsea