Five key figures on Premier League opening day

Ahead of today's opening round of Premier League fixtures, Sports Mole takes a look at five men who could have a decisive say for their respective teams.

There are few more exciting days for football fans than the advent of a new Premier League season, and that day is once again upon us as the 2014-15 campaign gets underway this afternoon.

A number of new faces will grace the league widely regarded as the best in the world, while many familiar ones will also return to improve upon their displays last season.

The league can certainly not be won or lost on the opening day, but the importance of getting off to a good start should not be understated.

With that in mind, Sports Mole has picked out five men who could have a decisive say on how this afternoon goes for their respective clubs.



1. Louis van Gaal (Manchester United)

Manchester United's newly-appointed Dutch manager Louis van Gaal poses for pictures with retired English footballer Sir Bobby Charlton during a photocall at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England on July 17, 2014© Getty Images

It is fair to say that last season was a bit of a disaster for Manchester United. The club struggled badly without the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson as David Moyes failed to fill the significant void left by his fellow Scot.

The result of that was a seventh-place finish and no European football at Old Trafford this season. However, they have still been able to entice Louis van Gaal to the club, and the former Netherlands manager has brought with him a renewed buzz and excitement.

If there were question marks over Moyes's ability to handle a club the size of United, there are no such doubts over Van Gaal. The 63-year-old has taken charge of the likes of Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich during his illustrious career, carving out a CV that few can match.

Transfer dealings have not quite gone as planned so far, but that is likely to be the only similarity to last season. United are expected to once again challenge for a place in the top four, and will look to get off to a good start in today's early kickoff as they host Swansea City.

Moyes began his reign with a comfortable 4-1 victory over the same opponent, but comparisons are unlikely to be drawn should Van Gaal oversee a similarly commanding win. If United can get off to a strong start and look good in what is expected to be a new system, then optimism will be high for the remainder of the campaign.



2. Wilfried Bony (Swansea City)

Wilfried Bony of Swansea City celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Swansea City at Emirates Stadium on March 25, 2014© Getty Images

Despite a large amount of interest in his services over the summer, Wilfried Bony remains a Swansea City player on the opening day of the Premier League season. There is no doubt that he was their key man last season, and the same looks to be the case this time around.

The Swans have been tipped by many to be embroiled in the relegation battle this season, with questions being raised over inexperienced manager Garry Monk, and a trip to Old Trafford on the opening day of the campaign is certainly not the easiest start for the South Wales outfit.

However, while Van Gaal's arrival at United has lifted some of the gloom surrounding the club, there are still doubts around the hosts' defence going into today's early kickoff. It will be a new-look backline with experienced campaigners Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra all leaving this summer, and Bony will look to take advantage of that.

Having been the lone striker for much of last season thanks to Michu's injury, Bafetimbi Gomis should provide more support for the Ivorian this time around, and that could mean even more trouble for the league's defences.

Bony netted 25 goals in all competitions last season, 16 of which came in the league, and a similar return this time around could be enough to save them from the drop. One thing is for certain - a shock victory at Old Trafford today would substantially alter the mood around both clubs.



3. Romelu Lukaku (Everton)

Everton's Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Southampton during their Premier League match on December 29, 2013© Getty Images

Romelu Lukaku increased his burgeoning reputation as one of the brightest young talents in the Premier League with a highly successful loan spell at Goodison Park last season.

Indeed, his 15 league goals were enough for Everton manager Roberto Martinez to part with a club-record fee of £28m to bring him to Merseyside from Chelsea on a permanent basis.

The Belgian did not enjoy a great World Cup this summer, but arrives at his 'new' club very familiar with the surroundings, meaning that he won't need any bedding-in period, as many new signings do.

Everton travel to the King Power Stadium to take on newly-promoted Leicester City today, and although last season's Championship winners will provide a tough test, it is a match the Toffees are expected to win.

Lukaku is likely to be key to any success they do achieve both this afternoon and for the season as a whole as Martinez looks to go one better this year and guide the club into the Champions League. A good start today would set them up nicely for what is expected to be a highly competitive battle for the top four.



4. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez leaps over Man City's Matija Nastasic during the Community Shield on August 10, 2014© Getty Images

After years of frustrating Arsenal fans with his unwillingness to spend big, Arsene Wenger has finally begun to loosen the purse strings. Last summer he brought in Mesut Ozil for a club-record fee, and he followed suit this year with the £35m signing of Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona.

The Chile winger was one of the star performers of the World Cup this summer, and comes to the Emirates Stadium as a genuine world-class player - the type of which the Gunners have struggled to attract at times, often relying on Wenger to mould them into top talents.

The excitement around Arsenal is palpable as fans look forward to seeing their new signing link up with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Ozil and Jack Wilshere in what promises to be an exciting midfield.

Sanchez is also capable of playing as a striker when Olivier Giroud is unavailable or struggling for form, going some way to answering questions over whether the Gunners have a strong enough strikeforce to really challenge for the title.

Wenger's side spent more than twice as long as any other at the top of the table last term without ever really looking like realistic champions, but they have improved once more this summer and will be looking to get off to a good start in the late kickoff against Crystal Palace.

If Sanchez can get off to a good start, Ramsey can stay fit and Ozil can rediscover his Real Madrid form, then there is no reason that Arsenal can't launch a serious title bid this time around.



5. Keith Millen (Crystal Palace)

Caretaker manager Keith Millen of Crystal Palace looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Everton at Selhurst Park on November 9, 2013© Getty Images

It is safe to say that Crystal Palace's preparation for the new season has not been ideal. Having been huge favourites to go down last year, particularly after their woeful start, they ended up surviving comfortably under the excellent stewardship of Tony Pulis.

Yet, just two days before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, Pulis left the club by mutual consent due to what is thought to be a disagreement over transfer policy. Suddenly, Palace seem to have plummeted in the predicted tables, with many now tipping them for the drop.

It is certainly a huge blow for the Eagles, who relied on a Pulis-inspired sturdy defence to fly up the table in the second half of last season.

Keith Millen is the man who will take the reins for the opening game of the season - a daunting away trip to the Emirates - and his side's chances will hinge on whether he can instil the same defensive tactics that proved so successful last season.

That goes for the year as a whole as Palace are now left looking for a manager who can carry on Pulis's good work. Considering the trouble they had in finding someone to take the job after Ian Holloway's exit last term, that may be tough.

Manchester United's newly-appointed Dutch manager Louis van Gaal poses for pictures with retired English footballer Sir Bobby Charlton during a photocall at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England on July 17, 2014
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