West Ham United v Manchester City

Hello. Is it that time already?

Welcome to the new season then. And in one of the more predictable moves by the people who programme the computers that govern our fixtures, we have been drawn to play Manchester City at home on the opening day of the season.

This means that we have now got the full set of opening fixtures against the sides that usually occupy the top six slots over the past six years. The odds on that happening randomly are rather remote I am advised by Walter, the emeritus Professor Of Difficult Sums formerly of the Redknapp College Of Taxation who has recently taken residence here at the rest home.

Kick-off is at 12:30pm on Saturday 10 August, which causes your correspondent no end of a problem.

In a move that is in no way an attempt to launder some of the less conventional sources of income accruing to the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For the Bewildered, Daisy the work experience girl with the beautiful smile has been appointed as full-time personal assistant to your correspondent on a salary that will be both undisclosed and, probably, unpaid.

One of her first duties was to book us a holiday. However, due to a spot of miscommunication on her part we will be forced to watch the game from an air conditioned bar with a cold one. Things being what they are much of this has been written in advance meaning that the Editor may have to do some editing if we or they buy/sell anyone in the couple of weeks before the season starts. Serves him right.

One thing that I can predict is the fact that there will be no C2C trains coming into Stratford on the day of the match, those being diverted into Fenchurch Street due to Engineering works. Change at West Ham for the Jubilee if you like. Check before you leave and all that.

So Manchester City then. When the fixtures were announced back in June you might have thought the BBC Football page on its website might have headlined with the news of how the champions were to commence their defence of the title. You'd have been wrong.

It was instead all about Liverpool who, lest we forget, despite profiting from record numbers of refereeing 'mistakes', only finished second. It was a case of "in other news, Man City are away at West Ham" as an afterthought, despite them picking up a hitherto unprecedented domestic treble. It seems that the broadcast media are determined to continue to wave the flag for all things Scouse.

It's not been all wine and roses up there of course. As last season ended, UEFA announced that the results of their latest investigations into alleged breaches of FFP rules had been referred to their adjudicators.

A quick refresher: In order to keep clubs on the financial straight and narrow, the rules say that clubs can only increase spending by a certain percentage each year as a result of money pumped in by the owners. Any increase over that set percentage has to be funded by commercial activities, including sponsorship.

In City's case, they are owned by Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, which also controls the club's main sponsors, such as Etihad. With a human rights record that is somewhat iffy to say the least the rulers have no problem with jailing and torturing opponents, so it would be a brave, if not suicidal, commercial director of the state airline to query an instruction to sponsor a football club in NW England.

It is this disguising of ownership investment that has got UEFA's knickers in a twist. City have appealed against the referral but that appeal isn't likely to be successful as the rules only provide for appeals against the adjudicator's decision itself rather than the referral.

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It's not the first time they have been up before the beak - about five years ago they had a slapped wrist for similar offences, UEFA's reluctance to follow through with the full force of the punishments available to them being attributed to threats on the part of City's then legal team to bankrupt UEFA in legal fees.

UEFA seem a bit more determined to see justice served this time around however and the potential punishments include a ban from European football as well as transfer bans and financial penalties. We await the verdict with interest.

Daisy, one's personal assistant with the beautiful smile, informs me that at the time of writing, the biggest fee paid out thus far was the ?62.8million that found its way from an oil well in the Middle East into the coffers of Atletico Madrid. In return for Rodri. That figure represents a club record for the Citizens - clearly a case of spending while they still have the chance.

The signing of Rodrigo (to give him his full first name) means that they have both Rodrigo y Gabriel on the books which will mean supporters will have acoustic guitar pyrotechnics to look forward to during the VAR delays.

They brought in a squad goalkeeper in the form of Zackary "Zack" Steffen who realised a fee of ?7million when coming in from Columbus Crew. He didn't hang around long and may not even have cleared immigration on his way on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf. It is in the nature of American sports teams that they often have seriously daft names and, in Maryland Terrapins and Pittsburgh Riverhounds our Zack has a couple of corkers on his CV.

They brought in a new left back in the form of Angelino. Actually he's not that new really. He first signed for City back in 2014 having spent some time in their youth set-up after arriving spent six years working through Deportivo La Corunna's youth system.

In his original four years in Manchester he failed to make a first XI appearance and, after a string of loan spells, he signed a five-year deal with PSV. That five-year spell lasted all of one season as City activated a buy-back clause to bring the player back to Manchester.

Of course when you have the resources of a country, Academy graduates tend to be a bit thin on the ground. As Baroness Brady is reported to have said at Birmingham when trying to defend the abolition of the youth set up "if I want baked beans I don't grow them, I buy them from the supermarket".

Whilst that sort of statement is shorter-sighted than an English referee when you are talking about the likes of Birmingham, who need to develop and sell on youth to survive, it's more of a valid business model for the oil-financed mega-rich. This doesn't necessarily mean that nobody ever comes through though.

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Phil Foden is the current jewel in that crown. Foden was part of the England Under 21 squad that disappointed so much this summer, though to be fair to the lad he was one of the brighter prospects on display. Last season was a breakthrough season for the youngster and if they ever get around to finally doing something about their breaches of FFP they will need to start bringing players through to alleviate the effects of any transfer ban that might come their way.

And so to West Ham. We bid welcome to a number of new players, of course.

First cab off the rank was Spanish midfielder Pablo Fornals. Although part of the Under 21 squad that won the Eurothing this summer he is in fact 23 (it's how old you are at the start of the two-year tournament cycle that counts apparently) and he does in fact have two full caps for the Spanish. ?24million was the cost of bringing him in from Villareal. He did show some good touches in that Under 21 tournament, which is encouraging.

We also brought in a pair of 'keepers as back up for Fab who was extraordinarily good for us last term. In comes Roberto to replace the departing Adrian - a splendid fellow who departs with the best wishes of all around here. Roberto, another Spaniard, arrives on a free having spent his career with a number of different clubs on the Iberian peninsula, with a spell in Greece with Olympiacos thrown in to add some Mezze to the all-tapas diet.

Understudying Roberto will be David "Son Of Stretch" Martin who arrives on another freebie from the inbreeding facility known as Millwall. Martin actually had a spell in the youth team with us years ago and the scariest thing about the whole deal is that, for those of us who can remember a certain Scouse centre half making his debut back in the late 1970s, Alvin's son is actually 33! Martin's arrival has enabled young Nathan Trott to head over to AFC Wimbledon for some first XI experience.

After the usual transfer debacle which saw our already slim chances of signing Maxi Gomez hit by David Sullivan's insistence that the fee be paid over a 300-year period with the final payment due only after Brexit is concluded, we turned our attentions to Sebastian Haller.

I was worried at first - I mean as fine as he was for West Germany in the '66 World Cup (one of the two players to score in that final who weren't on our books at the time) that was 53 years ago and surely he would have lost a bit of pace by now?

Thankfully Daisy was able to put me right by pointing out that it was Sebastien Haller we had purchased rather than the sadly late and departed Helmut. Seb will of course come in as a replacement for Marko Arnautovic who isn't a splendid fellow and departs without the best wishes of anyone - especially the staff at Winstone's the Turf Accountants who would like a quiet word if anyone has his address in China.

Apart from changes on the team front we are also going to see the introduction of VAR. Which, in the case of English football is the equivalent of trying to cure a six-inch artery-severing gash in one leg by placing a used plaster on a scratch on the other.

On the face of it, at a time when the standards of refereeing in this country continue on their sadly predictable downward spiral one might have thought that the introduction of a system to correct errors and curb the deliberate efforts of some to become the focus of attention might be considered a good idea.

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However, given the extraordinary lengths that PGMOL goes to protecting its members at the expense of improving things, is anyone going to really be surprised when the referees in the bunker turn a blind eye to their mates' errors? Especially when next week they will be the ones out on the pitch with their pals holed up in the bunker.

To all that you can throw in the FA's reluctance to punish certain clubs for their misdemeanours. Last year when Mo Salah dived against Newcastle the FA's statement that the minimal contact that Salah may have experienced meant their go against the laws of the game prevented them from acting was gob-smackingly wrong.

Firstly there is no such "rule". Secondly, even if such a rule existed it would actually contradict the laws of the game that require any contact to actually impede the player. If only they would apply that law once in a while.

As mentioned, this is being prepared well in advance of the match itself so it's impossible for me to make much of a guess as to how the teams will line-up. I mean it hasn't even been decided yet which of our players will pick-up a pre-season year-ending injury year. And there's always one of those. And there's always at least one of those.

Similarly, there is an inherent difficulty in coming up with a prediction. There are certain constants that we can factor in. The pre-season trip to China proved that English referees are as useless as ever.

Craig Pawson happily waved play on when Ryan Fredericks was upended and as for the penalty that was given, well call me old-fashioned but even if you are going to find favour for the likes of City it's surely traditional to at least let the diving player actually hit the ground before gleefully awarding a bent spot-kick. They will continue to get the rub of every dodgy decision going which will make this opening fixture even more tricky.

Trying to get some idea of form from pre-season fixtures is about as useful an exercise as trying to ascertain next week's lottery numbers by a careful study of the phone book. If you must take something from the China match it should be that we weren't looking too bad until Pawson took exception to the fact that we were leading. There are four or five new players to fit into that squad and who can tell what effect that will have on things.

However, despite the uncertainty I am charged with providing a prediction and overall the fact that they are owned by a country and can (for the time being) hoover up quality players for fun means that they are likely to win.

So, I will be placing the 17.56 Turkish Lira that would have gone on a pint of Efe's Pilsner in my Mediterranean hideaway on a 3-1 away win just as soon as Daisy, the personal assistant with the beautiful smile can find out where the Turkish equivalent of Winstones The Turf Accountant is.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At The Olympic: Lost 0-4 (Premier League, November 2018)

Bizarrely this wasn't as one-sided as the game up at their place that we lost 1-0 thanks to a dodgy penalty. This game was pretty much done by half-time with Silva, Sterling and Sane giving them the lead at the interval. We had chances in the second half, including Antonio hitting the post and Sane's second in the fifth minute of stoppage gave the match a score that, on Guardiola's own admission, slightly flattered the visitors.

Referee: Mike Dean

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I have no idea which muppet will be in charge at this early point in proceedings. It tends not to make a difference. [Editor's note: it's probably just as well Dean's appointment was announced after Percy fled, sorry, left the country, given his particular dislike for the errant official in question]

Danger Man: Raheem Sterling

It's a bit "Take Your Pick" with this lot really. Sterling seems to have been elevated to some sort of sainthood by the press, so we will go with him for the time being.

Percy's Poser

Yes it's back. Still as popular as ever (i.e. not at all popular) it's our weekly teaser based on stuff happening in the opposition's manor.

If nothing else it's an excuse to visit the often (and usually unintentionally) hilarious world of the local newspaper. This week we are indebted to the Manchester Evening News for a particularly splendid example of the "dumb crime" genre of local newspaper reporting from which we have removed some of the words as follows:

Mum calls police to frame neighbour but forgets to XXXX XX.

Best of luck with that one!

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