Chelsea to kick off against WBA

LONDON - Champions Chelsea will kick off their title defence at home to promoted West Bromwich Albion on August 14, the Premier League announced on Thursday.

The opening match of the season promises to be a tough return to Stamford Bridge for former Chelsea and Italy midfielder Roberto Di Matteo, now the West Brom manager.

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In another headline clash on the opening weekend, Newcastle United will mark their return to the top flight with a mouth-watering trip to Old Trafford against runners-up Manchester United.

Blackpool's opening Premier League fixture will be at home to Wigan Athletic before trips south to Arsenal and Fulham. They will also play at Manchester United on the final day of their first season in the top flight since 1971.

"I was just hoping for a home game really because the whole of the Fylde coast will be coming out with their tangerine shirts on," Blackpool manager Ian Holloway told Sky Sports television.

"I think the club shop's got nothing left in it. It will be nice to kick off with a home game, obviously with Wigan just up the road it will be great for us."

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Arsenal, third last season, kick off their campaign with a tough starter against Liverpool at Anfield while Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester City, the side they pipped for the final Champions League qualifying position last term.

Bookmakers William Hill established Chelsea as immediate 13/8 favourites to retain the title, with Manchester United at 2/1 and Abu Dhabi owned-Manchester City and Arsenal both at 6/1.

Liverpool, still to name a replacement for departed manager Rafa Benitez, were listed at 12/1.

Newcastle's match at Old Trafford is a re-run of the start of the 2008/09 season, at the end of which the Magpies were relegated and United went on to win the title.

The two clubs drew 1-1 on that occasion.

"It's a very, very difficult first game," said Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, who has yet to make any major new signings.

"We realise that the league that we are in, there are probably going to be three sections of the league and we know what (one) possibly we are going to be in. They are the games we need to get points from."

Avram Grant's first league game as West Ham United manager, after leaving relegated Portsmouth, will be at Aston Villa.

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