The Premier League is back. Eight games have been played, sixteen teams have begun their seasons, filled with a mix of optimism and trepidation. Teams coming off good seasons will have been hoping to carry that form into the new season and kick on up the table. Others will have wanted to shake off the stench of disappointment after a bad season last time around.
For only the second time since the dawn of the Premier League era (05-06 the other), all twenty top flight clubs begin the season with the same manager who oversaw their last game of last season. That’s assuming Sean Dyche, Dean Jones, Pep Guardiola or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer don’t pull a Billy Bonds and quit before their team enter the fray next weekend. Some managers are very secure in their positions, while others must be a little bit concerned for their future for a variety of reasons. The opening weekend showed us why a couple of them might be facing speculation about their futures in the coming months.
With the transfer window open for another month, most teams haven’t done all their business but they all hope they have enough to keep them going until they bring in re-inforcements. Some teams who have strengthened made decisions to leave their new signings on the bench, others threw them straight into the fray.
In a season that promises to be very exciting, given the tight schedule and the levels of parity that exists throughout the division, the first weekend gave us plenty to talk about, plenty to be impressed by and a couple of things that teams would rather forget.
Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Matchweek One:
Leeds United’s Bravery.
Leeds arrived at the home of the Premier League champions and behaved like they belonged there. No quarter was asked, none was given as Bielsa’s men gave Liverpool a real test in the first game of their title defence.
Set up in their usual 4-1-4-1 Leeds pressed Liverpool from the off, created the overloads that have become their trademark and didn’t let their heads drop on any of the four occasions they fell behind on the scoreboard.
Kalvin Phillips’ Premier League debut went better than his England debut, with no Declan Rice to get in his way. Phillips was the stand out midfielder on the day, his passing, his tackling and his aggression all standing out on an afternoon where Mo Salah set down a marker in the race for this season’s Golden Boot.
Everton Winning Away At A Top Club.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Toffee Revolution got underway with a 1-0 win away to Tottenham Hotspur. It had been almost seven years since the Blues experienced an away win at one of what has become the “big six” – Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. Not since a 1-0 win at Old Trafford had Everton come away with more than a point. And even those single points were few and far between.
You can even go back a bit further and look at the David Moyes era and see the real extent of Everton’s away woes. Back in those days, there was a big four – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. In 11 years under Moyes, Everton failed to win away to those teams. All in all it’s been 18 or so years of misery on big away days.
Having spent over £80mil in short order to add Allan, Doucoure and James Rodriguez to their ranks, Everton left the rest of the league in no doubt of what their ambitions for the season are. Everton are going all in, and want results straight away.
All three new signings turned in impressive performances on their debut but it was Richarlison who stood out as the best player on the pitch. He tortured Matt Doherty and exposed his lack of defensive quality time and again. He made Toby Alderweireld look old and slow more than once. And he fluffed a great chance proving that the more things chance, the more they can stay the same.
All in all, a very promising afternoon for the Toffees.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Cutting In Off The Left.
It’s becoming a familiar sight isn’t? That crossfield ball from right to left, in between the opposition’s right back, Aubameyang running onto that ball, facing up the fullback, cutting inside and bending the ball into the far top corner. Arsenal’s goal against Fulham was a carbon copy of their goal in the Community Shield against Liverpool. It’s simplistic and it’s beautiful. It’s world class footballer being used properly. And the results are almost automatic.
It’s going to become a problem for Premier League teams this season. Arsenal tilting the play to their right, getting Aubameyang isolated, putting the ball infront of him and then letting him go to work. Opposition teams are going to have to find a way to deal with it, or he’s going to score 40 this season. Arsenal fans have to be smiling at the reintroduction of a tactic that proved so lethal when it was Thierry Henry running on to that crossfield pass.
Leicester’s New Third Kit.
Drink it in. That wine coloured kit is a beauty. One of the nicest in the league. I might start a petition to get it upgraded to Leicester’s home kit. It’s that good. The players looked good, and like a good wine, Jamie Vardy continues to age like a fine vintage. Two penalties for him, a comfortable 3-0 for the Foxes, all while looking resplendent. A good start for Brendan Rodgers and his merry men.
A Pissed Off Wilf Zaha, Eberechi Eze’s debut and the New Crystal Palace.
Wilf Zaha clearly feels he deserves a bigger stage. He feels he’s good enough to play for any team, in any league. Is he right? Possibly. He looked like a guy with a chip on his shoulder as he tormented Southampton’s defense throughout his match-winning performance on Saturday. His pace, his power, his trickery, his movement. Saints struggled to keep up. If Zaha is staying, and THIS Zaha is going to turn up regularly this season, then Palace might be worth consideration for a top half finish.
Especially if Eberechi Eze is going to show the type of ability he did after coming on for a substitute appearance in his debut. Eze looked like he’d been playing at this level for years. His first touch is mesmeric, his dribbling is hypnotic and Eagles fans should be excited about his creativity.
With the Batsman back at Selhurst Park and reports of strong interest in Brentford’s Said Benrahma, could Roy Hodgson be building one of the most entertaining teams in the League?
The Fog Lifting On The Toon?
Newcastle traveled to London on Saturday night tagged as one of the favourites to battle relegation. They left looking like a team capable of much more.
New signings Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick scored the goals as Toon, looking well balanced and strong in all areas of the field, ran out comfortable winners. Newcastle played some entertaining football, and Andy Carroll came close-ish to scoring an early contender for goal of season contender.
If Toon keep this up, they could be in for a comfortable season. Steve Bruce worked miracles to get them 13th last season, he might not need to work as hard this season.
It’s early days yet but Newcastle can say with certainty that there’s at least one team in the Premier League who are significantly worse than them.
Chelsea’s Right-Back Production Line.
In truth, the English National Team is going to have an embarrassment of riches over the next decade with Trent Alexander Arnold, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Max Aarons, Reece James and Tariq Lamptey vying for places in the squad. Wan-Bissaka is the oldest of that group, and he’s yet to turn 22.
The latter duo on the list, James and Lamptey, played starring roles in the Monday Night Football fixture between Brighton and Chelsea and despite debuts for Chelsea’s big money German attackers, it was the two English right-backs who stole the show.
Lamptey had the better 90 minutes, but James scored an absolute worldie and will grab all the headlines. It says a lot about Lamptey that he was prepared to leave Chelsea to gain first team football, it says even more about James that they were prepared to let him. They’ll be tied together for the duration of their careers if both continue on the same trajectories and the debate over whether Chelsea made the right decision will run and run.
Those two aren’t the last two out of the factory for Chelsea though, keep your eyes peeled for Henry Lawrence and Valentino Livramento. There’s seemingly no end to the talent coming from Chelsea’s academy.
Fulham and West Brom Rolling Over Without Much of A Fight
While Arsenal and Leicester both deserve credit for their performances, neither were truly tested in their opening matches.
Scott Parker’s decision to leave Aleksandar Mitrovic on the bench boggled the mind. Mitrovic scored 26 goals last season, and was the only Fulham player to manage more than eight goals across the previous season. Fulham likely don’t have enough goals in their team without Mitrovic on the field, to leave him out is inexcusable. Especially when going up against a team birthing a new central defender, who’s new to the league.
The team announcement was a bad start, and the Lacazette goal compounded that. The Frenchman’s scruffy finish after a comedy of errors in the Fulham backline put any thoughts of an opening day win for the home team to bed.
Fulham managed only two shots on target, both coming after Mitrovic was finally introduced. Scott Parker needs to rethink that one, and he needs to push his board to get him another goalscorer.
West Brom turned in a slightly better performance, until they went 1-0 down and seemed to lose all focus and all ambition. As with Fulham, there’s not nearly enough goals in the Baggies team. As with Fulham, West Brom do have a lethal goalscorer in Charlie Austin on their books. Unfortunately for them, but moreso for Austin, he has been plagued by injuries throughout his career and can’t be relied on to start every week.
The two penalties West Brom gave away are unforgivable and Slaven Bilic can’t be content with only adding a 36 year old Branislav Ivanovic to fix their defensive problems. West Brom have a lot left to do if they want to avoid a return journey to the Championship.
Liverpool’s Lack of Focus.
Winning the title is hard, retaining it is even harder. If Liverpool want to join the elite group of clubs who have won back to back Premier League titles, they will need to pull their socks up in short order.
The were sloppy in defense, absent in midfield and wasteful in attack against Leeds, and if not for Mo Salah they would have suffered the embarrassment of a home defeat to a newly promoted club in their first game of the season.
While Leeds first goal can be largely credited to Kalvin Phillips’ pass and Jack Harrison’s control, inventiveness and calm finishing, the second goal was the result of a shocking error from Virgil Van Dijk and the third came from Gini Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones not tracking a runner.
If Liverpool want to have success this season, it will require their defence to perform at an elite level. It has for the past two seasons, it needs to again.
That Chelsea Away Shirt
Oh no. No, no. This ain’t it fellas. It looks like something that should be used to advertised chewing gum. No.
Jose Mourinho’s Selection Decisions
Why start Eric Dier over the superior Davinson Sanchez? Why the redundancy of Hojbjerg and Winks in midfield? Why start Lucas Moura over Steven Bergwijn? Where was the creativity? Where was the drive? Spurs starting 11 produced plenty of questions, and Mourinho’s in game management did nothing to answer those. In fact, it created even more.
Why bring on Sissoko for Alli? Why leave Ndombele on the bench so long?
Spurs lacked purpose, they lacked creativity and the lacked an identity. Harry Kane cut a lonely figure as Spurs failed to fashion anything resembling a real chance for their top scorer. Dele and Doherty spurned good chances but they were outliers, rather than a sign of Spurs’ creativity.
With the squad at his disposal, anything short of top four will be a disaster for Mourinho. If Spurs continue to play as they did on Sunday, and if Mourinho continues to hamstring them with his team selections and tactics then his position as manager likely won’t be a long term situation.
Spurs’ performance can only be described as ugly, and even that might be generous to them.
West Ham United
Everything about them.
From the owners, to the sale of Diangana, to the captain’s tweet, to the lack of new signings. It’s all been very ugly for the entire summer. And it got worse on Saturday night.
West Ham put forward a horrid performance and looked like a group of players who had been selected via raffle an hour before the game. There was nothing coherent about the performance. Defensively they were all over the place, the midfield failed to make any sort of imprint on the game despite having the lions share of possession, and they failed to create much of anything. Karl Darlow pulled off one good save but it was a pretty comfortable night for Newcastle’s backup goalkeeper.
For West Ham, this game was a culmination of everything that has gone wrong over the summer break, and with the Hammers set to face Arsenal, Wolves, Leicester, Spurs, Man City and Liverpool in their next six games it’s really hard to see where they pick up points before we reach November.
If they find themselves with zero points after seven games, around the time fans are due back into stadiums, things will get even uglier in East London.