Following the weekend’s Premier League action, we pick out some of the heroes and villains from a fascinating set of opening results and performances.
There were wins for newly-promoted Brentford and Watford, whilst champions Manchester City were beaten in the capital as Nuno Espirito Santo secured a statement win in his first fixture in charge of Tottenham.
Elsewhere there were comfortable victories for Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United, the latter putting in a five-star display to dismantle Leeds at Old Trafford.
Heroes and Villains from the Premier League weekend
Hero – Bruno Fernandes
Manchester United’s season got off to a dream start and it was a familiar face at the centre of their success, Bruno Fernandes scoring a superb hat-trick as Leeds were thrashed 5-1 at Old Trafford.
Fernandes began the game quietly before growing in influence, his ghosted runs forward untracked by the visitors with Robin Koch struggling at the base of the Leeds midfield.
Paul Pogba’s sensational showing and four assists deserve huge credit, as does the performance of Mason Greenwood who showcased he can be a genuine contender to lead the line in a central role.
I was waiting for a full Old Trafford to score my first ever hat trick for this incredible club 😁
— Bruno Fernandes (@B_Fernandes8) August 14, 2021
It was Fernandes who took the game beyond Leeds however, taking each of his goals in clinical fashion with his third – lashing a bouncing ball powerfully beyond Illan Meslier – an emphatic way to seal his first Red Devils’ hat-trick.
Not bad for a penalty merchant.
Villain – Ben White and Arsenal’s back four
Frail, feeble, fragile, the Premier League’s curtain-raiser saw Arsenal produce a timid performance as newly-promoted Brentford provided a stark reminder at just where the Gunners are at present.
Mikel Arteta’s side were outfought by a Bees team up for the battle on their Premier League bow, with Brentford well worth the three points following a performance packed with energy and endeavour.
Arteta has spent north of £75m this summer on strengthening his squad, but there were few indications that the Gunners have improved with an inexperienced outfit struggling badly on Friday evening.
Ben White's Premier League debut for Arsenal:
◉ 45.5% duels won (5/11)
◉ 42.8% aerial duels won (3/7)
A tough start. 😩 pic.twitter.com/jctlgBcddn
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 13, 2021
Ben White endured a difficult debut as he was dominated physically by Ivan Toney, winning less than half of his duels both aerially and on the ground.
The £50m signing’s progressive passing is a key reason behind his premium price-tag, but is he the player to transform a nervous Arsenal defence that lacks leaders and presence?
Hero – Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez began the new season under more pressure than most following his appointment at Everton, the manager’s previous links to Liverpool making him a largely unpopular arrival.
After falling behind to Adam Armstrong’s debut goal for Southampton, there were fears the crowd could turn before a second-half revival ensured Everton secured all three points.
Richarlison’s equaliser two minutes after the break helped swing the momentum in Everton’s favour, before goals from Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin got the Benitez era up and running.
Strong performances from debutants Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend added further to a pleasing performance and result for Everton, whose fans should begin to warm to their new manager if results continue to arrive.
Villain – Benjamin Mendy
Simply not good enough.
Mendy was a glaring weakness in the Manchester City side as the champions were beaten at Spurs, with the north London side regularly targeting a player who continues to fail to convince.
The 27-year-old was poor in possession and made several defensive errors, his opportunities under Pep Guardiola surely running out following another erratic performance.
Stationed next to Mendy on the left-hand side of the defence, Nathan Ake did little to boost his own chances of regular first-team football.
Hero – Trevoh Chalobah
It’s been some week for Trevoh Chalobah, who followed an assured Chelsea debut in midweek with inclusion once again as the west London side opened the Premier League season with three points.
Chalobah was a surprise selection for the UEFA Super Cup clash against Villarreal, before retaining his place and producing another strong showing against Crystal Palace this weekend.
Few expected the 22-year-old to break into the senior side after a loan spell at Lorient last term, but Chalobah was excellent and has provided Thomas Tuchel with plenty of food for thought after another confident display.
Trevoh Chalobah's Premier League debut by numbers:
100% shot accuracy
100% take-on success
93% pass accuracy
18 passes into the final ⅓
4 duels won
2 aerial duels won
1 through ball
0 x dribbled past
Chelsea have a gem. 💎 pic.twitter.com/o9vuyZ4S2v
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 14, 2021
His dream debut was capped with a wonderful goal as he strided forward before unleashing an effort that arrowed into the bottom corner, sparking a wave of emotion as his Chelsea teammates rushed congratulate the defender.
Villain – Matt Targett
Matt Targett endured a performance to forget as Aston Villa were beaten at newly-promoted Watford, the defender hauled off at half-time after being beaten all ends up in his duel with Ismaila Sarr.
Sarr has attracted interest from the Premier League’s leading sides and it was clear to see why following a brilliant performance for the Hornets, his speed and trickery leaving Targett for dead on countless occasions at Vicarage Road.
Targett lost all five of his duels and squandered possession on eight occasions inside the opening half, whilst the full-back failed to make a single tackle or interception as Sarr ran riot down the right.
After winning Aston Villa’s Players’ Player of the Season award last term, Targett will hope to return to that standard in the coming weeks after a nightmare this weekend.
Hero – Nuno Espirito Santo
Tottenham’s clash with Manchester City was surrounded by the sub-plot of Harry Kane’s future, but a fine performance from the home side proved there can be life after the England captain should he depart for the Etihad.
Nuno Espirito Santo may not have been Spurs’ first choice as manager following a farcical pursuit of a new head coach this summer, but the win over City proved what the Portuguese can bring to the north Londoners.
3 – Spurs manager Nuno Espírito Santo has won three Premier League games against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City (previously twice with Wolves); the joint-most of any coach, along with Jürgen Klopp, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and José Mourinho. Nemesis. pic.twitter.com/Wy3UwEFd40
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 15, 2021
Spurs were organised, tenacious, and showed a spirit often lacking under predecessor Jose Mourinho, whilst his decisions to include the likes of Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp over more experienced options were vindicated.
It may be just one game into the Nuno era, but an upset of the champions is a good way to start.
Villain – Graeme Souness
There’s been no hiding from Graeme Souness’ criticism of Paul Pogba in recent seasons, but the heated debate between the Sky Sports’ pundit and Micah Richards during coverage of Tottenham’s game with Manchester City on Sunday saw the Scot reach a new low.
After downplaying the midfielder’s brilliant four assist performance in the Red Devils’ win over Leeds, Souness proceeded to get irate when Richards questioned the media difference when assessing the futures of Pogba and Harry Kane.
Would like to see Souness’ reaction had someone turned his back on him and ambled off for a moment while he was talking and then had a hand dismissively waved at him … https://t.co/SN91rCptXC
— James Ducker (@TelegraphDucker) August 15, 2021
Football is a game of opinions and Souness is well within his right to have any assessment of Pogba he wishes, but the manner in which he waved a hand and turned his back on Richards mid-conversation was disrespectful.
If a pundit can’t give credit when credit is due, are they really being objective?