The first weekend of the Premier League is a wrap – was it everything you hoped for?
For some fans it renewed their optimism for the new campaign or gave them hope they didn’t previously have. For others it provided a painful dose of reality, a reminder that football can be cruel and painful and things are not always going to go your way.
Premier League Heroes and Villains from Gameweek 1:
Hero: Bernd Leno
The definition of a hero this past weekend, Bernd Leno saved Fulham on countless occasions against Everton. Nine of the Toffees’ 19 shots were on target on Saturday, but the big German was equal to all of them. He was arguably Fulham’s most important player last season and they will need him to be in similarly phenomenal form this term if they are to break xG again.
“That’s my job.”
Nine shots on target faced, but @Bernd_Leno still got the clean sheet. 🧤
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) August 12, 2023
Villain: Liverpool’s midfield
If this was meant to be ‘LFC Reloaded’, then there must be a glitch in the Liverpool matrix because Jurgen Klopp’s side were outclassed for much of Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea.
Despite dominating the opening exchanges and almost going two goals ahead, Mauricio Pochettino’s men took control of the game and should have won it. Moreover, they exposed Liverpool’s weakness in the middle. With no ball winner to retrieve the ball they had the lowest possession in a Premier League game since Klopp took the reins.
Ironically, this encounter showed exactly why they need Moises Caicedo – but the Brighton midfielder is on his way to Chelsea instead.
Hero: Sandro Tonali
This writer was sceptical of whether Sandro Tonali was truly worth the £55 million transfer fee Newcastle United paid to AC Milan for his services, but the Italian made a good first impression on his Premier League debut.
He announced himself to the Geordie masses on Saturday with a goal after just six minutes against Aston Villa. The visitors couldn’t get a handle on him, with his passing and movement causing them so many problems on a miserable day for Unai Emery and co.
SANDRO TONALI ON HIS DEBUT!!!
DREAM START 💫 pic.twitter.com/bWtq4jVBNG
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 12, 2023
Villain: Son Heung-min
When the hometown hero leaves the club they have been at for half his life, the person who takes the armband after him could do with a good start to his captaincy. Instead, Son Heung-min gave away a needless penalty to hand Brentford and Bryan Mbeumo the perfect chance to equalise on Sunday.
The match ended in a 2-2 draw, which was probably a fair result, but Son had a pretty bad game overall and was subbed off with 15 minutes to go. He’s a very popular figure among Spurs fans and will be forgiven for the odd poor showing, but it was all too familiar to some of the performances he put in last season.
Hero: Eddie Nketiah
This season looked like it was going to be the same old story for Eddie Nketiah. The young striker is at the age where he’s not so young anymore and can’t really afford to play the happy-just-to-be-here bench role.
That is exactly what appeared to be on the cards after the Community Shield win over Manchester City. He started among the substitutes as Kai Havertz played up front for the Gunners.
In response Nketiah took it up a level in Arsenal training last week, with Mikel Arteta stating that the forward trained like a “beast”. He also recounted that the 24-year-old told him he was “blind” if he didn’t get the nod against Nottingham Forest. Arteta gave him his chance and he was repaid with a stunning strike that flashed past former teammate Matt Turner.
CALL EDDIE 📞 pic.twitter.com/rvA0AOOYMs
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) August 13, 2023
Villain: Knee injuries
When Tyrone Mings leg buckled on the St James’ Park turf on Saturday everyone feared the worst. Those fears were confirmed when Aston Villa revealed that the England centre-back, who had to be stretchered off the pitch, has suffered a “significant knee injury” and will undergo a “lengthy rehabilitation process”.
I don’t even know where to start but to say thank you for all of your messages of support Villa fans. From the day I came here on loan I’ve given everything on the pitch, I’ll now give everything off the pitch to come back even better, whilst supporting the team 💜 @AVFCOfficial
— Tyrone Mings (@TyroneMings) August 14, 2023
It’s a brutal way for Mings’ season to start, but he’s not the only who is looking at a long time out of action. Jurrien Timber’s Arsenal debut was also interrupted by an injury that forced him off against Forest.
The £38m defender took a knock in the first half, but was deemed fit to continue after being assessed at the break. Unfortunately, he was left clutching his leg after putting in a challenge on Brennan Johnson. While it didn’t initially look as bad as Mings’ injury, there are rumours whistling around that it is indeed serious and could keep him out for an extended period. It’s exactly what Arsenal didn’t need at the start of a new campaign.
Hero: Axel Disasi
Axel Disasi got his Chelsea career off to an inauspicious when he got done for Liverpool’s opener. The Frenchman got done a second time, only for the VAR to save his skin and call Mohamed Salah’s strike offside.
The £38m defender went on to score the equaliser and from there Chelsea dominated the contest. He looked assured and confident for the rest of the game, as if the opening 30 minutes didn’t happen at all.
Villain: Anass Zaroury
The pace of the Premier League is so unforgiving that a split second can make all the difference. Burnley’s Anass Zaroury evidently did not have this in mind on his top-flight debut.
The Belgian-born Moroccan international got burned by Kyle Walker in injury time of Manchester City’s 3-0 win over the Clarets on Friday, before lunging in with a late challenge on the right-back. His booking was upgraded to a red card following a VAR check, ending a miserable night for the 22-year-old.