It’s back! After weeks of pretending to like tennis and cricket, we can now all finally relax and bathe in the warmth of nine lovely months of Premier League football.
Here’s a look at the five things we learned from a lively opening weekend of action.
Liverpool raise eyebrows with their high line defending
On the surface of things, Liverpool’s 4-1 victory over Norwich City was pretty much a case of picking up where they left off last season.
However, there was a vulnerability to Liverpool as Norwich exposed their high defensive line on a number of occasions, just as Manchester City did in the Community Shield at Wembley. A couple of half chances were spurned and the woodwork was rattled before Teemu Pukki found the next with a consolation goal on 64 minutes.
Even after surrendering a clean sheet Liverpool couldn’t quite click into their defensive groove. For Norwich to have fashioned 12 chances on the night at Anfield is pretty telling, when you consider Jurgen Klopp’s men conceded an average of just eight shots on goal per match last season. They will hope this is just teething problems as they will certainly face more difficult challenges in the weeks and months to come.
Sterling unplayable as City lay down an early marker
Manchester City were only too happy to extend West Ham’s miserable opening day form. The Hammers have now lost their last four curtain-raising fixtures by an aggregate score of 15-1 – pretty grim. In fact, their whole afternoon was pretty dier, in all honesty, as Raheem Sterling punished West Ham’s defenders at will. The 24-year-old was ceaseless in his movement as he looked to nip into the plentiful pockets of space in and around the penalty area.
The England international’s smashed home three very confident finishes to become only the eight player ever to score a hat-trick on the opening day of the season. On current form, there is probably not a defender in the game capable of containing City’s number seven.
Brighton look bolder and brighter under their new manager
Brighton fans could get used to this. Life under their new gaffer Graham Potter got off to the best possible start at Vicarage Road. The most impressive aspect of the Seagull’s win over Watford on Saturday was Potter’s refusal to consolidate and try sit on a 0-1 lead as they may have been inclined to do under the previous regime of Chris Hughton.
Throwing caution to the wind, Potter’s decision to introduce two forwards with 25 minutes to play paid dividends, as their new summer signings Florin Andone and Neal Maupay, found themselves hitting the net within minutes of their Premier League debuts.
This is a huge win for a club who had only previously managed five away victories in 38 matches, scoring just 26 times in the process. A bolder, more confident approach could be key to Brighton throwing off the shackles of last season’s relegation scare.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan fails to inspire Arsenal in shambolic display
Arsenal fans were left less than impressed with their opening season victory over Newcastle United. Unai Emery’s men may have just about gotten the job done at St James’s Park, but their laboured efforts left more questions than answers. Big name summer signings David Luiz, Dani Ceballos, and Nicolas Pepe were all left on the bench and it was down to Arsenal’s more established names to get them over the line.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was one of those charged with taking the game to a deep sitting Newcastle side and it’s fair to say he fell way short of what was expected of him. The usually silky smooth Armenian was all over the place, giving the ball away an eye-watering 15 times in the first 45 minutes before lashing a half-decent chance, dramatically over the bar.
This was just Mkhitaryan’s 35th league match for Arsenal since his switch from Manchester United in January 2018 and he looked a shadow of the player that Emery needs him to be. On this evidence and after an expensive outlay on new players, we could be seeing a lot less of the former Borussia Dortmund star this season.
Clinical Rashford punishes youthful Chelsea
There has been a lot of speculation as to who would be the main goal threat for Manchester United this season. With question marks around Marcus Rashford’s finishing and prolificacy in front of goal, the youngster will be delighted with his brace against Chelsea during an emphatic victory on Sunday.
The 21-year-old opened the scoring from the penalty spot, taking just the fourth penalty of his senior career. His second was a tidy one-on-one finish past Kepa, after a lovely ball over the top from Paul Pogba.
Indeed United bagged four goals from just five efforts on target as they taught an inexperienced Chelsea side a harsh lesson in clinical finishing. On the evidence of Sunday’s dominant performance, Rashford certainly looks confident and in the mood for goals this season.
A word on VAR
The new technology was in full flow on its debut weekend in the Premier League and it certainly played a part. Fans should be encouraged that the officials have at least tried to keep them in the loop while a check is in place. However, the frequent checks in play during Manchester City’s win over West Ham did rather stymie the flow of proceedings somewhat.
The final calls, by and large, were fair although Wolves were aggrieved when Leander Dendoncker’s goal was rubbed out after a handball in the build up.
A wait of one minute and 38 seconds ensued before the effort was chalked off. Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo bemoaned that VAR was damaging “the spirit of the game.”
With a full season ahead, there are bound to be a few more twists and turns as the new technology takes centre stage in Premier League officiating.