Following the opening round of Premier League action we look at five things we learned from the weekend fixtures.
Leno shows the value of a good goalkeeper
There’s a well-known saying in football that says: A good goalkeeper is worth 10 to 15 points a season.
We’re one weekend into the Premier League season and Fulham can already chalk three off that list. Marco Silva’s side were below their best during a disappointing performance at Everton, but returned home from Merseyside with three points after a Bernd Leno-inspired smash and grab at Goodison Park.
Leno was outstanding as Fulham earned a 1-0 win, making eight saves from inside the box as the Cottagers came under the cosh. The German goalkeeper stuck out a foot to deny Abdoulaye Doucouré when the midfielder raced clear one-against-one and made a sprawling stop to save from Neal Maupay from point-blank range.
Leno trailed only Liverpool’s Alisson for goals prevented in a fine season last term and has opened the new season in similar form, with his 3.33 goals prevented against Everton the highest recorded in a single Premier League fixture since the start of last season.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT
Bernd Leno recorded 3.33 Goals prevented against Everton today — since the start of last season, no other Premier League GK recorded more than 2.55 Goals prevented in a single match. 🤯
Despite a top-half finish last season, Fulham posted the worst xGA figures in the Premier League last season. Leno bailed out the club’s defensive deficiencies too regularly last season and again on the opening weekend of 2023/24. Signed for an initial £3m from Arsenal last summer, he has proven to be incredible value.
Promoted teams given reality check
Last season all three promoted teams secured another season of Premier League football, just the fourth time in the division’s history that all three sides have survived. That statistic demonstrates how difficult the step up into the top division can be and this season’s promoted trio were all given a reality check on the opening weekend.
Burnley began the season with the toughest test in the Premier League and were outclassed as treble winners Manchester City earned a 3-0 win at Turf Moor. Two instinctive finishes from Erling Haaland set the Citizens on route to three points and ensured the Clarets’ top-flight return ended in defeat.
Sheffield United also lost on their return to the division, losing 1-0 at home to Crystal Palace. Paul Heckingbottom spoke on his pride at the performance from the Blades, but Palace had chances to make their win more emphatic at Bramall Lane.
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) August 13, 2023
Meanwhile, Luton Town’s first ever Premier League game saw the Hatters beaten 4-1 at Brighton. Luton were far from embarrassed at the Amex Stadium, but the gap in quality was evident as Brighton cruised to a comfortable win on the south coast.
After celebrated seasons to earn promotion into the big time, the opening weekend provided a reality check for the promoted teams on what is required to compete – and consolidate – at this level.
Havertz fit unclear
Arsenal’s summer move for Kai Havertz was one that came as a surprise. The German’s talent has rarely been in doubt, but three underwhelming seasons at Chelsea were hardly a body of work to convince that he can be the difference-maker in Arsenal’s title bid.
Havertz’s first performance in an Arsenal shirt has only added to the questions regarding his arrival and role, with the 24-year-old unconvincing in an advanced position supporting Eddie Nketiah at the Emirates this weekend.
Havertz did little to criticise against Nottingham Forest, but equally did not do much to justify Mikel Areta’s decision to spend £65m on his services. The midfielder worked hard and linked well with his new team-mates on occasion, but there was few moments to suggest his arrival will lift this team up a level.
Often languid, Havertz appears an odd fit for an Arsenal season that mixed intensity with intricacy last season, as Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli combined behind a sole forward.
Time will tell whether Arteta’s gamble on the German proves to be a success, but Havertz appears more enigma than answer on the early evidence.
Magpies make St James’ statement
Newcastle opened the season with a statement result to silence any suggestion that last season’s top-four finish was an overachievement the Magpies would struggle to replicate.
Eddie Howe’s side thrashed Aston Villa – a side with their own ambitions of challenging the top teams – 5-1 at St James’ Park in a performance which saw Newcastle run riot.
Alexander Isak scored twice, including a scintillating second as the Swede lifted a delicate finish over Emiliano Martinez, with Howe calling the forward ‘a special player who can do special things’ at full-time.
Howeball. 😎 pic.twitter.com/yvsU0rzfhU
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) August 13, 2023
Elsewhere, debutant Sandro Tonali was all quality and energy in the engine room and Anthony Gordon showed flashes of the talent which saw Newcastle spend big to land his services in January.
Newcastle are riding a wave of momentum right now and it’s one that shows few signs of slowing. Howe’s team might not possess the quality of the truly top teams, but Newcastle are a side who show no fear and bring a work-rate to trouble any opposition. Those on Tyneside will be relishing the draw for the Champions League’s group stage and on this evidence St James’ will not be a place any side fancies visiting this season.
Chaotic contest shows need for midfield steel
Chelsea and Liverpool met on the opening weekend amid the sub-plot of their transfer tug-of-war for Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo. Liverpool looked to have won the race after agreeing a record-breaking deal with Brighton, but Caicedo’s clear preference for Chelsea has placed the Blues in the driving seat.
Both teams also hold an interest in Southampton midfielder Romeo Lavia with Chelsea interested in signing both players, and a chaotic clash between the teams this weekend showed just why each are keen for midfield reinforcements.
The honours ended even after a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, but it was a game which was often end-to-end with no shortage of space in midfield. Liverpool’s lack of defensive midfielder was clear from the team-sheet, with Alexis Mac Allister starting at the base of a midfield three containing Dominik Szoboszlai and Cody Gakpo. Despite that technical talent, Liverpool managed just 35% of the possession in west London.
65.4% – Chelsea had a possession figure of 65.4% in this match, their highest on record in a Premier League game against Liverpool (2003-04 onwards). Vision. pic.twitter.com/na1KGVIr60
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 13, 2023
Chelsea, meanwhile, sprang a surprise with Enzo Fernandez more advanced than expected, with Conor Gallagher’s tenacity used in a more defensive role than the advanced position he is more usually associated with.
The result was a fine spectacle as two teams lacking specialist security went toe-to-toe, but Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp will be well aware that better balance is needed if either team is to challenge at the top end this season. Expect movement from both recruitment teams before the window slams shut on September 1.