After an arduous 89-day wait, the Premier League has finally returned. There are many questions to be answered over the coming season, after several clubs spent large sums of money to secure the best talent for their squads.
The transfer window saw Harry Maguire move to Manchester United from Leicester for £85 million, Arsenal paid £72 million for Nicholas Pepe from Lille (as well as sizeable amounts on Kieran Tierney, David Luiz and William Saliba), Manchester City bought Rodri from Atletico Madrid for £62 million and Joao Cancelo from Juventus for £27 million and Tottenham smashed their transfer record to buy Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon), Giovanni Lo Celso (Betis) and Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham). Meanwhile newly promoted Aston Villa splurged £127 million on 12 new faces including England international Tom Heaton and Brazilian playmaker Douglas Luiz.
While all of these signings will be eager to prove their worth, perhaps the biggest questions surround the team that signed the fewest number of players due to a transfer ban, Chelsea. This summer saw a change in the Stamford Bridge management, from ruthlessly diligent tactician Maurizio Sarri to the calming and inspirational leadership of Frank Lampard. Lampard is back at the bridge after a 5-year absence in which he played for Manchester City and New York City FC, and managed Derby County in the English Football League. His relative inexperience in management may prove to be too big a hurdle for the former Blues legend to overcome, with many pundits and fans disagreeing on whether his time at Derby was a success, but for Chelsea only time will tell.
The opening game saw European Champions and last season’s runners-up Liverpool take on newly promoted Norwich. Both teams had relatively quiet summers in terms of signings with both managers trusting their players from the previous season. Unfortunately for Norwich, Liverpool blew them away in the first half. Liverpool were 4-0 up at the break thanks to an own goal from Grant Hanley, and goals from Salah, Van Dijk and Divock Origi. At times Liverpool played breath-taking football although it was not quite up to the last season’s standards. Nonetheless, there is time to improve and with Sadio Mane only playing 10 minutes at the end of the match, their much feared front three will soon be back terrorising defences. Norwich were woeful in their defensive efforts in the first half, allowing Liverpool to cut through them with ease on multiple occasions. However, they did produce some decent chances at the other end on occasion forcing Alisson into action and in the second half, they went one better with Pukki’s excellent finish.
If Liverpool can keep playing this style of football then they will once again push Manchester City all the way. Norwich will no doubt be counting on their season improving next week when they face Newcastle, but fans face numerous disappointments if the team continues to play as openly as they did at Anfield.
At the London Stadium, last season’s winners and last week’s Community Shield winners had the chance to respond to Liverpool’s impressive start. On paper this was potentially a tricky fixture for the Citizens, with Aguero on the bench due to lack of preseason, but up stepped Raheem Sterling. The England man produced a second half hat trick to ensure City dominated proceedings, with goals from Gabriel Jesus and Aguero adding to the score-line to secure an excellent start to the season. Particularly worrying for other clubs is that they seemed to be in third gear for the entire game yet still dominated throughout. There has been a lot of hype surrounding West Ham after the £45 million purchase of Sebastian Haller and the impressive Pablo Fornals, but they failed to live up to their billing on the opening match day. We will find out more about West Ham in the coming weeks when they face Brighton and Watford.
Manchester City are still the team to beat. They have the best squad in the Premier League and the best tactician manager. Only Liverpool and perhaps Tottenham will be close to them this season, but the real question is whether they will be able to win the Champions League. West Ham on the other hand, showed little to inspire confidence, but after such a large investment, the owners must be aiming for a top eight finish. It will be interesting to see if a partnership can form between Fornals and Haller, as it will be vital to ensuring the Hammers have a good season.
The Vitality stadium hosted Sheffield United’s return to the Premier League, who, under fan and local man Chris Wilder, will fight hard to remain in the Premier League next season. It was not an easy start to the season, against Bournemouth who are now in their third top-flight campaign. However, Sheffield United managed to get ahead with talisman Billy Sharp scoring his first Premier League goal. His goal also means that he has now scored in all of England’s professional divisions. Sheffield started playing the same sort of expansive football that they played last year and if it is a sign of what is ahead, then fans should be in for an exciting time.
It seems that Bournemouth will play the way they normally do, rigid at the back and trying to catch teams on the break with their pacey wingers and strikers, and they should comfortably finish in the be mid-lower half of the table. Sheffield United’s style of football was much talked about last season with overlapping centre-backs and full-backs as strikers, and while it was breath-taking at times, it was also worryingly open and more clinical teams are bound to exploit this. They have a few new faces to try to mould to their philosophy, so this season will likely be a struggle unless Wilder can work some magic.
Burnley took on Southampton at Turf moor and comfortably won 3-0 with goals from Ashley Barnes (2) and Gudmundsson. It was a poor start to the season for Southampton who put on a tame display and they will be hoping that Nathan Redmond and new boy Che Adams can link up well together if they are to have any chance of surviving the drop. Burnley looked solid as ever and showed their resilience, they will be tough to beat this season and Sean Dyche is shaping them into a more defensively minded team than many others in the league.
Selhurst Park was the venue for Crystal Palace’s goalless draw with Everton, which came after Everton’s £70 million bid for Palace star Wilfried Zaha on transfer deadline day. The match was uneventful with both teams opting not to start any new signings. The only real talking points were Patrick Van Aanholts goal line block and a red card for Morgan Schneiderlin for two bookings. Everton will need their new signings Moise Kean and Jean Gbamin to settle quickly and find their feet in English football, their inability to bring in defensive reinforcements will worry fans as they only have three senior centre backs in the first team squad. Hopefully Richarlison and Sigurdsson can find form this season, as this would make the team exciting and attractive to watch. Crystal Palace were solid and they will hope to build on that in the upcoming weeks. Holding on to Zaha was a great achievement for them and if he can keep improving, then Palace should have enough quality for a mid-table finish.
Watford began their campaign at home to Brighton. There was great anticipation ahead of the clash after Watford secured the services of Ismaila Sarr and Danny Welbeck. However, neither of the new signings featured and Watford fell to a 0-3 home defeat. Brighton were superb. Many people were asking questions when they replaced Chris Houghton with Graham Potter, but this result went a long way to silencing some of those critics. When Brighton were up 1-0 at half time, one would usually expect to see an extra defender or midfielder put on in place of a striker. However, Potter decided to change both front men for strikers, both of whom subsequently scored. If this is a sign of the new mentality at Brighton then it should be a great season for their fans with entertaining football on display as well as a sturdy defence.
Spurs hosted Villa in the late game, which was a tough test for the new boys, but they were fantastic for the first 60 minutes before Tottenham turned on the gas. Villa were outplaying Spurs for large periods of the first hour, engineering great chances and deservedly went ahead through John McGinn. Villa’s new signings seem to be gelling well and they played some nice football at times. However, Spurs started dominating later in the game and eventually new signing Ndombele pulled Spurs level. Then, with the game seemingly destined for a draw, England captain Harry Kane struck two late goals to deny Villa a much-deserved point. Tottenham have a thin squad but if they can keep their main players fit then they can match anyone in the league. They must push on and win a trophy this year or Harry Kane might think about leaving for the chance of silverware elsewhere. Villa have an exciting season on the table and if they can replicate their performance against Spurs then they will undoubtedly be safe.
Leicester vs Wolves was a dull affair with not much to talk about apart from Dendoncer’s disallowed goal due to VAR. It was a strange situation as he wheeled away to celebrate but was unsure if it was a goal. In the end, VAR correctly ruled it out and the correct result stood. However, this wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last time we see these scenes this season. Both teams should be looking to finish in the top eight and it will be interesting to see how both teams cope. Leicester is dealing with the loss of their star defender and Wolves have the added pressure of being in the Europa League.
There was almost a full house at St. James’s Park as Newcastle took on big spending Arsenal under new manager Steve Bruce. The game was uneventful with last season’s top scorer Aubameyang scoring the only goal. Newcastle started with their record signing Joelinton up front, he showed a few nice touches but that was about it, Saint-Maxim came on as a substitute and looked lively. These two new signings and a solid defence will be enough to secure safety this season for Newcastle, which appears to be owner Mike Ashley’s only ambition. Arsenal will hope that Nicholas Pepe can form a formidable trident with Lacazette and Aubameyang and propel Arsenal back into the Champions league, along with defensive recruits Tierney and Luiz. The pressure is on Emery this season with the investment coming from the board and fans’ expectations.
The last game of the opening weekend came at Old Trafford where Manchester United took on Chelsea. It was a riveting match with many wondering how Chelsea will play under Lampard and how United will play with Wan Bissaka and Maguire starting in their defence. Both questions were answered, with United running out 4-0 winners thanks to goals from Rashford (2), Martial and James. Chelsea were not the pushovers the score-line suggests, they struck the woodwork twice and had De Gea scrambling to save a couple of times. Chelsea played well for much of the game but after Zouma’s error gifted United the lead, it was always going to be tough for Lampard’s young team. United have a tough season ahead of them, they have trusted their academy and they will hope it pays off. They are still short of quality to challenge the Big 2 but they could challenge for Champions League football if they can keep the defence tighter than last year. Chelsea have been forced to trust in their youth so Lampard effectively has a free swing at the job. His relationship with the young players will be key if Chelsea are to have a chance of Champions League football.
Overall, it looks as though Manchester City will be the team to catch and only Liverpool will have a realistic chance of doing so. Behind City, Liverpool and Spurs will be Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea, hoping to claim the last Champions League spots for themselves, with Leicester, Wolves and Everton below. It will be a tough season for Norwich, Southampton and Sheffield United, as well as West Ham and Palace. However, as always, the only guarantee in the Premier League is that it is sure to be an exciting season.