Premier League news - Opening weekend conclusions you should (and shouldn’t) jump to after first games
After a chaotic, and extremely interesting, opening weekend of Premier League action Pete Sharland takes a look at what conclusions you should and shouldn’t jump to. Are we ready to condemn Manchester City after their loss to Tottenham Hotspur (and continued failure to score a goal)? And how about Arsenal? This the year they finally go down? Let’s take a closer look…
'Paul has got that vision and that quality' - Solskjaer delighted with Pogba
Even with a football-heavy summer it’s hard not to leap to all sorts of conclusions after seeing our favourite players and teams back in action once more but they can end up looking rather silly (Hello Willian shines, West Ham struggles and Everton are great articles from this time last year) but there can be trends to spot.
So, safe in the knowledge that we are opening ourselves up for almost certain ridicule in the future, let’s take a look what you should be being into, and what warrants further investigation. (Feel free to yell at us on Twitter if your team wasn’t talked about.)
No need for City to start panicking
There’s something about the struggles of Manchester City that seems to bring out the gloater in everyone. Pretty much everyone in England (bar City fans and a few Pep apologists) seems to take great delight in City struggling. Perhaps it’s the awkward reality that, yes, Pep Guardiola can do it in England or maybe it’s just the sheer joy of throwing their transfer spending back in the face, it’s hard to tell. But you can be sure they were out in full force on Sunday as they lost to a Harry Kane-less Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday.
Spurs were excellent (more on that later) but City looked slow and lethargic which has quickly led to “Pep is found out” takes doing the rounds, most prominently on social media. But let’s be honest, we’ve seen this before. Last year City took five points from their first eight matches and ended up winning the league pretty comfortably. Heck Pep warned us about this before the game.
'He will be so important for us' - Guardiola on Grealish debut
"Before, it was four or five weeks for preparation in pre-season. Now Thursday is the first day we were all together. It is completely different.
"It is similar to last season when we played against Wolves without any friendly games having been played. People asked me how the team was and I didn't know! I hadn't seen them.”
So let’s wait until the late autumn at least before we start hammering nails into various coffins.
In Nuno (and Son) we trust
We’ll admit, there was some real worry at Eurosport HQ about Spurs this season. After the Jose Mourinho debacle (who could have seen that coming) and the Harry Kane saga it really felt as if the north London club were treading water, if not worse.
But perhaps we underestimated the management (particularly motivational) skills of Nuno, as well as the power of Spurs fans in their new (is it still new now?) stadium. Spurs were brilliant, channelling all the energy of peak Mauricio Pochettino era with the way they harassed and harried the City players.
'When he is ready he will help the team' - Nuno on Kane absence for City win
Last season was terrible for Nuno and his players at Wolves, but in the two Premier League seasons prior to that they had the fifth-best defensive record in the league. He knows how to coach a back line and Spurs have a surprisingly decent one at their disposal. Joseph Tanganga rightly stole the headlines but if anyone is going to get Davinson Sanchez up to his full potential it’s Nuno. Cristian Romero should be excellent when he’s up to speed as well. It might not always be pretty but if Spurs can be tough to break down that’s a real start.
Plus it gives more chances to players like Son Heung-min on the break. Although that’s a bit of a misnomer as there are no players like Son, who is absolutely wonderful in every way. Son has a legitimate shot at the Golden Boot and Player of the Year award if Kane does end up leaving, he is that good and he should be more than enough to remind to Spurs fans that it’s not all bad if their captain does depart. Yes it will be very bad, but not all bad.
We still need more from Pogba but what a start
Paul Pogba was absolutely majestic on Saturday lunchtime against Leeds United. Four assists is a frankly absurd thing, and unsurprisingly, something that practically no-one else has managed to do before. It also feels like an archetypical Pogba thing to do. Much like the youngest goalscorer or scoring five in a match it’s an achievement that doesn’t necessarily indicate skill over a season, more the individual talent that is possible in a moment. That is Pogba.
We all know that Pogba has the talent but without wishing to go full Graeme Souness, we have to see it more consistently. In many ways this might be the happiest Pogba has been since joining United. He has his best set of offensive weapons and it feels like he has a complete understanding with partner in crime Bruno Fernandes (who you should be buying all the stock). If we're going to see Pogba show his talent over a full season this is the time.
Plus his future is in a great place. He can wait and see how this project (with new additions Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane) develops and either sign a lucrative new deal to stay at Old Trafford or sign a lucrative deal to go play in Paris with players like Lionel Messi and Neymar. And throughout all of that he has turned up and trained hard. As Micah Richards said so well on Saturday, some people probably need to take a look at how they talk about Pogba.
Believe in Brentford
Look, in May this could be Blackpool all over again but there is a real feeling about Brentford, a sense that they could make some noise. The club just feels sensible. They didn’t spend their newly acquired Premier League riches on an ageing former star to help sell shirts, they just kept doing that they’ve been doing under Matthew Benham. That is sign normally younger players on good value deals that can be turned into profit in the future.
You know what you’re going to get Brentford, plenty of pace and work but, as we saw with Leeds United on Saturday, good teams can pass their ways around it. Arsenal are not a good team (see lower down for some optimism though) and did not look well-prepared but Brentford can be sure they’ll face tougher matches.
But there is a real sense of spirit there, much with Wolves under Nuno. The celebratory scenes at full-time were heart-warming to the fullest extent and Thomas Frank and no-one is going to fancy a trip to West London with that sort of noise.
Liverpool we hardly knew ye terrible self
Liverpool are back.
Alright that might be hyperbole given Norwich’s defence was as friendly and welcoming as Stephen Fry but Liverpool had that aura. It was there when they won the Champions League and Premier League and totally non-existent last year as injuries ravaged them.
Is it all down to Virgil van Dijk? Perhaps but that does feel a little too easy as a conclusion although he clearly has a huge impact on the team. When big signing Ibrahim Konate is fit and playing next to him that defence will be very tough to break down. Plus Kostas Tsimikas! Did anyone say position battle? No-one? Yeah thought so.
KIRKBY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11: (THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool during a training session at AXA Training Centre on August 11, 2021 in Kirkby, England. (Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
Image credit: Eurosport
Still with no Konate, Henderson, Fabinho, Robertson or Firmino in the starting line-up this was a pretty good performance. You’d probably still want a replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum to come in to beef up the midfield but the Oxlade-Chamberlain/Elliott experiment is going to be interesting to watch. We all expect a title race this season, and Liverpool are going to be involved.
Hold fire on Everton but…
As we mentioned at the top of this article we’ve been burnt by Everton in the past. It all blew up spectacularly last season under Carlo Ancelotti and we aren’t going to expect anything else until we see it with our own eyes.
That being said what we didn’t tend to see from Everton over the past couple of seasons was some fight when they went a goal down, and that’s exactly what happened on Saturday. If Rafa Benitez can make Everton tougher to break down the squad could be capable of doing something this year.
The magic of fans is real
This is just a quick one to finish off but full stadiums are an absolutely glorious thing and they really do make football what it is. It makes it more of an experience and the games become instantly more fun, less sterile. We look forward to more of this across the world in line with health guidelines.