The first week of Premier League football concluded over the weekend as Manchester United opened the season with 2-1 home victory over Leicester City. Sarri got his Premier League debut off to a winning start with a commanding 3-0 away victory against Huddersfield. The same cannot be said for Unai Emery. He was tasked with facing the defending champions – Manchester City – as his welcome present to the English game. He became the first Arsenal gaffer to lose his first league game in over three decades. Arsenal also continued their trend of losing their opening league game. Pep Guardiola was full of smiles as he saw the defence of his title get off to the best of starts even though his squad only played on its second gear. Jurgen Klopp saw much turnaround in this squad with his marquee signing being a much needed goalkeeper in Alisson. He too saw a victory on matchday one.
There was even some incredible displays of individual talent. The £40 million signing of Richarlison brought a lot of scrutiny onto the Everton board and their new manager, Marco Silva. He Brazilian forward had a sublime brace in a 2-2 draw against Wolves who played their first top flight game after six years. Sadio Mane was the star man in Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition of West Ham as he too picked up a brace. Luke Shaw scored his first goal for the Red Devils and his first professional goal. There were a number of takeaways from MatchDay 1 with the key six listed below:
The big clubs belong in a tier of their own
The so called, “top six” have the dominated in quality and financial might. They are miles ahead of the rest of the Premier League teams and have created a league of their own as they compete amongst themselves for the title and the remaining European berths. The two Manchester Teams, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham will continue to hold the spots on the upper echelon of English football despite the likes of West Ham and Fulham splashing out money on new signings. The newly promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers are also a club with deep pockets and the influence to sign a hoard of players. The Gunner were the only top six side to not come out of the weekend with three points (virtue of their opening weekend fixture against Man City). That being said, they still have the quality to make the top six once again. Liverpool and Chelsea were the standout teams of the weekend as they scored a flurry of goals in their opening games. No team outside of this exclusive group has finished in the top six for the past two seasons. This will be the trend for years to come.
Manchester City are the team to beat:
The Citizens were one of the most dominant teams in league history. They set a plethora of records enroute to a historic Premier League title including: most points in a 20 team top flight of English football (100), most goals (109), largest goal difference (+79), most wins in a 20 team top flight of English football (32). There were plenty more records that they shattered as this side cemented their place in the annals. Manchester City are now favorites to retain a title and may even be the first team to repeat as champions since their city rivals United won three straight between 2007-09. While other teams (like Chelsea and Liverpool) and spent big to try and boast their squads, City have kept their core intact with their sole departure being a 35 year old Yaya Toure. Pep’s squad has improved with the addition of Riyad Mahrez who was easily the best player outside of the top six teams for the past couple of seasons. Liverpool had a commanding performance against a refurbished West Ham United said. That being said, Manchester City demolished both Chelsea and Arsenal with a squad that was not at full strength. They were barely at second gear in their wins so far. It is scary to imagine how good they can be with a full roster and on full throttle. Guardiola’s side are in complete control of their destiny. Their only weakness is their lack of backups for an aging Fernandinho though the Spanish maestro has some tricks up his sleeves to combat this and any other issues that may arise.
The big-spending mid-table teams might not have an immediate league impact:
Fulham were one of the biggest spender in the Premier League in this past transfer window. The newly promoted side was taken over by Shahid Khan – an ambitious Pakistani-American sports investor and entrepreneur – in July 2013 and he flushed this team with money. He has ambitions to turn this London-based side into a Premier League heavyweight for years to come. They were behind Liverpool and Chelsea in transfer spending. Their bill topped £100 million and created history by being the sole promoted side to crack the nine figure spending mark in one transfer window. Fulham devoted £105.3 million to bring in 13 new players, 7 of which on a permanent transfer. With insane spending like this, Fulham have shown the ambition to break into the top half of the league. Their return to the Premier League did not get off to the best of starts. They were humbled in a 2-0 defeat to a Crystal Palace whose sole goal is survival. Fulham were full of irrational optimism and their fans may have had a taste of what’s to come with the top flight of the game.
In the other side of London, West Ham have finally spent the money that fans demanded. The ended last season with a mass pitch invasion after protests escalated after David Gold and David Sullivan were accused of being unambitious. They responded by spending a touch under £100 million. The Hammers brought in five players on £99 million with their transfer highlights being Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko. For a side that had spent that had spent the 5th highest in the Premier League, they were absolutely abysmal on MatchDay One. West Ham were unfortunate to have to travel to the Merseyside to face a confident Klopp and Liverpool. They were definitely going to lose but nobody could have predicted that the battering that they received. Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah were both on the scoresheet and left Pellegrini with plenty of questions to answer.
Both London sides have spent truckloads of money to break the monopoly set by the top six clubs. Neither team came close to even grabbing a point over the weekend. Too much should not be taken out of their opening games as they faced the two best teams in the league. They are still both better than some of the bottom-half teams. Though, they are miles behind the biggest teams in England.
Manchester United are still look lackluster:
The Red Devils had a nervy start to their season as they hosted Leicester City at the Mecca of Football, Old Trafford. They got off to the best possible start as they won and converted a penalty in the opening minutes of the game. An early goal would be the catalyst for the floodgates to open wide and many would have expected a goal fest. But this is Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. They score an early goal to sit back and park the bus. The tide was entirely with United but they surrendered that to a mediocre Leicester attack. The game can be best described as a snoozefest. Marcus Rashford was frustrated during his time on the pitch as he found himself ten yards inside his own half. Sanchez was uncharacteristically sloppy. Luke Shaw was the only player in a red shirt that had the flair and urgency that is expected of a Manchester United player as he scored his first professional goal and the winner for the club. Bailly, Shaw, and Lindelof all had surprisingly excellent games though Jose Mourinho has since struggled to point that out.
Arsenal are still the same despite Wenger’s departure:
For years the Gunners’ faithful had pined for a Wenger exit after season upon season of frustrating play and lack of ambition in the transfer market. A fresh philosophy and a new man at the helm was desperately needed for Arsenal. Emery’s appointment brought hope to the team’s fan base that they were finally on the path towards their former glory. The veteran Spanish coach has proven himself in Ligue 1 and La Liga. He was not helped by the fact that his Premier League managerial debut came against a juggernaut of a City side. That being said, their performance was atrocious and showed that their optimism was overhyped. Many of the deficiencies that plagued the waning years of Wenger’s tenure has continued into Emery’s regime. Sloppy defending, incoherent play, and a lack of a clear game plan were all evident in the Gunners’ opening game. It is hard to judge a team against the defending champions. Arsenal are likely to play a lot better against most of the Premier League teams. All this single game showed that Unai Emery has his worked cut out for him and he is at the beginning of a long rebuild. It will be years before the North London club can challenge for the title – let alone win one. Emery has to fix the glaring issues left behind by his predecessor before he can implement his own vision.
Liverpool pose a real threat to Manchester City
The Merseyside club spent a whopping £177 million on new players as they looked to build on the momentum they gained from last season’s Champions League run. Their marquee came in the form of a much needed goalkeeper – Alisson. He joined the club alongside Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri. This alone would have made them the most favored side to try and topple Manchester City in a nail-biting title race. Klopp’s side started their season with a statement victory over West Ham. Salah, Mane, and Sturridge all found themselves on the scoresheet as they showed the league that they are the real deal. Liverpool has done an excellent job to strengthen their rather thin squad. This is easily the best side that the Reds have assembled since their infamous 13-14 side. It might be too early to make assumptions or announce that they will overthrow Manchester City. Nonetheless, this could be the season that could end Liverpool’s 28 year drought without a league title.