It was a much shorter break from football this summer with the excitement of the World Cup easing our nerves heading into the new season but it was still wonderful to sit down at watch some brilliant Premier League football this weekend. Ten matches down, 370 to go, lots to look forward to but lots to think about from this first round of 2018/19 Premier League football. I’ll go back through each of the games and give my verdict.
Manchester United 2-1 Leicester City
Old Trafford has been crying out for change this summer whether that was with the board, new signings or the manager, the club was unsettled. All that was forgotten, however, when they lined up to take on 2015/16 Premier League champions, Leicester. The Foxes would unusually start their new season without Riyad Mahrez and have now lost a great portion of the side that went all the way when they did the impossible. Regardless, Leicester had done some business as had United with Maddison and Fred making their debuts. United would head into the game as clear favourites but Leicester were keen to surprise as the United fans hoped to see a more attacking mentality for the new season.
They didn’t seem to get this though, Leicester dominated at times and the game was very open. After Pogba calmly slotted his penalty away in the third minute, Leicester tried to strike back but United’s defence stood tall and Eric Bailly proved his worth. Iheanacho had some chances, as did Maddison but they couldn’t make them count. Luke Shaw snuck a second in for United, albeit with a hint of luck to it, and somewhat put the game out of sight but a fluke Vardy goal restored hope and belief for the few remaining minutes of the 94. Overall, Fred played well on debut and Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly showed why they deserve to start week in, week out. Maddison showed promising sides but Puel will be happy he has Vardy next week rather than Iheanacho.
Newcastle United 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Harry Kane, Jan Vertonghen, Dele Alli and a few others were back in time for Spurs’ opening Premier League fixture despite playing major roles for their countries during the summer. Tottenham have had some trouble at St. James’ Park in recent seasons and were well aware of the threat Rafa Benitez’ had tactically. Kane would be hoping to break his August duck, and Rafa Benitez wanted to show his fans where they were heading.
Spurs dominated from the outset with chance after chance falling for Lucas, Kane and Alli. Ultimately, it was the head of Vertonghen who gave them the lead, with the help of Goal Line Technology as he wheeled away in celebration. The jubilance was shortlived, however, as Joselu knicked an equaliser minutes later. However, Aurier’s delightful cross was nodded in by Dele Alli which ended up as the match-winner for the London club. Both teams could’ve played better but it was clear why Benitez wanted more funding. With a bit of support from the owners, Rafa could have Newcastle pushing for Europa League but it appears it will be a tough season for the Newcastle faithful.
Bournemouth 2-0 Cardiff City
Cardiff have already been written off and almost all have predicted them to head straight back down to the Championship. One might think this would give them reason to perform without pressure but even against one of the Premier League’s weakest, they disappointed. Bournemouth are obviously a side with quality and are unlikely to get relegated but if Cardiff want any chance of survival, these are the matches they need to pick up points in. In truth, it could have been more and even though it was only Cardiff, Bournemouth have got themselves well up the table and will be hoping for a top ten finish this season.
The match was in Bournemouth’s favour from the get-go. A brilliant cut-back from Wilson found the young and improving Ryan Fraser who finished coolly to take the lead. A few minutes later, Wilson earned, took and missed a penalty forcing a great save from Etheridge. The Cherries dominated possession and made the most of their chances eventually when Wilson made up for his penalty miss in extra-time, sealing the win for Eddie Howe and his boys.
Fulham 0-2 Crystal Palace
Fulham’s much-anticipated return to the Premier League would have them up against Crystal Palace who mounted an incredible survival last season to avoid the drop. Guided by Wilfried Zaha and masterminded by Roy Hodgson, Palace went against the odds and headed into the 18/19 season full of confidence after keeping their main man in the transfer window. However, Fulham also looked dangerous. Numerous brilliant signings would feature against the Eagles and it would be no easy task for either team.
Jeffrey Schlupp opened his Crystal Palace account with a brilliantly finished goal after good build-up play and an assist from Van Annholt. Their lead was doubled when the opposite sided fullback, Wan-Bisaka, assisted Wilf Zaha for his first of the new season and sealed the victory for Palace. Fulham will be disappointed to have not taken more from the game and as I said for Cardiff, these are the games they need to be picking up points in.
Huddersfield 0-3 Chelsea
A much refreshed Chelsea side would head into the new season away from home at Huddersfield with Eden Hazard on the bench, still lacking 100% match fitness following World Cup duty. Huddersfield were tipped as relegation favourites but were hoping to make the bookies look foolish with a Burnley-esque upset on Saturday. Chelsea looked sharp and in their new system, they held the ball well and dominated play with Huddersfield no match for the quality of Maurizio Sarri’s new-look Chelsea.
N’Golo Kante was the unlikely scorer for Chelsea as he opened the season for the Blues with an impressive weak foot volley following a sublime Willian cross. The Frenchman and now World Cup winner slightly mishit the ball which appeared to help it on its way into the far corner. Marcos Alonso then ran through and was brought down as he went to shoot, resulting in a penalty that Jorginho put away as cool as can be. Pedro finished the job with a well-timed chip following sharp movement from Eden Hazard who appeared to run the show from the left, following his introduction in the 76th minute.
Watford 2-0 Bright & Hove Albion
Following the lucrative sale of Richarlison, Watford failed to reinvest the money and would start the season with very few signings. The Hornets wouldn’t be phased, however, as they were handed a favourable draw at home to Brighton. The away side was also tipped as potential candidates for relegation and would hope to surprise. Watford were having none of it though and had lots of chances to finish off Brighton.
It appeared that Richarlison wasn’t needed as Pererya took control of Vicarage Road scoring two brilliant goals as part of his brace. A well-practised corner routined was finished off with a cleanly struck volley from the midfielder, albeit with some poor defending and goalkeeper giving him a helping hand. He doubled his sides lead with a terrific run down the left side in combination with Holebas and finished calmly to secure all three points and show promising sides for a successful Watford season.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-2 Everton
Surprisingly, this became one of the most talked about and most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the opening round. Everton, who had brought in some impressive deadline day signings, ended up starting a rather familiar lineup with Richarlison’s competitive debut the only new addition. Wolves, however, had a host of new signings and expected stars scattered across their lineup as the Molineux atmosphere welcomed a terrific opening round fixture.
Richarlison had clearly taken note of his ex-teammate’s brace a few hours earlier and decided to pull the stunt himself with two goals on debut either side of a Wolves goal. His first coming off a set-piece with a goalmouth scramble poked in by the Brazilian. Phil Jagielka then saw a straight red for a horrific challenge on Diogo Jota who earned a free kick just outside the penalty box. Ruben Neves stepped up, struck, and scored a wonderful free-kick to equalise for the home side and surely set them up to go on a claim three points against 10-man Everton. Richarlison, scored again though with a similar goal to Pererya’s second, coming in from the left hand side and slotting it home. However, Wolves weren’t done and a Raul Jiminez header levelled the scoring and the game dramatically ended in a 2-2 draw.
Liverpool 4-0 West Ham United
West Ham would hope to break their Anfield curse with just one win there in more than four decades and both club’s summer transfer business would set this up to be a wonderful opening round fixture. Alisson Becker and Naby Keita featured for Liverpool for Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho on the bench with the former coming on later in the game. West Ham would start four new signings in Wilshere, Balbuena, Fabianski, and Anderson with Yarmalenko making it five when he came on later in the game. West Ham lost 4-1 on both occasions against the Merseyside club last year and it turned out not much has changed.
Liverpool dominated the game as expected but West Ham’s defence clearly couldn’t handle the attacking threat. Naby Keita driving from midfield added a whole new range of problems while Virgil van Dijk continued his impressive form at the back. Keita and Milner ran the show in midfield but it was Sadio Mane who provided the fire with fellow winger Mo Salah scoring the first. Daniel Sturridge scored the last of the four with his first-touch tap-in and Liverpool comfortably fought off West Ham for an emphatic 4-0 victory over the Hammers. Liverpool appear to be a threatening side with Fabinho and Lovren still to come and they finish the round as Premier League table leaders.
Southampton 0-0 Burnley
The first real disappointment of the Premier League season but the one that was most likely to end this way of the ten fixtures this round. Burnley won’t worry too much about Premier League football right now and ensure Europa League qualification as a bigger priority. Danny Ings came on to make his debut for the Saints while Vestergaard, Armstrong and Joe Hart all made competitive debuts from the start.
The match wasn’t as boring as it might seem with a combined 34 shots between the two sides, albeit with just nine of those on target. Both sides will be hoping for better when they head into their next fixtures against Everton (Southampton) and Watford (Burnley). A good start defensively for both sides though with clean sheets all round for the defenders and keepers on display.
Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City
Sunday’s late kickoff was one that was a much-anticipated fixture as Pep Guardiola began his title defence away from home against Unai Emery’s new-look Arsenal. Manchester City were clear favourites and would go on to prove that but Arsenal showed encouraging signs throughout the 90 minutes of football. Emery has his work cut out for him as his second fixture won’t be any easier, away from home at Stamford Bridge, a notoriously unfavourable ground for the Gunners.
Benjamin Mendy made his full return to Premier League football and with De Bruyne on the bench, City began with a midfield trio of Gundogan, Fernandinho and Bernardo Silva. The latter was immense for the away side as he showed the class that we all expected when he signed. He was fantastic in the community shield and Pep trusted him to do the same against Arsenal. Raheem Sterling combined well on the left-hand side with Benjamin Mendy to score a brilliant goal before Bernardo Silva converted a second Ben Mendy assist to finish off the hosts. It was an emphatic victory for City and a statement to all other Premier League sides that nothing has changed. Arsenal finished the game as the only team of the “Top Six” not to claim all three points in their first match and will look to climb back up the table when they take on Chelsea next round.
The team of the Week:
(4-4-2): Hennessey, Wan-Bisakka, Vertonghen, Bailly, Mendy, Keita, Pererya, Neves, Pogba, Mane, Richarlison
Player of the Week:
Ruben Neves; One Goal, One Assist
Round Two Predictions:
Cardiff 1-2 Newcastle, Everton 2-1 Southampton, Leicester 1-1 Wolves, Spurs 2-1 Fulham, West Ham 1-1 Bournemouth
Chelsea 1-0 Arsenal, Burnley 1-1 Watford, Man City 3-0 Huddersfield, Brighton 1-2 Man Utd, Crystal Palace 0-2 Liverpool
Let us know your thoughts on this exciting opening week of football, who’s in your team of the week, who’s your player of the week and what’s going to happen next week? Tweet your opinion to @AllOutFootball_ using #AOF to have your say!