Season 22 of The English Premier League- Week 1
There are a number of observations to be made about the first round of matches this season in the Premiership, and one of the most of the most interesting is that there have been only 2 home wins in 10 games. I cannot remember that this has happened too often. Even the two home victories – by Arsenal and Liverpool – could easily have been draws. Crystal Palace, without Tony Pulis, and Southampton, without Pochettino and three of their best players from last season, gave as good as they got and certainly deserved a point each. Instead, a late goal from Sturridge and an even later one from Aaron Ramsey gave top of last season’s top four the maximum points.
For Southampton in particular, there were plenty of positives. New signing Dusan Tadic looked really good, and Nathaniel Clyne was a big problem from right back for Liverpool throughout the game, and got the equaliser after Tadic’s delicious flick on the right side. His work on the left side also created a chance for Steven Davis, who really should have scored.
One of the 6 away wins this weekend came from Manchester City winning 2-0 at Newcastle, with Silva and Aguero getting the goals. It was a solid, assured way to start the defence of their title, and after the game, Manuel Pellegrini said they needed ‘Hunger and Humility’ in order to be successful. This is a message that City’s players will do well to imbibe, seeing as most of them were around for their non-existent title defence of 2012-2013. Since 1960, only Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have retained the title in England’s top division, which highlights the challenge in front of City. They will have a much better chance to do this, if they can keep Sergio Aguero fit. As I said here, he only played 45% of available minutes last season. Significantly increasing that percentage will be key to any title defence. Of all the players with more than 50 goals in EPL history, he has the fewest minutes per goal, at 115. That is how good he is.
The support cast is not too shabby either. Edin Dzeko was instrumental in keeping City on track last season, and his sublime flick helped Silva open the scoring. Any striker, little or large, would go places with the kind of technique the Bosnian possesses. It is said that Manuel Pellegrini stopped his certain sale last season. It was an inspired decision.
Elsewhere, the preseason high has been well and truly blown at Old Trafford. Swansea sat deep throughout and took two of their chances, either side of a Rooney equaliser. United monopolized the ball much of the time, but failed to create enough clear cut chances to put Swansea under real pressure. The fact that seven players were unavailable – Van Persie, Welbeck, Valencia, Rafael, Carrick, Shaw and Evans – clearly contributed to their problems at both ends of the pitch, and taking off Ander Herrera on 67 minutes, with the game at 1-1, was a mistake, especially since his replacement Fellaini did not do anything of note, and Kagawa remained on the bench throughout.
So, while it is true that United need more quality, it is also true that the game against Swansea is not even close to a representation of what the current team is capable of. There is still some time to bring new signings in, but getting players back from the treatment table and keeping them fit is just as crucial.
Aston Villa did well to get a victory away to Stoke, with Weimann getting the winner. He is one that will have to step up this season while Benteke is out, if the team are to avoid going down. That was one unpredictable result as well. Reports say that Ron Vlaar is headed for Southampton, and I wonder how Villa will cope without him.
The best performance of the opening round was left for last. Chelsea went a goal down away to Burnley, but in the 20 minutes following that goal, proceeded to play their hosts off the park. With two assists, Cesc Fabregas ran the show, and looks like the missing piece in the Chelsea puzzle. His sublime pass for Andre Schurrle’s goal will be on many highlight reels in the weeks and months to come. Diego Costa looked really sharp and hungry as he scored on his debut.
Last season, when Chelsea had to break teams down, they frequently looked short of ideas, only prospering when they had space. With Fabregas, that crucial extra dimension looks to have been added, one that could make all the difference over the next 9 months.
Another subplot last night was Petr Cech being left on the bench in favour of Thibaut Courtois, who has been on loan at Atletico Madrid for the last two seasons and won the Europa League, La Liga, Spanish Cup and European Super Cup, and reached the Champions League final. At 22, he is already a very accomplished goalkeeper, and Mourinho clearly recognizes this, hence the decision to bring him back to Stamford Bridge. It was Mourinho who made Cech Chelsea’s first choice keeper in 2004. Then, he was the same age Courtois is now. In fact, both keepers were born nearly exactly 10 years apart. Cech’s date of birth is May 20, 1982, while Courtois’ is May 11, 1982.
Now, despite Mourinho’s best efforts to manage the situation, it is inevitable that Courtois will eclipse Cech, and that Mourinho will be the man to see to this transition, just like he did in 2004.