What We Learnt From the Opening Premier League Games
The Premier League season has finally begun, there has been one full match day and already there are plenty of talking points. Here a few of the things we learnt from this season’s opening games.
Nick Pope Might Be Back at His Best
Before the opening match, Burnley’s Nick Pope said, “I got reminded by my old man that it had been 400-and-something days since I played a league game”. In fact, it was 454 days after last season he was forced out first to injury and then was used as an understudy. However, in May the team gave him a four-year contract, after which he commented, “The manager and the club proved what they were telling me was true, they really wanted to keep me”. Following the team’s sale of Tom Heaton to Aston Villa, the club’s manager, Sean Dyche, then faced the question of whether to use Joe Hart or Pope. In the end he went with Pope who then justified the decision with a fantastic flying save from Nathan Redmond when the match was 0 – 0. Despite this Pope isn’t complacent, “I think I do have to prove myself all over again.”
Soyuncu Was Impressive As Maguire’s Replacement
After selling Harry Maguire, despite the fact that they had an extra £80 million in their budget, Leicester City were still unable to buy a new central defender before the close of the transfer window. As a result, Caglar Soyuncu, who was signed last year from Freiburg, will now have a chance to claim a regular place in the first team. While he is not as powerful in the air as Maguire, he still made a fairly impressive start to the season and earned praise from his teammates after they drew with Wolves over the weekend. Speaking afterwards Brendan Rodgers said, “He got a round of applause from the players afterwards so he certainly impressed them. He’s a young player and playing alongside a top?class centre?half in Jonny [Evans]. Jonny will help in his positioning in the game. But I thought he was excellent, really aggressive, won his headers, defended forward. And he’s good on the ball and has a good turn of speed. He did really well.”
Eddie Howe Has a Goalkeeper Decision to Make
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe has a problem in terms of goalkeepers. He faced a tough decision but in the end, it was Aaron Ramsdale, the 21 year old who has been capped at youth level by England and was impressive in League One with Wimbledon during the second half of last season, who was selected to play. He was picked ahead of Artur Boruc, Mark Travers and Asmir Begovic and made his debut for Bournemouth against his former club, having left Sheffield United for roughly £800,000 on deadline day in January 2017. Speaking at the time, manager Chris wilder, who was just six months into the job and just about to get married, said, “I sold him an hour before I got married in London. He tried to balls that up. Myself and the chief executive sold him and then that got done and within the hour I was married.”
Mount Impressed for Chelsea
One almost novel sight over the weekend was that of Chelsea youth products Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount playing together for their parent club in a Premier League match. While Chelsea was hit with a transfer ban over the summer, some of the effects will be mitigated by the fact that the club is one of the top talent factories in Europe. In the past managers have been worried about using youth players given Roman owner’s Abramovich’s reputation, but as a result of the ban, Frank Lampart won’t feel any such restrictions. Abraham is the more experienced player of the two but he looked rawer, despite hitting the post early on. Mount was more impressive and outperformed many players, including Ross Barkley.
Crystal Palace Fans Have Forgiven Wilfried Zaha
Crystal Palace fans showed a huge amount of appreciation for Wilfried Zaha when he came off the bench against Everton at Selhurst Park. The reception he received certainly went down well with the Ivory Coast forward who later Tweeted, “appreciate the support today 2019/20”. After Zaha submitted a transfer request and was then sent home from training after the club blocked a potential transfer to Everton, manager Roy Hodgson was worried about the reception the player would receive upon being introduced. After the match he said, “It was very nice that they are that forgiving. I’m pretty sure he must have been thinking, ‘I wonder how they are going to react to me?’ He knows they love him but of course, when you do make public statements like ‘I want to leave the club’ then you do run the risk of the fans not being happy. But luckily that wasn’t the case. Hopefully now we can draw a line under it.”
Newcastle Protesters Need To Come Up With New Tactics
The weekend saw roughly 300 Newcastle United fans march in the rain from the Sports Direct store in Northumberland Street and meet at the burger van at the bottom of Strawberry Place. They made sure that their presence was felt and clearly expressed their dissatisfaction with Mike Ashley’s continued ownership of the club. However, despite the protest the club still had attendance of 47,635, just under 5,000 short of capacity. It looked like there weren’t more than 6000 – 7000 empty seats in the stadium, which is a real problem for those trying to organise the protests. There needs to be many more empty seats before the boycott can begin to have an impact, and a present, it seems as if there is very limited support for it.
Norwich Showed A Spirited Attack
It is very easy to throw criticism at Norwich City for their tactics against Liverpool, the European champions. The newly promoted team adopted an attacking approach that left them open and it didn’t take long for Liverpool to take advantage. However, the team will not often be facing squad’s as good as Liverpool, and they still managed to cause their hosts problems with their speedy play. Teemu Pukki was particularly impressive, both in front of goal and in general play, and proved that he deserves to be in the top league, while Emi Buendia showed that he has the touch and agility needed to supply him. It is not unusual for newly promoted teams to pick up points early in the season while they still have confidence left over from the previous season. Norwich face Newcastle, Chelsea and West Ham in the next three games before the first international break, and there is every chance of the team landing a fair number of points.
Riyah Mahrez Looks to Have Settled Down
Riyah Mahrez had a strange first season with Manchester City and there were times when the winger, who cost £60 million, looked slightly disharmonious with his teammates. This can happen to players adapting to Pep Guardiola’s style of play, and it is certainly no reason to write a player off. Mahrez went on to score some important goals for the team and then won the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria last month. He now looks more confident and he excelled during the team’s 5 – 0 win over West Ham. He provided an excellent scooped assist for Raheem Sterling’s second goal and he won a penalty for Sergio Aguero. It was this kind of performance that made him such a popular player at Leicester and it will come as a relief for Guardiola after he lost Leroy Sane to a serious knee injury.
Watford Could Be In Real Trouble
At the end of last season, when Watford lost 7 of their last 11 Premier League games, it seemed reasonable to assume that this was at least partly down to their FA Cup run and the fact that they were not in danger of relegation. However, that can’t be applied to the poor performance they brought to Brighton and after the game Javi Gracia was correct not to offer any excused, “We need to improve”. Craig Cathcart, the centre-back, dismissed the suggestion that the team may have a hangover from last season, but the biggest worry is surely that the team’s dip in form began back in March. Garcia has done a good job with the club and there are often strange results on opening days. However, when these teams played last year Watford won with ease and there are sure to be some concerns ahead of this weekend’s meeting with Everton.
Tom Heaton Looks Like Aston Villa’s Best Purchase
Following a £130 spending spree, there are a huge number of new players at Aston Villa. Fans were able to see many of them over the weekend with Dean Smith giving four players full debuts and two more from the bench during the weekend’s 3 – 1 defeat. Trezeguet, the Egyptian winger, looked the best attuned of all of Villa’s forwards to the direct counterattacking that Smith wanted from his team. Bjorn Engels was effective at disruption at centre-half and Wesley Moraes was the team’s least effective player, which will cause some concern, as he was the only striker bought by the club this summer. However, Tom Heaton, who cost just £8 million, was highly impressive. He forced the goalkeeper into making two impressive saves and his handling, distribution and decision-making were all excellent.