What we learned from week one of the new season

New season, same dominance

It was hardly unexpected, but Manchester City and Liverpool showed a sign of things to come this season with the respective destructions of West Ham and Norwich on matchday 1. Liverpool had the opening game of the season well and truly wrapped up by half-time, and City steamrollered the Hammers in the second half with a familiar, crushing penache.

In the case of Liverpool, it’s hard to take too much notice of the second-half performance which, according to Jamie Carragher, was poor and continued an alarming regression in defensive cohesiveness from pre-season. With the game wrapped up, and a UEFA super-cup final to look forward to this week, you can forgive the Liverpool players for taking their foot off the gas. City meanwhile, started slowly and didn’t show their full capabilities until the second-half where they showed just why they love playing at the City of London Stadium – their ‘home away from home’. The way in which they sliced through the defence of a comfortably mid-table side from last season was a reminder that they, along with Liverpool look certain to be the pace-setters this season. While tougher tests await both teams, it promises to be another record-breaking title chase this season.

If they go down, they’ll go down fighting

There were encouraging performances from all of the recently-promoted teams on matchday one, even if they were not necessarily reflected in the results.

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Although it may seem like a strange observation for a team who had lost the game by half-time, Norwich showed some promising signs of things to come this season – they are here to attack! Although they didn’t score in the first half, they created several chances and were unlucky not to score, before Teemu Puuki tucked away a great finish in the second half. Although they defended naively at times, they showed enough in this game against last season’s meanest defence to show that they will score plenty, even if they accept letting plenty in.

Aston Villa showed during their return to the top-flight that they will be competitive in all of their games and looked particularly threatening on the counter attacks, built by Jack Grealish with Trezeguet and El Ghazi making incisive, pacy runs down the flanks. Bjorn Engels looks like an astute purchase alongside last season’s defensive revelation, Tyrone Mings. Like Norwich’s game, it’s hard to judge their potential success against one of the top 6, but Villa showed plenty to encourage their fans and like Norwich, they will go down swinging if they are to go down. Based on their transfer spend and showing against Spurs, it’s not hard to imagine Villa staying up this season.

Sheffield United gained a creditable and encouraging point with a late equaliser at Bournemouth. The game was a somewhat turgid affair but United showed their grit and resilience to pick something up from a difficult opening game. As the favourites to go down this season, their home form will be vital but they are defensively sound enough to suggest that they will stay in enough away games, like at Bournemouth, to give themselves a fighting chance. I for one, do not forsee them bing the whipping-boys that some pundits are predicting.

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Hazard warning

When Eden Hazard completed his long-awaited move to Real Madrid, Chelsea fans were devastated and rightly so as they had lost their best player by some distance. Some of that trepidation was, in part, dispelled by the return of one of their playing legends, Frank Lampard as manager. I argued in a previous post that giving Lampard the job so early into his managerial career was a huge gamble and without merit. Unfortunately their inconspicuous start at Old Trafford showed the size of task that Lampard has taken on. Losing 4-0 to this United side really is a cause for concern, and the ease in which United cut through their defence is the most alarming aspect of all. Sure, Kante will come back into the team and Azpilicueta will probably never have another game as bad as this one, but there’s no denying that they displayed a softness that we’ve not seen at Chelsea for a long time. Fixing this should be Lampard’s immediate priority.

Although the Chelsea team was incredibly young, I watched this game thinking that it was arguably the worst starting 11 I’ve seen Chelsea have since Abramovich took over. It seems crazy to say this about a club that has won so many recent trophies (including the Europa League last season) but Lampard will do very well to get Chelsea close to the top 4 this season. The good news for him is that he has goodwill from the Chelsea fans to work with. The bad news is that he is working for a notoriously ruthless boss! As a neutral, I hope one of the genuinely good guys of football is able to do a good job at a club that idolises him.

VAR – less headline act, more cameo appearance

Following the controversies of recent major tournaments, VAR was supposed to usher in a revolutionary threat to the free-flowing, organic and thrilling Premier League product this season. Apart from a couple of minor issues,most notably at the King Power and City of London stadiums, the weekend passed without too much interference from this ground-breaking technology. Something to celebrate, surely?

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I am definitely in the ‘non-believer’ camp at this stage, but even I was impressed by how little VAR interfered with the matches I watched this weekend. Ironically, even those who are staunch advocates of the use of VAR would probably agree with me that the less VAR we see during a game, the better! Ultimately it signified that the (human) match officials are doing a great job. This weekend was a triumph; both for the referees in charge and the technology itself. That said, the season is long and there will doubtless be times where we nostalgically curse this new technology for ruining what quintessentially made football, football.

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