Premier League: 10 things we learned from a thrilling opening weekend

Nuno Espirito Santo sends Harry Kane a clear message with Man City triumph, Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba DOES work and don’t write the newcomers off just yet: TEN things we learned from a thrilling opening weekend of Premier League football

  • The Premier League made a return in emphatic fashion on the opening weekend
  • 34 goals were scored with supporters treated to 10 enthralling top flight games
  • Spurs, Brentford and United were big winners, as was the use of VAR technology 
  • However, it was a weekend to forget for Arsenal, Man City and Aston Villa
  • Sportsmail dissects ten things we learned from a thrilling weekend of action 

The new Premier League season kicked off in thrilling style over the weekend, with no fewer than 34 goals scored across the 10 top flight games as any concerns surrounding fatigue from a busy summer were swiftly quashed.

The return of supporters – long starved of live football due to Covid restrictions – made for surreal atmospheres across the country, as we were treated to two six-goal barnstormers, while Manchester United scored five goals to get their campaign off to a flying start.

However, it was not all good news for some sides, with Mikel Arteta’s sorry Arsenal bullied by newcomers Brentford, while Manchester City made a poor start to their title defence with a 1-0 loss to a Harry Kane-less Spurs.

Here, Sportsmail dissects the key talking points from a gripping opening weekend of action in the Premier League.  

Supporters were treated to a thrilling weekend of action as the Premier League made its return

While talk in West London has been dominated by the £98million arrival of Romelu Lukaku and the need to bring in a new defender, Thomas Tuchel has not lost sight of an important factor for Chelsea supporters.

Frank Lampard – restricted by a transfer ban – demonstrated that it is possible to dip into Chelsea’s strong youth academy and find talent ready-made for top flight football and Tuchel has placed emphasis on continuing the trend set by the club legend. 

Thomas Tuchel showed that he is willing to give young players a chance and he was rewarded

Trevoh Chalobah scored on his Premier League debut and broke down crying in West London

The German acknowledged Trevoh Chalobah’s strong display against Villarreal by handing him a first league start on Saturday and was duly rewarded as the 22-year-old defender bagged a stunning goal from distance at Stamford Bridge.

‘When I scored, I didn’t know what to do. I dropped to my knees. I was crying,’ an emotional Chalobah revealed. 

While the big-money signings will move Chelsea closer to challenging City, Tuchel is fully aware that bringing through youngsters will have an even greater effect on endearing him to the Blues masses. 

Bruno and Pogba DOES work 

Man United’s hammering of Leeds was made all the better by the presence of Raphael Varane being unveiled before supporters following his £42m signing from Real Madrid. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has long sought an elite defender to partner with Harry Maguire and, on paper, the duo appear ready-made to form a strong alliance.

For a long period of time, the same could not be said for Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. The two superstars have long been viewed as incapable of playing together, given that they operate in a similar creative role. 

Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba proved that they can play together for Manchester United

Pogba (R) teed up Fernandes (L) twice as the Frenchman got four assists while the Portuguese scored a hat trick in the 5-1 hammering of Leeds United

‘I said a few weeks ago after the Crystal Palace game, Fernandes and Pogba is not a midfield that can play together and never will be,’ Jamie Carragher said of the pair last October. 

However, Fernandes and Pogba have put paid to that theory, with the pair combining twice to great effect in the 5-1 hammering. The Portuguese bagged a superb hat trick while Pogba laid on new fewer than four assists.

Pogba’s future has been cast in doubt with his contract expiring next summer, but United fans could be in for a lot of fun watching these two enjoy a full season together.   

Villa learn three signings cannot replace one Jack Grealish 

How do you replace Jack Grealish? Well, Aston Villa appeared to provide the perfect blueprint with three high-profile signings with the £100m accrued from the club talisman’s sale to City.

Emi Buendia, a £40m arrival from Norwich, boasts the creativity to cut through rival defences, £30m man Leon Bailey displays the trickery to beat a man, while Danny Ings has demonstrated time and again that he has top flight goals in abundance.

Yet football has a funny way of going off script, and Dean Smith was left flabbergasted when his side shipped three goals to Watford at Vicarage Road this weekend.

Dean Smith was left fuming after his side were defeated, it will take time for his squad to settle

‘I won’t accept performances like that in the first half,’ the Villa boss fumed. ‘We came here to win a football game and do enough to win a football game and we helped Watford on their way.’ 

Second half strikes from John McGinn and Ings made the scoreline more respectable for the visitors, but having enjoyed such a strong season last time out, Smith will be hoping to find the formula that will bring the best out of his new signings as soon as possible. 

Benrahma filling void left by Lingard

West Ham’s top six finish last campaign can be attributed largely to the momentum created by Jesse Lingard’s arrival, with the loan signing giving David Moyes’s side a second wind as they enjoyed a barnstorming sprint to the finish line.

Lingard’s return to Manchester United has left Moyes with a gaping void to fill, and the Scot has confidently resolved that the solution to replace their old creative spark lies in his squad.

Said Benrahma demonstrated that he can fill the void vacated by Man United’s Jesse Lingard

The £30m signing from Brentford was instrumental in West Ham’s comeback at Newcastle

Said Benrahma endured a stop-start debut season in the top flight, with the former Brentford man failing to get the consistent run of game time to demonstrate why the Hammers splashed £30m on the Algerian.

A strong pre-season, in which the 26-year-old scored against the Bees and Atalanta, ensured that Benrahma hit the ground running at Newcastle, with the winger instrumental in stirring a second half turnaround on Sunday.

The West Ham star was on hand to head the visitors level before teeing up Michail Antonio for their fourth goal to put the game beyond doubt at St James’ Park. More of the same will go a long way in emulating a top six finish.

‘Weak’ Arsenal are miles off it, again

Jamie Carragher was forthcoming in his stinging analysis of Arsenal’s defending as the Gunners wilted at Brentford on Friday night. 

‘How do you describe Arsenal’s defending here? It’s just Arsenal. Weak, bullied, men against boys again,’ he said on commentary for Sky Sports. ‘New season same old story.’

Deep down, Mikel Arteta will concur with the former Liverpool man’s review of his Gunners side. The Spaniard is in the midst of a North London rebuild as he looks to move away from the calamitous defending that has long mired his side.

It was a case of same old Arsenal as the Gunners were humiliated at Brentford on Friday

Jamie Carragher (R) said it was ‘men against boys’ as Arsenal were defeated to the new boys

Yet this new-look Arsenal defence – containing £50m new boy Ben White – did little to convince that the new season would herald a new era of defensive solidity for the club.

Arteta boldly claimed that he would strive to prove the doubters wrong this season, with no pundits backing the Gunners to secure a top four finish come May. 

If their display against the Bees is anything to go by, Arsenal are miles off challenging for Champions League football, again.      

New-look VAR a winner on opening weekend

Much-needed and long sought-after changes have been made to VAR this season, with the use of video technology roundly opposed due to a host of farcical decisions last campaign.

The PGMOL have moved to ensure that there is no longer interference for ‘trivial issues’, with offside calls changed to avoid decisions over marginal infringements while a sterner view has been taken on contact and the awarding of penalties.

It was a good weekend for VAR with referees applying revamped interpretations of the rules

This resulted in a far more laid back approach officials over the weekend, with minimal involvement throughout the 10 Premier League games. 

Bruno Fernandes would likely have been denied a hat trick against Leeds had the offside interpretation used last season have been used this season, but for the new rules in which the attacker is given the benefit of the doubt when the two lines overlap. 

‘It was a much better performance from all the officials in every game and it worked perfectly,’ Alan Shearer said on Match of the Day. Long may it continue.  

Nuno sends message to Kane with City win

It has not been an easy start to life for Nuno Espirito Santo at Tottenham Hotspur. Largely viewed as the eighth choice for the position, the Portuguese has had to put in the groundwork to get fans on board following his appointment this summer.

He has not been helped by the absence of his talisman striker, either. Harry Kane’s failure to report for pre-season training earlier this month in the midst of his transfer saga with City has thrown another conundrum for the former Wolves boss to solve.

Nuno Espirito Santo sent a clear message to wantaway striker Harry Kane on Sunday afternoon

The England captain has been yearning for an exit in what has been a disruptive summer

Kane trained for the first time on Friday and made himself available for selection against Pep Guardiola’s side on Sunday.

Knowing what a win would do to get fans onside and kickstart his Spurs tenure strongly, it would have been easy for Nuno to call on Kane to lead the line against the champions.

But the 47-year-old determined that Kane would sit this one out. He cited fitness issues as his justification for the decision, but would have been fully aware of what would dominate had Kane been selected.

And the new boss’s instinct was vindicated on Sunday, with Spurs putting in a gutsy, gritty performance not seen since the days of Mauricio Pochettino to defeat City and send Tottenham fans into euphoria.

‘Are you watching, Harry Kane?’ was the cry from the masses. Nuno has proven that, whatever may be come the close of the window, there is life without Kane. 

Tottenham showed they can thrive without their talisman after beating Manchester City 1-0

Don’t write the newcomers off yet

Before a ball was kicked the Premier League newcomers had already been written off. Hell had a greater chance of freezing over before Brentford, Watford and Norwich would survive the drop, according to some fans and pundits.

However, all three newbies indicated that they have plenty to bring to the top flight. 

Thomas Frank’s (L) and Xisco’s (R) newcomers had been written off before the season

The Bees arguably produced the performance of the weekend with their 2-0 win over Arsenal as their supporters were sent into sheer bedlam at the Brentford Community Stadium.

Watford sprung a surprise defeat on big-spending Villa as Ismaila Sarr, Emmanuel Dennis and Cucho Hernandez tore through the Villans at Vicarage Road.

Norwich gave Liverpool a good go in the opening 45 minutes at Carrow Road, with the Canaries posing the left side of the Reds’ defence questions before Jurgen Klopp’s side stepped up a gear in the second half to win 3-0.

They may not be the most fashionable names in the league – or as Thomas Frank describes Brentford, ‘a bus stop in Hounslow’ – but don’t write the newcomers off just yet.  

However all three newcomers showed signs that they are well equipped for the top flight

Pep may rue splashing £100m on Grealish

When you spend £100m on a player and break the British transfer record in the process, expectation levels inevitably increase.

All eyes were on Jack Grealish at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday. Having come off the bench for the Community Shield defeat to Leicester, Pep Guardiola handed his new signing his first City start in their Premier League opener. 

Jack Grealish faded on his Premier League debut with Manchester City against Tottenham

Yet as the game wore on, Grealish’s influence faded, with the impressive Japhet Tanganga putting in a monster performance to keep the £100m man and Raheem Sterling quiet on the left.

More pertinently, City’s opening day defeat was less about Grealish’s subdued display and more about what Guardiola is so obviously missing. Graeme Souness opined that the Spaniard was fortunate to win the title without a leading striker and now that his rivals have strengthened, Guardiola surely cannot go another season without a frontman.

Elsewhere, veteran midfielder Fernandinho appeared jaded in the middle of the park while Benjamin Mendy demonstrated once more that he is not the man to start at left back if City want to challenge.

While his talent is undeniable, Pep Guardiola may rue not spending £100m elsewhere

While Grealish’s quality is there for all to see, there must surely be concerns that Guardiola has invested heavily in an area in which he is already blessed with talent, while there are longstanding issues in other departments. Only time will tell whether the City boss will rue not strengthening elsewhere.   

Ruthless Liverpool not to be overlooked

Given the big-spending of the likes of City, United and Chelsea, Liverpool have somewhat gone under the radar this summer. 

Apart from spending £38.5m to bring Ibrahima Konate in, it has been a strangely quiet summer for Jurgen Klopp. The German aimed a dig at his rivals’ ability to splash the cash, comments that were largely consigned as a manager enviously watching on in what could develop into a three-horse race.

Liverpool showed that they still boast the firepower to challenge with a dominant victory

But there is plenty of firepower in this Liverpool side to be a genuine threat this season, and the Reds served a timely reminder at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Diogo Jota was a rare shining light in an otherwise poor campaign last time out, and the Portuguese picked up from where he left off with the opening goal against Norwich, before Roberto Firmino came off the bench to score while Mohamed Salah wreaked havoc with a strong performance in Norfolk. 

The Reds host Burnley next up before a crunch clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Early momentum could go a long way in putting Klopp’s former champions well in the race for the crown this season. 

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