As we head into the second weekend of the new Premier League season, only seven from 20 teams will be looking to keep up a 100% record.
Already at a three point disadvantage, Arsenal failed again to win at home in their opening game. This time it was Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool beating Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, who between them scored seven goals in an exciting match that had more to do with defensive frailties than attacking prowess. Not for the first time, the final whistle and another defeat at the Emirates Stadium was greeted with a loud chorus of boos. While the annual ‘why doesn’t Arsene Wenger spend the money’ debate ensued.
Leicester City were beaten 2-1 in a shock result by newly promoted Hull City who went into the game without a manager and a depleted squad. Michael Phelan showed great tactical awareness by closing down the space for Leicester to run into. Leicester looked rusty and bereft of ideas. It could be a long, hard and frustrating season for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City as opponents wise up to how best play against, rather than into the hands, of last season’s Premier League Champions.
Similarly, Tottenham looked a little off the pace against Everton at Goodison Park. New manager Ronald Koeman had the Toffees playing more as a solid unit – attack-minded but with the ability to defend. Everton went ahead with an early free-kick by Ross Barkley and bossed the first-half. But Spurs began to turn it on after the break, and were unfortunate not to sneak a win. That said, a draw was a fair result.
Both Manchester clubs began with an expected three points. Manchester United had an easy win away to Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring on his Premier League debut and looking sharp for the challenge. While Manchester City struggled to get passed Sunderland with their new manager, David Moyes. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola had their teams passing and playing with more confidence. But I still feel Man City are still a few players short of playing the high-pressing, fast-paced Guardiola way and expect more players to be either sold or pushed out on loan, to make way for more new faces before the end of August.
Chelsea also made a bright start against a below average West Ham on Monday night. Antonio Conte had Chelsea playing quick one-touch football and most importantly, desire had returned to the likes of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic. Kante made a very impressive start to his Chelsea career.
Swansea City and West Brom were the other winners last weekend with 1-0 away results at Burnley and Crystal Palace respectively; and while West Brom will have a tough time to contain Everton, Swansea could well be holding on to a 1005 record thus far, with a home match with Sunderland.
With less than two weeks to go to the end of this transfer window it will be interesting to see where Joe Hart is playing come September, and how that effects his ability to retain the no.1 shirt for England after a very poor Euro 16 campaign. With none of last season’s top six in the market, Everton look favourites to continue spending and offer Joe Hart a first team place; and following the signing this week of Yannick Bolasie from Crystal Palace, Everton could be ready to agree the sale of Romelu Lukaku back to Chelsea. Though I’m not 100% sure Everton, Lukaku or Chelsea want the move.
Crystal Palace lost no time replacing Bolassie with Christian Benteke from Liverpool; and though I think Benteke will do well for Alan Pardew and the Eagles, it is at best, a side-step rather than a step forward.
This weekend’s fixtures start with Manchester United taking on Southampton tonight (Friday) at Old Trafford and I’m confident Jose Mourinho’s first home game will result in a further three points and another convincing victory. Southampton start another season without their best players from the previous campaign and another new manager. Claude Puel follows Ronald Koeman and Mauricio Pochettino in attempting to keep stability in the Premier League for the Saints after losing top scorer Pelle to China and their player of the season, Mane to Liverpool.
So, along with Manchester United, who else do I expect to be sitting at the top of the table with 100% records come Sunday evening?
Manchester City should overcome Stoke City in a tight game at the Britannia Stadium, especially as England goalkeeper Jack Butland has been ruled out from an early return from injury. Liverpool will beat Burnley convincingly as they continue to push forward under Klopp; and a rejuvenated Chelsea should be too strong for Watford where another new manager and continuing turmoil off the pitch will surely take its toll this season.
But the most exciting game of the weekend could be Leicester v Arsenal at the King Power Stadium. Leicester will need a Plan B if Drinkwater is not given space and time to find Vardy as he makes his darting runs behind the defence. But Liverpool showed the Arsenal defence, weakened further by injury as well as a lack of pace, are very vulnerable if put under pressure. If they’re unable to break up Leicester’s game, Arsenal could find themselves in another high scoring thriller.