Just as on the first day of Britsh summer – when you go out and buy yourself a barbecue, cut the grass, put up the nationalistic bunting, fill your fridge with meat and beer, blast out your favourite obnoxious music, stick on your £2 Ray-Bon sunglasses, and start ringing round all your mates to get a #sesh started – the Premier League returned last week to great fanfare and provided a weekend full of thrills and spills. But then by 6pm on Sunday it was gone for another week, and the grey clouds suddenly gather, the rain begins to fall, turns out the fridge is on the blink and all the meat has gone bad, you’ve accidentally bought Becks Blue, your sunglasses have given you burnt retinas and you haven’t actually got any mates, so you curl up on the sofa and drink Bovril and cry. And before you know it, the football’s back.
The first game at the weekend kicked off at The Liberty Stadium, where José Mourinho’s Manchester United 2.0 looked to build on their ruthless hammering of West Ham’s hammers last time out as they faced a Swansea City side with a fresh £45m in the bank and a geyser shaped hole behind the front two, as the Swans decided to go cold turkey from Siggi. A dire first-half looked to be petering out when, from a corner, emoji Paul Pogba crashed a header onto the underside of the bar, and Eric Bailly pounced to give the Reds the lead.
The second half continued in much the same vein as the first. Plenty of half-chances, with Tammy Abraham heading over for Swansea, but as the clock ticked into the final ten minutes, and with the Jacks pushing for an equaliser, Man Utd started to ease through the gears. A well worked move starting with Marcus Rashford led to Pogba feeding the ball through to Romelu Lukaku who, unbeknownst to the home side, had been given the freedom of Swansea for the afternoon. His calm finish made it three in two for the Belgian and the match was over as a contest. The visitors weren’t finished there though – Pogba added a third a minute later with a lovely dink over Fabianski, and the world’s most expensive substitute Anthony Martial wrapped up a second consecutive 4-0 victory for Mourinho’s men two minutes later.
The scoreline was harsh on a Swansea side that battled away but never really looked like scoring. They’ll face plenty more benevolent sides this season, but they’ll need to get broken arm victim Fernando Llorente back in the side sooner rather than later if they want to get points on the board. As for Manchester United, 8 goals without reply in their opening two fixtures suggests their profligacy from last season has been remedied, while Paul Pogba is starting to look more a £90m footballer than a walking advertising campaign every minute.
The 3pm kick-offs threw up a couple of eyebrow raising results, with Watford condemning Bournemouth to back-to-back defeats at The Vitality. Goals from Richarlison and 2016 FPL sleeper hit Etienne Capoue giving Marco Silva his first win as Watford boss, despite some outstanding shithousery from Harry Arter – shouting to Nathaniel Chalobah to “leave it” when the Watford midfielder was poised to shoot, and starting a Bournemouth counter-attack from the subsequent dummy.
Burnley also suffered a home defeat, at the hands of West Bromwich Albion. A fairly turgid affair was settled by a spectacular cameo appearance from That Goal Against Belgium’s Hal Robson Kanu. The Welshman came off the bench to score with the game’s first shot on target, and proceeded to receive a straight red for a flimsy looking elbow on Burnley’s Matt Lowton. Pulis-ball is well and truly back.
Elsewhere there were regulation wins for Liverpool at home to Crystal Palace – Sadio Mané with the only goal – and Leicester at home to Brighton. The tastiest morsel of the afternoon came on the south coast, where goal-shy Southampton took on Slaven Bilic’s upgraded West Ham. Unfortunately the upgrade is a bit like when you first get Windows 10 and you can’t work your way round it, and all the shiny new features are annoying. The Saints raced into a two-goal lead as Manolo Gabbiadini slid home his first goal since the beginning March, and old-boy José Fonte came over all misty eyed, conceding a penalty that Dusan Tadic duly converted. Sandwiched betwixt the goals, Marko Arnautovic saw red for a lunging elbow.
West Ham achieved parity with a Little Pea, as Javier Hernandez showed the kind of menace from four yards out that only £14m can buy. However it wasn’t to be West Ham’s day, as summer signing Pablo Zabaleta pushed Maya Yoshida over in stoppage time, and despite goading from Joe Hart and Mark Noble, Charlie Austin kept his cool and sealed the win for Southampton. Hart once again made to look a pillock by acting Billy Big Bollocks, before conceding his seventh goal in two games. Andrea Pirlo may have enjoyed that.
On Saturday evening the annual gathering of The Aaron Ramsey Appreciation Society took place, as Arsenal headed to the Potteries to face a Stoke City team that looked a couple of bad results away from a crisis. Having garnered only two points from twelve games against the big six last season, Mark Hughes will have been keen to ensure the ‘Little Team’ complex his side have suffered from in recent times was quickly dispelled, and Arsenal were only too happy to oblige. A sensational debut from on-loan Jese Rodriguez, including a goal, gave Stoke a 1-0 victory, though Alexandre Lacazette will consider himself unlucky to a have a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, particularly since Carl off Twitter proved unequivocally that the Frenchman was in line.
Sunday lunch was roasted magpies served up at the John Smith Arena, with a side of Yorkshire puddings as Huddersfield Town‘s happy clapping supporters were treated to their first top flight victory in 45 years as they beat an insipid Newcastle United. Notable egg Aaron Mooy curled in the only goal of the game, though Wagner’s men may consider themselves fortunate that the God of Questionable Refereeing was looking down on them, as Steve Mounie escaped censure for an apparent stamp on Isaac Hayden. For Newcastle, it was an afternoon of few positives, though Mikel Merino – deputising for the suspended Jonjo Shelvey – showed signs that, once he’s up to speed with the frantic pace of Premier League football, he could prove a valuable addition to the league. The next ten days are massive for Rafa Benitez and owner Mike Ashley – quality is clearly lacking in this squad, and the failure to address this issue before the transfer deadline could lead to yet another crisis on Tyneside.
Wembley opened its doors to new tenants Tottenham Hotspur for Super Sunday, as a seemingly out-of-sorts Chelsea looked to get back on track after last week’s surprise defeat to Burnley. Much has been made of Spurs’ ability to use the wider pitch at Wembley to their advantage, but on the basis of the first half it would seem the size of the goalframes are the problem, as the hosts blazed shot after shot wide and high. In a blood and guts contest typical of a London derby, the first bit of quality saw Chelsea take the lead, as fullback Marcos Alonso curled a free-kick into the top corner following a soft foul from Dele Alli.
Eric Dier was perhaps lucky to get to half time avoiding a confab with his bottle of Matey, as a robust challenge not dissimilar to the one that earned Gary Cahill the afternoon off last week was only punished with a yellow card. The two sides exchanged blows in the second half, but it wasn’t until Michy Batshuayi demonstrated the kind of finishing prowess that earned him a £32million move last summer, that further goals were scored. Unfortunately for the Belgian, his bullet header gave Spurs an equaliser, and it looked as if the game was heading for a draw. Marcos Alonso had other ideas, however, and his glide into the Tottenham penalty area went unchecked and he rifled a shot through Hugo Lloris at the near post. For Chelsea it’s crisis averted, for Tottenham Hotspur the Wembley hoodoo continues.
Monday Night Football made its return at the Etihad as 2018’s Champions in waiting Manchester City took on Ronald Koeman’s new look Everton side. All the talk pre-match centred around Manchester City’s attacking threat, with Leroy Sane brought into the starting line up to complete a front five with Aguero, Jesus, Silva and De Bruyne, and City peppered Jordan Pickford’s goal in the first half without creating any real clear cut chances. It was Everton that eventually made the breakthrough, with Wayne Rooney converting Dominic Calvin-Lewin’s cross through the legs of Ederson ten minutes before the break. Two in two for Rooney might see the smirks slowly fading from the faces of those that deemed his summer transfer back to Goodison little more than a sentimental PR stunt.
Manchester City went into the half-time break a goal and a man down as nominative determinism’s Kyle Walker picked up two yellow cards in two minutes – the second for a soft shove on the young Calvert-Lewin – but came back out in the second half looking even stronger. Shots on target were few and far between, but half-time substitute Raheem Sterling volleyed City level with less than ten minutes to go. Another pulsating Premier League tie finished ten-a-piece, as Morgan Schneiderlin walked for his second yellow – clipping Sergio Aguero with a late tackle.
So Manchester United end the second week of the season the way they started it – top of the pile. The headline from their 16/17 campaign was the inability to break down the stubborn ‘smaller’ teams, and so far this looks to have been remedied. The jury though must remain out until they face top quality opposition – their visit to Anfield on 14th October will give us a better idea of their real title credentials.
For the rest of the challengers it has so far been a mixed bag. Tottenham haven’t looked particularly convincing in either of their opening games, while Chelsea look like they could be a basket case this season. Manchester City, for all of their attacking talent are yet to quite click, and Arsenal and Liverpool look like they’re lacking the requisite killer instinct to trouble the title race.
Huddersfield, tipped by many to finish bottom ahead of the season, have 6 from 6 and have so far acquitted themselves well, but then Hull City began last season with two excellent victories and still went down. It’s a marathon not walkies, and the toughest tests lie ahead for the Terriers.
Winless West Ham and Newcastle face each other at St James’ Park next weekend. A defeat for either team could see serious pressure prematurely heaped on their managers heading into the international break.
The Premier League. To be continued…