There’s nothing quite like coming back from a holiday. Opening the door and being greeted by the familiar smell of home, sorting through the post after you’ve put the kettle on to make a brew, settling down into the grooves of your favourite armchair, flicking through the papers to see that, yes, the world is still rapidly screeching towards its predictably fiery denouement, catching up on the telly you’ve missed while you’ve been away and then slipping into your own comfortable bed. Particularly if you’ve spent the last two weeks watching England labour to victory against the tradesmen of a Mediterranean island and squeeze past a team that Sam Allardyce managed to outwit.
It must be especially strange when you’re a footballer. You’ve been away with the national team lads, having a Wales of a time (only applies to Welsh players), and when you get back to work your manager has gone and spent £35 million on a player in your position. Suddenly you’re under pressure at work, your every move being scrutinised, and to make it worse you’ve got some smug prick with a perm-cum-fade cuddling up to the manager trying to take your place in the team. At least that’s how I imagine Georginio Wijnaldum felt when he arrived back at Melwood and saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sat in his favourite seat in the canteen.
Not content with putting in a half-arsed performance for Arsenal at Anfield last time out, ‘The Ox’, as Soccer AM insist on calling him, put a further two fingers up to Arsene Wenger and packed his bags for Merseyside before the closure of the transfer window. His new side kicked off this weekend’s Premier League proceedings with a fixture that looked tastier than a proper Full English as Liverpool travelled to the Etihad to take on Manchester City. Having seen Loris Karius keep a clean sheet against an inept Arsenal frontline, Klopp decided to throw Simon Mignolet into the South American line of fire, while City welcomed Kyle Walker back from suspension.
But it was the visitors that looked the most dangerous in the opening twenty minutes, until a defence-splitting pass from Kevin De Bruyne allowed Sergio Ageuro to round Mignolet and give City the lead. Five minutes later, Liverpool almost hit back as Mo Salah broke the offside trap and drove towards Ederson’s goal. Firmino and Mane were both available for the square ball, but the Egyptian opted to go a alone, and drove a weak shot straight at the City keeper. Having watched Salah so far this season, he strikes me as a terribly exciting but extremely frustrating player. The exact type of player you hate playing five-a-side with and against, such is his insistence on outpacing defenders and never passing to a player in a better position.
The game turned on the 37th minute, as a long through ball seemed to put Sadio Mane through on goal. The Senegalese stretched to control the ball and clattered into the on-rushing Ederson, and referee Jon Moss was quick to produce a straight red for the forward’s challenge. The initial reaction was that Moss had made a terrible mistake – an innocuous 50/50 challenge that Mane had every right to contest – however replays showed the flat of Mane’s boot connecting with the ‘keeper’s cheek, and a red card for dangerous play was warranted. The resulting injury to Ederson meant that lovers of comedy goalkeeping were treated to the sight of Claudio Bravo. The sprightly Gabriel Jesus then had a goal disallowed for offside, before converting a second for City in first half stoppage time – Liverpool punished twice for the Mane challenge, after eight minutes were added on for the treatment of Ederson.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced for the second half in place of Salah, and the 35 million pound man carried on his rich vein of form by having no discernible impact on the game whatsoever. Aguero saw his 53rd minute effort ruled out for offside, but in the next attack laid the ball on a plate for Jesus to grab his second of the afternoon and grab the game well and truly from Liverpool’s grasp. The mutual understanding between the Argentine and Brazilian will give the rest of the league a deep sense of trepidation – everytime City went forward it looked like one of them would score. Jesus was withdrawn shortly after, and with the game won Guardiola introduced Leroy Sane. The German helped himself to two goals, as Liverpool’s defence looked all at sea. Ragnar Klavan doing an excellent impression of someone that’s never seen a football for the whole 90 minutes.
Jurgen Klopp may argue that the game was over as a contest once Mane had been sent off, but his team’s disinterest in fighting their way back into the game, and seeming inability to challenge with ten men, will be a worry to Reds supporters. Oxlade-Chamberlain meanwhile surely cements his place in history by becoming the first player to lose consecutive Premier League games 4-0 and 5-0 with two different clubs. As for City – they looked absolutely ruthless, and to the concern of 19 other clubs, they may have just clicked.
The impending European ties meant the glamorous fixtures you’d usually see scattered across the weekend were all condensed into Saturday, giving the 3 o’clock kick-offs an unusually attractive sheen. The most notable game took place at Goodison Park, where Wayne Rooney was looking for three more points to add to those he picked up for drink-driving during the international break as his Everton side took on Tottenham Hotspur. The Spurs line up included £45m signing Davinson Sanchez in defence, as well as a surpise inclusion for sometime footballer Moussa Sissoko. Unsurprisingly it was Harry Kane that opened the scoring for Spurs with an outrageous lob from the edge of the box, which he foolishly later admitted was an attempted cross. The Premier League’s Most Underrated Player™ Christian Eriksen doubled the lead before half-time, and from thereon the result was never in doubt. Kane’s second straight after half-time sealed the win, and Everton’s promising start the season looks to be hitting the skids. Much like their #10.
The Albion derby took place on the south-coast, as Brighton and Hove welcomed West Bromwich. Chris Hughton’s men were looking for their first ever Premier League goal, while Tony Pulis’ side were hoping to make it three wins from four after a decent start to the season. The Seagulls fans thought they were celebrating history midway through the first half when Shane Duffy poked home, however the linesman had raised his flag. Gross injustice was quickly followed by Gross justice as Pascal Groß made history at the Amex to give Brighton the lead. It was no less than the Seagulls deserved after a dominant opening half, and shortly after half-time the German repeated the trick. Tomer Hemed extended Brighton’s lead just past the hour, and despite singer/songwriter James Morrison pulling one back for West Brom, a historic win was secured.
Elsewhere, Chelsea secured a 2-1 victory at the King Power against Leicester, with former Fox Ngolo Kante scoring the winner from distance. Arsenal took a breather from delighting the nation to dispatch Bournemouth with two goals from Danny Welbeck and another from Alexandre Lacazette – the 3-0 scoreline flattered Bournemouth, who look in all sorts of trouble. Meanwhile Watford took their assortment of fictional footballers to St Mary’s and recorded an impressive 2-0 against an ailing Southampton side.
The evening kick-off saw Manchester United looking to secure their first win away at Stoke in the post-Ferguson era. David Moyes and Louis van Gaal have seemingly done more to enhance the reputation of ‘a wet Tuesday night at Stoke’ than anyone else. A dreary first-half looked to be trundling to a goalless interval until every Scrabble player’s favourite striker Eric Maxim Chupo-Moting scored his first goal for Stoke, converting Biram Diouf’s centre. The lead lasted less than 180 seconds, as Paul Pogba got his new haircut onto Juan Mata’s corner, and Marcus Rashford’s tender shoulders diverted the ball past Jack Butland to level the scores.
The intensity of the final minutes of the first half carried on into the second, and just before the hour Romelu Lukaku latched onto Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s through ball and, despite seeing his first time shot blocked by Butland, lashed his second effort into the top corner. The home faithful felt the Belgian had strayed offside, and spent the minutes after aiming shrill whistles at the officials. Coupled with the regular chants of ‘Who are ya?’, they’ve made an early claim for most obnoxious supporters of the season. On the pitch Stoke almost hit back five minutes later, as Jese’s first time shot was spectacularly tipped over by David De Gea. From the resulting corner, Phil Jones fell over and pulled a face, and Chupo-Moting was on hand to head Stoke level. Lukaku had one more golden opportunity to win it after volleying Martial’s cross over from ten yards out, however on balance the draw was a fair result, and for the first time this season Manchester United’s fallibility had been exposed. Jose Mourinho’s refusal to shake Mark Hughes’ hand at the final whistle saw the long-awaited return of the Welshman’s pet peeve, and unsurprisingly he took the opportunity to give Mourinho both barrels into the Sky cameras. Never has a club and manager deserved each other more.
A not-so Super Sunday kicked off at Turf Moor, with Brexit’s Burnley taking on a Crystal Palace side that were yet to register a league goal this season. Frank De Boer’s attempts to bring Total Football to Selhurst Park had so far been Total Shite, but he’d have been looking at this fixture against the meat and potatoes Sean Dyche as an opportunity to finally get the Eagles off the ground. Instead, Burnley’s Chris Wood latched onto wayward backpass in the third minute and steered a long range finish past the onrushing Wayne Hennessey to give the hosts the lead. Wood scored a hat-trick against the Solomon Islands during the international break, so he’ll have felt at home against the quality of defending that Palace displayed in the lead up to the goal. Palace were unlucky not to equalise when Scott Dann’s shot was cleared off the line, and an injury to Burnley custodian Tom Heaton looked as though it may turn the tide in the visitors favour. A golden opportunity for Christian Benteke with 15 minutes to go failed to bring an equaliser, and when Dann had another effort cleared off the line in the 83rd minute, it was clear it wasn’t going to be Palace’s day. The pertinent question at full time was how long Frank De Boer would get to turn this around. Crystal Palace owner Steve Parish put up with Alan Pardew for far longer than was necessary, but so it came to pass that less than 24 hours after this game had kicked off, De Boer was on his bike. Human owl Roy Hodgson is currently the favourite to build a nest in the Selhurst Park dugout.
The second uninspiring game of the day saw a Benitez-less Newcastle head to south Wales to take on Swansea City. The pain of a hernia operation preventing him from travelling rather than the pain in the arse of working for Mike Ashley. Swansea’s spectacular transfer deadline day saw the acquisition of European Championship winner and ‘good on paper’ Renato Sanches and the return of Wilfried Bony, who has presumably been in stasis for two and a half years. Sanches started the game for the Swans and his impact was immediate – giving the ball away on no fewer than 14 occasions during the first half. The home side’s dominance in possession was not matched by their enterprise, and it was Newcastle that went closest in the first half, Lukas Fabianski reacting quickly to Joselu’s snap header and turning it round the post.
The second half started much in the same vein, and when Leroy Fer released Tammy Abraham to round Rob Elliott, it looked as if Swansea had finally found their opener, only for Newcastle captain Jamal Lascelles to slide the ball out for a corner. That was a cue for the Magpies to grow into the game, and it was Lascelles popping up at the other end to head home a Matt Ritchie corner and give the visitors a 76th minute lead. Further pressure from the Swans in the closing stages was repelled by Newcastle, the final whistle signalled a vital away victory for Rafa’s troops. Swansea will look back at an opportunity missed, and beginning the season with consecutive home defeats for the first time since 1985 will rankle, but once Sanches has got to grips with the Premier League and Bony is back to full fitness they should find their killer instinct.
Viewers of Monday Night Football were treated to a Life On Mars themed programme, as Proper Football Club West Ham returned to play in front of their Proper Football Fans in a Proper Football Match against Proper Opposition Huddersfield Town, in the much delayed first game of the season at their Properly Funded by the Taxpayer stadium. Given the special occasion it was no surprise to see Proper Centre Forward Andy Carroll make the first of his ten appearances this season for the hosts, who were desperate to win to avoid changing the alert lightbulbs from orange to red. The Terriers, meanwhile, have spent the first few weeks of the season sat at the top table. Or gnawing on the legs of it anyway.
It was the Hammers that made the best of the opening exchanges, launching waves of attacks at the Huddersfield goal, Javier Hernandez cracking the ball against the bar with the best chance of the first half. The breakthrough finally came in the 72nd minute, when Pedro Obiang’s shot from 25 yards ricocheted off Matias Jorgensen and deceived Jonas Lössl in the Town goal. The points were secured minutes later, as Andre Ayew poked home after a quick game of pinball following a West Ham corner. Slaven Bilic breathed a sigh of relief at full time, safe in the knowledge that he wouldn’t be receiving a post-match visit from the Dildo Brothers. Huddersfield, meanwhile, will be looking to dust themselves down and ensure the feel-good factor generated from those positive early results isn’t dampened after conceding their first Premier League goals.
So Manchester City have shown their ruthless side for the first, and likely not the last time this season, while Jurgen Klopp will be keen to address Liverpool’s soft underbelly if he’s going to make strides towards success this season. The blueprint to troubling Manchester United appears to be getting it up ’em, and Bournemouth are a couple of bad results away from full on crisis. The biggest takeway from the weekend, though, appears to be that it doesn’t matter if you embarrass yourself in front of a nation, be that dancing like a complete tit at Wembley Stadium, being filmed downing a pint of wine, or crashing out of a tournament to Iceland, there’ll always be a job waiting for you at Crystal Palace.