And breathe. As opening Premier League weekends go, that must be the most chaotic one endured since the division’s creation 25 years ago. In all, 31 goals were shipped, bundled and smashed in, as fans and players alike were caught up in a whirlwind start to the season.
While not the most conceded — that honour goes to the 2003/04 season when the net was found a total of 36 times in the first round of matches — it did offer an enjoyable glimpse as to what might occur over the next 10 months.
It also reinforced the reason why so many love the league: when you can experience such frenzied matches as to keep you entertained for three days straight, what else would you want to occupy yourself with? From the intoxicating comeback at Arsenal to begin proceedings, to the imperious display of a confident Manchester United, there was little time to relax and take stock of events.
So, let’s now turn our attention to Old Trafford and the swagger, mojo, or whatever adjective you feel best fits the self-assured feeling that is permeating through there. For so much of last year, Jose Mourinho had United playing functionally, but with little verve to inspire supporters.
On first inspection this summer, a resurgence of the drive that so enamoured onlookers to Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams is seeping back in. Mourinho, known for his counter-Tiki Taka style whereby the opposition are at their weakest when in possession of the ball, seems to be reconciling the methodology that served him well in recent times with his forbearers at United. A willingness to embrace the enterprise and energy that personified those successful sides was borne out in their 4-0 shellacking of West Ham.
New recruit Romelu Lukaku , arriving for £75 million from Everton, experienced no stage fright when stepping out in the Theatre of Dreams, getting on the scoresheet twice to quiet any concern there was that he might not be able to perform for a top club. But his high class antics in front of goal masked the true man of the match, a fellow-recent signing and ex-Chelsea player, Nemanja Matic.
It was he, deployed in a deep lying midfield position, who intercepted Pedro Obiang and initiated the move that put the hosts ahead. Matic controlled the game, wiping out any foreign invaders in United’s half and, with decent control and vision, setting about their own attacks.
By doing so, the transfer from Chelsea, allowing him to depart to a title rival, looks stranger by the day. For, United really do give off the impression of possessing a side capable of finishing on top, come next May, especially when reigning champions Chelsea are clearly in strife.
Their 3-2 loss to Burnley would usually be offset against beginning of the season jitters combined with notable absences through injury and the two red cards they were shown, including captain Gary Cahill’s departure 14 minutes in. But delve a tad deeper and there are issues more problematic than revealed at first sight.
The title-holders are not acknowledged for utilising their abundance of proficient youth cadets — as of August 14, they had 26 players under the age of 25 out on loan — yet notably incorporated a further six academy prospects in their 15-man squad against Burnley. Manager Antonio Conte even started 20-year-old Jeremie Boga.
Still searching for extra additions to the playing staff, Conte was moved to deny he deployed such a weak side so as to force the transfer issue with owner Roman Abramovich. Discontent is growing at Stamford Bridge, and the gloomy atmosphere enveloping Chelsea would have been made murkier still by the revelations from outcast striker Diego Costa that he’s being treated like a criminal.
There were reasons to be joyful in some parts of London though, in particular in the north of the capital. Both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were victorious, one demonstrating a newfound perseverance while the other showed once again their proficiency and burgeoning talent at this level.
Spurs will be the happier of the two, as Kyle Walker-Peters introduced himself with aplomb in their easy win over new-boys Newcastle. But it is the persistence and determination of Arsenal, an aspect so lacking in previous years, which could prove defining in the title race, if maintained.
Meanwhile, there were differing outcomes for the two halves of Liverpool. The red side, thrust into a tumultuous few days in the run up to their match away to Watford after Philippe Coutinho handed in a transfer request with Barcelona interested in signing him, were denied three points by a late equaliser.
Head coach Jurgen Klopp clearly frustrated post-match by the ongoing transfer saga involving Coutinho, admitted it was out of his hands. However, organising his defence is not. His time would be well spent on that pursuit.
There was no such irritation for Ronald Koeman’s Everton, with Wayne Rooney scoring on his return to his boyhood club to help them beat a stubborn Stoke. In truth, the romanticism of Rooney’s winner covered up an otherwise anaemic showing by the expensively redeveloped Everton.
A switch from a back three and wing backs to four defenders in the second-half improved the situation, but much greater showings are expected.
The same could be said of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, who took until after the half-time interval to move out of first gear and find a way past Brighton’s defence. Favourites to lift the Premier League trophy, City will need swift progress if they are to fulfil that prediction.
Yet, the most remarkable result of a noteworthy weekend came from promoted Huddersfield, who surprised Crystal Palace to the tune of three goals without reply. Despite having the ball in possession for a mere 19.7 minutes of the match, Huddersfield stuck to the principles that saw them reach the top-flight, shifting the ball quickly and using width to get behind the Palace defenders.
Club record signing Steve Mounie did his part, converting two crosses, leaving David Wagner’s side temporarily on top of the league.
There remains a long and windy journey before the final table-topper is decided. But if we’re treated to any more weekends like this one, it’s going to be a gripping ride you don’t want to miss out on.
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