The Premier League is back: Five reasons we loved Day One

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021 00:00 |
Manchester United’s Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes (C) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Leeds United at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on August 14, 2021. Photo/AFP

London, Monday

It was the weekend Premier League fans had been waiting more than 17 months for - and it did not disappoint.

We saw full stadiums for the first time since the Covid pandemic shut football down in March 2020, the traditional 3pm (UK time) fixtures were back and there were a near-record number of goals.

It was an opening round of matches that more than matched expectations...

Fans back in big numbers

“It is amazing. It changes everything. Two or three months ago, something was missing,” said Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo after their 1-0 win over Manchester City.

“The games were good but the fans are what it is all about - the edge of the game, and the boys need it.”

He is not wrong. Football behind closed doors - with fake crowd noise on the TV and radio - has just not been the same.

Last season, there were a few weeks with 2,000 fans allowed at some games in the winter, before two weeks of larger crowds at the end of the campaign, plus trials at Wembley in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup.

But full stadiums are back now. The roar from the 16,479 at the first-ever Premier League game to be played at Brentford - Friday’s win over Arsenal - will live long in the memory.

A crowd of 72,732 packed into Old Trafford to watch Manchester United hammer Leeds.

Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored against Southampton, said: “It’s a great feeling to score with fans being back in the stadium. I felt like a kid again.”

And Trevoh Chalobah’s goal on his Premier League debut - and his emotional reaction - would not have been the same without his fellow Chelsea fans in the stands to celebrate with him.

It was also a return to the traditional 3pm slot now that fans are back. Five of this weekend’s games were played at the same time - a contrast to last season, when the large majority of matches were staggered, leading to football seemingly all day, every day.

Loads of goals - and wins

Nobody likes a draw, right? Well this was the weekend for you as all 10 games had a winner - seven by the home team.

Spurs are only 10th (on alphabetical order, anyway) despite beating champions City 1-0.

There were goals galore too, with 34 in 10 games. Manchester United hit five, West Ham scored four and Chelsea, Everton, Watford and Liverpool all netted three.

Only once in Premier League history have there been more goals on the opening weekend - the 36 netted in 2003-04.

A good start for the underdogs

The past 10 seasons had only seen three opening-day wins by promoted teams in 30 attempts.

There were two out of three this weekend. Brentford celebrated their return to the top tier after 74 years away with a deserved 2-0 victory over an abject Arsenal.

Their entire starting XI had a total of 19 minutes of Premier League experience before the game.

“It’s a historic evening and it’s crazy that we’re opening the Premier League season by beating Arsenal,” said boss Thomas Frank.

“A full house, a top performance. Incredible. Nobody who was here will ever forget that.”

The other win for a promoted side saw Watford beat Aston Villa - tipped by many to have a good season - 3-2 in a thriller. Norwich lost 3-0 at home to Liverpool.

Minimal VAR intervention

The way the video assistant referee system is used in the Premier League has been changed this season - to no longer penalise “trivial things”.

Offside decisions will no longer be given by a tiny fraction. If the lines the VAR team use to calculate positions overlap, the goal will be given.

There should be fewer picky handball penalties - and penalties will not be awarded for just any bit of contact in a tackle.

Bruno Fernandes scored a borderline offside goal in Manchester United’s win over Leeds, part of his hat-trick.

Match of the Day pundit Ian Wright said “it would have been” offside last season.

“When the lines overlap the benefit of doubt goes to the striker now,” he said.

“It’s something that was annoying everyone. Everyone will benefit from this. We don’t have to speak about this [any more].”

Former England captain Alan Shearer said: “It was a much better performance from all the officials in every game and it worked perfectly.”

Even City forward Raheem Sterling was impressed, despite his side losing to Spurs.

“The referee let the game flow. I thought he was brilliant today,” he told BBC Sport.

Do we have a proper title race on our hands?

Manchester City have won three of the past four Premier League titles but they looked well below their fluid best against Spurs.

That was the first time a Pep Guardiola side have lost on the opening day since 2008-09, when Numancia beat Barcelona - his very first game in senior management.

The three teams most likely to challenge this season all looked good and won.

European champions Chelsea - tipped by many as Premier League title contenders - beat Crystal Palace 3-0, and that was with £97.5m Romelu Lukaku still to come into the team.

Fernandes scored a hat-trick - and Paul Pogba set up four goals - as Manchester United thrashed Leeds 5-1.

And Liverpool, the 2019-20 champions, have Virgil van Dijk back in the team after a long-term injury and they won at Norwich.

It has been seven years since the final top four (or even the top three) were separated by 10 points or fewer.

There has barely been a title race featuring more than two teams in that time.Is this the year when that changes? - BBC

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