Siao Mates Aug 12

Five things we learned from EPL's matchday 1


Finally, the English Premier League has come back to our TV sets, complete with frozen images and missed goals as though we were watching a pirated stream.


Despite a nation of football fans developing callouses from pressing the refresh button over and over, matchday 1 truly set the stage for what could be a season of more twists and turns than the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp (unaffectionately known as Jomber) trial.


While the first match of the season often tells us nothing about how the season will go, it won’t stop us telling you how the season will go anyway, because no one will look back at this article nine months from now to see how right, or wrong, I was.


So in typical Buzzfeed clickbait fashion, here are five things we learned from matchday 1.


1. Manchester United need time. Just like Starhub.


Erik ten Hag brought a lot of newfound optimism to the red half of Manchester. That was so apparent the way Old Trafford was brimming with excitement to witness the birth of the Ten Hag era. Within 15 seconds, Brighton’s Leandro Trossard shot into the side netting to signal that this would be a difficult birth that might require a CR-section delivery.


WATCH: Ten Hag explains why he didn't start Ronaldo against Brighton


After 45 minutes, the Ten Hag era was admitted to the neonatal unit. Meanwhile, Netflix registered a strange surge of viewers from Manchester and Singapore (United’s second home) tuning into their groundbreaking new series, The Sandman.


At full-time, Ten Hag knew exactly what he had signed up for – a bunch of talented footballers, and Scott McTominay, who didn’t know what teamwork meant. Not that Brighton are a walk in the park by any yardstick, but losing to a team that has never beaten United at Old Trafford is hardly the ideal way to start a new era. 


Similarly, a day before, Starhub, who paid the English Premier League enough money to feed Burundi, was supposed to herald in a new way of watching the EPL. And certainly, for law-abiding subscribers, it allowed them to experience how it was like watching pirated EPL back in 1999 on a dial-up modem.


The telco started well enough, because they significantly lowered the cost of watching the league for die-hard EPL fans, which these days comprise mostly Boomers and Gen X. And right off the bat, Liverpool fans missed three of the goals in their match against Fulham due to technical difficulties. United fans, on the other hand, wished they had the same fortune, but were cruelly made to watch all three goals in their match.


Jokes aside, what is apparent is that Ten Hag and Starhub need time to get things functioning at an optimal level, and while both had a full pre-season to prepare for the kick-off, neither knew how monumental the task at hand was.


They know now, and all eyes will be on them to see if there are improvements in the coming weeks.


2. Third time lucky for Spurs?


For the past two seasons, Tottenham Hotspur have enjoyed being at the top of the table, only to see them collapse as spectacularly as the famous London Bridge – so much so that they almost changed the famous nursery rhyme to Tottenham is falling down, falling down, falling down.


And now, Spurs are top of the table again, and no one, not even Spurs fans, believe they will stay there. 


But, Antonio Conte has definitely stamped his mark on the team, and the team looked like a carbon copy of the one that embarked on a run that saw only one shock loss in nine towards the tail end of last season.


WATCH: Conte celebrates opening day win over Southampton


Indeed, it was exactly the same team that finished the season which brushed Southampton aside with consummate ease, with Conte electing not to start any of his six new signings. 


On paper though, there’s really no reason why Spurs can’t make it stick this time. They arguably have the best attack in the Premiership, and with Dejan Kulusevski stepping up when Harry Kane and Son Heung Min are having off days, in addition to the unpredictable Richarlison coming on to give different options, Spurs’ attack should give even the best defences a torrid time.


And somehow, despite Eric Dier’s continued presence in the heart of Spurs’ defence, Conte seems to have organised them in such a way that it’s no longer easy to score against a side that somehow always manages to lose from a winning position.


The reinforcements in midfield, with Rodrigo Bentacur and now Yves Bissouma, backed up by capable enforcers in Oliver Skipp, when fit, and Pierre Emile Hojbjerg, have also added a touch of technical excellence.


Why people still think that there’s a gap between them and the top two is probably because they never really look that dominant or menacing, even when they are on a run. And unlike Liverpool and Manchester City, opposing teams will often have periods of dominance against Spurs, and can still benefit from the occasional lapses, like how Southampton scored the opening goal out of thin air.


Only the most optimistic think Spurs are title contenders, and honestly, that’s great for Spurs fans, because the last thing we want is the weight of expectation. 


So will Spurs be third time lucky? Don’t ask me, I don’t want to know.


3. Arteta out, please


I’m not kidding about this. Arsenal fans were calling for his head when Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side became Spursy and let their hated rivals pip them for fourth last season. Much mockery had to be endured.


Under normal circumstances, rival fans would be asking for Arteta to remain as Arsenal’s manager for life (remember #Oleatthewheel). Not me, I’m campaigning for Arteta out. 


Because, you see, this Arsenal that he has built has a swagger about them that reminds me a bit of Arsene Wenger at his peak, and Arteta has bought smartly over the summer.


They brought two champions who are still in their prime over from City, and in Gabriel Jesus, they finally have a saviour, because he has provided a much needed focal point for their talented attacking force, something their previous attackers couldn’t really do. Not that the rest of the players were slouches to begin with. 


Buyako Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard and even the much-maligned Nicolas Pepe are all creative players that can tear any defence apart on their day. The returning William Saliba, while still unproven in the EPL, looks a solid addition to their backline. 


WATCH: Arteta impressed with Saliba's EPL debut


This Gunners team looks far more balanced than any of the previous season, and the fact that they have been pretty much written off by everyone (Conte didn’t even name them as one of the teams Spurs had to close the gap with, despite naming United), would suit them just fine. It’s early days yet, but the signs are there that Arsenal could be the dark horse in what everyone thinks will again be a two-horse race to the title.


They probably won’t win it, because the team is still relatively young despite the addition of two “old-timers” in Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko, but top-four wouldn’t be a stretch. Having not had to suffer the ignominy of St Totteringham’s day for a long time, I do not want to relive those days again. 


Hence, #artetaout. Please.


4. The first rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about Liverpool


Here’s the silliest thing anyone can do, mock Liverpool for nearly losing to newly promoted Fulham on opening day. So much commentary has since been made about how Luiz Diaz cannot replace Sadio Mane, nor can Darwin Nunez, and how you can’t win the league before the World Cup, but you can lose it before then, that you’d think they had just lost a title decider.


I’m a pragmatist, and I can tell you factually that Liverpool are now one point better off at this point of the season than Manchester City were last season.


Nunez looks every bit a class player and for the first time since Andy Carroll, Liverpool have a real target man. Unlike Carroll, this one actually can play, because he’s fast and technically secure, on top of being big.


WATCH: Klopp hails Nunez's goal threat


Now, had this been the Liverpool of seasons past, Nunez might not have that big an impact, because the trio of Firmino, Mo Salah and Mane acted like three interchangeable forwards who liked the ball around their feet as they led defences on a merry-go-round trying to sort out who to mark. Diaz is more of a traditional winger, and a very good one at that. And what do you need when you have a traditional winger? A target man.


Jurgen Klopp has very wisely refreshed a side that was beginning to look a tad stale, like overnight pizza. Still good, but somehow lacking that joy of warm cheese melting down your throat.


All this talk about Liverpool looking not up to it this season is simply going to fire them up as they go on yet another long unbeaten run, because that’s how they find their motivation.


So please, stop talking about Liverpool. 


5. It’s midnight. Do you know where your Chelsea are?


By right, Chelsea, given their talent (and that includes manager Thomas Tuchel), should have been right up there with the top two last season, not slumming it out and barely clinging on to third. On paper, the addition of Raheem Sterling, Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly should significantly close that gap. 


WATCH: Tuchel speaks about new signing Cucurella


But football is not played on paper, because if it were, we would run out of trees very soon.


Chelsea did not have the best of pre-seasons, and that seemed to have carried through into the season where they huffed and puffed to overcome a very ordinary Everton side. 


There’s no better chance for them to show what they are made of when they host Spurs this weekend. Let’s not forget, the three consecutive defeats they inflicted on their London rivals last season almost made Conte quit, so the visitors would probably be fired up to prove that they are a newer, much improved Spurs.


You’d be tempted to say that this is the best time to play Chelsea, that they have yet to gel and at the moment, are less fearsome than Arsenal. But somehow, Spurs often bring out the battling side of Chelsea. And even when Spurs don’t play well against them, Chelsea somehow always manages to scrap a win.


But what Chelsea need is to justify the vast amounts of money Tuchel has spent, with the majority of the cash being splashed on players under the category of ‘Costly Mistake’, the prime example of whom is Romelu Lukaku. 


To correct that image, Tuchel’s Chelsea cannot afford to scrap yet another win, but instead, convincingly put Tottenham in their place, something literally no one has managed to do since Conte became Spurs manager. Except for Chelsea.


The Blues are now conspicuous by their absence in the title conversations, but unlike Spurs and Arsenal, they will be feeling the pressure of not being seen as a contender, because Tuchel wasn’t brought in to play bridesmaid to City and Liverpool, especially not after splashing more than £200m.


A team of this quality will probably show up at some point in time, but were they to struggle against Spurs, you can be sure that knives will come out.



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