A question. Why is it acceptable to make sweeping predictions pre-season, before a single minute of Premier League football has been played, yet get the crystal ball out one game into the campaign and it’s met with mockery? Knee-jerk takeaways: isn’t that what the headline above says?
It’s a legitimate query because one is based on little more than guesswork. The other meanwhile is grounded in friendlies, plus ninety competitive minutes; the first act of a very long play, where the cast begin to make themselves known.
Last weekend, the cast of 2022/23 took to the stage, and some fluffed their lines, while others stole the limelight. So, although some – if not all – of what follows may ultimately prove to be wrong, it is at least based on information. A tiny bit admittedly, in the grand scheme of things, but information all the same.
Southampton are going down
The Saints will not be marching on this season, and it could be a dispiriting time on the South Coast with Bournemouth expected to struggle too.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side were woeful last term from March on with a, fortunately, attained victory over Arsenal a sticking plaster that failed to cover a litany of wounds. Consequently, the Austrian has embarked on a major overhaul in the summer, releasing a handful of peripheral talent and bringing in seven players.
That these new recruits have an average age of just 19.4 points very much to the future, which is a commendable and brave approach in the top-flight. Alas, it’s an approach that very likely won’t translate to mid-table safety.
Southampton couldn’t believe their luck in taking the lead at Tottenham last week. That doesn’t bode well.
Mitrovic will prove his doubters wrong
Fulham were superb on their return to the Premier League, surpassing Liverpool for intensity all over the pitch and displaying plenty of the organization and flair that won them the Championship in May.
Of the individuals involved, Aleksandar Mitrovic stood out, scoring twice and clearly revved up to prove that the long-held charge against him is false. You know the one. The one that has him viewed as too good for the second tier but ineffective at the highest level.
Mitrovic is the FIRST player to dribble past Virgil van Dijk and cause him to concede a penalty in a Premier League game 😳 pic.twitter.com/qVVrJk1k3f
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) August 6, 2022
It’s an understandable accusation when his figures are tallied up, with the burly Serb netting 24 times in 104 Premier League games before last weekend. That equates to a goal every 286 minutes. In the Championship meanwhile, he has bagged 85 in 126, finding the target every 117 minutes.
As a small sample size that would raise an eyebrow and nothing more. Across 230 matches, it’s a big problem.
Can Mitrovic transfer his considerable threat to the top-flight? Last Saturday he did, and positive starts can be built upon.
Erik Ten Hag won’t be given enough time
Even with two debutants and a mandate to press it was the same old Manchester United who lost to Brighton. The same frailties. The all-too-familiar flaws that run through the team like fractures in a rock.
It will take Ten Hag a good deal of time – not to mention, a couple of transfer windows – to turn things around.
Erik ten Hag loses his first game in the Premier League 😬 pic.twitter.com/LE2BEbVPbu
— GOAL (@goal) August 7, 2022
The question is though, will he be given sufficient chance to heal a patient who has been languishing on a sick bed now since 2013? The response from the media and fans to this opening day defeat suggests not and already, ridiculously, United’s tricky trip to Brentford, followed by Liverpool, look like crucial, defining games.
A tough time awaits Gerrard and Lampard
Famously, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard failed to strike up a good understanding on the pitch in England colours. It’s perfectly possible, however, that the pair might finally form a common bond this term, in presiding over struggling clubs.
Aston Villa looked hopelessly off the pace at Bournemouth, accruing just two shots on target with Philippe Coutinho all but anonymous. With the Midlands side having shown some ambition in the summer there’s already pressure on Gerrard to get results and they simply cannot afford to continue their poor form that saw them plummet last season from ninth to 14th in the concluding weeks.
As for the Toffees, they predictably looked toothless up front minus a recognized striker and though there is sufficient quality elsewhere to prevent a season-long flatlining, a few injuries here and there could swiftly change that. Strengthening their squad in the coming weeks is an absolute must.
Koulibaly is Rudiger mkII
It was no surprise to see Kalidou Koulibaly impress on his full Chelsea debut, picking up the Man of the Match award after putting in an accomplished display at the back at Goodison, nullifying what little threat Everton offered up with ease.
Tuchel: “We have followed Koulibaly for many years, my staff and I have tried many times but it is very difficult to get players from Napoli.” pic.twitter.com/4TDKrh2DqZ
— Vince™ (@Blue_Footy) August 6, 2022
It was no surprise either to witness his leadership skills put to good effect, organizing a back-line that is hardly short of experience in Azpilicueta and Silva.
If the Senegalese defender settles quickly at the Bridge – and last weekend’s outing suggests that is already a fait accompli – then Antonio Rudiger will barely be missed.