With the dust settled and emotions spent, we can all rise from our safe havens and look out onto what was once a peaceful, summer environment, and start to piece together the chaos left in the wake of the Premier League’s opening weekend fixtures.
One of the most hotly anticipated and spoken about Premier League seasons in recent memory, maybe even of all time, the 2014/15 campaign has finally arrived and left us with a lot to consider.
As we all try and come to terms with the fact that our lives over the past six-weeks were essentially a lie and that in-fact, once that first whistle was blown this weekend we all snapped back into it as if the summer hadn’t happened, we have compiled the five most integral things to take away from this weekend’s Premier League curtain raiser.
1. Louis van Gaal Has No Defence
The weekend’s action started at Old Trafford, where Louis Van Gaal, for the first time, led his Manchester United side out in a Premier League fixture against Gary Monk’s Swansea City.
After a fantastic (and probably misleading) pre-season run, there was confidence within the Manchester United ranks, with the newly implemented three-at-the back yielding stellar results against the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid and it seemed more than likely that van Gaal’s preferred defensive structure could work out well for a Manchester United side still looking to recover from the loss of Sir Alex Ferguson.
As the team sheet was announced, there was immediate concern. As expected, LVG stuck to his back three with wingbacks, this was not where the concern lay. The worry that most Manchester United fans faced was with personnel.
The Dutch coach’s attempt at the back three in the Premier League consisted of Phil Jones, Chis Smalling and Premier League debutant, 20 year-old Tyler Blackett.
The loss of defensive legends Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra would be a huge blow to any top-flight club, however, Manchester United’s failure to replace these three is telling and is the most obvious concern of the new coach, who will have to act fast to strengthen if he is to stand any chance of bringing the Red Devils back to anything like the success they enjoyed under the great Sir Alex.
Opened up by Swansea City’s Ki and new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson, United’s back-line looked tame and unorganised with all three defenders contributing to a poor and disjointed Manchester United performance, which saw them lose their season opener for the first time since 1972 and hand Swansea City their first league win at Old Trafford.
2. Arsenal Are Ready To Win Ugly
With the success of the FA Cup still ringing in Arsenal fans’ ears, and a summer that has seen them more active in transfer dealings than they’ve grown used to, Gooners approached the opening day fixture against recently manager-less Crystal Palace with genuine expectation where once there was fear.
With their German World Cup winners still recuperating and thus unavailable, as well as some fitness issues for last season’s top goal scorer Olivier Giroud, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger knew that they weren’t going to hit full stride on the opening day, especially against a Crystal Palace side still riding the crest of their truly unbelievable end of the season wave.
Although Tony Pulis is no longer the man in charge at Selhurst Park, his ethos clearly runs deep. Crystal Palace and caretaker boss Keith Millen approached their opening game at the emirates with defence the best form of attack.
Arsenal enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but found it a task to break down this Palace defence, which was aided by fantastic shifts put in by forwards Marouane Chamakh, Frazer Campbell and Jason Puncheon.
With goals arriving on the 45+1 and 90+1 mark for Arsenal, coming from centre back Laurent Koscielny and midfield dynamo Aaron Ramsey, it’s clear to see just how hard Arsenal had to work to get their opening day three-points, but it’s in these games, against the regimented and disciplined defensive sides that can they win, could hold they key for any potential title winners.
3. Leicester City Won’t Go Down Without a Fight
Drawn the daunting task of hosting Everton on the opening game of their first Premier League Campaign in a decade, Leicester City fans may not have gone into their 3pm kick off with the highest of hopes, and after just 20 minutes they conceded their first goal of the season thanks to a stunning finish from Aiden McGeady, a strike which found it’s way into the back of the net after first cracking off of the inside of the far post.
Just two minutes later however, new boy Leonardo Ulloa equalised following a poor clearance form Sylvain Distin gifted the Leicester City record signing a dream debut as he slotted the ball home from a comfortable range.
Ulloa’s equalizer shook the King Power Stadium and reminded us all just how happy these fans are to be competing at the top-level, and their 90 minute performance showed that they deserve to be here too.
Falling behind again just before half-time following a well worked Steven Naismith goal, Leicester City simply would not accept defeat and were rewarded by a crucial equaliser from Chris Wood on 86 minutes, a goal which ensured an opening day point for the Premier League new-boys.
Leicester City proved throughout their opening game that they intend to carry on the form that led to them being crowned champions of the Championship last season and will not be looking down for the foreseeable future.
4. Liverpool Have Still Got The Goals, But…
Luis Suarez is gone and we should all move on. The early Sunday kick-off allowed us to do just that. Our first glimpse of a Suarez-less Liverpool was all we needed to see that the attacking potency that aided Liverpool to the heights of second place in the Premier League last campaign were still very much there and hadn’t in-fact flown to Barcelona, as many had assumed.
From the first whistle at Anfield’s curtain raiser, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge looked adamant to show that Liverpool are still a team to fear. Sterling’s pace and ferocious attacking mentality had Southampton on the back foot immediately and it seemed only a matter of time before the England international broke the line and so it was, following a truly stunning pass by Jordan Henderson on 23 minutes.
Once first-blood had been drawn, there was an expectation that Liverpool would open the flood gates, as they were known to do throughout their last campaign, however it was Southampton that took the initiative.
Liverpool’s back line of Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson and new signings Javier Manquillo and former Saint Sejan Lovren looked skittish once Liverpool scored and sensing their panic, Southampton pounced and applied the pressure to the nervous backline which seemed intent on destroying itself.
Southampton’s front-line spent the rest of the half probing the Liverpool defence waiting for the opening. James Ward-Prowse was a constant thorn in the side of Liverpool’s back-four and drifted from left to right with ease, pulling defenders with him.
Following a period of sustained pressure down Liverpool’s left-side, which was occupied by the naturally right-sided Glen Johnson, Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne sauntered into the box, following a fantastic back-heel pass from Saints new boy Dusan Tadic and rocketed the ball past Mignolet, who had no chance.
This trend continued and it was soon apparent that the only way for Liverpool to defend was to attack, which is exactly what they did. Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge kept pushing forward and looked threatening, however, any sustained spells of possession for Southampton sent Kop hearts racing as it became clear that Liverpool’s defence probably couldn’t stand another concentrated attack.
Thankfully for Liverpool fans, Daniel Sturridge found his chance to score in the 79th minute and alleviated the pressure on his side’s defensive unit. As clear as it became that the loss of Suarez does not spell the end of Liverpool as an attacking threat, they will need to improve defensively and quickly.
5. Tottenham Still Need a Striker
Following a summer which saw some of the best talents in world football paraded in front of us three-times a day, seven days a week, Tottenham fans will have been hoping that amongst that gluttony of stars, lay their new striker.
The poor season endured by last summer’s big attacking signing, Roberto Soldado, left Tottenham fans desperate for a new face of their front-line, but following a fairly baron summer in the striking department Tottenham opened their 2014/15 campaign with the familiar face of Emmanuel Adebayor up front and not much else.
Spurs also handed a substitute place to prospect Harry Kane over flop Soldado, which as impressive as the young forward has been in his fleeting appearances for the North London club, will not be the most assuring sign for Tottenham fans that their attacking problems of last season are over.
Tottenham’s opening day fixture was a London-derby against Sam Allardyce’s West Ham and was 90 minutes full of talking points and excitement, none of which came from the Spurs front-line.
Words by Ben Fawcett