Premier League Returns
After the shortest pre-season in history, the new Premier League season got underway on Saturday afternoon as newly promoted Fulham hosted recent FA Cup and Community Shield winners, Arsenal, in the early kick-off at Craven Cottage. Last season’s play-off winners started the game positively, exhibiting all the slick and composed passing play that got them out of the Championship at the first time of asking. But a strong response from Arsenal led by their two debutants, Willian and Gabriel, showed the Cottagers just how far they have to come to compete at the highest level. A scramble in the Fulham penalty area just after 8 minutes saw the ball land kindly at the feet of Alexandre Lacazette who comfortably slotted the ball home from about a yard out. Willian came close to doubling the lead 18 minutes later when his superb free kick smacked against the post, but it was just after the break when Arsenal found their second goal. A Willian corner landed on the head of his compatriot, Gabriel, who was able to mark his debut in London with a goal. The pick of the goals, however, came after a flowing Arsenal break. Willian was able to pick up a loose ball around half way, charge forward and pick an inch perfect cross-field pass for Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang on the far side. The Gabon international then drove at the Fulham backline, before smashing the ball across the face of Marek Rodak in goal into the top left hand corner of the net. The final half an hour of the game played out with Arsenal in total control, evidence of the increasingly good work that Mikel Arteta has done since taking over from Unai Emery.
The pick of this weekend’s games, however, came in the 5:30pm kick-off as current Premier League champions, Liverpool, hosted last season’s Championship champions, Leeds United. A lot has been said about how Leeds will play now they’re back in the top flight after a 16 year absence, and they certainly lived up to the hype. But for all their exciting forward play, they were left poorly exposed at the back on many occasions. Salah got the scoring underway from the penalty spot in what was a frantic 90-minutes, becoming the first Liverpool player to score on the opening day of the season in four consecutive seasons. Leeds were soon back on level terms after 12 minutes following a fine Jack Harrison goal, scoring their first goal in the Premier League since an Alan Smith penalty against Charlton on 8th May 2004. Some poor Leeds defending at a corner on the 20 minute mark, however, saw Virgil van Dijk waltz into the 6 yard box and header home to make it 2-1, only for him to completely misjudge a flighted ball into his own box 10-minutes later, gifting Patrick Bamford the opportunity to make it 2-2 which he duly did. But Salah was on hand again 3 minutes later to save van Dijk’s blushes with a thunderous volley that soared into the top right hand corner of the net. The second half was relatively quiet by comparison, with it taking over 20-minutes for the next goal to be scored. Mateusz Klich followed his own pass, making a run into the box that Helder Costa found with a sumptuous pass. Klich’s touch and volley were equally as exquisite, bringing the scores level to 3-3. A hard earned draw looked to be on the cards for Leeds but a lazy challenge from their new signing Rodrygo on Fabinho 3 minutes from time gave Salah the opportunity to finish the game off from the penalty spot, which he duly did with a calm penalty, earning him an opening day hat-trick in the process.
Saturday’s late kick-off saw West Ham welcome a Newcastle side who have been quietly having one of the more successful transfer windows of the summer. Bringing in Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson from Bournemouth and Jeff Hendrick from Burnley has seen the Magpie’s squad depth improve drastically since last season and it showed in a game that was all about taking your chances. The game was evenly poised with chances at both ends. West Ham hit the bar twice in the first half, but it was Newcastle’s day as two of their new signings scored on their debuts. Callum Wilson found the back of the net in the typical number 9 style, poking the ball home after Jeff Hendrick’s flick on had found him in the right place at the right time. The Irishman was then on hand to finish the game off just three minutes from time when he smashed the ball home from the edge of the box, rounding off a fine afternoon for the Magpies.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 12, 2020
The other game of Saturday was the only one played at the traditional 3 o’clock kick-off, as Crystal Palace played host to Southampton. The odds were stacked in Southampton’s favour who had finished last season in fine form, but it was Palace who came out on top. Wilfried Zaha’s 50th league goal in the first half, largely against the run of play, proved to be the difference between the two sides as a first-class performance from Vincente Guaita in the Palace goal kept the game in their favour. There was also praise for the use of VAR after the red card handed to Kyle Walker-Peters for a high challenge on Tyrick Mitchell was downgraded to a yellow following referee John Moss’s consultation with the pitch-side monitor.
Sunday’s fixtures saw the final of the Premier League new boys, West Brom, take on Leicester City at the Hawthorns. Following a slow and ponderous first half, Leicester came at the West Midlands side with a renewed vigour in the second 45-minutes that quickly won them rewards. Dennis Praet stood up an inviting cross into the box that was latched onto by new right back, Timothy Castagne, who was able to score on his debut. West Brom then showed their naivety by conceding two penalties 10-minutes apart, allowing Jamie Vardy to score an opening day brace. It means Vardy has now scored in all 5 of his games against West Brom and has overtaken Didier Drogba’s tally of 104 Premier League goals in 42 fewer games.
Tottenham’s game against Everton was the final game of the weekend as summer signings James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucouré were all on show. With their bolstered midfield, the Toffee’s looked a far better proposition than they have for several seasons, slickly working their way around a Tottenham side who seemed to still be suffering from a hangover from last season. Despite a big chance for new right back Matt Doherty, Spurs found goalscoring opportunities hard to come by, leaving the door open for Everton to take the lead through a superb Dominic Calvert-Lewin header. Everton held on for a famous away victory against a ‘top six’ side for the first time since 2013, while Spurs were left to ponder where they go next.
Goodnight, Foxes fans! 😁 pic.twitter.com/POtAfo2Quh
— Leicester City (@LCFC) September 13, 2020
The Championship got back up and running this weekend with newly relegated Watford welcoming Middlesbrough on Friday night. It was a scrappy game with opportunities few and far between. A 11th minute header from Craig Cathcart was the difference between the sides as Watford look to claw their way back into the top-flight at the first time of asking.
Last season’s play-off finalists, Brentford, got their new campaign off to a poor start as they lost to a Birmingham City side under new management in the shape of Aitor Karanka. A neat flicked header from Jeremie Bela from Ivan Sanchez’s whipped corner proved to be enough for the Blues to hold on until the final whistle. In the other early kick-off, there was victory for Rotherham United who faced off against Wycombe Wanderers in what was the Chairboys Championship bow. Michael Ihiekwe’s last minute headed goal was a cruel reminder of the step up Wycombe have now made, which is something they are going to have to adjust to fast. The other newly promoted side, Coventry City, gave a good account of themselves in their opening fixture against a Bristol City side who have strengthened well this summer. An opener in the first minute for the Robins from Jamie Paterson left Coventry on the back foot, but a Matty Godden finish after half an hour kept the Sky Blues in the game. But an 83rd minute winner from new captain, Tomas Kalas, sealed the win for Bristol as the game ended 2-1.
Elsewhere in the league there were wins for Norwich as they beat Huddersfield on their return to the second tier following last season’s relegation from the Premier League, while their fellow relegation counterparts, Bournemouth, just about snuck in a 3-2 victory against Blackburn Rovers. There was also a victory for Sheffield Wednesday who started the day with -12 points following their points deduction from last season. This didn’t deter them, however, as the Owls overcame a Cardiff City side who will be looking to go beyond their play-off semi final exit last season.
Nottingham Forest’s poor end to last season that saw them slip out of the play-off places on the last day of the season continued as they were beaten 2-0 by QPR. A host of chances went begging for the visitors who have recruited drastically over the summer, but couldn’t find much of a rhythm. There were also wins for Reading who beat Derby 2-0, Luton who overcame their fellow strugglers from last season Barnsley 1-0 and Swansea who came out as 1-0 winners in their game against Preston. Millwall’s game against Stoke at the Den ended 0-0.
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) September 14, 2020
European Leagues gets Back Underway
Several of the major European leagues got back underway this week including the Spanish La Liga and French Ligue 1. Real Madrid and Barcelona had their games postponed in order for them to have the adequate length of pre-season due to their involvement in the Champions League.
The weekend was nonetheless full of drama as Valencia came out as 4-2 winners over local rivals, Levante, on Sunday, while Granada shocked Athletic Bilbao with a 2-0 win. Real Betis overcame Alaves as both look to improve on their poor showings from last season, while Cadiz got their first season in La Liga in 14 years off to a poor start, losing 2-0 at home to Osasuna. Honours were shared in the other three games from the weekend, the most notable of which being the Ronaldo Nazario owned Real Valladolid holding Vilareal to a 1-1 draw as they aim to retain their La Liga status for a second consecutive year.
In France, Ligue 1 went into its second match week with several talking points springing up along the way. Brest followed up their opening day loss to Marseille with a convincing win against Dijon that included inarguably the goal of the weekend from Irvin Cardona, who volleyed the ball into the back of the net with an outstanding scissor kick.
There was also enormous controversy in PSG’s game against Marseille. Le Classique has always been a fiery occasion, but Sunday’s matchup was on a totally different scale. Florian Thauvin had scored Marseille the goal that would ultimately win the match, but all the talk will be about what on earth happened in the final minutes of the match. A nudge in the back of Leandro Paredes by Marseille’s Dario Benedetto sparked a fiery reaction from the Argentinian. This caused a mass brawl to break out between the players, as Paredes and Benedetto were desperately kept apart from one another by their teammates. But an attempted push by Jordan Amavi on Layvin Kurzawa was followed by an exchange of kicks by the two left backs. All in all 4 red cards were brandished by the referee, Jerome Brisard, only for him to be told to consult the monitor where he saw footage of Neymar punching Alvaro Gonzalez on the back of the head, earning him a red card as well. As he left the pitch, the Brazillian could be heard saying that he heard a racist comment from the Spanish defender, later saying on social media that his “only regret” was not hitting him in the face. In response, Gonzalez denied claims of any wrongdoing, posting on social media: “There is no place for racism.” In the post-match news conference Marseille manager Andre Villas-Boas said: “There is no place for racism in football but I don’t think that was the case…We’ll have to look at it.”
FIVE red cards in the space of a couple of minutes in the PSG vs Marseille game tonight 😟🔴pic.twitter.com/vtFfugvtBZ
— Open Goal (@opengoalsport) September 13, 2020