We have had a rapid-fire opening of the 2017 Premier League. Roll on the glorious insanity and uncertainty for the next nine months.
Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal’s new signing, scored 94 seconds into his Premier League debut. Still, the Gunners were trailing 3-2 seven minutes from time. Then, old hands, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud, dramatically turned the tide and secured a 4-3 winner. We had a cracker to start with. Arsenal are out of the Champions League this term; first time under Arsene Wenger’s stewardship. And the very first game of the new season gave enough ammo to the Frenchman-bashers to rev up the #WengerOut campaign. Wenger, so far, has managed to retain his top two stars, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, which is an achievement, with no European top-flight football on offer. But the veteran manager must fix his leaky defence to return among the elites. One day after Arsenal and Leicester served up terrific entertainment, Antonio Conte sported a tracksuit at the Bridge, as the defending champions took on Burnley in their tournament opener. And Chelsea suffered a shocking 3-2 defeat after being reduced to nine men. Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas would be suspended for their team’s next game against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. All doesn’t seem to be well at the Chelsea boardroom despite winning the title under Conte last term. The manager sporting a tracksuit was interpreted by some as a message to owner Roman Abramovich about the paucity of on-pitch options.
Grapevine has it that Conte and Abramovich have fallen out over Nemanja Matic’s transfer to Manchester United, which the latter sanctioned much to the manager’s chagrin. The Diego Costa saga—the striker, who scored 20 Premier League goals last season, has been made a persona non grata by Conte—is also getting complicated by the day. Only one game into the new season and it would be preposterous to say a search party to find a new Chelsea manager by Christmas is likely to be formed soon. But the list of sacked managers under Abramovich’s ownership doesn’t completely rule out the possibility. As Chelsea suffered a home defeat, up north at Goodison, Wayne Rooney scored Everton’s winner against Stoke City on his return to his boyhood club after 13 years. Second wind sometimes can be mesmeric.
Liverpool, back to the Champions League, however, showed enough defensive frailties in their 3-3 draw with Watford. The more pressing concern is Philippe Coutinho, who has handed a transfer request following Barcelona’s £90-million bid. Jurgen Klopp, the Reds manager, has rejected the offer twice, but when the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid come calling, they usually get their man. The relationship between the Brazilian playmaker and Klopp has reportedly broken down completely, which is threatening to destroy Liverpool’s season even at this very early stage. With less than a fortnight to go before the curtain falls on the summer transfer window—August 31 is the deadline day—Tottenham haven’t spent a penny yet on new signings. Mauricio Pochettino has a set squad alright and they started off with a smooth 2-0 win against Newcastle United at St James’s Park.
But the last season’s runners-up desperately need to increase their squad size—21 at present—to play Champions League football. Move over to the title favourites… Manchester City have a 7/4 William Hill odds, while their cross-town rivals, United are 10/3. This could well be an all Manchester battle for the Premier League supremacy this term. A youthful-looking City eased past Premier League debutants Brighton in their opening game. The side looked fitter and faster after the Pep cull that saw the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, Jesus Navas and Bacary Sagna being offloaded.
This is now a Pep Guardiola side, to be embedded in his philosophy. Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Kyle Walker are all exciting arrivals. The manager has addressed the goalkeeping problems by bringing on Ederson for £36 million. Add Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to the mix and the City squad look awesome. After spending a little over £200 million on arrivals during close season, Guardiola now needs to deliver. Jose Mourinho will try his level best to spoil his arch-rival’s party. The Portuguese has won league titles in his second season everywhere. And he has invested brilliantly this term. Romelu Lukaku’s two goals against West Ham United were early value for his £75 million, but Matic could well be the transfer of the year. The way the Serbian bossed the midfield against the Hammers was reminiscent of the club’s glorious past when Paul Scholes used to be the team’s midfield vanguard.
The nature of United’s 4-0 win over West Ham was also a throwback to their glory days. For the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, this great club seemed to have its swagger back. Mourinho expectedly didn’t get carried away and said: “For me, years and years of experience and experience in the Premier League, my feet are on the ground and I am calm. Last season, we were also top of the league in the first match and we finished sixth, so this means nothing.” But almost every United fan and also some pundits now have a glint in their eyes. Overall, we had a rapid-fire opening of the 2017 Premier League. Roll on the glorious insanity and uncertainty for the next nine months.