Premier League Playback: Reassessing the title contenders, debutants after Week 1

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EARLY IMPRESSIONS: ASSESSING THE TITLE CONTENDERS

Okay, so we’ve seen 90 minutes of action from each of the Premier League’s 20 teams during the opening weekend of the 2015-16 season and, as is always the case in August each year, plenty of people are jumping to hefty assumptions about each club.

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Let’s pump the breaks a little and take a closer look at the five title contenders to see how they fared on the opening weekend and if there’s any correlation between these early displays and their title chances. Remember, it’s a long old season.

Chelsea: A 2-2 draw at home against Swansea City isn’t the perfect way to start a title defense. Throw in a shaky defensive display and your star goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois getting a red card and giving away a penalty kick and Jose Mourinho has certainly had better days at the office. Chelsea led 2-1 at the break against the Swans but Branislav Ivanovic had a nightmare against Jefferson Montero and Blues players lost individual battles across the pitch. Playing with 10-men for over 30 minutes wasn’t ideal, and this start to defending the crown they won in 2014-15 wasn’t ideal either. Mourinho wasn’t happy with his medical staff towards the end of the game as they left his side with nine-men, but the Blues show plenty of grit to grab a draw against an impressive Swansea side. It’s too early to drawn conclusions, but it certainly seems like the Blues will have a tougher time of winning the title this time around and most of that will be down to themselves and the fact that their rivals have spent big this summer.

Manchester City: Manuel Pellegrini’s men saw their odds to win the PL title slashed following their impressive demolition of West Bromwich Albion away from home on Monday. The Citizens strolled and led 2-0 after 25 minutes with Yaya Toure scoring a beauty and Vincent Kompany powering home a header to round off a 3-0 win. If Toure and Kompany regain their best form and stay fit this season — the regression of those two last season was key to City’s slump in the second half of the campaign — then they will push Chelsea all the way for the title. With Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Wilfried Bony and possibly Kevin De Bruyne in attack, Pellegrini has an embarrassment of riches to choose from. The Chilean boss signed a contract extension on the eve of the season which will add stability, as City aim for success domestically and in Europe. The PL champions in two of the last four seasons looked the best of the bunch on the opening weekend and hungry to not finish in second once again.

Premier League Schedule – Week 1

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 0-2 West Ham Recap and watch here
Bournemouth 0-1 Villa Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-2 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 2-2 Watford Recap and watch here
Leicester 4-2 S’land Recap and watch here
Man United 1-0 Spurs Recap and watch here
Newcastle 2-2 Saints Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-3 Palace Recap and watch here
Stoke 0-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
WBA 0-3 Man City Recap and watch here

Arsenal: As you can see in the video above from our analysts, just when everyone thought they were on the up, Arsenal’s problems persist as they fired a blank on the opening day and suffered a shock defeat to West Ham United. Over the offseason the Gunners won every single game, even beating Chelsea at Wembley in the Community Shield, and Arsene Wenger’s men looked to have solved their defensive issues with the signing of Petr Cech in goal. Think again. Cech, 33, has been their only signing of the summer and in his home debut against the Hammers he was at fault for both the goals Arsenal conceded. That’s not the way Wenger was expecting to start the season and if Arsenal are going to be genuine title contenders then bolstering their forward line is key.

[ MORE: Latest transfer news

Karim Benzema has been linked with a move to the Emirates and if Wenger is serious about winning the league for the first time since 2004, he must spend big on a striker in the final days of the window. There was lots of optimism around the Gunners this offseason, but most of that has already dissipated after a poor opening day result.

Manchester United: The Red Devils put in a workmanlike display against Tottenham Hotspur in their 1-0 opening day win, but it certainly wasn’t pretty from Louis van Gaal’s side. The new boys all settled in well, with Matteo Darmian looking particularly solid at right back, but you feel like they still need to strengthen at center back if they’re going to challenge for the title this season. And then there’s the issue with David de Gea to sort out. The Spanish international goalkeeper was sat to my left at Old Trafford in the stands on Saturday, as van Gaal said he wasn’t focused enough to play.

Asked afterwards if De Gea will ever play for United again, here is LVG’s response.

“Of course,” van Gaal explained. “Especially with the position of the goalkeeper, it is a position where you need the highest concentration, the highest focus during 90 minutes. When you are in circumstances where David de Gea is, it is difficult to cope with that. We have seen that, we have observed him in the matches against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, and that was not the David de Gea — he felt the same — as last year. Of course when the situation has been cleared after the first of September, we look again. But I am very happy Sergio [Romero] did well.”

De Gea, 24, still hasn’t committed his future to United and rumors regarding a switch to Real Madrid remain as he has just one-year left on his current deal. New signing Sergio Romero stepped in and made some big saves late on after a shaky start, but de Gea was United’s star man last season. If he leaves and they can’t sign a new center back, United will be unlikely to make the top two.

Liverpool: As other teams stumbled to start the season, Brendan Rodgers’ boys exorcised a few demons and sealed a solid 1-0 win away at Stoke City. Philippe Coutinho’s stunning winner five minutes from time (see in the video below) was worthy of winning any game, but Liverpool’s display was still a little disjointed, but that’s to be expected. Going to the stadium where they closed out their 2014-15 season with the heaviest defeat of their PL history, 6-1, Liverpool rolled up at the Britannia on the opening day and looked more business than brilliant. With James Milner and Jordan Henderson in midfield, they have a solid base to build off and new full backs Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez impressed in an improved defensive display. Going forward, Liverpool lacked spark, but that will come as Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino settle in and Daniel Sturridge returns. Liverpool may not be many people’s title favorites, but maybe their additions this summer after the departures of Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard will give them a better chance of finishing in the top four than many previously thought.

DEBUT WATCH: HIT, MISS, MAYBE

There were plenty of players either making their bow in the Premier League, or just starting with new clubs after transferring over the summer.

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After their opening day displays, let’s take a look at some of the players who looked the part, others who certainly did not and some we haven’t quite made our mind up about yet.

Hit

Reece Oxford (West Ham United) – Just 16 years old, Oxford is the second youngest player to start a game in PL history. He played 80 minutes and shackled Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey in the Hammers’ stunning 2-0 win. A huge prospect.

Dmitri Payet (West Ham United) – Another key part of West Ham’s big win, the man who signed from Marsielle this summer has bags of creativity and was the man threat going forward. Looks like a key addition for Slaven Bilic.

source: Getty Images
Reece Oxford, West Ham United

Andre Ayew (Swansea City) – Scoring on his debut for the Swans at Chelsea, the Ghanaian forward linked up well with Swansea other attackers (Montero, Sigurdsson and Gomis) and took his goal really well. Promising.

Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle United) – Could have had a debut hat trick on another day, but his towering header at the Gallowgate End put Newcastle 2-1 up in the second half. The Dutch midfielder made several lung-bursting runs. He’s already a fans favorite at St James’.

Matteo Darmian (Manchester United) – Louis van Gaal singled the Italian right back out in his post-match press conference as the best of United’s debutants. It’s hard to argue with that. Darmian was solid and steady in United’s 1-0 win at home vs. Spurs. His presence will help to steady the backline.

James Milner (Liverpool) – An experienced head in the center of midfield, exactly the type of player Liverpool needed to win away at Stoke on the opening day. Milner returning to his preferred role in the center will bring the best out of him.

Ibrahim Afellay (Stoke City) – Plenty of sparks to excite Stoke’s fans, as the former Barcelona winger dazzled out on the left wing. When Bojan comes back, those two will be a joy to watch.

Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace) – A debut goal wrapped up Palace’s 3-1 win at Norwich and it’s like Cabaye never left the PL. So graceful on the ball, he’s a calming influence in midfield.

Jose Holebas (Watford) – Solid and dependable at the back for Watford and had a hand in their first goal, the Greek international who signed from AS Roma this summer has real quality.

Sebastian Prodl (Watford) – Another new defensive signing shone for the Hornets, as Prodl was composed and Quique Flores’ men were unlucky to not beat Everton away on the opening dday.

Miss

Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa) – Hardly had a touch on his PL debut and was replaced by Rudy Gestede who subsequently scored the winner.

Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United) – Must have broken the record for the fastest-ever booking in PL history. Mitrovic came on in the second half and could have got a red card for lunging into Matt Targett. Lucky boy. Not a great first impression.

Petr Cech (Arsenal) – Well, that didn’t go to plan. Cech came flying out in full Superman mode but missed the ball on West Ham’s first goal, then for their second he went down in installments as Zarate’s shot bobbled past him. Poor debut from the man who was meant to be Arsenal’s savior.

Younes Kaboul (Sunderland) – The French center back had a day to forget on his Sunderland debut. Kaboul and the Black Cats were all over the place at the back and trailed 3-0 at half time. Oh dear.

Tom Cleverley (Everton) – Roberto Martinez managed Cleverly at Wigan Atheltic in the past so knows what he is all about, but the former Manchester United midfielder did little to suggest his patchy form for Aston Villa last season has dissipated.

Maybe

source:
Depay, left, had a decent debut.

Memphis Depay (Manchester United) – Some flashes of brilliance, especially early on, but Memphis (as he wants to be known) didn’t look happy when he was hauled off early in the second half. Jury is out.

Joe Gomez (Liverpool) – The 19-year-old is a right back by trade but Liverpool deployed him at left back against Stoke and he did well. Can he make the spot his own ahead of Moreno?

Sergio Romero (Manchester United) – Two really good saves late on from Christian Eriksen proved that there may well be life after David de gea at Manchester United. Distribution was sloppy though.

Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham United) – A powerful display from the West Ham center back who was key in their clean sheet at the Emirates Stadium. Looks the real deal alongside Winston Reid.

Rudy Gestede (Aston Villa) – Only took 13 minutes for him to score on his Villa debut and what a superb header it was. Tim Sherwood raves about his aerial ability and after excelling with his beautiful bonce in the Championship, Gestede made a dream start. Now, can he become more than an impact player?

NEW BOYS ON THE BLOCK

New boys Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich City struggled on the opening weekend as both Norwich and the Cherries lost at home. Watford came within a few minutes of beating Everton away from home and were good value for their point, as the Hornets’ host of new signings and new manager Quique Flores may have the best chance of staying up this season. Very promising start from the Hertfordshire club who were relegated at the first time of asking in their two previous seasons in the PL.

For Bournemouth, their first-ever PL game ended in a frustrating defeat down at the Vitality Stadium. Basking in the sunshine on the South Coast of England, Eddie Howe’s boys started off brightly and should have led but Marc Pugh, Dan Gosling and Callum Wilson were all guilty of missing gilt-edged chances in the first half. Then, they were welcomed to the PL and its brutality in the second half as Aston Villa stepped up through the gears and Gestede’s header gave them all three points despite the Cherries bossing most of the game and creating plenty of chances. Welcome to the Premier League.

As for Norwich, they could also feel slightly aggrieved. They started brightly too, with Alex Neil’s side flying out of the traps at home to Crystal Palace. But then Lewis Grabban missed a glorious chance six-yards out in the first half and either side of half time sloppy defending cost them dear with Wilfired Zaha and Damien Delaney punishing the Canaries. Again, welcome back to the Premier League. To their credit, Norwich rallied late on at Carrow Road with Nathan Redmond pulling one back and Cameron Jerome inexplicably having what looked to be a perfectly good equalizer ruled out for a high foot, but Neil’s side were naive defensively and that will cost you dear when you’re back in the big time.

GOALS GALORE ON OPENING WEEKEND

30 goals were scored this weekend in the Premier League, as any early season apprehension went out the window. From a thriller at St James’ Park between Newcastle and Southampton, to slack defending at Stamford Bridge and the King Power Stadium, we had plenty of good finishes and terrible defending which always combines for a good time for neutrals.

If this weekend is a precursor of what is to come, we are in for a goal-fest in the PL this season. Check out the video above which has every single goal scored on Saturday. While the video below has all the goals from Sunday.

USMNT CORNER: GUZAN, HOWARD, CAMERON ALL START

Three out of the four U.S. men’s national team players with PL clubs started at the weekend, but Brad Guzan was the only victor. The Aston Villa goalkeeper made a superb reaction save just before half time at Bournemouth as he blocked Marc Pugh’s thunderous effort to seal a clean sheet. Elsewhere, Tim Howard and Everton struggled against Watford with the Toffees twice falling behind but they managed to grab a point late on.

[ MORE: All of our latest USMNT news ]

As for the other USMNT players in the PL, DeAndre Yedlin was not in Tottenham Hotspur’s 18-man squad for their 1-0 defeat at Manchester United, while Geoff Cameron started and played the full 90 minutes at center back for Stoke City in their narrow 1-0 defeat to Liverpool. If Cameron gets some serious minutes at center back in the first few months of the season in the heart of Stoke’s defense, which he is very likely to do after a solid start, Jurgen Klinsmann will almost certainly play him at CB for the Confederations Cup playoff game against Mexico in October… right?

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Report: Manchester United “miles” apart on Maguire deal

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Yesterday, the English tabloids exploded with reports that Manchester United was nearing a deal with Leicester City to make Harry Maguire the most expensive defender in the world with a $100 million deal nearly completed. Some even went so far as to suggest a medical would take place on Monday – today.

Now, there seems to be an about-face as ESPN senior writer Mark Ogden reports that the two sides are “miles away” on a potential deal, as his source describes it.

According to the report, Manchester United’s last bid of $50 million is much closer to their valuation of the player, and while Leicester City is holding out for a world record bid, the two sides have not made much movement towards an agreement. They are willing to go up to $75 million with another bid, but that is still well off the Leicester City price tag.

Ogden writes that Manchester United’s first choice was Dutch defender Matthijs de Ligt, but he is nearing completion on a move to Juventus, and if the reports over the last few weeks are to be believed, Manchester United was never really in play. De Ligt was handed significant wages at Juventus, something Manchester United may not have been willing to do.

They turned their sights towards Maguire, but with three weeks left in the transfer window, there apparently needs to be significant work done on a deal to move it across the finish line. Ogden writes that there is “confidence” within Manchester United that Maguire wants the move, but that’s nothing if the two clubs can’t come to an agreement.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: James to Atletico, Rondon to China

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It has seemed for weeks that James Rodriguez is just a formality away from becoming a Napoli player, with Real Madrid motivated to offload the Colombian and Napoli appearing equally as excited to bring him on. However, as the weeks drag on without any official announcement, things may have begun to sour.

According to a number of reports in Spain, Real Madrid were upset with Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis due to comments made by the Italian. With Real Madrid insisting any would-be suitor pony up immediately with a permanent deal, de Laurentiis went public with his insistence on a loan with an obligation to buy. “We are all prepared to make sacrifices for James Rodriguez, but we ask Real Madrid to make them too,” de Laurentiis said to Sky Sport Italia. “We’ve not given up, but in order to break the ice we need Madrid to consider that rather than have an unhappy player sitting around, they should send him out to play. Perhaps on loan.”

That reportedly upset Real Madrid enough to the point where they have shifted focus to Atletico Madrid, willing to deal with a direct rival rather than capitulate to Napoli’s wishes. The reports also state that Rodriguez is on board, growing frustrated with Napoli’s wavering desire for his services. Atletico is also an attractive destination for the Colombian given the gap up front created by the departure of Antoine Griezmann. They have spent all the Griezmann money on Portuguese youngster Joao Felix, but with such a departure, there is always a power vacuum Rodriguez could exploit.


According to Lyall Thomas of Sky Sports, Championship side West Brom has agreed to sell Salomon Rondon to Chinese club Dalian Yifang where he will reunite with manager Rafa Benitez.

The report states the deal between the clubs is done and the player now must agree to personal terms, with the possibility for official confirmation of the deal in as little as 48 hours. It is unclear what the value of the deal is, but Sky mentions that Rondon has a release clause in his contract worth $20.6 million.

Rondon spent last season on loan at Newcastle with Benitez after West Brom was relegated the season before. He was a superb creative force, scoring 12 goals across all competitions, good for second on the team behind Ayoze Perez. The 29-year-old is an experienced attacker with 78 international caps for Venezuela.


Sheffield United is preparing for its first season in the Premier League since the 2006/07 campaign, and they are looking for reinforcements to bolster their lineup and avoid the straightaway drop they faced last time in the top flight. Having already broken the club transfer record by acquiring Callum Robinson from Preston North End for $10 million, they are now looking to beat that number again.

According to The Guardian, the Blades had a $19 million bid for striker Oli McBurnie rejected by Swansea City. The Championship side is reportedly desperate to keep the 23-year-old after already offloading Daniel James to Manchester United.

McBurnie, a Leeds-born Scottish international, scored a massive 22 goals for the club in 42 Championship appearances last season as the club finished ninth in the table, plus he another two in a pair of FA Cup games. He first arrived at Swansea in the summer of 2015 in a deal with Bradford and was loaned out three separate times before sticking with the first team last season.


Roma technical director Gianluca Petrachi has issued a hands-off warning for Tottenham target Nicolo Zaniolo, saying the defender isn’t for sale.

“I have to work to try to get the best out of Zaniolo,” Petrachi said during a press conference for Leonardo Spinazzola’s unveiling. “I am also a very practical person, I have direct contact with my players. I never put Zaniolo up for sale, nor did I say it was on the market. The market is full of surprises, but today Zaniolo is not on the market.”

The 20-year-old joined from Inter last summer and signed a contract through the summer of 2023. There have been reports that Spurs are circling due to Zaniolo’s unhappiness with Petrachi reportedly breaking off new contract negotiations upon his arrival. There were even rumblings of a swap deal for Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld.

The youngster was a mainstay for Roma last season once he earned a starting place in early November, making 27 Serie A appearances and scoring four goals.

Ajax exec Overmars makes Ziyech sales pitch to Arsenal

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Ajax technical director Marc Overmars has made a public pitch to Arsenal for winger Hakim Ziyech, who he believes would be high enough class to directly replace Mesut Ozil at a fraction of the cost.

The 46-year-old Dutchman, a former Gunner during his playing days when he spent three seasons at Highbury, made a bold and direct statement, calling out his old club to make a change in the attack that he believes will benefit them greatly. In fact, he insinuated that the two sides already spoke, but he was rebuffed, a surprising result to the Dutchman.

“I am a bit surprised that it is still so quiet around Hakim,” Overmars told Dutch publication Voetbal International. “I think he has played better every year and his statistics are exceptionally good. Many clubs are increasingly looking at that.”

It’s no surprise the technical director of a selling club is playing up one of his players, but it was only just beginning for Overmars, who specifically said Arsenal should rethink its strategy. “I think Hakim Ziyech is better than Mesut Ozil. I would say sell him and you will get Hakim for half [the price]. But they [Arsenal] didn’t listen to me. So it could just be that he stays with Ajax.”

It’s certainly quite a shock to see such a brazen public statement from an executive when most involved in transfer dealings are all too happy to keep the inside information out of view.

Ozil, who turns 31 in October, is a polarizing figure at Arsenal, where he has produced a host of brilliant and glittering moments but also gone missing for extended periods of a long season. He has failed to truly push Arsenal towards a genuine title challenge since arriving from Real Madrid in 2013, having secured just three FA Cup titles in his time at the Emirates, a relatively disappointing haul at a club that prides itself as one of the biggest in the English game.

The 26-year-old Ziyech is one of the stars of Ajax’s surprising Champions League run this season, helping the club reach the seemifinals and serving as an experienced presence in a squad bursting with young talent. He scored five goals and assisted four more in 17 Champions League matches and added another fantastic Eredivise haul to his wonderful season, scoring 16 league goals and assisting 17 more in 29 top-flight matches. Ziyech has 12 goals in 23 international matches for Morocco and started all four of their matches in this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations, failing to find the back of the net before the country was eliminated in the Round of 16 by Benin.

In the interview, Overmars also lauded David Neres for rejecting a move to China last winter, pointing out how well it worked out for both the club and player, with Ajax reaching far into the Champions League and Neres earning an international call-up.

Chelsea signs youth product Mason Mount to new contract

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Chelsea announced the signing of academy product Mason Mount to a new five-year contract on Monday.

Mount, a 20-year-old midfielder, spent all of last season on loan at Championship club Derby County where he was a starter for much of the season, making 38 league appearances while scoring nine goals and assisting five. He scored a hat-trick against Bolton in April and helped the club reach the playoff final before losing to Aston Villa 2-1.

The previous season, Mount was on loan at Dutch side Vitesse, a club with which Chelsea has a well-known and long-standing relationship. Mount was elected Player of the Season at Vitesse while scoring 13 goals and assisting 10 more in 40 appearances across all competitions, including Europa League group stage play. He scored in all three of his appearances in the Dutch Europa League playoff, with Vitesse securing a spot in the next season’s competition.

“It’s a massively proud moment for myself and my family,” Mount said in the official team release. “I joined this club at six years old and it was always my goal to play for the first team one day. I’m really looking forward to the coming season now and working hard to have an impact here at Chelsea. I’ve been at the club for a long time already and hopefully I’ll stay for a long time to come.”

With his Derby performances in tow, Mount was called up to the England U-21 squad for the Euros where he appeared in all three of England’s games and made one start, assisting a goal in the shocking 4-2 loss to Romania.

Mount was with the first-team squad for the preseason game in Dublin against St. Patrick’s Athletic over the weekend, scoring a goal in the match, and subsequently has traveled with the team to Japan.