What we learned from opening PL Saturday

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LONDON — The new Premier League campaign is off and running and we learned so much from the opening Saturday of the season.

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Hot takes: Aston Villa are probably going to finish in the top 10. Man City may well score 150 Premier League goals this season. Harry Kane will win the Golden Boot. And maybe we were all a little too hasty to write off the likes of Sheffield United, Brighton and Burnley before a ball was kicked…

What did we learn from the opening Saturday of the season?


VAR WORKED VERY, VERY WELL

This was the first weekend VAR was used across the Premier League and, all in all, it went very smoothly. In what was probably the most high-profile use of the new system, it was used to order a retake of a penalty kick which Sergio Aguero missed at West Ham. After two Hammers defenders encroached into the box, and were then able to get to the ball first after Fabianski’s save, they became active and VAR was used correctly.

From offside decisions to possible red cards, VAR was used quickly and efficiently and if you want a primer about how it’s going to work this season, click here. If the first week of VAR is anything to go by, the PL’s decision to wait to use this system has been proved correct.


MAN CITY OUTDO LIVERPOOL

Liverpool scored four, so Man City had to score five, didn’t they? After Liverpool’s first half blitz against Norwich led to a 4-1 win at Anfield on Friday, Man City destroyed West Ham 5-0 at the London Stadium on Saturday. Pep Guardiola‘s men stepped on the accelerator in the second half and with Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan on the bench, plus Joao Cancelo, their strength in-depth is ridiculous. Raheem Sterling‘s hat trick was a thing of clinical beauty and Man City are in midseason form.

There are plenty of twists and turns ahead in the Premier League title race and it is clear, especially after the opening weekend, that Liverpool and Man City can beat most teams without getting out of second gear. City looked fresh and with Alisson going down injured against Norwich, you’d have to say it is advantage Man City after the opening weekend. One down, 37 to go…


NEW SEASON, SAME HARRY KANE

Harry Kane looked fit, sharp and hungry as Tottenham fought back to beat Aston Villa 3-1. Spurs didn’t start well but when they equalized through debutant Tanguy Ndombele, there was only one winner. Christian Eriksen‘s arrival off the bench made a massive difference and Kane pounced twice to finish clinically.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

He missed two chances in the first half he would usually have scored, and even though he rarely scores in August, he grabbed two crucial late goals to send Spurs’ fans wild. Without Jan Vertonghen, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli, Kane stood tall to lead Spurs to victory. Now he has had an entire summer to relax and recover, England’s star striker and everyone connected with Spurs will be hoping he can shake off his ankle injuries to lead them on a title push with Liverpool and Man City. Spurs have so many attacking options with the arrival of Giovani Lo Celso, plus Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela around, but Kane remains their biggest hope of silverware.


ASTON VILLA WILL BE DANGEROUS

As we are about to discuss below, the opening weekend usually springs a few surprises. Aston Villa looked like they would spring one of those at Tottenham. With 12 summer signings, it was difficult to know how Villa would line up but Dean Smith’s side put in a near-perfect away display. The last five minutes saw Harry Kane score twice and they lost 3-1. They scored early, sat back and soaked up pressure and looked dangerous on the counter as they built off Wesley‘s knockdowns. Jack Grealish was a beast in midfield, Tyrone Mings held things together at the back and Tom Heaton made a string of fine saves in the second half.

The team from England’s second city have a huge fanbase and the former European champions are a Premier League club. It is as a simple as that. With John Terry‘s influence on their defense obvious, the flair of Smith’s side is led by Grealish and there was a decent balance to Villa in the first 60 minutes before they ran out of steam. I’m not saying they’re going to be better than Wolves were last season, but a top 10 finish isn’t out of the question in 2019-20.


OPENING WEEKEND STAYS WEIRD

Burnley beating Southampton 3-0? Brighton winning 3-0 away at Watford? Yeah, I told you in this Matchweek 1 preview video to beware of upsets during the opening weekend and it didn’t disappoint. Burnley battered Saints in the second half as Ashley Barnes morphed into a clinical battering ram, and the Clarets were back to their gritty best in defense.

Brighton’s new boss Graham Potter caught everyone by surprise as the Seagulls grabbed their first win in 10 PL games, with that run stretching back to March. Everyone questioning the dismissal of Chris Hughton will now be served up a plate of humble pie as Brighton’s attacking masterclass (with pretty much exactly the same lineup Hughton was using last season) was hammered home by subs Florin Andone and club-record signing Neal Maupay who both scored.

La Liga Roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

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Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar

Almeyda, Wondolowski sent off in Quakes’ fall against Atlanta (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Melodrama took center stage in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, as Matias Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza were all sent off on Saturday. Josef Martinez, six games away from tying Lionel Messi’s world record for most consecutive goals, left the field in 79th minute following an injury, ending his MLS-record run at 15 games. Playing with 10 players from the 34th minute onwards, the Quakes held on to the draw up until the 90th minute. Unmarked inside the box, Emerson Hyndman rocketed the ball past Daniel Vega, who recorded nine saves throughout the night. In stoppage time, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was rewarded for his stellar performance with a goal of his own. With a game at hand, Eastern Conference leaders, NYCFC, are three points ahead Frank De Boer‘s side. The Quakes, on the other hand, have internal fires to put out as they have lost six of their last eight, and are only a point above the red line with three games to play.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Great run by Espinoza, greater ball by Vega  — Daniel Vega and Cristian Espinoza were players that San Jose were desperately missing last season. This sequence says it all.

 

90′ — Emerson Hyndman wins it for the Five Stripes   — Hyndman, with no one near him, seals three points for the home side.

 

90′ + 2 — Martinez takes advantage of broken San Jose  — Martinez’s goal was only salt in San Jose’s fresh wound.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity”  Martinez

Goalscorers: Meram (4′), Guzan (27′ – OG), Hyndman (90′), Martinez (90′ + 2)

FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH — Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.

FOLLOW LIVE: Atlanta v. Quakes, Galaxy v. Impact on a busy MLS Saturday

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Eight games in seven hours, now that’s a jam-packed MLS Saturday.

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Things kickoff with Matias Almeyda’s San Jose Earthquakes visiting red-hot Josef Martinez’s Atlanta United, and comes to a close in Los Angeles, where league leaders LAFC host Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, who look to continue moving up in the Western Conference standings, host Montreal Impact.

In between, the New England Revolution look to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they welcome Kyle Beckerman and Real Salt Lake, while the Chicago Fire hope to jump level with the Revs in the standings as they take on FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium.

Saturday’s full MLS schedule

Atlanta United v. San Jose Earthquakes — 3:30 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Columbus Crew — 5 p.m. ET

New England Revolution v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati v. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City v. Colorado Rapids — 8:30 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City — 8:30 p.m. ET

LAFC v. Toronto FC — 10:30 p.m. ET

LA Galaxy v. Montreal Impact — 10:30 p.m. ET