Dele Alli

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.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

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.

3 things we learned: Spurs-Aston Villa

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur fought back to beat Aston Villa 3-1 in north London on Saturday, with John McGinn‘s early goal cancelled out by Tanguy Ndombele‘s debut goal and then Harry Kane popped up twice late on to seal the victory for Spurs.

[ MORE: Match recap | Kane reacts ]

Mauricio Pochettino will not be content with the general performance from his team, while Dean Smith and Villa will be happy enough with the display but disappointed they couldn’t grind out a point.

Here’s what we learned from an intriguing, dramatic clash in north London on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


HARRY KANE TO THE RESCUE, AGAIN

Normal service is resumed. Harry Kane is fit, sharp and scored twice late on to play the hero, once again. Kane has had a full preseason and has shaken off the ankle issues which plagued him last season. The England captain just does it season after season, game after game. He is ruthless and kept plugging away when his teammates were struggling to get the ball to him.

Kane missed two chances in the first half, dragging a shot wide and putting a header over the bar and he should have had a hat trick. He will probably be disappointed he didn’t score more on Saturday and that is exactly the Harry Kane Spurs’ fans know and love. His second goal was a typical Kane finish, curling home from the edge of the box into the far corner to send his adoring fans wild in the South Stand. New season, same Kane.


SPURS MISSED DELE, ERIKSEN

Tanguy Ndombele scored and showed flashes of brilliance in the final third on his Tottenham debut. His clever flicked pass to Harry Kane in the first half was majestic and he curled home a beautiful equalizer. But too often Spurs’ new club-record signing wasn’t given the ball around the box. With Christian Eriksen on the bench and Dele Alli out with an injured hamstring, they were badly missed. Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela are very similar players. They are speedsters who prefer to operate out wide and as soon as they tried to cut inside, Villa’s defensive unit got settled back in very quickly.

The creativity and genius of Dele and Eriksen was badly missed and as the game wore on Harry Kane found himself out on the wings 50 yards from goal. Eriksen’s arrival off the bench made a huge difference and proved he still has a huge part to play, if he signs a new deal and stays at Tottenham. Ndombele has all the skills to succeed, but Spurs shouldn’t move away from Dele and Eriksen as their main men. Eriksen was superb in the final 20 minutes which was Spurs the game.


EXCELLENT GREALISH PUNISHED RUTHLESSLY

“Super, Super Jack, Super Jacky Grealish!” sang the Aston Villa fans in the away end during the game. They may not be singing that after the game. Jack Grealish oozed class in Aston Villa’s midfield with the club captain and local hero showing Tottenham what they could have had if he had signed for them last summer. But then he made his only mistake of the game at a pivotal moment, dallying on the ball as Lamela robbed him of possession and Kane made it 2-1.

The 24-year-old is at the heart of Villa’s new-look team in the Premier League, as six new permanent signings started on Saturday. Along with with John McGinn and Conor Hourihane in midfield, Greliash showed them what it means to be a Villa player. He launched counters, put his foot on the ball when he was able to and launched into tackles and truly led by example. That one mistake cost his team but Grealish will dig Villa out of plenty of holes this season.

Fifty fearful predictions for 2019-20 Premier League season

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We’re about to start 250-plus days of frenetic, teeth-grinding, pulsating days of Premier League football, so what do you say we have a little fun with what could happen over the next nine months.

[ MORE: Transfer records for all 20 PL clubs ]


1. Virgil Van Dijk will win the 2019 Ballon d’Or.

2. Arsenal will be better than most expect en route to winning a trophy this year.

3. Man City and Spurs will make the deepest runs in the UEFA Champions League (unless drawn against each other early in the knockouts).

4. Harry Kane will be near the top of the Premier League goal charts in August, bucking his early season trend.

5. He won’t win the Golden Boot, though, as Mohamed Salah earns that honor.

6. Christian Pulisic will register double-digit assists for Chelsea, but finish just shy of double-digit goals.

(Photo by David Geieregger/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

7. It will be the other way around for Newcastle record signing Joelinton.

8. Aston Villa’s Dean Smith will finish second in PL Manager of the Year voting, and only because not enough voters will select someone outside the Top Four.

9. Ederson will win the Premier League’s Golden Glove.

10. Norwich City will be the first team to sack its manager.

11. Alexandre Lacazette will have more total goals+assists than Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

12. So will Nicolas Pepe.

13. But Aubameyang will finish tied with Harry Kane for second-most goals in the Premier League.

14. Raheem Sterling will win Premier League Players’ Player of the Year.

15. Dele Alli will start less than half of Spurs league matches.

16. A team will be relegated despite reaching the 40 point mark.

17. Watford will lead the league in yellow and red cards.

18. Either Burnley’s Sean Dyche or Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe will take a new coaching job before the end of the season.

19. Ruben Loftus-Cheek will return from injury in the winter and become a key piece of some team’s season, whether at Chelsea or on a half-season loan.

20. Arsenal will lead the league in expected goals per game.

21. Everton will be in the Top Four come Nov. 2’s visit from Tottenham.

22. Liverpool will lose the UEFA Super Cup to Chelsea in penalty kicks, and penalty kicks v. Liverpool will become just about the most useless, annoying buzz topic in English football.

23. Man City won’t lose until Dec. 14 at Arsenal.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

24. At least one $30 million-plus summer transfer will be sold or loaned in January.

25. Once healthy, Kieran Tierney will have a better first 22 games at Arsenal than fellow Scottish import fullback Andy Robertson had at Liverpool.

26. Sheffield United will be top half of the table at the first international break.

27. Marcus Rashford will score 10 goals and 10 assists for Manchester United, but it will be regarded as not enough due to unrealistic expectations.

28. Burnley will not sit above 10th at any point after Week 1.

29. Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh will rise from his terribly disappointing debut season in England to score at least one otherworldly goal.

30. Mike Ashley will start a new or renewed takeover rumor right before the January transfer window.

31. Marko Arnautovic‘s brother will link his brother with a return to the Premier League in January.

32. VAR will decide a critical, hairline goal in a Man City-Liverpool match.

33. Liverpool will go unbeaten at home.

34. Everton will win a Merseyside Derby.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

35. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will have as many assists as Trent Alexander-Arnold.

36. Josh Sims‘ loan stint with the New York Red Bulls will make him an in-demand transfer target for a PL team in January.

37. Speaking of Southampton, Saints will be in the conversation for a Europa League place before the festive season (Ultimately, the season flames out).

38. At least one non-Top Six team will win a domestic cup.

39. Watford and Crystal Palace see the biggest drop in point total from last season to this.

40. Southampton and Everton make the biggest leap in point total from last season to this.

41. Alexis Sanchez will end up starting matches for Manchester United.

42. Olivier Giroud will match his Premier League best for goals in a season (16, twice).

43. Everton will qualify for Europe.

(Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

44. Andy Carroll will score against former clubs West Ham and Liverpool.

45. Ismaila Sarr will score 10 goals as Watford’s record transfer.

46. It will be a breakout season in England for Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, who will look more like the force he was in the Bundesliga.

47. Gabriel Jesus will return to double-digit goals for Man City.

48. West Ham’s Felipe Anderson will post the most assists of any player not on Liverpool or Man City.

49. Jonas Lossl will start 10 or more matches for Everton.

50. Man City will threepeat, and the title will be decided before the final week of the season.

2 days to go until new PL season: Is it a 2-horse race again?

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On the evidence of the 2018-19 season, Manchester City and Liverpool appear set to dominate the Premier League for many years to come.

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Manchester City ]

Both squads are full of brilliant, ambitious players on the younger side of their respective careers, and between them they have two of the best managers in the world. That’s a surefire recipe for success, and just some of the reasons so many fans and pundits alike are predicting another neck-and-neck title race between Man City and Liverpool.

But — and stick with us here — what if there were other sides in the PL who could mount a title challenge of their own? Does such a thing exist as we count down to two days until the start of the 2019-20 PL season? If so, what would such a club’s path be to doing the near-unthinkable and close the 25-point gap between second and third?

[ MORE: 2019-20 season preview: Liverpool ]

Chelsea finished third last season which would make them the logical place to begin such a discussion, but they have since seen Eden Hazard depart for Real Madrid and begun a two-window transfer ban. Christian Pulisic arrived after signing last January and Mateo Kovacic made his loan deal a permanent one. Other than that, a handful of previously loaned players, most notably center forward Tammy Abraham, have returned and will fill out the holes in the squad. Frank Lampard, who has one season of managerial experience, replaced Maurizio Sarri. All of that adds up to far too much instability and uncertainty. Verdict: not a threat.

Tottenham Hotspur finished fourth and reached the Champions League final last season, and they have neither a transfer ban (self-imposed or otherwise) nor a new manager this season. It’s a promising start, at least. Tanguy Ndombele should be the answer to many of Tottenham’s problems in midfield, though it remains to be seen how quickly he’ll take to the PL and Mauricio Pochettino‘s system. For Spurs to make a real challenge, Harry Kane would have to avoid ankle ligament injuries for the first time in his career, Dele Alli would have to return to his very best of two and three seasons ago, Daniel Levy would have to pull off another one or two signings in the next 24 hours, one of Juan Foyth or Kyle Walker-Peters would have to become a lockdown defender at right back, and Spurs would likely have to bow out of the Champions League early to focus on the PL. That’s a lot of ifs. Verdict: probably not, but maybe, but probably not.

[ MORE: Is Man City’s defense strong enough, or deep enough? ]

Arsenal finished fifth last season, and the Gunners have spent aggressively this summer. Unfortunately for their title dreams, they’ve done nothing (again) to address their perennial achilles heel: the defense. Nicolas Pepe might very well be brilliant from day one, but Arsenal were hardly short on dynamic attackers when the summer began. William Saliba might be a long-term stalwart at center back, but he won’t move to London until next summer. There should be every hope alive inside Arsenal fans’ hearts that they’re the third-best side in the PL this season, but a title challenge? Verdict: also not a threat.

Manchester United finished sixth last season, and they might be lucky to avoid a more embarrassing outcome this time around. The signings of Harry Maguire ($97 million) and Aaron Wan-Bissaka ($57 million) addressed two positions of need in the most expensive ways possible, but each is far from a sure thing to be great. As of this moment, the only transfer activity in the midfield — another major area of weakness — was the departure of Ander Herrera. There’s also the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, Romelu Lukaku saga, which will either see the Red Devils lose a starter or retain a thoroughly unhappy player. Verdict: no chance.

So, who you got: Man City or Liverpool?

Will big-spending Spurs be Premier League title contenders?

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Tottenham Hotspur’s 2018-19 season was quite the “glass half-full” occasion.

Spurs won 23 matches, only Liverpool and Man City claiming three points on more occasions. The North London outfit also lost 13, the biggest number in the Top Six and the same as Wolves.

[ MORE: Spurs agree Dybala fee ]

With a plus-28 goal differential, also third-best in the PL, Spurs finished 15 points back of second and 16 behind victorious Man City. That felt okay because Mauricio Pochettino‘s men, of course, also made it to the UEFA Champions League Final, losing to Liverpool on a questionable handball call.

Now two seasons removed from a second-place finish in the league, Spurs have broken their transfer record to bring in Tanguy Ndombele and may be spending bigger, linked Tuesday with both Paulo Dybala and Philippe Coutinho. Playmaker Giovani Los Celso has been in their orbit, too, all summer.

Perhaps no team has more questions in the air over the final 48 hours of the transfer window than Spurs, with Christian Eriksen still whispered as a possible departure, to boot.

Only Manchester United suffered more injuries than Spurs last season, with Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Moussa Sissoko, and Hugo Lloris missing time (Spurs went 2W-3L in league play without the latter). And Heung-Min Son was gone through national team duty, too.

This is a club who stopped Man City from its most-sought jewel, the Champions League, and it’s no coincidence that Spurs’ Premier League freefall came once the group stage arrived at Wembley in mid-February.

Spurs were five points back of the first and second at that point, with a match-in-hand on leaders City but not Liverpool. The chasers — Arsenal, Manchester United, and Chelsea — were between 9-10 points back of Spurs.

They had won all but six of their matches at that point, falling to Watford, Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal, Wolves, and Manchester United. The losses to the leaders were both at home and by a single goal (as they would be later in the season, away from London).

They have a lot going for themselves, even a bit of momentum from the Audi Cup. Their festive season slate is very forgiving, as is their season run-in.

Spurs’ three toughest fixtures of the opening 10 come away to Man City, Arsenal, and Liverpool. Draws can, of course, do the trick there as Pochettino’s men look to build a path to the top (Liverpool’s start is more difficult, while Man City’s early visit from Spurs is its only top challenge of the first two months, all respect due to Wolves).

The biggest argument against Tottenham comes at right back, where Kieran Trippier has left, Juan Foyth is injured, and Serge Aurier is still returning to fitness. The easy option is for Pochettino to find an answer in the next 48 hours, but the little things matter when you’re talking about a title; Spurs may have to face down City in Week 2 with either a brand new piece or a revived Aurier.

That’s digging a bit too far into the weeds, though; When assessing whether Spurs can make up distance to Liverpool and Man City, it’s not really about the big gap at the end of last season. Look at where Spurs were before the Champions League knockout round stage. Ask yourselves whether you see them shallow enough to finish 3W-2D-7L regardless of UCL status.

We’d argue the opposite. With Dybala or Coutinho, this team can make it a bonafide three-team race almost regardless of what Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United manage by Thursday evening.