The biggest surprise of the Premier League’s return came with the lack of controversy caused by VAR.
The Premier League began with a bang last weekend as Liverpool launched their title defence with a pulsating 4-3 win over new boys Leeds.
AFP Sport picks out five things we observed from the opening weekend of the season.
‘Special’ Leeds a welcome
The return of Leeds to the Premier League after a 16-year absence, and with the mercurial Marcelo Bielsa at the helm, was highly anticipated and it did not disappoint.
The new boys were two minutes away from taking points off the champions until Mohamed Salah completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot to ensure Liverpool emerged victorious at an empty Anfield.
As the scoreline suggests, improvements will be needed at the back but Leeds will remain true to Bielsa’s philosophy in trying to impose themselves on the opposition and on the evidence of their opening salvo, there should be no fear of dropping back down to the second tier.
The biggest surprise of the Premier League’s return came with the lack of controversy caused by VAR as new interpretations of how to use the technology largely led to more sensible decisions.
Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters saw a red card downgraded to a yellow after referee Jon Moss came to the sidelines himself to assess a replay.
Newcastle’s Jeff Hendrick was not penalised after the ball struck his arm, which was by his side, during the Magpies’ 2-0 win at West Ham thanks to a more generous interpretation of the handball rule for defenders.
Arsenal show top-four promise
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have made a habit of upsetting the odds, defeating Manchester City and Chelsea on their way to winning the FA Cup last season and beating Liverpool twice in recent months.
Those victories were earned through defensive discipline and a threat on the counter-attack, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the main dangerman.
Before Saturday’s trip to Fulham there were questions over how the Gunners would deal with sides who would not open up against them but Arteta’s men responded with an emphatic 3-0 win at Craven Cottage.
New signing Willian had a major role to play in all three goals, scored by Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang and another debutant, Gabriel Magalhaes, as Arsenal laid down a marker in their bid to finish in the top four.
Ancelotti gets the better of
On the opening weekend, Carlo Ancelotti got the better of Jose Mourinho as Everton won away from home against traditional top-six opposition for the first time since 2013.
New signings Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure gave the Toffees the dynamism and grit they have badly missed in recent seasons in midfield, while James Rodriguez showed glimpses of the quality that once made him one of the world’s most in-demand players.
Spurs, by contrast, look lacklustre, with Mourinho labelling his players “lazy” out of possession and showing little sign of halting their slide since reaching the Champions League final just over a year ago.
Kepa blunders again
As Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga allowed Leandro Trossard’s long-range shot to slip through his weak attempted save, Blues boss Frank Lampard must have had a familiar sinking feeling.
Since he joined Chelsea in 2018, Kepa has conceded 19 Premier League goals from outside the area — more than any other keeper.
The Spaniard, the world’s most expensive keeper, was dropped by Lampard twice last season after a series of costly blunders. – AFP