Sunday 19 November 2017 / 10:08 AM

BOX TO BOX: EPL MATCH DAY 1

The first instalment of BRAYDEN ISSA’s new Premier League column wraps up a riveting opening round of action from England.

Huddersfield stun league

Huddersfield Town enjoyed an unimaginable dream start to their first Premier League season. After finishing the Championship season with a negative goal difference, Huddersfield were viewed as nothing more than a cute subplot heading into the season, a near-certainty for relegation.

After holding steady in an uneventful opening period against Crystal Palace, they capitalised on an own goal from Joe Ward, stepped up the energy, and a double from Steve Mounie in his EPL debut got the side home. Their quest for survival may have tougher times ahead, but it could not have started much better, stunning the Eagles with an awe-inspiring 3-0 win.

Transfers hit the mark

One of the main talking points heading into the season was how the new signings would impact their clubs, and it didn’t take long for results to show up. Alongside Steve Mounie’s double, other new strike weapons managed to make their mark.

With his first touch (sans the kickoff) of the ball, Arsenal buy Alexandre Lacazette buried the ball in the back of the net from close range to open the season’s scoring. Alvaro Morata almost replicated the effect for Chelsea, putting his name on the scoresheet with his second involvement, also a header. It comes in threes, and whilst he wasn’t brought in to replace Lukaku’s production, Everton’s prodigal son Wayne Rooney’s had a fair crack at it, also using his head to break the deadlock and got them across the line against Stoke. Mohamed Salah, Ahmed Hegazi and Stefano Okaka also all netted in their club debuts.

The headlining act, of course, was the stellar United debut for Romelu Lukaku, who led the line for a dominant Red Devils attack that ran riot against West Ham, netting two goals and unlucky not to take away a third.

Chelsea disaster

By far the biggest losers of Match Day 1. After a poor transfer window that brewed significant tension between manager Antonio Conte and the club, Chelsea’s instability transferred onto the pitch, where they looked a shell of themselves in a 3-2 loss to Burnley.

Gary Cahil’s red card set the wheels in motion, goals to Sam Voakes and Stephen Ward quickly compounding the pressure. In complete meltdown, Chelsea continued to wander around the field, lazily turning over possession and failing to track back as Vokes struck again to put the result beyond doubt and consign defending champions to 3-0 down at halftime to a team who had not won at their ground since 1971.

The second half was a different story, and after halting the momentum, Chelsea attacked relentlessly, managing to crack the defence for Morata’s opening goal. Their efforts were fruitless, as Burnley held them at bay easily and only a conciliation goal to Luiz in the 87th minute helped make the scoreline somewhat forgiving – but not before Cesc Fabregas got himself sent off. Whilst the result was embarrassing, credit goes to Burnley for securing their first top flight opening win since 1973.

Should Arsenal be relieved or nervous?

The Gunners got the job done against Leicester, in anything but comfortable fashion in what looked to be a microcosm of thoughts surrounding the team.

At times, it all came together, opening up clear shots on goal with crisp passing exchanges dissecting a set defence. Those moments were few and far in between, and at other times, it was a mishmash of disjointed, forced possessional control without working to anything substantial. Lacazette’s opening goal was a spectacular moment, but he was disjointed overall. The fit didn’t appear to be as clean as expected.

Wenger got the subs right — both Giroud and Ramsey added a goal each — the pendulum swung, talent and momentum bringing them home.

It’s a harsh take, but counting on Giroud to bail them out after controlling possession and territory for majority of the game is an alarm bell in itself. Leicester went into protection mode and it cost them. The momentum killed them and they didn’t have the nerve to control possession and grind out the victory.

Good teams can win ugly, but that doesn’t help calm the noise that this is an ill-constructed roster that won’t challenge for the title. Make no mistake, Arsenal got out of jail.

Top clubs fail to fire

Alongside the aforementioned struggles of Arsenal and Chelsea, both Tottenham and Liverpool failed to make a dent in the conversation with their underwhelming performances. The Spurs cruised their way to a 2-0 win over Newcastle, but more of the credit goes to Newcastle’s erratic showing and a mindless brain snap from Jonjo Shelvey that found them a man down to a far superior opponent. They were controlled, but far from impressive.

The same can’t be said for Liverpool, who were similar to Arsenal in showcasing all of the surrounding worries in one oscillating 90-minute exhibit.

Their midfield was flimsy in a 3-3 draw with Watford; they lacked creative options across the park — which was especially obvious when they stagnated in the final third — and again raised questions about their defence. They conceded two goals off set pieces and failed to put the game away (despite plenty of chances) until Watford equalled with a third. Despite favourable draws, no one really stepped out in style. Except for….

Manchester success

The two titles favourites reside in the same city, and both showed glimpses of why they may be heading for glory. Man City weren’t assertive or necessarily impressive in Brighton and Hove Albion’s first top flight home game since they were eliminated in 1983 (ironically by City) but they remained controlled and focused, playing to their style until they were able to capitalise on an error. Brighton are no world-beaters, but it was a comfortable showing nonetheless from City.

That seems microscopic compared to their neighbours, who looked menacing whilst laying waste to West Ham. United were focused and inspired, with full credit to the powers of Jose Mourinho.

The team better resembled what you expect from a Mourinho squad, and that should be enough to put the league on notice — he has won a league title in the second season in charge of every one of the teams he’s managed (Porto, Inter, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Chelsea again). If they can continue on the same path, it won’t be a surprise if this pattern continues.

Matic was simply superb in his official United debut — making it immediately clear that Chelsea may have made a giant mistake letting him walk to a rival heavyweight. He provides the perfect foil for Paul Pogba, a stable, defensive presence that allows Pogba the license to roam without the liability of controlling the middle. And when Pogba shook loose and buried the ball in the back of the net with half a second of space to work with, the imminent threat of their many scoring threats came to life. Looking like legitimate challengers.

Mat Ryan watch

Terrific Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan made the switch to the Premier League, joining freshly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion. We’ll be keeping tabs on him across the season, and with the expected defensive work Brighton will face, we’re sure to see plenty of him.

Despite going down 2-0 to Man City, Ryan’s EPL debut was quite solid: Guardiola’s men were camped in the final third but failed to capitalise, Ryan confidently dealing with anything in the box and proving to be a presence behind the challenged back four. His first highlight play came with a brilliant, instinctual denial of Gabriel Jesus from close range. He was active with the boot as normal – the goalkeeper made more pass attempts than any outfield Seagulls player with 27. A strong debut.

Quick thoughts

  • Willian was Chelsea’s only bright spot, a constant threat down the flank, their only creative option.
  • Watford unveiled a tactic that teams should take note of — Liverpool are small, so forcing them to defend set pieces makes their already weak defence vulnerable.
  • How long until Leicester bust out both Vardy and Iheanacho together. A 4-4-2 with them leading the line or 4-2-1-2 with Mahrez shifting between the two lines brings plenty of intrigue.
  • Despite the 4-0 flogging, I’m still fond of West Ham’s backline. They’ll see better days.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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