Stones and Sterling impress; Pep with work to do
After a summer filled with new arrivals and all the hype surrounding the new manager, Manchester City kicked off the new season with a surprisingly familiar sort of victory against a dogged Sunderland side. True, there were innovations. Outlets such as Match of the Day were hypnotised by the formational twists, with the fullbacks coming inside and many of the side constantly flitting between different positions in a fluid tactical system. Also, two of the players under the biggest pressure impressed. Stones looked composed having been thrown into the first team days after signing, while Sterling hopefully began to put a miserable last few months behind him with one of his best ever City performances.
However, much is still to do before Guardiola can claim to have had a real impact on his new team. The movement and formational fluidity was pronounced, but was only effective in the first half and only really created noticeable space in non-threatening positions. While the break from Pellegrini’s more static formation was immediately apparent, the performance (and indeed most of the second half) was still characterised by the disjointed off-the-ball movement up front that plagued the Chilean’s final season in charge. In the end, the new manager’s salvation was similar to that which had often saved the previous one: introducing the pace of Navas and waiting for one of his crosses to reach a successful conclusion.
Zlatan makes immediate mark
No first performance of a season can mean too much. David Moyes began his United league campaign with a 4-1 battering of Swansea. However, there was something strangely ominous about the way that Mourinho’s new side went about their away victory at Bournemouth. It seemed as if a slumbering beast – the merciless winning machine of old – had spluttered into life, if only for the first game. The performance was without much flair but the result seemed never in doubt: the team muscled and ground the opposition down with a dominant sense of inevitability. Nowhere was this more apparent in the performance of their new number nine. Zlatan has long been criticised as somebody who lacks the attributes for ‘the best league in the world’ but looked very much at home in this game. Having led the line well from deep, he then rasped in a goal from over twenty-yards away with the nonchalance that speaks so much of his bristling self-confidence and undeniable ability. That potent combo could yet bear big fruits this season, both for the player and his new side.
Déjà vu during Emirates humdinger
You would have to be quite the football hipster to argue that Arsenal-Liverpool wasn’t the best game of the weekend. Amid the chaos of seven goals, mishaps, sublime goals and two huge swings in momentum, something startlingly familiar emerged for many Gunners fans. While Klopp’s Liverpool showcased their swashbuckling best (and their defensive worst), Wenger’s side seems to have started every one of the last few seasons badly. A side exposed as lacking depth played players out of position and showed a harrowing lack of guile and solidity when really put on the back foot. While all their rivals have again spent big, Wenger seems again content with taking the supposed moral high ground of careful expenditure. However, he is living in a world utterly detached from the new reality. For the club’s sake, Wenger must let go of his stubborn position in order to prevent this depressing déjà vu extending beyond the season’s first game.
Promising signs of anti-dissent
Arnautovic and Diego Costa. Two players separated by club and nation, but united this weekend in their punished dissent. For far too long, football has had to carry the shame in the eyes of many of player disrespect. The ideas of footballers being ‘bad role models’ through swearing at and arguing with officials is something that has long hindered the sport, despite its often exaggerated impact in sections of the press. However, a new FA directive this season seems to want to stamp this out of the top flight. Two immediate bookings for the slightest aggression towards the referee was surprisingly satisfying to see. We can hope its consistent enforcement continues – regardless of the game or situation – so that the ugliness of petulant players swarming referees becomes something firmly stuck in the past.