Opening weekend is a big challenge for teams who have come up from the Championship. You’re back in the big time so take it steady, don’t do anything too rash, see if you can nick a point. Fulham kicked off the new boys’ quest and were pretty much outclassed from start to finish by an Arsenal team who achieved the holy trinity of a scrappy goal, a set-piece goal and a club blueprint goal (in Arsenal’s case, playing the ball around their own penalty area to draw in the opposition before springing the transition and playing in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left to curl in with his right foot™). West Brom also conceded three, to Leicester, and had to witness their former loan star Harvey Barnes running them ragged demonstrating a complete lack of nostalgia for his time at the highest football ground in English professional football.
Leeds completed the set by conceding four to Liverpool but come away with the most credit as they equalised three times against the champions of England, dominating possession and hearts as they pushed the Reds to the very limit. What ultimately did for both WBA and Leeds was conceding a pair of penalties each, something that means that 1% of all penalties given away by promoted teams in Premier League history came on the opening weekend of the 2020/21 season. There’s only been one campaign when all three promoted teams went down (Bolton, Barnsley & Crystal Palace in 1997/98) so it is unlikely to happen this season but even so, all three will hope for more positivity in MD2.
For the fourth season in a row, Mohamed Salah scored on the Premier League’s opening weekend, something only Teddy Sheringham had done before. It’s sometimes too easy to underplay the Egyptian’s stratospheric standards because, living as we are at the tail end of the Ronaldo & Messi era, it’s hard to remember that Salah levels of production (a combined 104 goals & assists in 109 Premier League appearances for Liverpool) are incredibly high. Three goals against Leeds is as many in one game at Anfield as Michael Owen managed in 10 matches there in 1999-2000, only one fewer than Fernando Morientes managed there in 11 games in 2005/06 and, of course, three times as many as Roberto Firmino managed there last season. In wider terms, Salah’s 78 goals in 122 Premier League appearances is only six fewer than Cristiano Ronaldo and in 74 games fewer. Even starker, he’s played as many top-flight games in England as Milan Baros but has 50 more goals. And if Connor Wickham wants to find parity with Salah then he needs to score 59 goals in his next two appearances. It feels unlikely.
What an opening weekend it was for the James community. Monday night saw Reece James bludgeon a shot past Mat Ryan [romantic view: a screamer, scientific verdict: 27.2 yards, 0.03 xG] while a day earlier James Rodriguez had taken to Premier League football like he had been born in Tamworth. Everton’s new glamour signing, an actual World Cup Golden Boot winner in blue (and no, Gary Lineker doesn’t count, because of our old friend chronology) created five goalscoring chances on his debut and not just any old first game; this one was away to Amazon’s Tottenham Hotspur. It was the most creative debut in England’s top division since Alexis Sanchez’s for Arsenal back in 2014 and suggests that in terms of Everton James’, Rodriguez may be able to surpass McFadden, McCarthy and Beattie over the coming months.
Of course, the most creative James the Premier League has ever witnessed is still operating just a short distance from Goodison Park in the form of James Milner, a man who has as many top-flight assists as Paul Scholes and Mohamed Salah combined. As it stands, Milner is responsible for 31% of all assists by players with James in their name and 0.4% overall. Work to do for Everton’s Colombian then but just look how many people have had to pivot from “he’ll take a while to settle” to “a pure thoroughbred who Ancelotti will get the best from”. Everyone can be creative when they need to be.
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