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#PL #PLStories 2020-2021 Season – Matchday 1

James Rodriguez

The English Premier League returned with a shorter than usual summer break. With the pandemic and closed door matches continuing to be new norm,  clubs returned with summer signings and with a new mission.

Below fixtures were played and we provide you with stories that developed during the match.

Match Date Home Team FT Away Team HT
14.09.20  20:00 FT Sheffield Utd (17) 0 – 2 Wolves (12) (0 – 2)
14.09.20  22:15 FT Brighton (8) 1 – 3 Chelsea (11) (0 – 1)
13.09.20  16:00 FT West Brom (20) 0 – 3 Leicester (1) (0 – 0)
13.09.20  18:30 FT Tottenham (6) 0 – 1 Everton (2) (0 – 0)
12.09.20  14:30 FT Fulham (18) 0 – 3 Arsenal (3) (0 – 1)
12.09.20  17:00 Pst Burnley (14) NPY Manchester United (15) NPY
12.09.20  17:00 FT Crystal Palace (5) 1 – 0 Southampton (19) (1 – 0)
12.09.20  17:00 Pst Manchester City (7) NPY Aston Villa (9) NPY
12.09.20  19:30 FT Liverpool (4) 4 – 3 Leeds (10) (3 – 2)
12.09.20  22:00 FT West Ham (16) 0 – 2 Newcastle (13) (0 – 0)


Stories That Developed

Sheffield Utd 0 – 2 Wolves

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Wolves’ performances both domestically and in Europe last season were all the more impressive considering their campaign started in July last year and ended last month. The late finish to a season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic meant Wolves did not have any friendlies before the start of the new campaign. But despite the lack of preparation they showed no signs of rustiness and they were at their clinical best from the outset, scoring from their first two chances of the game. The lack of preparation for the new campaign perhaps showed as they saw less of the ball in the second half, although they did still have the better chances on the break.

Chris Wilder pointed out that it may be  premature to suggest defeat is an indicator of Sheffield United being destined to fall foul of ‘second-season syndrome’ but there were some concerns for the Blades boss. Despite playing four pre-season friendlies compared to Wolves’ none it was the hosts who looked short of sharpness in the first half. They were slow to build attacks and lacked bite in the final third, while their defense – the backbone of their impressive campaign last season – was well below par.  Sheffield United improved after the break as they pressed Wolves high and overlapping runs from defense were again utilized well. 

Sheffield United Key: Slow to build attacks

Wolves Key: Efficient with goals

Brighton 1 – 3 Chelsea

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Frank Lampard may feel lucky to get  three points after what was a mixed performance. New signings were a mixed bag with Timo Werner shining and Havertz being a more low-key presence on the right side of midfield in front of Reece James.  Lampard will be keen to get left-back Chilwell and Thiago Silva  into a defense that still looks vulnerable. And once again there were questions over keeper Kepa, who got close to Trossard’s shot but allowed it to creep in. It seems his time is running out as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper, with the £20m signing of Rennes’ Edouard Mendy apparently imminent.

Brighton can take some satisfaction through the pain of a defeat that will leave manager Graham Potter bitterly frustrated. The Seagulls acquitted themselves very well and had the game’s outstanding performer in former Chelsea right-back Lamptey, who was industrious and creative in a top-class display. And the momentum appeared to be with Brighton when Trossard scored a deserved equaliser – only for them to concede a second within two minutes from James’ thunderous finish. Brighton then wasted the best chance of the game when Dunk headed wide and were unable to recover as Chelsea re-established a two-goal lead. This was, however, a very respectable performance. On the down side, Potter is facing the issue he must have feared when he signed Lallana from Liverpool. Lallana is a great asset when fit – but therein lies the problem. He did not last the first half and has now failed to play 90 minutes in the Premier League since he faced Middlesbrough for Liverpool in May 2017.

Brighton Key: Fitness of best signing Lallana

Chelsea Key: Goalkeeper and defensive issues

West Brom 0 – 3 Leicester

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Leicester City  missed  Champions League after a draining run of 17 games in which they claimed only four wins. Just as his side’s form nosedived, so did Vardy’s. He may have been the Premier League’s top scorer but 17 of his 23 goals came before Christmas Day. After toiling for most of the afternoon, Vardy’s day seem to be reaching an unhappy end when he limped away from a collision with Johnstone. But the physio sorted Vardy out and within minutes he had scored. Ten minutes after that, he had another one. Maddison’s introduction was further reason for Leicester to cheer, although with a notoriously draining Europa League campaign to negotiate from the middle of October, it is fair to assume Rodgers will want more signings beyond Castagne, who has been brought in as a replacement for Ben Chilwell, who joined Chelsea for £45m.

When West Brom went down three seasons ago, their measly 31 goals was one of the major reasons. Salomon Rondon and Jay Rodriguez were joint top scorers with seven, so it is obvious where the Baggies must improve if they are to stand a chance of preserving their Premier League status. Having spent £28m on three new attackers – all of whom joined on a more permanent basis after impressing during the club’s promotion season – expectations around Pereira, Grady Diangana and Callum Robinson are high. There was evidence of plenty of movement from the three of them but it only translated into a single shot on target. Without a greater goal threat, it could be a long old season for the Baggies.

West Brom Key: Goals

Leicester City Key: Jamie Vardy

Tottenham 0 – 1 Everton

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After Everton’s disappointing 12th place last season and undeserved for world class manager Carlo Ancelotti, Everton have embarked on an ambitious rebuilding job, specifically targeting the midfield. James Rodriguez, Brazil’s Allan and Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure have been purchased to provide energy and creativity in the engine room – and all three gave Ancelotti huge encouragement for the season ahead. Rodriguez, in particular, stood out, with his quality passing. The signing from Real Madrid created five opportunities for his team-mates, the most by a player on their Premier League debut since Alexis Sanchez back in August 2014. The Toffees could – and should – have won by a more handsome margin against a static Tottenham side short of ideas.

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho was unhappy with Everton’s goal but over the 90 minutes, Spurs were distinctly second best and their lack of threat was summed up by the fact Harry Kane only touched the ball twice in Everton’s penalty area. Son Heung-min was Spurs’ most threatening player, particularly in the first half when he set up chances for Kane and Alli. Kane looked a shadow of the player who finished last season with five goals in three games while Alli, despite forcing a fine save from Pickford, was replaced at half-time. Mourinho said before the game that he wanted a new striker before the transfer window closes next month and this performance will reinforce his need to strengthen the squad. New signing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg also started but was unable to have the same impact as Everton’s new additions.

Tottenham Key: Held back and over focussed on tactics

Everton Key: Midfield magic led by James Rodriguez

Fulham 0 – 3 Arsenal

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Arsenal have shown clear signs of improvement under boss Mikel Arteta with Arsenal a defensive solidity and looking confident going forward. Despite a pre-season break of less than a month, they are in good shape if this performance is anything to go back. Willian was first player to assist two goals on his Premier League debut for Arsenal since Ray Parlour in August 1992 against Liverpool. Arsenal could have scored more if they needed, but this performance would have pleased Mikel Arteta. 

Fulham manager Scott Parker started with 10 of the 11 players who beat Brentford in the Championship play-off final on 4 August, with no new signings getting on to the pitch. Mitrovic, who was not fully fit for their Wembley win after scoring 26 goals, was on the bench again. Fulham will hope not many of their games are as tough as playing in-form Arsenal, but there were signs this could be another leaky season at the back. The opening goal came from their own mistake. Tim Ream blocked a Xhaka shot and should have cleared it, but he let Willian take the ball and shoot, leading to Lacazette’s goal. There was little to get excited about at the other end, with two shots on target and both from outside the box – Denis Odoi after seven minutes and Mitrovic after 67. Fulham were relegated in each of their past two Premier League seasons, in 2013-14 and 2018-19 – conceding the most goals in the league both times. The last time they were promoted they spent more than £100m and played a new-look team in a miserable season.

Fulham Key: Leaky defense

Arsenal Key: Willian’s magic

Crystal Palace 1 – 0 Southampton

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Summer of 2020 was usual for Palace boss Roy Hodgson and their talisman Wilfried Zaha. The player was again “set on leaving” the club  and his manager was not shy to admit that.  Zaha was linked with moves to both Everton and Arsenal in the summer of 2019, and Hodgson claimed the speculation had affected the player as Palace limped over the finishing line following seven defeats in the last eight games. Against Southampton, Zaha, who has a contract until 2022-23, was lively and fully committed, and produced a fine finish following an excellent move involving Townsend. Goals were hard to come by for Palace last season.  Their paltry return of 31 in 38 top-flight games prompted them to draft in Michy Batshuayi on a second loan from Chelsea, while they also invested £19.5m in 22-year-old QPR forward Eberechi Eze. Both newcomers started on the bench before Eze came on in the closing stages as Palace marked Hodgson’s third anniversary in charge with a gritty clean-sheet win. The hosts were missing several key defenders including Mamadou Sakho, Patrick van Aanholt and Gary Cahill through injury but Scott Dann and Cheikhou Kouyate were strong at the back. 

Having finished last season strongly, this was a frustrating start to Southampton’s ninth successive season in the Premier League. Danny Ings thought he had equalized in the dying moments with a header only for Guaita to fling himself across his line to keep it out. Only champions Liverpool and runners-up Manchester City secured more away points than Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side as they secured 11th spot in the table. But they were unable to punish Palace’s depleted defense despite five chances on target. Redmond shot straight at Guaita when he should have done better while the Spanish keeper was at his best to deny Adams, before James Ward-Prowse sent a free-kick over the bar. It could have been worse for the visitors. There appeared no malicious intent when Walker-Peters make contact with Mitchell but Moss reached for his pocket, before downgrading his decision.

Crystal Palace Key:  Wilfried Zaha’s contribution                                

Southampton Key: Early contenders for relegation

Liverpool 4 – 3 Leeds

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Bielsa and his players always promised to decorate the Premier League after the manner in which they gained promotion as Championship winners. Any pessimists among Leeds fans (not that there seem to be many) would have had their heads in their hands when Liverpool scored after just three minutes, but they would have been thrilled by the response. Leeds did not take a backward step, playing Liverpool at their own high-intensity pressing game and almost coming away with a point. It may yet be that this fierce style catches up with them in a long, unforgiving season but it is going to be fun as long as it lasts. And at the heart of it all is the charismatic Bielsa, crouching for periods long enough to render many unable to return to a standing position, then prowling his technical area, even knocking a drink over in brief celebration.

Liverpool got the job done courtesy of Salah’s late penalty but this was an uncharacteristically sloppy display from the champions that relied on that Rodrigo challenge to get three points. Salah was in imperious mood up front but elsewhere Leeds were able to hurry Liverpool out of their stride and run through their midfield in a manner which would have disturbed manager Jurgen Klopp. Liverpool were also occasionally shambolic at the back, cut open far too easily with even the normally unflustered Van Dijk knocked out of his stride, committing an awful error for Leeds’ second goal, while Trent Alexander-Arnold had a game he will want to forget. Alexander-Arnold was rescued by the offside flag when he bizarrely headed Harrison’s lob into his own net and he will lead Liverpool’s relief at getting three points. In attack, though, Liverpool have players such as Salah who can rescue them from any hazardous situation and so it proved again here.

Liverpool Key:  Complacency or second season winner’s syndrome                        

Leeds United Key: How long will we be able to see Leeds “no midfield” attacking play

West Ham 0 – 2 Newcastle

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West Ham were bottom of the Premier League after the opening round of fixtures in each of the past three seasons. And despite this performance not being as humbling as their heavy defeats against both Manchester clubs and Liverpool, it did highlight the need for manager David Moyes to bring in some reinforcements. While they have been able to complete the permanent signing of Tomas Soucek, the Czech international has not exactly provided any fresh impetus, having spent the second half of last term on loan at the club.

Magpies manager Steve Bruce expressed his happiness with the summer arrivals of Wilson and Jamal Lewis, plus free agents Ryan Fraser and Hendrick. And even more pleasingly for Bruce, Wilson, Lewis and Hendrick all made an immediate impression for their new employers.  Wilson, who appears to thrive when facing the Hammers, was undoubtedly the pick of the bunch.  The 28-year-old’s pace and movement caused problems well before he scored his eighth goal in nine outings against West Ham, twice going close from Lewis deliveries from the left and teeing up Jonjo Shelvey after a surging run from his own half.  He also appeared to benefit from the freedom and flicks that Andy Carroll’s robust presence provided alongside him. Newcastle had the fourth worst goal-scoring record in the top flight last term and Bruce will hope that combination can help to remedy that problem. Wilson’s goal was a result of his opportunism after Carroll had got across the near post to flick on Javier Manquillo’s cross, and Hendrick’s late right-foot shot put the seal on a fine night for Newcastle’s new boys.

West Ham Key: Relegation battle is already looming over the club                  

Newcastle United Key: Calum Wilson and his goals

Burnley NPY NPY Manchester United

Manchester City NPY NPY Aston Villa

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