The Opening Premier League Weekend: 5 Talking Points

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Van Gaal and Manchester United should be offered no sympathy for a lack of creativity

Most Red Devils fans will take Manchester United’s 2-1 loss to Swansea as a good omen, keeping in mind David Moyes’ 4-1 victory over the Welsh team on the opening day last season. Van Gaal however will not be one to look at this loss in a favourable light and will be concerned at how little his team created. Barring a short spell after Wayne Rooney’s acrobatic equaliser, which Swansea weathered confidently, United lacked an edge in the final third. The good pre season performances did not carry over and Van Gaal was left lamenting a lack of “better players”. But really, even with van Persie yet to return, an attack containing Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Nani, Javier Hernandez and Ander Herrera can’t really be excused when they fail to make an impression at the pointy end. Those are very, very good players normally so, though signings are still essential to challenge for the title, van Gaal should currently have sufficient personnel to beat Swansea. Hernandez was very poor against the Swans, Herrera even worse, so if players are underperforming on the very first day of the season, the blame lies at the feet of the manager. For all of the fans’ optimistic superstitions about opening day results against Swansea, they will have left the match with a very bad taste in their mouths. Though not as bad as the taste Ashley Young left with.

Newcastle’s Cabella, Riviere all promise and no finish

For Alan Pardew, the only way is up. Or out. In the pre match interview, the Newcastle manager spoke frankly about the state of his tenure at the end of last season, where the stands were fizzing with furious anguish every weekend. “You lost the fans a little bit by the end of last season” the interviewer generously offered. “I wouldn’t say a little bit, I’d say a lot.” Pardew replied. He likely expected, and subsequently received no relief in this match against the champions, Manchester City, but he at least had the chance to look at his new, largely (and inevitably) Gallic signings. Despite City winning this match fairly comfortably, Pardew will be encouraged by the performances offered by Remy Cabella and Emmanuel Riviere. Cabella looked excellent, particularly in the first half, and was brimming with pace, guile and stepovers galore. He won a number of free kicks with his quicksilver dribbling, showing exceptionally fast feet and even faster attacking instincts. He will prove to be a very good signing if he can keep this up. Emmanuel Riviere started up front for the Magpies, but was largely stifled in imperious fashion by Vincent Kompany, who was flawless for City. Still, Riviere showed a few flashes of inventive movement, along with some silky touches, but let himself down with some erratic finishing. Three times in the first half, his decision making when in shooting positions was questionable in the extreme. His pace and movement gave the impression that he will become an asset for Newcastle but by the end of the match, Joe Hart had not been called upon to make a single save. Pardew will be eagerly awaiting Siem de Jong’s arrival, as well as that of Facundo Ferreyra. Hopefully they will prove more incisive and measured finishers.

Remy-Cabella

Ramsay setting up for his breakout season proper

Aaron Ramsay was leading the player of the season race in the first third of last season. His injury, along with the performances of Luis Suarez, ended that particular personal ambition, and probably Arsenal’s title chances along with it. Still despite the lay off, Ramsay had his best ever season for the Gunners; he cemented his spot as the first name on the teamsheet, exceeded all of his previous scoring records, and fired home the last gasp winner in the FA Cup final. It was a fairytale season for the Welshman. He has started the new season in similar form, scoring the winner over the manager-less but obdurate Crystal Palace on the weekend. The jump up Ramsay has experienced over the past two seasons is truly remarkable and his goal against Palace was the type of instinctive and opportunistic strike that typifies his increased sense for goal. Most of the fanfare at the Emirates has surrounded new boy Alexis Sanchez and the Chilean will be hoping to make his mark on the season for the Gunners, despite losing out to comparative giant Brede Gangeland for Palace’s goal. But with most of the eyes focused on other stars, Arsenal’s most effective attacker, if he can stay fit and continue his surge, may well be Ramsay in 2014/15.

Early signs suggest that Southampton’s dredging not as devastating as anticipated

The blood was draining from the faces of the Saints fans almost as quickly as the players were leaving the club this off season. The exodus at Southampton stripped them of, not only their best performers last season, but also of the spine of the team. Centre back Lovren, playmaker Lallana, and striker Lambert all went to Liverpool, and Chambers, Shaw and Osvaldo also left. Players were brought in to fill the holes, but how they’d fare in the Premier League was anyone’s guess. Southampton were given a very difficult start to the season, facing Liverpool at Anfield. And, though Liverpool earned the three points in the end, Southampton’s performance was extremely encouraging, considering the personnel turnover. After losing Chambers, Shaw and Lallana, Southampton simply dipped into their seemingly bottomless pool of young English talent, with both James Ward-Prowse and Nathaniel Clyne excelling. Though not as slippery a dribbler as Lallana, Ward-Prowse is an extremely tidy passer, with excellent vision and a Gerrard-like ability to deliver from dead balls. Clyne scored a smashing goal (see below) to equalise against Liverpool, and was consistently dangerous coming forward for the Saints. One of the new boys, Dusan Tadic, also looked very promising as he laid on a sublime backheel for Clyne’s goal. Tadic was a wily presence in the attacking third, always alert to the sliding runs of his team mates. Equally, new striker Graziano Pelle was strong all afternoon, holding the ball up well and giving the Saints faithful hope that Lambert’s loss won’t hit them too hard. Lambert came on late against his former club and was met with warm applause from both sets of fans. Lovren on the other hand, who started for Liverpool, was booed by the Southampton contingent whenever he had the ball. Victor Wanyama was much less reckless in possession, showing that his reputation as a player who tends to give the ball away is largely unfounded. Even in defeat, Southampton, and the fans, will be much more optimistic about this season’s prospects.

City still the ones to beat, despite Chelsea’s purchases

Though Chelsea are yet to open their season against Burnley, many have tipped Mourinho’s team to win the league. Most of the reasoning behind this is based on Mourinho’s swift manoeuvring in the transfer market, where he secured key signings quickly. Certainly Chelsea were missing a goal scorer last season and, if nothing else, new signing Diego Costa is a proven scorer of goals. Pre season results were very good for Mourinho’s team, but as Manchester United proved, pre season momentum can come to shuddering halt very quickly indeed. Manchester City will be keen to further reiterate their own title credentials, after all, they are the current champions. Their performance against Newcastle was very good indeed, even without a lot of their World Cup players. They have invested quietly(if £32 million for Eliaquim Mangala can be considered quiet) in players that, although not the flashy purchases that Costa and Fabregas are, will add considerable solidity to their defence and midfield. In Manuel Pellegrini they have a manager who last season proved himself more than capable of navigating the treacherous terrain of the Premier League, and they have a core of players with the experience and belief that is essential for a strong title challenge. Hart, Kompany, Toure, Silva and Aguero is a spine that no other team in the league can match and it’s surrounded by a collection of ultra-reliable and quality players like Zabaleta, Nasri, and Dzeko. Even if Chelsea obliterate Burnley tonight, something that wouldn’t be a huge surprise, the gut feeling is that City are still the team to beat to the title.

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