After a long and dreadful absence, English football returned this weekend. Following two months of getting bogged down in warm weather and fireworks and time spent with friends, we can return to the things that really matter in life— pre-dawn wakeup calls, gallons of coffee, and the dulcet tones of Arlo White. For Matchday 1, we saw a somewhat dismal curtain-raiser, the title holders stumble out of the gate, and a reminder of just how steep the climb is for newly-promoted clubs. If for some reason you didn’t find yourself parked in front of a screen this weekend, here’s what you missed.
1. The Premier League season began with a groan
I’ve said previously that Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur is secretly one of the best fixtures in the Premier League season. With this being the first matchup of 2015-16, it seemed like the new season was going to kick off right, with fans being treated to a feast of attacking football. Boy, did Saturday’s meeting fall short of that expectation. United, which featured four new signings in the starting XI, were clearly still learning how to play together as errant passes and difficulties keeping their shape belied a team that was still a work in progress. Meanwhile, Tottenham looked exhausted having had all of two days rest following their last preseason friendly. The lone strike of the match, and the first scored in the 2015-16 season, was a Kyle Walker own goal. In sum, let’s hope the rest of the season isn’t quite so hapless.
2. The Champions got their title defense off to a rocky start
There are few things in football more difficult than winning the Premier League title. One of them is winning it two years in a row. Chelsea illustrated just how hard it is to hold on to the title with their 2-2 draw at home to Swansea. The first half saw Chelsea take the lead, lose it, then get it back all within seven minutes. The Blues went into halftime up a goal and secure in the knowledge that they’ve won before while defending shakier leads. But early in the second half, disaster and heartbreak— Thibaut Courtois rushed off his line to snuff out a Bafetimbi Gomis breakaway and ended up raking his boot across the Swansea man’s leg. The referee decided it was a DOGSO, awarded the penalty, and gave the Belgian keeper his marching orders. Gomis converted the ensuing penalty and Chelsea, down a man and low on gas, couldn’t get back into the game. There’s still a lot of football left to play between now and May, but Chelsea learned this weekend that defending the title won’t be a cakewalk.
3. The newly-promoted teams have a lot of work to do
All three newcomers to the Premier League this season played on Saturday and, out of the nine points available to them, together they managed to secure just one. That point went to Watford, in their game against a struggling Everton that they could have (and maybe should have) won. Meanwhile, AFC Bournemouth—the 47th team to play in the Premier League—availed themselves well against Aston Villa but couldn’t keep them out forever and went on to lose their debut 1-0. And Norwich City more or less picked up where they left off, losing 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace and were denied an opportunity to fight back when Cameron Jerome’s equalizer was controversially disallowed. Depending on how cynical you’re feeling, the performances by the newcomers this weekend is either mildly disappointing or it all went exactly as one would expect.
4. Arsenal fell flat on their face
Following a second consecutive FA Cup win in May, a successful preseason, and a growing number of commentators saying this could be they finally win another league title, Arsenal’s home opener against West Ham was meant to be the Gunners’ statement of intent. Yet the result did not match Arsenal’s ambition. The home side conceded a set piece goal just before halftime and then dug a deeper hole less than ten minutes into the second half from a fairly soft effort that newly-arrived keeper Petr ?ech should really have saved. West Ham, with a new manager and a lot to prove, ended up dropping the mic on Arsenal 0-2 in their first win at the Emirates since 2007. While the Gunners have plenty of time to turn things around, the spiritless defeat rounded off a difficult weekend for the teams who typically orbit the top end of the table.
5. Philippe Coutinho rescued Liverpool from its own tedium
There was a lot of chatter heading into Stoke-Liverpool on Sunday, with the Reds playing their first competitive game of the post-Gerrard era against the team that embarrassed them 6-1 on the final day of 2014-15. And for the most part, all that sound and fury signified a whole lotta nothing. Neither team availed themselves well through most of the game, and with 85 minutes gone it looked like we were about to have our first goalless draw of the new campaign. But on 86 minutes, Philippe Coutinho single-handedly shook out our collective cobwebs with the glorious long-range shot seen above. In what is a make-or-break season for Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool project, the Reds managed to escape with all three points despite not playing anywhere near their best (which itself is an improvement over last season).
BONUS: Ross Barkley’s still got it