MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Five talking points from the Premier League weekend:
NO TIME FOR EASING IN
After last season’s gripping duel for the title between Manchester City and Liverpool, most observers expected this campaign to be a similar tight race with little to choose between Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions and Juergen Klopp’s European champions.
But straight away?
There was an intensity and readiness about both teams which suggests Guardiola and Klopp, along with their squads, know there is no room for error and no opportunity to gradually ease their team into the season. After last year, when City won by a solitary point – they know a slip-up, even in the opening weeks, could prove fatal.
Established wisdom suggests that for mid-to-lower ranked teams it is better to play the front-runners early in the season — count that as another orthodoxy that these two remarkable teams have blown away.
UNITED – STRONG SIGNS OF PROGRESS
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was wise to note that despite the emphatic scoreline in Sunday’s 4-0 win over Chelsea, his rebuilding job at Manchester United remains a “work in progress”.
But while the performance at Old Trafford was by no means as impressive as the result, there were a few key indicators that he is on the right track.
The tempo of United’s play was higher than in many of the laboured performances of last year and the way United ran away with the game in the second half suggested their fitness levels, something Solskjaer and his staff have focused heavily upon, are at a much healthier level than a year ago.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will need more time to adjust to their more central roles in attack, after the sale of Romelu Lukaku, but both were on target and Solksjaer was particularly pleased to see Martial score a poachers’ goal from close-range centrally.
The average age of the team was the lowest of any side in the opening weekend and it was noticeable that the chosen central defender on the bench was 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe, who spent last season on loan at Aston Villa, and not one of the more experienced Phil Jones, Chris Smalling or Marcos Rojo.
United are unlikely to worry City or Liverpool this term but they are certainly faster, stronger, younger and hungrier.
CHELSEA TO PAY FOR DEFENSIVE DEPARTURES?
Frank Lampard will be hoping Antonio Rudiger is back to fitness quickly because he only has 21-year-old Fikayo Tomori as back-up.
PROVISIONAL GOALS AND PROVISIONAL CELEBRATIONS
But the way in which goals are checked before being confirmed creates a strange situation where players — and fans — have to hold their celebrations in check until the men in front of the screens have given the thumbs-up.
It is a loss of spontaneity and natural rhythm in the game which some will find hard to accept. Is that simply the price that has to be paid for greater accuracy and consistency in decision-making?
BARNES A DANCEFLOOR HIT?
Such is his popularity with the Burnley support that he is now the subject of an eponymous grime track by local born rapper Bacchus which celebrates the forward’s rough edges as much as his goalscoring talent.