theScore examines the most important Premier League developments from the weekend, dissecting the biggest talking points after a busy slate of action.
Elliott ready to make the leap
For the first time in 532 long days, Liverpool played in front of a jam-packed home crowd; Anfield was resplendent, particularly as some 50,000 boisterous supporters belted out the club’s famous anthem ahead of the Reds’ 2-0 victory over Burnley.
In addition to the electric atmosphere and three points, those fans were treated to a memorable performance from teenage midfielder Harvey Elliott. Making his first Premier League start, the 18-year-old showed why his club – and country – have such high hopes for his career; Elliott helped create Liverpool’s second goal on the day and had an earlier assist chalked off after Mohamed Salah ventured offside.
“Everybody wants to speak to me about Harvey and I understand absolutely, when an 18-year-old boy plays such a mature game, I can understand that everybody is asking,” Jurgen Klopp said after the match.
“But I was not surprised he played like this. That is exactly how he trained now for six or seven weeks since we are back, since he is back from loan. Yes, it was good.”
The loss of Georginio Wijnaldum this summer – and lack of signings to replace the Dutchman – left some worried about Liverpool’s midfield depth, but on the evidence of Saturday’s performance, Elliott is more than ready to play a significant role this season.
Ings already proving his worth
There was handwringing in some circles after Aston Villa dropped a reported £30 million to acquire Danny Ings from Southampton earlier this month. After all, this was a player who, at 29, has battled serious knee injuries throughout his career, and there appeared to be no real competition for his signature.
Perhaps the fee was a little steep, considering the circumstances, but Ings reminded everyone on Saturday why Villa were so keen on his services, scoring a spectacular bicycle kick in the 2-0 win over Newcastle.
For all the valid concerns about his knees, it’s important to remember that Ings has showcased some durability, appearing in 67 league matches over the past two years, scoring 34 goals in that time. When he’s fit, he finds the net. There’s some element of risk considering there will be practically no resale value, but if Ings can build on Saturday’s stunning effort, £30 million will end up looking like a tidy piece of business.
Norwich need to be more practical?
Daniel Farke’s commitment to an attractive, possession-based brand of football is commendable, but Norwich City’s 5-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City showed that the German manager needs to be more amenable to playing “ugly” at times throughout the season.
When you have a talent advantage in the Championship, staunchly sticking to your preferred system and imposing it on other teams makes sense. But the Canaries will rarely, if ever, have more talent than their Premier League opponents this season, and, against the likes of City, will be hugely overmatched. That’s when Farke needs to make adjustments, even if it means deviating a little bit from his natural approach.
Matches against Manchester City won’t be the determining factor in whether Norwich survive relegation, but if a more utilitarian outlook helps them pick up some extra points against bigger clubs along the way, that could make all the difference in the end.
Vieira respects Hodgson’s blueprint
Roy Hodgson’s exit and the departures of numerous senior players seemed to herald an exciting new era for Crystal Palace, one where the club would extensively farm Croydon’s frantic kickabouts for young talent and the first team would play a less conservative brand of football.
But Patrick Vieira has been reluctant to tweak the latter element, sticking with a strict, Hodgson-esque 4-4-2 for his team’s opening two fixtures. Attacking is left to the attackers, with the unadventurous Joel Ward picked at right-back and left-back Tyrick Mitchell given strict instructions to track Chelsea’s Mason Mount in the first match and to mark Sergi Canos in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Brentford.
Whether Vieira gradually adopts a more adventurous approach will be interesting to see – his youthful Manchester City reserve team was certainly much more attacking than what we’ve seen so far from the Eagles.
He’s their only No. 9, and he isn’t a No. 9
Until Harry Kane or another No. 9 arrives at Manchester City, Gabriel Jesus is the only senior striker in Pep Guardiola’s ensemble. But he’s not strictly a No. 9.
Arguably his most influential performances in a City shirt were when he practically covered the whole left flank – defensively and offensively – in both legs against Real Madrid in the 2019-20 Champions League round of 16.
And in Saturday’s 5-0 rout of Norwich City, he operated on the right, leaving Ferran Torres – a natural right-winger – to be the central attacker. Jesus created three goals from a space behind Norwich’s left-back he exposed throughout the match, and he played another slick pass for a Torres goal that was disallowed due to a foul in the buildup.
“No matter the position – central, right, left – he’s always ready to help, ready to do what he has to do for the team; and for us, it’s a privilege to have him here with us,” Guardiola told Sky Sports after Jesus was named Man of the Match.
Expect even more from Raphinha
Jordan Pickford had no chance.
But it wasn’t just his goal. Raphinha had more touches of the ball against Everton than he did in 29 of his 30 Premier League appearances last season, with some of his extra involvement coming through his intelligent movement from the flank and into the middle to receive the ball.
Raphinha didn’t participate in Leeds’ preseason program last year after joining on the final day of the summer transfer window. So, with a full buildup to this campaign and with a greater comprehension of Marcelo Bielsa’s methods and the rigors of the Premier League, the Brazilian could be set for a season even more impressive than the last.
Early candidate for comeback of the season
This campaign’s greatest comeback story could belong to Shane Duffy, a player who last season became a Rangers cult hero due to his shambolic loan spell at Old Firm rivals Celtic.
“Duffy’s every touch was cheered rapturously by the home fans in the opening stages,” the Daily Record’s Liam Bryce wrote of Brighton & Hove Albion’s preseason friendly at Rangers in July, “cheers which were only amplified further when the center-back wiped out his own teammate in the middle of the pitch.”
But Duffy has produced two top-drawer league displays since he returned to Brighton and replaced £50-million man Ben White in Graham Potter’s lineup. He was imperious in the season-opening win at Burnley – logging game-high figures for headers and clearances – and was similarly uncompromising at the back for Saturday’s visit from Watford, when he headed the opener in a 2-0 win.
“Shane has done really, really well, he’s been a breath of fresh air. It’s a credit to him and we just want to help him enjoy his football which he is doing,” Potter said after the Seagulls’ latest victory.
Manchester United need midfield reinforcements
Manchester United made a pair of truly superb signings in the transfer window by adding Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, but there’s still a key area that has to be addressed for this team to take another big step forward, and the need was glaring on Sunday against Southampton.
The Red Devils rolled out Nemanja Matic and Fred in central midfield for the eventual 1-1 draw, and the pair both had rotten outings. The 33-year-old was caught in possession in dangerous areas multiple times by the aggressive Southampton press, and at this stage in his career, lacks the legs to provide adequate cover in front of the defense. Meanwhile, the Brazilian was typically busy but extremely erratic with his passing. Playing the two together isn’t a recipe for success, and Scott McTominay, serviceable as he is, can’t rectify things on his own.
There’s so much talent everywhere else in the Manchester United squad, it would be a shame if one subpar area sinks the whole operation this season.
Wolves lack bite
There should be patience during times like these. Bruno Lage is only two matches into his Wolverhampton Wanderers tenure. His best striker, Raul Jimenez, has recently returned to the pitch after fracturing his skull; Adama Traore, who troubled Tottenham Hotspur with his wonderful blend of brawn and flair, is trying to rediscover his form after a disappointing 2020-21 season.
On other days, Wolves wouldn’t have lost 1-0 to Spurs. But despite the patience that should be afforded to Lage’s reign, it’s clear the new boss needs more bite before a slow start turns into a wasted season.
Wolves played 23 key passes to Spurs’ five, yet produced the same number of shots on target (six) as the north Londoners. Seeking an alternative attacker to Jimenez and the extremely raw Fabio Silva before the transfer window shuts on Aug. 31 must be a priority.
Wolves may rue the summer sale of Rafa Mir, who moved to Sevilla on a permanent basis after notching an impressive 13 goals over 38 appearances despite Huesca’s relegation from La Liga.
Arsenal no match for Chelsea
Romelu Lukaku garnered much of the attention following Chelsea’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Arsenal in Sunday’s London derby, and with good reason. The Belgian, in his first match back with the Blues, was a dominant force up front, making light work of the Arsenal backline – particularly Pablo Mari – and scoring the opening goal of the contest.
More than just Lukaku’s excellence, the match showcased the huge – and growing – gap that exists between the two London clubs. Thomas Tuchel schooled Mikel Arteta, taking advantage of Arsenal’s desire to overload the left wing going forward; Chelsea targeted that side of the pitch repeatedly, leading to a goal and assist for Reece James, who consistently found himself with acres of space in the first half.
Then there was the issue of squad depth. Arsenal were missing several regulars, but even at full strength, the talent gap would have been glaring.
Chelsea are a genuine title threat, and Arsenal now need a result next week against Manchester City, of all teams, to avoid a nightmarish start to the campaign.