Garth Crooks’ team of the week: Alisson, Chalobah, Son, Salah, Fernandes
Manchester City began their Premier League title defence with a 1-0 defeat at Tottenham.
City’s neighbours Manchester United opened their campaign with a 5-1 thrashing of Leeds United while Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 3-0 and Liverpool won 3-0 at newly-promoted Norwich.
Brentford marked their arrival in the Premier League with a hugely impressive 2-0 victory against Arsenal.
Elsewhere, Leicester defeated Wolves 1-0, West Ham won 4-2 at Newcastle and Everton came from behind to beat Southampton 3-1.
Finally, Watford saw off Aston Villa 3-2 and Brighton won 2-1 at Burnley.
Check out my team of the week and then make your own selections towards the bottom of the article.
Goalkeeper: Alisson (Liverpool)
Alisson: The Liverpool goalkeeper looks very comfortable between the sticks again. Norwich, on the other hand, looked woefully out of their depth.
Alisson’s save from Teemu Pukki, who seemed to take an age to bring the ball under control, looked routine while his point blank save from Ben Gibson was quite brilliant.
Meanwhile, Norwich have spent a season out of the Premier League but don’t seem to have learned any lessons from the sabbatical. They have returned to the top flight with players who might be good enough to win the Championship, but I will put money on them not surviving this season in the Premier League.
The question is: What are Delia Smith and her executive board going to do about it?
Did you know? Since joining Liverpool prior to the 2018-19 campaign, only Ederson (55) has kept more Premier League clean sheets than Alisson (45).
Defenders: Japhet Tanganga (Tottenham), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Trevoh Chalobah (Chelsea)
Japhet Tanganga: I looked at Tottenham’s starting line-up against Manchester City and thought: Spurs can’t win this game. But what City had in class, Spurs matched in grit and determination. This was no better epitomised than by the performance of Tanganga.
The defender played Raheem Sterling brilliantly and frustrated the England international to the extent he was eventually substituted. Jack Grealish was also present on Tanganga’s side of the pitch, but he couldn’t unsettle the player either.
He’s no Cyril Knowles, but he might be part of a new Tottenham team that people might start taking seriously again.
Did you know? Tanganga won possession more often than any other Spurs defender against Manchester City (five), with three of those coming in the defensive third.
Virgil van Dijk: It was good to see him back, but it was the clean sheet that clinched it for me. This wasn’t even a blistering performance by Liverpool – they won this game at a canter.
Van Dijk is short of match practice and still needs to get over the psychological trauma of the injury he sustained last season, but his sheer presence and authority in defence was clearly visible.
We will know after six or seven games if the most complete defender to come out of the Netherlands since Ruud Krol is truly back to his best.
Did you know? Since Van Dijk made his league debut for the club in January 2018, Liverpool have won 76% of their Premier League games with him in the team (73/96), compared with only 53% when he hasn’t played (18/34).
Trevoh Chalobah: The Chelsea fans asked him to go for goal and the defender duly obliged. It was a fabulous strike by Chalobah, who has been at the club since he was eight. Hardly surprising the goalscoring moment became rather overwhelming for the lad.
I am prone to get carried away with debutants when they perform like this. However, Chalobah does possess a certain composure on the ball and tends not to panic under pressure. Is he the real deal? Well, only time will tell.
Did you know? Chalobah (22 years 40 days) became the second-youngest Chelsea player to score on their Premier League debut for the club after Paul Hughes (20 years 274 days) against Derby in 1997.
Midfielders: Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea)
Son Heung-min: If Spurs needed any further encouragement to take Manchester City’s money for Harry Kane then this was it – a victory over the Premier League champions, achieved without the England captain, was it.
Kane might be a world-class player, that’s why he’s so expensive, but so is Son. The winning goal from the South Korea international was textbook and typical of the striker.
The energy and persistence of Lucas Moura also suggests an injection of anything representing near £130m to build a genuine top-four side needs no thought at all. Take the money!
Did you know? Since the start of last season, Son is one of only four Premier League players to have been directly involved in 40-plus goals across all competitions (23 goals, 17 assists), along with Bruno Fernandes (51), Kane (50) and Mohamed Salah (40).
Bruno Fernandes: Three goals against Leeds United on the opening day of the season for Fernandes suggests he is well over Portugal’s early departure from the European Championship. He didn’t play a major role for his national team, which in my view was one reason the former holders suffered a premature exit.
As for Leeds, what was that? What happened to the team that frightened the life out of Liverpool at the start of last season? I hope that is not a sign of things to come. Leeds fans have waited far too long to see their team’s return to the Premier League and deserve better than that.
Did you know? Fernandes’ hat-trick for Manchester United was the 10th scored on the opening weekend in Premier League history, with Leeds the first club to concede two such trebles in the competition (also via Mohamed Salah last season).
Paul Pogba: I’ve said it before and I will say it again. When Paul Pogba is on song, he’s practically unplayable. The France World Cup winner provided more assists against Leeds in their 5-1 drubbing than his entire total last season. How is that possible?
A player of Pogba’s ability only made three assists in 2020-21. He cut Leeds to ribbons in a display of precision passing I’ve not seen at Old Trafford since the likes of Bobby Charlton. But therein lies the problem with Pogba. You get all or nothing with him – unlike the great Charlton.
Did you know? Pogba became the seventh player in Premier League history to assist four goals in a single game in the competition, after Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Adebayor, Santi Cazorla and Harry Kane.
Marcos Alonso: We have come to expect this sort of thing from Marcos Alonso. Any free-kick on the edge of the box spells danger for the opposition when Alonso is on the pitch – and so it proved against a shockingly poor Crystal Palace.
I expected to see the sort of fighting spirit, passion and determination from Palace that characterised their new manager’s playing career. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from Patrick Vieira but, forgive me, wasn’t that why he was appointed?
I hope he’s not going to be another one of those great players who, when they become coaches, play the game on the tactics board and forget what made them fine players in the first place. Has no one told him what happened to Frank de Boer?
Did you know? Marcos Alonso’s strike was Chelsea’s 50th direct free-kick goal in Premier League history, with only Manchester United (64) netting more in the competition.
Forwards: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Mason Greenwood (Manchester United), Richarlison (Everton)
Mohamed Salah: The way Liverpool’s Egypt international positioned himself to receive the ball with his left foot and plant it so perfectly in order to strike the ball past Tim Krul, before a single Norwich player had time to move, was pure genius.
Regular readers will know I have had issues with Salah’s game, but not against Norwich. I saw no sign of selfishness in front of goal or looking for cheap penalties.
What I saw was the player who, as when he first arrived at Anfield, played for the team first and foremost and got the goal his performance deserved. I hope he keeps it up.
Did you know? Salah has scored on the first matchday in all five of his Premier League seasons with Liverpool, becoming the first player in the competition’s history to score in five consecutive opening weekends.
Mason Greenwood: I thought Leeds had a chance when they made it 1-1, but that was before Mason Greenwood had two of the best touches you will ever see on the run and then, with his third touch, buried the most glorious pass from Pogba into the net.
I’ve seen Denis Law, Frank Stapleton, Mark Hughes and Andy Cole lead the line for Manchester United, but not at 19. I can’t decide if the game has got easier or Greenwood’s got better. What I do know is the teenager took his goal brilliantly.
It’s worth noting that he made the decision to withdraw from England’s Euros squad so he could fully recover from an underlying injury in order to be fit and ready for the start of the season. It looks as if he made the right decision.
Did you know? Greenwood is the outright fifth-highest scoring teenager in Premier League history, with his haul of 18 goals in the competition as a teen bettered only by Michael Owen (40), Robbie Fowler (35), Wayne Rooney (30) and Nicolas Anelka (19).
Richarlison: What a summer the Brazilian has had. He suffers defeat in the Copa America final in July against Argentina, races off to join his Olympic team in Tokyo to help them to the men’s gold medal and returns to Goodison Park to be welcomed by a new Everton manager in time to destroy Southampton on the Premier League’s opening weekend.
While other international players are having extended holidays in order to recover from the Euros, Richarlison answers the call of club and country with equal measure and without fear or favour.
I think Rafa Benitez owes this lad a debt of gratitude. If Benitez loses the opening game, the Everton boo boys – who hate his association with their Liverpool rivals – are suddenly after him. Richarlison has given him a brilliant start and bought him valuable time.
Did you know? Richarlison has scored in each of his past four Premier League appearances against Southampton, while his five goals in total against them is his joint-best return against a single opponent in the competition.
Pick your XI from our list and share with your friends.
The Crooks of the Matter
Rejoice rejoice, all football fans rejoice! It looks as if we might have got our game back. I spent the best part of last season complaining about VAR and the appalling quality of refereeing in the Premier League.
The Euros was one of the best tournaments I’ve seen in years and it was the quality of the refereeing that made it so successful. I even saw one referee tell a player who had decided to fall to the ground feigning injury to get up. It doesn’t get better than that.
The opening games this weekend have been outstanding. We haven’t got to the point where our referees are telling players who go to ground easily to get up, but the officiating was a vast improvement from some of the nonsense we had to endure previously.
There was minimum interference from VAR, the game was allowed to flow and not stopped for the slightest infringement, and brilliantly created goals were not chalked off because someone miles away from the action looking at margins said so. We can only hope it continues.
I couldn’t believe that Pep Guardiola started the game against Spurs without a recognised striker. Was I the only one who thought ‘serves you right’ when he completely screwed up any chance of Manchester City winning the Champions League last season by naming Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero on the bench?
Who does he think he is trying to make strikers redundant? Both men still had the ability to score 20 goals between them, in all competitions, in a campaign where they had been royally messed about by the coach. The look of disgust on Aguero and Fernandinho’s face as they watched Chelsea lift the trophy they should – and would have – won had they started with a recognised striker…
Now Guardiola is reported to want Kane and is prepared pay well in advance of £100m. Explain that one to me?