By Ryan Oldham
(editor’s note: We at The Next Ten Words see the increasing attention the English Premier League is receiving in America, so we have asked our resident British contributor, Ryan Oldham of Plymouth, Minnesota via Manchester, England, to give us a weekly update on the proceedings in what may well be the most popular professional sports league in the world. Understanding the EPL is a work-in-progrees for many Americans, including this publisher/managing editor, so we have endeavored to offer some bits of translation throughout this initial report.)
The Premier League is back for the ’17-’18 season, and quite frankly, it’s better than ever. This opening weekend produced goals, unexpected events and wardrobe choices to shock the nation, and ended on Sunday with Manchester United at the top of the league table after a magnificent display that had become quite unfamiliar with the Old Trafford faithful.
Breaking with previous tradition, the first match was Leicester City at Arsenal, the first ever game to open a Premier League season on a Friday, and it did not disappoint. The most overused phrase of the weekend was “picking up where you left off,” but that was truly the case for Arsenal, who showed no signs of progress at the Emirates (editor’s note: Arsenal plays at Emirates Stadium) from their dire ’16-’17 season and were too often caught out by a Leicester City side who were unlucky to close out the game, which ended 4-3 to the hosts.
Craig Shakespeare managed his first season opener for Leicester, and despite the loss, many positives were drawn from the game. The Foxes (editor’s note: Leicester City Foxes) looked like the team they were when crowned champions two years ago, and the reemergence of Jamie Vardy as a true goalmouth (editor’s note: no idea what goalmouth is) threat will delight Shakespeare and Leicester fans alike.
Riyad Mahrez looked lost for a large portion of the game, which leads me to question his willingness to
pull on a shirt for the Foxes anymore, and a tactical mistake by Shakespeare to
bring on Iheanacho (editor’s note: Kelechi Iheanacho) for a tired Matty James really hammered the nail in the coffin for the visitors, who conceded two quick-fire goals and walked out with zero points (editor’s note: we assume the Premier League assigns points for wins and draws, as in the NHL) .
On the other side of the dugout (editor’s note: not sure – we thought the field was called a “pitch”), Arsene Wenger’s (editor’s note: Arsene Wegner is the longtime manager of Arsenal) tactical masterclass won them the game, with substitutions scoring both goals to seal the win, but this Arsenal side simply cannot go through the season performing as they did, and the “you score three, we’ll score four,” mentality and plan of action will quickly be found out, especially against sides with superior defenses like the two Manchester Clubs.
Prediction: Arsenal 5th, Leicester City 9th
Travelling to the seaside for the following days action, Brighton and Hove Albion (editor’s note: this is one team, we assume like Minneapolis/St. Paul) were welcomed as heroes to the Premier League by the faithful fans at the Amex (editor’s note: The Amex is the home of the Brighton and Hove Albion Seagulls Football Club), but couldn’t hold on to a draw as Manchester City finally found a way through, with two second half goals from Sergio Aguero and a rather suspicious own goal from local boy Lewis Dunk.
The Brighton fans, of course, didn’t expect to get too much, if anything out of this game. So a resounding applause and standing ovation followed the final whistle, after the Seagulls showed Manchester City that counter-attacking football could leave City exposed.
City have spent more than $200 million on their defense this summer, so a clean sheet was expected, but some shaky moments by the back four showed their vulnerability, and necessity to work on positioning when facing bigger teams. City showed conviction up front though, and finished off the game well, with Aguero finally scoring after a few botched attempts at goal.
The second goal, coming courtesy of a measured and directed header from defender Lewis Dunk, all but ended the game, and after watching replay after replay, I’m still not convinced Dunk could have tried a lot harder to remove the danger. Of course, Dunk was mortified after his mistake, but judging by Manchester City’s directness and attacking prowess, his own goal was unlikely to make the difference between a loss and a draw, as City were circling, and it was only a matter of time before that second goal.
The real winner was on the sidelines though. Pep Guardiola, City’s manager, sporting a pair of light brown chinos that would make any millennial at a happy hour jealous. He may have been running a team-building exercise for local youths afterwards or he’d scheduled a golf lesson before the fixtures came out (editor’s note: no translation available). Either way, he walked away with three points and a fresh set of pants still intact.
Prediction: Manchester City 1st/2nd, Brighton and Hove Albion 17th
In true Premier League fashion, the best was saved till last. The following day at Old Trafford (editor’s note: Old Trafford is home to Manchester United), the impeccably dressed Jose Mourinho sent out his Manchester United side expecting improvements. And improve they did.
Debutant Romelu Lukaku scored twice before Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba finished up things for the Red Devils in a dismantling of a West Ham side that many expected to show much more promise, and potentially even challenge for a win against Manchester United.
Summer acquisitions of Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautović proved fruitless for the Hammers, who struggled to keep up in every position, despite the potential to capitalize on the aging Antonio Valencia, who again proved why his starting position in the Manchester United squad is safe.
Paul Pogba put in an excellent display, freely moving after a season of frustration. Nemanja Matic was the catalyst for this, giving Jose Mourinho and the Stretford End (editor’s note: The Stretf
ord End is the west side stands of Old Trafford Stadium; think the Cleveland Brown’s Dog Pound) a superb debut performance.
Interestingly, Victor Lindelof did not make the squad for Manchester United despite being Mourinho’s first signing of the summer. Mourinho said that Lindelof needs time, but it’s hard to believe United would have spent $30+ million on a player who isn’t yet ready to perform. Admittedly, the same was said about Mkhitaryan last year, and while questions were asked then, the Armenian has proved many doubters wrong, putting in a class display at the weekend, so trust must be put in Mourinho to prove doubters wrong again.
Prediction: Manchester United 1st/2nd, West Ham 8th
Honorable mentions go to Huddersfield Town, who destroyed Crystal Palace away from home to record their first ever Premier League game with a win, along with Burnley, who stopped the champions Chelsea in their tracks, taking all three points at Stamford Bridge and leaving Antonio Conte reeling.
A whirlwind of a weekend over, but there are 37 more where that one came from, and this weekend, Manchester United travel to Swansea, Liverpool host Crystal Palace and the highly anticipated London derby between Tottenham and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium kicks off on Sunday @ 10 a.m. CDT.
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin. Notes were provided by Rich Larson
Ryan Oldham is a Manchester native and a lifelong supporter of Manchester United. He knows far more about English Premier League football than you do, and therefore was selected to write a weekly update on the most popular professional sports league in the world. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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