Just when the transfer window was starting to get real fun, Premier League football is back to ruin it. Chelsea v Liverpool was already fun before Caicedo.
Game to watch – Chelsea v Liverpool
Sensational work from the fixture computer to drop in not only an opening weekend game between two members of the established Premier League elite, but an opening weekend game between probably the two least prepared and thus most volatile members of the established Premier League elite.
Oh and also an opening weekend game between two members of the established Premier League elite, one of whom has just hijacked the other’s British record transfer out of nowhere.
These matches are almost always great fun. Nuno’s Kane-less Spurs beating Manchester City in 2021; Man Utd thrashing Frank Lampard’s Chelsea 4-0 in 2019; City schooling Arsenal in Unai Emery’s first game in 2018; Liverpool beating the Gunners 4-3 in a 2016 classic.
The heritage of opening weekend Big Six clashes, when the stakes feel a little less high, everything seems more fresh and we are yet to be worn down by the tireless grind of constant Barclays, is undeniable.
That this is essentially 12th versus 5th from last season only makes it better. Neither Chelsea nor Liverpool are close to their best, both as dangerous as they are vulnerable. It would be no considerable surprise to see either team lose by a decent margin, or a high-scoring draw fuelled by attacking verve and defensive calamity in equal measure.
Chelsea have a new manager at the very least, and possibly as much as a new goalkeeper, defence and attack. Liverpool have a completely remodelled midfield yet, similar to the Blues, one still mid-build at best. Both teams have new captains after shedding senior players and accepting Saudi riches. Both teams want Moises Caicedo to solve all their problems.
The pair of nervous 0-0s played out at Stamford Bridge and Anfield last season will not be repeated. The only time Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp have produced that result was in the latter’s first game as Liverpool manager eight years ago. Their 10 meetings since have produced 29 goals and while the Argentinean has only emerged victorious once, it was by far the heaviest win inflicted by either manager over the other: 4-1 in October 2017.
“Chelsea will be fine in the end and they will be incredibly strong next year,” Klopp said even before the Blues upgraded their most important position – the coach – significantly. “I think we can compete and try to beat this amazing team, Manchester City, Liverpool and different clubs,” Pochettino said at his opening press conference.
The immediacy of his first chance to meet that target is tantalising. The winners will have their title credentials inflated beyond reason. The losers will automatically assume the mantle of Big Six crisis club heading into the final weeks of the transfer window. A draw, and both teams already look exposed to an increasingly strong chasing pack. Time to show Caicedo whether he has made the right choice or not.
Player to watch – Moussa Diaby
The most intriguing match of the opening weekend might not actually be the Europa League qualifiers against the bottom-half dwellers on Sunday afternoon. It may instead be the Champions League upstarts hosting the Europa Conference League favourites, as Newcastle and Aston Villa bond over their mutual love of Unai Emery and Big Six gate-crashing.
Those two sides and Brighton are expected to pose the most substantial threat to the established order, with ambitious summer transfer windows capitalising on seasons of immense growth.
Newcastle have spent a small fortune reinforcing their squad for an assault on four fronts, spending at least £30m each on three players thus far. But Eddie Howe is prone to introducing his new charges slowly, so Sandro Tonali can expect to watch Sean Longstaff show him how it’s done for a while.
Villa might be less cautious with their additions, so significant an improvement are they on what came before. Pau Torres will slot into the defence either centrally or on the left, while Moussa Diaby will dip his toes in the deep end.
If that wasn’t Emery’s plan before, the ACL injury to Emi Buendia might have altered his thinking. Ollie Watkins will benefit from more support in attack and Diaby, a club-record signing even before his numerous add-ons are taken into account, is more than capable of providing it, especially on the counter-attack at a fervent St James’ Park.
Newcastle’s heaviest defeat last season was inflicted by Villa. Villa’s heaviest defeat last season was inflicted by Newcastle. With the combined time-wasting efforts of the Magpies and Emiliano Martinez sure to come under more intense scrutiny, both sides should have all weekend to try and exact revenge.
Manager to watch – Ange Postecoglou
Two former Premier League managers will return in charge of different clubs to start this season; good luck to Pochettino and especially Gary O’Neil. Four other coaches will make their bow in England’s top flight. But Andoni Iraola, Vincent Kompany and Rob Edwards will be the biggest story in town when they do. Ange Postecoglou won’t be the subject on any lips in his own dressing room.
Breaking the miserable cycle of self-loathing promoted by born serial winners was a difficult enough task before Daniel Levy decided that four days out from the start of the campaign was the best time to blink in laborious negotiations with Bayern Munich.
Much like when standing under a jumping opponent at a high ball, Kane has leaned dangerously to one side and then the other. At first it was suggested he would stay – a clear lack of ambition – before he finally accepted an exit route in search of trophies – despite the fact those won with Bayern Munich obviously don’t matter.
But Postecoglou has to crack on with immaterial stuff like trying to win football matches and coach Richarlison to score goals. Kane’s situation would ordinarily cast the darkest of clouds over Tottenham but there had been an undeniable air of positivity, change and vigour, encouraged by the appointment of an actual grown adult, which will help offset at least some of the emotion ranging from distraction to frustration.
Brentford away is perhaps not the ideal fixture for a side in such a vulnerable state but there is common ground to be found with the Bees, who are without their own irreplaceable star striker in difficult circumstances. Perhaps Postecoglou can share notes with Thomas Frank on how to cope.
Team to watch – Luton
Not until September will Luton Town’s away end entrance be officially christened as a Premier League monument. And honestly, you won’t believe where it is. Absolute madness, it really is. Crazy.
Until then, the Hatters will enjoy life in the top flight on the road, taking in the sights at Brighton and Chelsea.
A trip to the south coast might not bring with it the sort of romantic touch Luton’s rise, fall and rise again through the divisions warrants, but it does give them an opportunity to closer examine how to thrive as an unknown and unfancied entity in the Premier League.
Luton will be painfully aware that their season is likely to be spent being patronised to within an inch of their existence as a Breath Of Fresh Air whose only objective will be to clear the lowest of bars set by Derby a decade and a half ago, but that will work in their favour the moment an opponent underestimates them.
Brighton, well-run, level-headed and methodical as they are, won’t be the team to make that mistake. Nor will Luton’s survival necessarily rely on games such as these. But they have recruited soundly and will be a difficult test for anyone. And starting with a 3pm Saturday kick-off against a side they encountered in League One 15 years ago at least keeps things familiar in ludicrously strange surroundings.
Football League game to watch – Coventry v Middlesbrough
Both teams started with scrappy defeats by a single goal. Both teams – if Chuba Akpom leaves Boro as expected – will be without their star striker from last season.
Coventry finished below Michael Carrick’s side in 2022/23 but did not lose to them in four games, including a play-off semi-final from which the Sky Blues progressed, only to lose to Luton.
That flirtation with glory feels like a distant memory for both teams currently but one win can jump-start a season at this stage.
European game to watch – Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid
Thibaut Courtois has knackered his knee. Jude Bellingham has joined. Kylian Mbappe has not. Karim Benzema, Marco Asensio, Eden Hazard and Mariano Diaz have all left. Carlo Ancelotti will probably join them and take the Brazil job at some point.
But most drastic of all the changes at the Bernabeu this summer is the suggestion that Luka Modric might not start. Is a La Liga season even possible in that situation?
World Cup game to watch – England v Colombia
‘Overhyped’ as they are, England will reach a third successive World Cup semi-final if they can overcome Colombia, who are obviously rubbish.
Not our words, of course, but those of a Daily Mail journalist who had meticulously built up the tournament favourites but forgot to actually wait until their elimination to knock them down.
All 23 England players trained today at Central Coast Stadium, including Lauren James, as they get ready for their QF v Colombia 🇨🇴 pic.twitter.com/KHdFBLS1hq
— Katie Shanahan (@KatieShanahan3) August 11, 2023
Even without the suspended Lauren James – who is clear to return for a potential final after her two-game suspension was confirmed – England will be expected to beat an excellent Colombia side, who are perhaps the closest current contemporaries of the Lionesses with their obstinate defence supporting a low-scoring attack.
Sarina Wiegman has been solving problems all summer; a few more need to be navigated before England can dream.
Saudi Pro League game to watch – Al-Ahli v Al-Hazem
In terms of summer signings, we have:
Edouard Mendy, Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez, Allan Saint-Maximin, Franck Kessie and Roger Ibanez, versus… Faiz Selemani, Aymen Dahmen, Mohamed Al-Thani, Ammar Al-Najjar, Toze and Talal Al-Absi.
Fair fight. Great league. Let’s have it.