The Premier League opening weekend is done and contained everything we need to know for the season, like Manchester United finishing outside the top four.
10) Erling Haaland to break his own scoring record
With a fourth consecutive opening-day brace secured to help Manchester City ease their way past Burnley, Haaland presumably sought the comfort of fellow Pep Guardiola sufferer Nathan Redmond at Turf Moor before winding down for his scheduled software updates.
Taking to Instagram, the Norwegian shared a simple message. ‘Our hunger remains the same!’ he posted, confirming long-held suspicions that Haaland is actually little more than a thoroughly overgrown, if delightfully eloquent and ludicrously prolific, child.
Scoring with his first and ninth touches of the season was nevertheless a neat party trick from a player whose absurd levels of output show no signs of slowing down heading into a new season. Haaland set the bar at 36 goals in 2022/23; the natural and eminently achievable objective will be to clear that.
9) Dominic Solanke will make his England return
The departure of Harry Kane has left a wide-open space between Haaland and his contemporaries. The Premier League has rarely had such a dearth of elite outright centre-forwards, with Ivan Toney’s suspension further restricting the number of legitimate challengers to the Manchester City goal cyborg’s throne. Alexander Isak might genuinely have stepped into the gaping void to take a distant second place.
In terms of English players, Kane has left his precious Premier League in the hands of Callum Wilson, Ollie Watkins, Eddie Nketiah and Danny Welbeck. Again, there is room for a contender to emerge, and Dominic Solanke has the creative chops to go with finishing instincts and a working union with a manager who might just finally coax out his best version.
Solanke had three shots, two key passes and one dribble against West Ham, leading an impeccable line for a more bold, adventurous Bournemouth side under Andoni Iraola. The 25-year-old’s goal was well-taken, entirely deserved and surely appreciated by Gareth Southgate, who might just look to build on Solanke’s 15-minute international career from a 2017 goalless friendly with Brazil if his improvement continues.
8) Bukayo Saka to win Player of the Year
Not since Robin van Persie was stifling the little boy inside himself to become the Kane prototype of a truly phenomenal but entirely trophyless striker operating in north London has the Player of the Year emanated from Arsenal.
The Dutchman’s 2011/12 win marks him out as only the third player to ever win the award for Arsenal in the Premier League era, behind Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry.
Bukayo Saka is ready to emulate them, if only by frequently cutting inside and curling past keepers from no less than 20 yards each game. The 21-year-old looks fresh and will hopefully be given an actually adequate amount of rest by club and country as he embarks on what really shouldn’t be his debut Champions League campaign. Surpassing last season’s 15 goals and 11 assists seems like a fair, peer-impressing target heading into the Euros.
7) Sheffield United and Luton are going down
Almost across the board, save for the odd brave soul, it was predicted that two of the three promoted clubs would be heading straight back down from whence they came. While Burnley seemed at least vaguely prepared for the challenge ahead – a Manchester City humbling notwithstanding – Sheffield United have had a sub-optimal summer and Luton are focusing on the long-term future rather than any instant top-flight gratification.
The Blades and Hatters both showed glimpses to suggest they will pose some problems this season, but they will ultimately fall far short based on the admittedly limited evidence thus far. Luton conceded the most shots of any Premier League team on the opening weekend in their defeat to Brighton (27), with Sheffield United second (24) in a less heavy but arguably more stark loss against Crystal Palace.
Manchester United (23) sitting third on that nascent list does offer some context but in reality, Sheffield United and Luton are competing with Championship squads and budgets and there is no shame in that. They will bloody a fair few noses on their way back.
6) Wolves will be fine
It felt as though Wolves were the designated third wheel when it came to forecasting the relegation battle, so absent was any semblance of foundation for them to build upon.
Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Adama Traore, Conor Coady, Nathan Collins and Raul Jimenez all left Molineux in the summer, with Matt Doherty the only new addition. Julen Lopetegui departed when the stark reality of the situation dawned, leaving Gary O’Neil with half a week and a few training sessions to get an uninspiring squad up to speed.
Perhaps there should have been no surprise that the man who rejuvenated a battered Bournemouth and helped drag them to Premier League safety was able to cajole a spirited, organised and motivated performance out of his players at Old Trafford. Wolves were excellent against Manchester United, albeit a little naive to have two players stand in the way of Andre Onana as he did his routine flying penalty area sweep, as is the Cameroonian’s apparent right.
“I’ve only been in the building a few days so as for setting goals for the season I haven’t considered it,” was O’Neil’s response as to whether Wolves were expecting to scrap for their Premier League status this season. On the basis of their opener they needn’t worry. And as expected, his parting with Bournemouth was brutal but not even slightly career-damaging.
5) Manchester United will finish outside the top four
The other side of the coin that was flipped at Old Trafford on Monday evening was that Manchester United display. ‘Vibeless’, one punter put it. ‘An anti-performance,’ said one wag. ‘They can and will play much better than this, but they’re really going to have to,’ one observer noted. ‘United offered little of either defensive control or attacking threat in what was a weird nothing of a performance,’ claimed one onlooker.
All of those views were espoused by the same person, sure. But the general post-match sense was that Manchester United had very much Got Away With One at home to a team expected to struggle.
Armed with two expensive new signings and a relatively drama-free pre-season, Erik ten Hag’s side should have been far better. Beating Wolves is undeniably a better start to a campaign than getting battered by Brighton and Brentford but when the belief is that last season’s third place has to be tangibly improved upon, it is not nearly enough.
Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle better underlined their Champions League credentials, while Brighton stated their case convincingly and Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs will inevitably be lurking. Manchester United will be thereabouts, but not quite fully there.
4) Chelsea will finish above Liverpool
In the post-rut clarity of a seventh consecutive draw between the two sides, Chelsea found a quick breakthrough and established superiority over Liverpool off the pitch instead. The Reds had their British record bid for Moises Caicedo hijacked by the Blues, who subsequently moved for Romeo Lavia as well with the energy of a young child amortising all the toys just to spite their sibling.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side were already the better of the two at Stamford Bridge, even before the prospect of a stunningly efficient if unfathomably expensive Caicedo-Fernandez midfield – and the subsequent almost entirely non-existent Liverpool one – became a reality. For the first time since they won the title under Antonio Conte, Chelsea really should finish ahead of their aggressively modern rivals.
3) Spurs will be better off
“With all these things there’s opportunity. What you’ve got to try to do is what the great clubs do, the great organisations: replace greatness with greatness,” said Ange Postecoglou of Tottenham’s post-Kane succession plan to give Richarlison a central chance.
“How that comes about is not easy – but that’s what the big clubs do,” the Australian continued. “They find a way to sustain and maintain and grow even when the greatest leave their doors.”
The precision, transparency and emotional maturity with which Postecoglou has navigated these choppy waters has been impressive, especially considering the hypothetical fury Conte or Jose Mourinho would have wrought upon Daniel Levy for selling Kane.
It is never an ideal situation for a team to have to sell its best player, but “opportunity” is the word. For other players to step up. For Spurs to focus on the team rather than an individual. For Spurs to do the funniest thing possible and win a trophy this season.
There will be bumps in the road but even just measuring the mood against Brentford was to see progress at Spurs. They and Kane will benefit from a bit of time apart before their inevitable reunion in a couple of years.
2) Sean Dyche won’t last the season
The most recent Everton manager to start and finish the same season in charge at Goodison Park was Carlo Ancelotti, who promptly celebrated by leaving at the earliest possible opportunity for Real Madrid. The Italian is the only man to have coached the Toffees for more than 60 games since the days of Roberto Martinez.
It was perhaps with that level of churn in mind, as well as the desperation of their situation both short-term in a relegation battle and in a more distant future with absolutely no money, that Everton plumped for Dyche. The man once pulled Burnley to safety after a summer transfer window in which Dale Stephens was his only first-team addition.
Things are not quite that bleak for the Toffees. Ashley Young was a good signing, if a little too on-brand, while Arnaut Danjuma and Jack Harrison at least boost the numbers in an undercooked position. Youssef Chermiti is an undeniable wildcard gamble, as Dyche himself has pretty much confirmed.
The manager warned in May that “things have got to change” and “we’ve got to recruit wisely” to avoid a third successive post-Ancelotti relegation battle. Dyche’s message has been disregarded and the defeat to Fulham points to another season of strife; the only surprise if matters deteriorated significantly enough for manager or club to walk away would be if Everton could afford the latest pay-off.
1) Newcastle will erect a statue of Sandro Tonali
With apparent emphasis on the words ‘Newcastle’, ‘erect’ and ‘Sandro Tonali’.
Without attaching any prediction too grand to this Newcastle side, they should at least be looking to set a new personal bar for Premier League excellence. The title might be beyond them – let’s not rule such nonsense out just yet – and Champions League consolidation would represent progress, but it is high time the spirit of Kevin Keegan was laid to rest.
The 78 points Newcastle managed in The Great Bottling Season of 1995/96 remains a club record in the top flight, at least in the three-points-for-a-win era. The Magpies were seven off that pace last campaign and thrashing Aston Villa 5-1 suggests a slight upturn since. Even with some European plates to spin, there is no reason Howe cannot catch Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson this season.