Kneejerk reactions to the opening weekend revisited: f**king it on Man Utd but nailing Liverpool

Matt Stead
Man Utd manager Erik ten Hag and Cristiano Ronaldo

Kneejerk reactions were made after the opening round of Premier League fixtures, which will be reversed this weekend. And boy, we got Man Utd ever so wrong.

These kneejerk predictions were made after the opening round of Premier League fixtures. With those games reversed this weekend, what better time to revisit them and laugh at how stupid we were?


10) Ralph Hasenhuttl will be the first Premier League manager to leave his post
It would be easy to blame the failure of this prediction on Scott Parker, who exited Bournemouth a whole nice 69 days before Southampton dispensed with Ralph Hasenhuttl. But that would ignore the departures of Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter, Bruno Lage and Steven Gerrard in between. The Austrian was the sixth of nine permanent managers to vacate the position in which they started the season.

Hasenhuttl still doesn’t fare too badly in our extensive ranking of every Premier League manager in the 2022/23 season. He left in November yet remains responsible for more than half of Southampton’s current points total and is the still the most recent coach to stop Arsenal winning an away game in which they took the lead. It’s difficult not to miss the giant human.


9) Erling Haaland will break the record for most goals in a Premier League season
While it sounds like the sort of tap-in Erling Haaland himself would relish uploading to his mainframe, the context of the time is important. Even after scoring twice on his Premier League debut against West Ham, a calamitous Community Shield performance against Liverpool was deemed more relevant by many who wondered whether the Norwegian’s presence actually made Manchester City worse.

That debate has been rebooted at certain stages throughout the season, but Haaland remains on course to make history. He has 28 goals by mid-March, putting him six and four behind the records of 42 and 38-game Premier League campaigns respectively. The next bar after that would be the 37 goals of Southampton’s Ron Davies in 1966/67; Jimmy Greaves’ 41 for Chelsea in 1960/61 might be a step too far – although Manchester City do still have to play West Ham and Southampton at home.

Haaland Man City


8) Brighton will qualify for Europe
Drawing with Leeds was undoubtedly a minor setback in this pursuit but Brighton are seventh having played the fewest fixtures of any team in the Premier League (24). They lead Fulham (27 played) on goal difference, with Brentford (25), Chelsea (26) and Aston Villa (26) one, two and four points behind respectively. Then the Seagulls trail Liverpool (26), Newcastle (25) and Spurs (27) by three, five and nine points.

Brighton might well just override all the permutations by winning the FA Cup, but as things stand they are at least booked in for next season’s Europa Conference League journey of discovery through the league, which started with a fine win over Man Utd at Old Trafford.


7) Arsenal will finish in the top four
Genuinely feels like they might. Although legend says Gary Neville still needs some convincing. Arsenal can finish no lower than 11th, which isn’t half bad to say they haven’t even completed three-quarters of the season yet.


6) Newcastle will win a trophy
Oh so close. Bloody Nick Pope. A first cup final of the millennium produced another Wembley defeat for Eddie Howe’s contradictorily silver-starved Magpies. But it turns out that this line – ‘The Champions League glass ceiling will not be shattered in the first full season of PIF ownership’ – might well be bunkum.


5) Nottingham Forest will go down but Bournemouth or Fulham will stay up
Fulham are a draw away from The Magical 40-Point Mark, so even with their recent stumble, that side of the bargain seems to be sewn up. They started the season with a spirited 2-2 draw against Liverpool and have not looked back since, even with Aleksandar Mitrovic’s relative drought.

The remaining promoted variables are still in play. Nottingham Forest are 14th and Bournemouth sit 18th but the gap between the pair is two points and only five points separate the nine teams from Crystal Palace in 12th down to Southampton at the bottom. Both, one or neither could go down. It’s tremendous fun – for those not involved.


4) Man Utd will finish no higher than eighth
The first categorically disastrous tip actually looked better after the second Premier League weekend, when Man Utd followed a poor home defeat to Brighton by being thrashed against Brentford. Erik ten Hag has presided over a record defeat in his debut season in charge but the Champions League qualification gap is a healthy six points, even if finishing as low as bottom remains theoretically possible for a team which quickly improved but is yet to shed its innate Man Utd-ness.


3) Steven Gerrard will be sacked…
Home run. Aston Villa were 17th and outside the relegation zone on goals scored alone when they decided that letting Steven Gerrard iron out his kinks as a destined future Liverpool manager probably wasn’t overly conducive to success. They did at least let him take charge for exactly 38 Premier League matches, allowing for a simple enough assessment that with the level of investment involved and their downward trajectory by the time of Gerrard’s sacking, a record of W12 D8 L18 F45 A50 was sub-optimal. Unai Emery surpassed his predecessor’s points total for the season within five games of his appointment and the outlook really is far rosier with a head coach who has not spent his first few months in charge having to publicly deny he views his new club as a stepping stone.


2) …and Frank Lampard won’t
Swing and a miss. Everton lost their opening fixture to Chelsea – via a Jorginho penalty, which sounds weird now – and then were beaten by Gerrard’s Villa the following week, but a six-game unbeaten run teased a future which simply did not exist. A 10-game winless run across three competitions from October 29 to January 21 signified a regrettable but inevitable end which no party seemed willing to accept, but losing El Sackico to David Moyes’ West Ham sealed Lampard’s fate. Everyone at Everton shirked the ultimate responsibility over the situation for long enough to also give Lampard 38 Premier League games as Everton manager, and a record of W9 D8 L21 F34 A59 really does say it all. Sean Dyche has already won as many matches in his seven in charge of the Toffees as his predecessor did in 21.


1) Spurs will finish above Liverpool
That’s more like it. Again, context is crucial: this was when Liverpool were deemed by most to be in yet another title race with Manchester City, their opening draw with Fulham a mere bump in another road to the championship. Spurs were in top four contention at best and only one of those evaluations has proven to be accurate.

‘The gap last season was 21 points with a Chelsea in between,’ it was said. ‘Liverpool will subsequently scoff at the idea of having to look in their rear-view mirror, so ingrained is the need to only pore over Manchester City’s results and the implications thereof.’

Then came the kicker: ‘The problem is that Liverpool are starting slower and taking longer to assert their dominance than normal. The theme started to develop towards the end of last season and has bled into this.’

Shame about falling into the trap of claiming Spurs have ‘the best attacking trio in the Premier League’ and saying Antonio Conte ‘must be happy with his summer lot at Tottenham’. But Liverpool are six points behind with a game in hand and the reports of their demise have not been at all exaggerated.