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The Premier League season has got off to a flying start, and the action this past weekend was as extraordinary as we have seen in a long time. Chelsea thrashed Crystal Palace 4-0 and Everton maintained their 100 percent record with a 4-2 defeat of Brighton and Hove Albion, but those two matches were quickly overshadowed by others. Similarly, Newcastle United’s 3-1 victory over Burnley, West Ham United’s surprise 3-0 win at Leicester City, and Arsenal’s 2-1 triumph over Sheffield United will not live too long in the memory compared to games elsewhere, even if each did have its own merits.
The madness began early on Saturday evening, as Leeds United and Manchester City played out a pulsating 1-1 draw in the driving rain at Elland Road. The city was still smarting from their 5-2 defeat by Leicester the previous weekend, and they started the game brilliantly. It was one-way traffic for the opening 25 minutes, and the visitors established the lead they deserved through a fine goal by Raheem Sterling. At that stage, this looked like being a game to dampen Leeds’ spirits after their excellent start to the season.
Instead, Marcelo Bielsa’s side bit back. By the time the opening 45 minutes were up, it was the hosts who had created the better opportunities. The second half was utterly anarchic, with both teams throwing men forward in attack and dedicating considerably less effort to repelling the opposition. Rodrigo Moreno scored his first goal for Leeds just before the hour mark, and there were chances for both teams before the referee called time on a genuine classic.
This was another game that pointed to City still has some significant shortcomings. The signing of Ruben Dias should, in time, tighten up the defense, but City’s leakiness always had more to do with just the back four. Indeed, Pep Guardiola’s men were once again vulnerable in transition, just as they had been for a period against Wolverhampton Wanderers and for much of the loss to Leicester.
Rodri is a good distributor but is unsuited to the role of stopping opposition attacks in front of the backline, while the pressing levels of the team as a whole have dropped compared to two or three years ago. That makes it easier to get to City, as Leeds showed in a thrilling contest on Saturday.
If Leeds 1-1 Manchester City was the most entertaining of the weekend’s evenly-matched encounters, Sunday brought two stunning shellackings. First, Manchester United was beaten 6-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur despite taking the lead early on when Bruno Fernandes converted his second penalty of the season. But Tottenham was quickly back on level terms, and by the midway point of the game, they were 4-1 up and had a man advantage after Anthony Martial was sent off. Spurs added to their tally twice in the second half to complete a famous victory.
It was the best Tottenham display of the Jose Mourinho era, and with Gareth Bale set to make his second debut for the club, Spurs are in a promising position. The same cannot be said for United, who have been outplayed in each of their three games at the start of this season. The pressure looks set to build on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unless there is an adequate response after the international break.
The most seismic scoreline of the weekend came in the final match on Sunday, as Aston Villa demolished Liverpool 7-2. Recency bias can sometimes influence such selections, but this was surely the biggest shock in Premier League history. Liverpool was torn apart by the rampant Villans, who took advantage of the champions’ high defensive line time and time again. Jurgen Klopp has plenty to think about ahead of the Merseyside derby later this month.
Leicester were +500000 outsiders to win the Premier League title at the start of the 2015/16 campaign. After they did the unthinkable under Claudio Ranieri, bookmakers stopped offering such long odds even on the biggest underdogs. A repeat of that incredible feat of five years ago is unlikely, of course, but the first few weeks of this season suggest we could be in store for a surprise or two in 2020/21.
The truncated nature of pre-season means top-flight teams are not as well-oiled as usual. That seems to have had an equalizing effect, with smaller sides able to pull off more upsets. The fact that the games are coming thick and fast, particularly for those still involved in the League Cup, has reduced the number of time managers has to work with their players on the training ground. That is part of the reason why we have seen such uncharacteristic shoddiness from the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
Those two clubs remain favorites in the title race – and for good reason. But after three consecutive seasons in which the champions have amassed upwards of 95 points, we could be set for a fall in the number of points required to finish on top of the pile. That is good news for the likes of Chelsea, who are now available at odds of +1600 with BetMGM despite their own issues over recent weeks.
Even if a surprise title winner does not materialize, we could see an outsider upset the top-four applecart. Wolves (+1000 with BetMGM) will hope to be that team, particularly as they will not have European soccer to contend with this term, while Everton’s perfect start has seen their odds of a top-four finish fall to +250. Leicester may have slumped to defeat at the weekend, but nine points from 12 is an excellent return and they are available at +450 for Champions League qualification.
It is still early days, but 2020/21 has the ingredients to be one of the most intriguing and entertaining Premier League seasons we have seen in recent years.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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