LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 11 – The Premier League returned with a bang as title rivals Manchester City and Liverpool enjoyed goal sprees, while VAR controversies hogged the headlines.
Here, AFP Sport looks at three things we learned from the opening weekend of the English top-fight season:
Man City, Liverpool maintain determination
Liverpool were first to throw down a marker in the title race as the European champions crushed Norwich 4-1 in the first game of the season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, chasing a first English title since 1990, scored four times in the first half at Anfield to show their determination to end City’s reign as champions.
But City responded with an even more emphatic victory as West Ham were swept aside 5-0 at the London Stadium.
Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick for City after Gabriel Jesus opened the scoring and, showing the embarrassment of riches at Pep Guardiola’s disposal, Sergio Aguero came off the bench to score a late penalty.
City finished just one point ahead of Liverpool last season and anyone splitting up their dominance at the top this term will have to produce a campaign for the ages.
Even Tottenham striker Harry Kane, whose side beat Aston Villa thanks to two late goals from the England captain, conceded the Champions League runners-up have a lot of improving to do if they want to catch City and Liverpool.
“Liverpool set the standard, then City so we know it’s going to be a tough, long season. We have got off to a winning start and there are still lots of things to work on,” Kane said.
VAR remains controversial
After causing controversy in the Champions League and other major tournaments, VAR has been introduced to the Premier League this season and the early reviews weren’t acclaimed by all.
The Video Assistant Referee system, previously used in England in the FA and League Cups, is supposed to eradicate any doubt that the right decision was taken over goals, penalties and other key moments.
But in City’s 5-0 win at West Ham and Wolves’ 0-0 draw at Leicester, managers and players raised doubts about VAR’s ability to make the correct call.
Wolves captain Conor Coady was furious after Leander Dendoncker’s second-half strike was ruled out when his initial header struck team-mate Willy Boly on the arm.
“It is a goal. People will say they have VAR and it has hit his hand, but he is not looking at the ball,” Coady said.
“We are going to have to play with our hands chopped off in future.”
City boss Pep Guardiola just wants justice to be served after City’s Gabriel Jesus had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside against Raheem Sterling.
“Only what I wish is that VAR doesn’t make mistakes please. When it’s offside it’s offside, when it’s a penalty it’s a penalty,” Guardiola said.
New season, new Man Utd
Manchester United badly needed a fast start to the new campaign to dispell a run of six games without a win to end last season and the pessimism over the arrival of just three new signings in the transfer window.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men duly delivered with a 4-0 victory over Chelsea with all three debutants, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James, making an instant impact.
Maguire, who cost a world record £80 million to sign from Leicester, added leadership and a physical presence to a defence that conceded 54 Premier League goals last season alongside the energetic Wan-Bissaka.
And James came off the bench to round off the scoring after a double from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s predatory finish had put United firmly in command.
The final two goals were also created by Paul Pogba, who spent most of the summer being linked with a move to Real Madrid after publicly declaring his wish for a “new challenge”.
While the scoreline flattered the Red Devils as Chelsea had more possession, more shots and more shots on target, there is once again plenty of reason for optimism at Old Trafford.