Soccer

Dramatic First Impressions & Kneejerk Predictions after Opening Week

With almost no time to process the past campaign, football is finally back and as hectic as ever in England. Some takes seem to have been debunked, others are on their way to being proven right and plenty are being formed following the first matchweek in the 2022/23 Premier League season. Here are some first impressions and bold predictions for each top-flight team after their opening matches.

Arsenal

First Impression: Good business and direction don’t cover a lack of experience.

The Gunners have established their pull and ambition this transfer window but despite the bolster in personnel, there is a lack of security when it comes to finishing games. Arsenal had an exceptional opener against Crystal Palace but towards the end, until Marc Guehi’s own goal, the roar of Selhurst Park somewhat rattled the North London side. Crystal Palace saw a late surge where they finished the game with 56% possession and over 120 more accurate passes than Arsenal as well as being slightly behind on expected goals. Great performances from Benjamin White and William Saliba did edge out the win and overall Arsenal remained solid but mentally, there’s still room for improvement to avoid situations like these.

Prediction: Arsenal will win a game by five or more goals.

Aside from the dull period in between Gabriel Martinelli’s goal and Guehi’s own goal, Arsenal looked dangerous when clicking, and once the chemistry and general understanding of Arteta’s system set in, we could be looking at a top-four side as early as this season. Despite not scoring, Gabriel Jesus showed his creative side, setting up others in the build-up and absorbing all pressure in the final third to allow someone else to attack, which offers another option that wasn’t available before. All this is to say that it wouldn’t be a shock if we see a 5-0 scoreline pop up in Arsenal’s favor this season.

Crystal Palace

First Impression: No number 9, no fun.

Since last season, Crystal Palace has undergone a very exciting rebuild, bringing in Patrick Vieira as manager and letting his imagination run wild in the market, hauling under-the-radar talent from outside of the country that fits his gritty style. This manner of recruiting has been huge for Palace, who now have Marc Guehi, Joachim Andersen, Eberechi Eze, and Cheick Doucoure at the front of their young core, but still run short in the forward positions. Michael Olise is outstanding as well but not necessarily the forward that Palace lack to give the top half of the Premier League a go. This is almost always the case with mid-table clubs but a true goalscorer probably would have gotten them a win against Arsenal, which means we’ll be saying that a lot after close losses for the Eagles.

Prediction: Crystal Palace will be this season’s disruptors.

With the track record to prove it, Crystal Palace may be one of the most impactful teams in the Premier League in terms of mixing up contention for top spots this season. Their poise after conceding and determination to remain aggressive is rare for a side as young as they are but their image and circumstance didn’t matter to the players. Although mid-table teams seem to take a passive approach against the top six, Palace’s success in pushing the tempo of their opening match can lead to dropped points from the top sides.

Fulham

First Impression: Maybe we were wrong.

The first of the three promoted sides to show up, Fulham may have everyone apologizing after a stunning performance at home against Liverpool. An early goal from Aleksandar Mitrovic left the game quite open, but Fulham did very well to keep up with the Reds’ desperation leading up to Darwin Nuñez’s goal. A questionable penalty did provide another lead but Mohamed Salah was quick to equalize. There is reasonable doubt that maybe this game doesn’t mean much since one of the goals was a penalty but their irritating pressing led to a great goal after pouncing on Liverpool’s inability to keep everything under control. Personally, the game shouldn’t change where people see them finishing but it was certainly shocking to watch live.

Prediction: Nothing changes… Except for Mitrovic.

As mentioned before, their opening result personally doesn’t change much in terms of where they’ll finish as many questions remain somewhat unanswered. Liverpool seemed off mentally and the defense doesn’t have the quality to keep them up in a convincing fashion although Fulham played one of the best attacking teams in the world. Mitrovic was much more aggressive however and if that mentality keeps up, we can easily see him become the player that everyone wanted him to be in the past couple of seasons.

Liverpool

First Impression: False depth.

We should have seen this coming but now with Thiago out for at least a month, Liverpool’s critically acclaimed depth in all positions looks a lot weaker than before. The attack remains potent since all players can essentially play any of the front three roles, but when your midfield depth consists of inconsistent performers (Naby Keita), injury-prone players (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), and symbolic leaders about a decade past their prime (James Milner), you start to worry. Fabinho was exposed pretty hard as well, folding under Fulham’s relentless pressing meaning that Jordan Henderson was the heart of the midfield at a certain point, which is quite underwhelming. The window remains open, however, giving Klopp & Co. about two weeks to get anyone in to cover for a shaky rotation in the middle of the park, especially with Fabio Carvalho’s push to play as a more advanced player.

Prediction: Big signings are imminent.

Similar to what they did last season during the January window, Liverpool looks more than ready to make a move similar to the Luis Diaz one from Porto but in the midfield this time. Despite being linked to Jude Bellingham for almost two years, that deal will most likely never happen mid-season, especially as Borussia Dortmund appears to be ready for a title push this season. A move for Sporting CP’s Matheus Nunes would be more realistic during a mid-season window or even now before he gets into form in Portugal and sees a boost to his price, especially after reports came out at the start of the window regarding Liverpool’s interest for him. The financial aspect is tricky following the deals for Nuñez and Carvalho, but there are plenty of players that can provide a good return in the market if it’s something the Reds want to pursue.

Bournemouth

First Impression: Maybe we were wrong… Again.

Another result that came back to bite everyone’s pre-season predictions, Bournemouth start their season off with a bang versus Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. Similar to Fulham, a majority of fans saw the Cherries going straight back down as questions about their defense and lack of quality overall popped up before the season. The business has been underwhelming as well so the prediction wasn’t necessarily embarrassing if you had them going down following a slow start, but like Fulham, this can change a lot following their opening match. Ironically, the defense was the leading contributor to the victory following a scrappy goal from Jefferson Lerma and a defensive breakdown from Villa on Kieffer Moore’s goal. Chris Mepham in particular was outstanding and despite the narrative going around that they may be a boring side, this match was electric for Bournemouth.

Prediction: Moore takes Solanke’s spot.

Perhaps very bold but Moore may end up being Scott Parker’s frontman before the end of the season. Solanke had a quiet start to life in the Premier League in their opening match but the numbers off this game alone suggest that Moore’s profile will prove to be much more efficient in the Prem. Moore won two of his seven aerial duels while finishing with more touches and passes than Solanke, showing that there is a clear case for him there. The season is still very young but these are kneejerk predictions, one of them had to be punchy.

Aston Villa

First Impression: Defense is more than names.

A bit similar to Arsenal’s first impression but slightly more focused, Aston Villa clearly has the pull to bring in big names to their team with Steven Gerrard in charge but it isn’t enough to get them over the line, especially on defense. The signings of Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara were very smart considering that they are of top six quality, but something still isn’t clicking there. You’d think that a defense that contains those two, Lucas Digne, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, and Emi Martinez should cover more than enough, but their season opener proved that wrong. Gerrard is moving in the right direction in benching club captain Tyrone Mings but there is still plenty left to reach the level they want to it, especially if this is the defensive lineup he is committing to.

Prediction: Aston Villa will be this season’s underachievers.

Maybe not on the level of Everton last season who saw a relegation scrap and Leicester who had a bit more of a specific situation, Aston Villa looks to be favorites as this year’s underachievers given the moves they have made. The odd part is that the Villans don’t have, and shouldn’t have, lofty expectations this season despite the club’s stature. European football isn’t a focus and relegation shouldn’t be something to worry about, but a top ten finish this season looks difficult after a crushing opening game versus a relegation favorite in Bournemouth. They can finish anywhere from 8th to 15th and most fans wouldn’t be totally surprised.

Leeds

First Impression: BACK JESSE MARSCH.

After a constant wave of concern and doubts, Jesse Marsch seems to have proven that his aggressive approach both on the field and in the market will pay off with time. The signings of Brendan Aaronson, Rasmus Kristensen, Tyler Adams, and Marc Roca bolstered the squad and made them an exciting, young prospect in the Premier League with Luis Sinisterra yet to join the squad on the pitch. Patrick Bamford’s return was crucial as well and Rodrigo’s goals prove that Marsch does well with the integration of new and pre-existing players in the squad. Defensively, there is still room for improvement but with their young double pivot, all they need is time and health.

Prediction: Leeds comfortably avoids a relegation scrap.

Somewhat of a hot take compared to where everyone seems to be putting Leeds, relegation shouldn’t be a worry for them following their opening performance and summer business. As mentioned before, the defense could use more depth at the very least along with one cemented starter in the center-back position, but the season looks bright for Leeds. The one scare is the injury bug for them but Marsch does have more room for rotation than he and Bielsa had last season when everyone was dropping out of the squad. The shock of losing Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha may be the driving factor in everyone’s worry for them but they should be more than fine based on who is weaker than them alone.

Wolves

First Impression: New season, same problem.

Wolves showed a lot of promise early on last season, challenging for a top six spot and showing off one of the best defenses in Europe’s top five leagues. The excitement slowly died down, however, and the second half of the 2021/22 campaign saw a very boring Wolves side scrapping goals and mindlessly defending to take away anything they could against more aggressive sides. None of this seemed to have changed during their first match of the new season, and the striker issue in Wolverhampton remains a glaring hole with Raul Jimenez picking up constant injuries and new signings disappointing season after season. The silver lining is the fact that Pedro Neto gave Wolves an added touch of creativity, meaning that any signing or Jimenez’s return could see positive results when everyone remains healthy.

Prediction: Wolves threaten Lage.

Mostly personal, but Wolves aren’t very convincing heading into this season where they should be competing for a top ten finish, which is a generous step down in expectation after fighting for a European place last season. If the board sees this season in the same manner while Wolves continue to underwhelm, Bruno Lage may be involved in heavy rumors by the World Cup window. Way too early to say anyways but if we see a quiet end to the window from Wolves, it may become reality.

Newcastle

First Impression: Howe MUST to stay for the rebuild.

A bit of an obvious one here, it’s no secret that Eddie Howe must stay for Newcastle’s rebuild for at least the next three years. There are doubts everywhere regarding Newcastle despite their massive takeover, but Howe saw most of the questions after how things ended with Bournemouth. Their first game of this season proved everything wrong, however, with Newcastle winning convincingly against Nottingham Forest at home, boasting Howe’s newfound tactical prowess. His signings came up big, as well as pre-existing players who he revitalized such as Joelinton and Fabian Schar. Very exciting times for a team that doesn’t look close to reaching its peak.

Prediction: Newcastle competes for Europe.

If there was ever a season for a team outside of the big six to compete for the top six spots, it’s this season. People may say that most of the top six is more locked in than ever and while that’s true, the last spot is still up for grabs. Manchester United continues to struggle while barely improving the squad and running out of time to do so, perfect for a team with a fresh identity and momentum to sneak in. Not to mention, despite how many people look down on the UEFA Conference League, 7th is still good for European football and is a very exciting prospect for teams who rarely ever have hopes of Europa or Champions League football.

Nottingham Forest

First Impression: We need more.

Almost the consensus take regarding the newly promoted sides, this one hits even harder for Nottingham Forest, whose promotion through a tough playoff run gave them less room to operate in the market. This is not to negate or downplay their business either. This season saw more movement in the market from the promoted sides than anything we’ve seen recently, but Forest’s gap was much larger than what Fulham and Bournemouth have to cover. Signing Taiwo Awoniyi and Jesse Lingard was clever and bringing in Neco Williams was an outstanding bit of business, but the defense remains an issue for the Tricky Trees. Newcastle isn’t a fair team to use when gauging success but the domination seems to be quite demoralizing for such a young and thin side.

Prediction: Nottingham Forest narrowly escapes relegation.

Despite being the only team I backed to stay up of the three promoted teams before the season, it’s too early to jump ship just yet. The fight will be tougher but Steve Cooper has what it takes to help soothe the blow that some Premier League-proven sides may deal to such an inexperienced side. This is also assuming they don’t stay active in the market, meaning that if they continue signing players for depth rather than quality, the fight may be easier to deal with as the season progresses.

Tottenham

First Impression: Keep Conte at all costs.

No surprise here but Antonio Conte does deserve praise for the shift he put in for Tottenham over the past two months. Steadying the ship last season and getting Spurs to a Champions League spot was impressive, but bringing in the players he’s bought while easing them into his stubborn system is even more remarkable. The board at Tottenham does seem keener to fund Conte and with his style of coaching and personality, you kind of have to if you want to keep him aboard. Needless to say, the Lilywhites looked electric in their home opener versus Southampton, and this is without most of their big signings from the summer window.

Prediction: Harry Kane hits 25 goals and 13 assists at the very least.

The goal-scoring side of the prediction may not be as daring as it seems but with Conte-Ball in full swing, Harry Kane’s new role could catalyze a surge in his playmaking output. The English superstar has proven through numbers and the eye test that he can create for others despite his reputation as a goal-scoring monster and now with a deeper role, we could see it maximized this season. Conte has always favored a combination of a big striker with a lighter forward, but he’s never had a striker be as physical and creative as Kane, something he has been very keen on taking advantage of. If that wasn’t enough, Kane has averaged about eight assists in the past three seasons with only Son as a reliable finisher and we know about his finishing, so never say never.

Southampton

First Impression: The board is extremely patient.

Not a take on the game but more of a reflection of Southampton and their situation as a whole over the past couple of seasons, you do have to wonder how many blows the Saints can take before making a decision on Ralph Hasenhüttl. I personally back him, but knowing how fickle the lower mid-table teams are when it comes to those choices, it’s tough to think past what might happen. The only thing that seems to be working in the Austrian’s favor is that the club committed to his transfer policy, meaning they support his attempt at a rebuild of the club. Very secure yet fragile, and big losses like the one they suffered against Spurs don’t help.

Prediction: The relegation fight catches up.

Somewhat of a misleading prediction but Southampton should expect at least some pull into this year’s relegation scrap. Whether they go down or not is impossible to tell, but even before the season began people saw them in and around the 16th and 17th spots. The business this summer is quite attractive but the influx of youth to a side that needs experienced and cool heads to steady the ship can be detrimental if they find themselves battling to stay up against sides who have already been there and done that.

Everton

First Impression: “Survival Football” will not slide.

Maybe the first fixture was a bit unfair and may invalidate this take, but Everton needs to move on from last season if they want to avoid another relegation scare. Soaking up all of the attacking pressure from Chelsea is always a tedious task but this is one of the weaker attacks the Blues have put on the pitch in a while and Everton did not know what to do with that. The Toffees may still be far from returning to a comfortable mid-table finish but it starts with a change in mentality and after the first match, they already look toothless.

Prediction: Lampard Out.

Very grim and unfair for the Premier League legend but he may be the first manager to be fired in the 2022/23 campaign. He has been popular among Evertonians, becoming a fan favorite and exuding the energy that the club wants to maintain but on top of the bar being low after their previous manager, Everton’s board has suggested that it’s all trivial if they don’t live up to their unrealistic expectations. As mentioned before, these types of clubs are very erratic and reactive in how they make decisions and a bottom five placement after only a month could be enough to see Lampard making his way out of Goodison Park.

Chelsea

First Impression: Hold that thought.

Probably a wise take, but definitely a cop-out. Chelsea doesn’t even deserve a half-baked take after one game and everyone agreed on it. At the risk of mocking Everton, you don’t necessarily use them as a barometer of future success unless you lose to them, meaning Chelsea got lucky. There are some issues in attack but we knew that, and with how active the Blues have been in the market, it’d be a bit ignorant to think they won’t rectify it. A player like Inter’s Romelu Lukaku would be perfect for this hole, however. Very surprising that they haven’t thought of him as a viable option yet.

Prediction: Expect a slump.

People may have already gotten a headstart on this but Chelsea look primed for a mid-season breakdown following all the outgoings and the lack of incomings to mitigate the effect. Sure, players like Timo Werner weren’t exactly helping but that’s a body you lose if there’s no replacement. The backline’s depth is quite soft at the moment after seeing a herd of departures and the midfield’s reliability is flimsy considering that players like N’Golo Kante have been injury prone and others like Jorginho seemed to have slightly regressed. This is an exaggerated analysis of their issues but still something to keep in mind when things look bad.

Leicester City

First Impression: Something is off.

Leicester looked solid for the first 50 minutes of the game, playing progressive football, involving everyone in the build-up, and putting out any Brentford attacks in the process. The main issue was the following 40 minutes where Brentford saw a sudden surge in attack and completely shifted the momentum of the game in their favor to walk away with a draw on opening day. Pressure has been on Brendan Rodgers to deliver but Leicester has done little to improve in terms of personnel to give him a proper push, and with the Foxes’ reluctance to bring anyone in, it may be another year of frustration for the Northern Irish manager.

Prediction: Leicester manages the imminent implosion.

Going for a 2-for-1 here, Leicester has very attractive players at the moment for other competitors in the Premier League. Wesley Fofana is Chelsea’s main defensive target after falling short on everyone else, Newcastle is eyeing up James Maddison for a large fee and Youri Tielemans has been primed for a big move for the past two seasons. Leicester doesn’t have to sell, but the trio could bring in about $181.8 million, which gives them more than enough room to take a step back and revitalize the side with the money. The downside to all this is that Leicester would have to wait a decent amount of time since none of the deals are in progress and there are only two weeks left in the window if they want to cover any holes. However, if the sales do happen, the Foxes should manage absences adequately and avoid a fight for survival while maintaining mid-table status for the season. All big ifs, though.

Brentford

First Impression: Creativity is a must.

Brentford didn’t look as deprived of an expressive midfielder as they did last season before signing Christian Eriksen, but there’s still a need for that role in West London. Everyone chipped in when attacking, making seven key passes as a unit and scoring twice, but having a designated creator would be more reliable and healthy for the attack rather than betting on everyone to create for each other. Having a 10 would also open up Ivan Toney again and allow him to move forward up and act as a target man instead of sitting deep and sitting others up, which was tough to watch last season.

Prediction: No relegation battle for Brentford.

The Bees seem to be another relegation favorite for pundits and fans who want to be generous to the newly promoted sides, but Brentford looks at about the same strength as last season while also having a year of experience under their belt. Signing young players like Aaron Hickey, Keane Lewis-Potter, and Mikkel Damsgaard allows room for improvement on players with a high ceiling while providing depth, something that newly promoted sides lack after their first couple of years in the first division if they survive that long. The main concern is still with how Toney will be used but a smart club like Brentford will surely rectify that.

Manchester United

First Impression: Is this fixable?

United, once again, look like they’re headed towards another tumultuous and dramatic season following their 2-1 loss in their home opener. Whether this is the final squad that Erik ten Hag had in mind when he was signed several months ago is unknown but it wouldn’t be surprising if the board wants to stop here and see how the campaign goes. The midfield remains shambolic, Harry Maguire may be overhated but he never helps himself and the attack looked toothless, missing a lot of open chances and destroying their build-up at points. It feels like we’re getting to the point where this is just how United is and no one can fix it if they tried, which is both hilarious and upsetting for a team with their potential.

Prediction: No Europe for the Red Devils.

The boldest of any of these exaggerated predictions, United has a high chance of coming out of the season without European football as things stand. The aim now is to win anything rather than solely shooting for the league title or a continental cup, but the Red Devils’ thin squad will find it difficult to keep up with those ambitions. Erik ten Hag’s passion and entitlement to trophies will also be a weird mix with how weak the squad is mentally and with the lack of incoming players that fit his style, United will certainly be an interesting story to follow.

Brighton & Hove Albion

First Impression: Graham Potter deserves more credit.

The general praise that all fans of the Premier League send towards Graham Potter perhaps makes him an overrated coach in the league but time and time again he proves to everyone why we hold him to such a high standard. The lack of links from big clubs looking for a manager was insulting to his quality and once again, he ran circles against one of the biggest clubs in the world. The build-up to both goals was straight out of the training ground and their defensive poise afterward to keep United from threatening them was a little scary given where both clubs stand in terms of reputation. The Seagulls will certainly be a fun watch after a record-breaking campaign last season.

Prediction: More of the same.

Brighton is the most secure and easiest to call when compared to other teams, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Another mid-table finish with a healthy amount of points and good football is about as daring as I’m willing to go with a team that seems so sure of itself. The challenge may lie in how the team copes with injuries but on top of having durable and reliable players, Potter does a great job at getting the best production out of anyone in the squad. The lack of goals compared to xG may remain but that seems to be a trending issue with everyone in the league.

West Ham

First Impression: It happens to the best of us.

West Ham had the toughest matchup on opening day and like Chelsea, it may be too tough to tell given the strength of their opponent. If the team you face is either too strong or too weak, there isn’t much to say until there’s a better match to base an opinion on. They did seem a little dangerous at points but once Manchester City got into the game, all that could be done was defend and pray. Jarrod Bowen did struggle quite badly but everyone performed about as good as you can expect against the reigning champions.

Prediction: West Ham struggle slightly against the big six.

Not really a prediction, let alone a bold one, but West Ham may face a brick wall when playing the big six this campaign. One of the two City fixtures is out the way, but the Hammers must be impeccable in their matches leading up to the three-game run versus Tottenham, Chelsea, and Newcastle respectively to soften a possible blow where they see dropped points. Their transfer activity has been lacking as well, meaning that an injury bug remains a big problem if they catch it.

Manchester City

First Impression: Why did anyone doubt Haaland?

Perhaps stemming from everyone’s disdain of City and their business, quite a few people had the transfer as one of the dumber ones of the window, claiming Erling Haaland would flop in Manchester. This was proved wrong emphatically after the big Norwegian came away with a brace in his first Premier League game. The scariest thing about all this is that he missed some easy chances before and after his goals, meaning that there may be a bit of rust after he was sidelined with injuries in the previous campaign. It’s a bit comical how quickly he shut down any doubts following a poor Community Shield performance.

Prediction: Manchester City wins a game by at least seven goals.

Where Arsenal was handed a lower, yet unlikely, target, the Cityzens can easily blow a lower-end club by seven or more if Haaland’s health and form remain intact and the rest of the team chips in as they always have for the past six seasons. Whether it comes against a newly promoted side like Nottingham Forest, a depleted and weak defense in Leicester, or a giant going through a rough time in Manchester United, this scoreline only seems more likely after their opening game.

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