Having won their opening game in each of the previous four Premier League seasons, Liverpool looked on course to extend that enviable record at Watford until they let in a sloppy 94th-minute equaliser in a see-saw encounter that ended with the teams sharing six goals. It took the Reds just 10 minutes to show their all too familiar failings in defending set pieces and even after Sadio Mane’s equaliser, a shambolic if contentious goal for Abdoulaye Doucoure restored Watford’s lead. A quickfire second half double from Roberto Firmino and the impressive Mohamed Salah edged Liverpool in front, a lead they took into stoppage time before more set piece ineptitude saw Miguel Britos plunder two points from the Merseysiders’ grasp. Salah and Mane were positives, but too many players in red fell short of expected standards.
The pressure on Liverpool to win intensified after a rollercoaster opening game of the season on Friday night as Arsenal shaded a seven-goal thriller against Leicester. The tone for the match was set in the first five minutes, with both teams finding the net. Jamie Vardy’s double either side of a Danny Welbeck tap-in left the Foxes in control and the Gunners staring down the barrel of a third consecutive opening day defeat on home turf. As they often do, though, Arsenal left it late to grab the points, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud getting Arsene Wenger out of trouble for at least another week.
Manchester City also got the business done in their first assignment of the campaign, a testing trip to a Brighton side buoyant from promotion. The Seagulls shut out the title favourites for more than three-quarters of the game and had some chances of their own, but once Sergio Aguero finished off a sumptuous through ball from David Silva on 70 minutes, there seemed little doubt that City would emerge victorious. An unlucky own goal from Lewis Dunk confirmed the result, although Pep Guardiola knows that his team were made to earn the three points at the Amex Stadium.
The 2014 champions are many people’s favourites for the title, but it’s their crosstown rivals who sit top after opening weekend as Manchester United comfortably disposed of West Ham. Romelu Lukaku repaid some of his hefty transfer fee with goals either side of half-time and the French duo of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba put further gloss on a Sunday stroll for Jose Mourinho’s men. Even after one game of the season, there’s already a fearsome look about the Red Devils, while the storm clouds might soon gather for Slaven Bilic if the Hammers reproduce displays like this.
Earlier on Sunday, Tottenham got off to a winning start after what was ultimately a comfortable win at Newcastle. Spurs didn’t look anything like title contenders in a drab first half, but the match swung on Jonjo Shelvey’s red card for a stupid stamp on Dele Alli, who a few minutes later broke the deadlock. Once Ben Davies doubled Tottenham’s lead, the result was never in doubt. Mauricio Pochettino’s side had to be patient, but they are off to a satisfactory start, while Rafael Benitez is counting the cost of Shelvey’s dismissal and two first half injuries amongst his defence.
Most of the heavyweights made a winning start, but champions Chelsea were subjected to a shock defeat by Burnley, who have already equalled their tally of away wins from the entirety of last season. The Blues’ afternoon got off to a bad start after Gary Cahill was sent off and incredibly they trailed 0-3 at half-time, with Antonio Conte’s fears about his threadbare squad depth looking all the more stark. Alvaro Morata and David Luiz struck after half-time to ensure a nervy final few minutes for the Clarets, but there was still time for Cesc Fabregas to follow Cahill down the tunnel prematurely. It’s the second season in a row that the Premier League title holders have lost their opening fixture after Leicester crashed at Hull a year ago.
Burnley weren’t the only team to pull off some stunning away-day heroics on Saturday. In their first Premier League outing, Huddersfield romped to a 3-0 win at Crystal Palace, a result which put them top of the table overnight and leaves them second after the weekend’s conclusion. Joel Ward’s own goal put the newly-promoted side in front before debutant Steve Mounie scored twice for the Terriers to send the Yorkshire faithful into raptures and put some early pressure on new Eagles boss Frank de Boer, only months after a troubled spell with Inter Milan.
Liverpool might have fluffed their lines at Watford, but it was smiles all round elsewhere on Merseyside as Everton got the better of Stoke. Inevitably, it was the returning Wayne Rooney who supplied the match-winning contribution, scoring the game’s only goal just before half-time. It was a goal deserving of three points and Toffees goalkeeper Jordan Pickford enjoyed a quiet debut, called into action only once as Stoke barely threatened. Are they already beginning to rue the summer sales of Jon Walters and Marko Arnautovic?
Also emerging 1-0 winners at home were West Brom, who sent Bournemouth home disappointed. This was another match where a new signing got on the scoresheet, Ahmed Hegazi heading the winner for the Baggies. As was the case with many of their goals in 2016/17, it came courtesy of a set piece, the centre-back repeating a trick that Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson pulled off several times last season. In customary Tony Pulis fashion, it wasn’t spectacular but it was effective.
Effective is not an adjective that could be applied to Southampton’s attacking prowess as the Saints were held to a frustrating goalless draw at home to Swansea in Mauricio Pellegrino’s first game in charge. The men from the south coast often lacked penetration in the final third last season and that was the case again on Saturday, with Maya Yoshida spurning the game’s best chance with a near-range header that hit the side netting. Southampton can’t afford too many days like this as they are unlikely to have so much territorial dominance as they did against the Swans, who will be pleased to take the point back to Wales.
Liverpool rarely enjoy a good season when they are slow out of the starting blocks and with four of last season’s top six winning, the Reds are already playing catch-up – not an ideal state of affairs with a crunch Champions League play-off against Hoffenheim either side of a visit from Crystal Palace, who have perfected the art of winning at Anfield in recent times. Anything less than three points on Saturday will prompt further annoyance from Kopites who are already trying to process the likely departure of Philippe Coutinho.