September 23, 2021

Premier League Week 1 grades: Arsenal flunk opening day; Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs start on high notes

To the delight of fans all across the world, the 2021-22 Premier League season officially kicked off on Friday, as Arsenal were stunned at Brentford. The rest of the weekend featured some tasty clashes including Manchester United taking on Leeds and Sunday’s main event, Manchester City vs. Tottenham. Some of the big boys with high expectations, like the Gunners, laid eggs in their openers, while some of the teams in the relegation conversation looked like anything but cellar dwellers.

Here’s a look at how the teams performed in our eyes with our team grades for Matchday 1.

Brentford 2, Arsenal 0

The perfect start to their maiden Premier League campaign. They were collected, vibrant and assertive, boosted by an incredible atmosphere at the Brentford Community Stadium. While they didn’t see much of the ball, with a possession mark of only 35%, they played smart, were decisive and thoroughly deserved all three points. The defense was tough to break down and their counterattack was lethal, they won the xG battle 1.43-1.20 despite being outshot 22-8.
Grade: A

Woof. Not having Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette in attack was noticeable, but so too was not having Gabriel. This was a lineup nowhere near to the team’s ideal XI, and it showed. The team was trying to go through Emile Smith Rowe way too much. Smith Rowe played well, completing 48/49 passes and leading the team with passes worth 0.37 expected assists, it wasn’t enough. And while Bukayo Saka’s introduction gave the Gunners life, it was too little too late. As for conceding on a long throw-in, that will be hard to watch again. 
Grade: F

Manchester United 5, Leeds United 1

Man United
Well wasn’t that something special? An emphatic win for the Red Devils only elevates expectations after their first match of the season. Bruno Fernandes was clinical with his hat trick, but it was Paul Pogba’s four-assist performance which was far and away his best showing in the United shirt. The team is buzzing, confident and in addition to their high scoring attack looked fairly sharp in defense. Now, adding Raphael Varane to that only makes this team much better. It’s still so early, obviously, but that was an encouraging start. 
Grade: A+

That fell apart very quickly. After Luke Aylin’s lovely equalizer in the second half, Leeds were demolished time and time again, especially on the counter. The defense has never been this team’s strong point, but not having Diego Llorente was felt big time. They still have more than enough to bounce back next time out against Everton, and with Llorente and Kalvin Phillips, they should be more than fine. Expect Marcelo Bielsa to be calm and to get his team to respond sooner rather than later. 
Grade: F

Leicester City 1, Wolves 0

Jamie Vardy’s fine strike late in the first half was all that the Foxes needed to get off to a perfect start to the campaign. While Wolves had their chances to equalize, it was Leicester City’s bend but don’t break defense that was able to step up and dominate in the air, with Daniel Amartey filling in well for the injured Wesley Fofana. While Wolves had 17 shots in the match, 14 came in the second half after Leicester had taken the lead, and only three tested Kasper Schmeichel in goal thanks to the hosts’ fine closing down and positioning. 
Grade: B

It was a decent performance but one that lacked some serious precision in attack. Having Raul Jimenez back after his serious head injury last season is huge for this team moving forward, and Adama Traore launched his new campaign aggressively with six shots totaling 0.81 xG (more than Leicester City’s 0.51 total as a team). If they’re able to generate this much attack most weeks they’ll probably be fine, but it is a concern that they couldn’t really get into their attacking flow until Leicester became happy to sit off and let hem have the ball.
Grade: C

Chelsea 3, Crystal Palace 0

Easy work for the Blues here. Now imagine what they can do when Romelu Lukaku plays. American Christian Pulisic found the net, the team was dangerous on set pieces and they did it all without some regular starters. And, as usual, they didn’t concede a goal. While they are the champions of Europe, do they have enough for the long hall to be champs of England? So far, so good. 
Grade: A

Crystal Palace
Welcome to the Premier League, in terms of coaching, Patrick Viera. A humbling defeat to fellow Londoners leaves this team feeling a bit down but confident in what’s to come. Getting Joachim Andersen into the starting XI should only help once he gets acclimated. Losing Andros Townsend to Everton over the summer was felt on day one, and they are going to need Eberechi Eze back to really see this team’s potential as they managed just four total shots and only one on goal. The signs early weren’t great, but this is Chelsea they were facing. We should learn a lot more against Brentford next time out.
Grade: C-

Watford 3, Aston Villa 2

What a brilliant start to the campaign for Watford, dominating Villa with two first-half goals. They were quick on the counter, decisive in attack and greatly boosted their chances of staying up after just one game — not only with the points but with the confidence they’ll receive as a result. Striker Emmanuel Bonaventure, owner of one of the coolest names in the sport, is off to a sensational start, not only with his goal but the fact he got off a very impressive five shots. Things are trending upward early.
Grade: A

Aston Villa
It’d be tempting for Villa to look at the 3-2 final score and the fact that the xG was even, Villa actually had 1.25 to Watford’s 0.86 and take comfort. They shouldn’t. It took them too long to get going. This game wasn’t really close. They dominated the ball but couldn’t look all that threatening in attack and 0.79 of their xG came on Ing’s largely cosmetic 97th minute goal, which more concerningly was his only shot of the match. With many new contributors, like Ings, Emiliano Buendia and Leon Bailey, patience is needed.
Grade: D

Brighton 2, Burnley 1

A second-half surge by Brighton gave them a dramatic 2-1 win over Burnley to kick off the season, and what a performance it was. They were strong on the ball, played it well on the ground with 63% possession and deserved the comeback. Getting a goal from Alexis Mac Allister is a great sign, as the Argentine has potential to become a household name in the league. They crashed the box so well in attack, and early on, they are a team to watch. 
Grade: B

Got their goal after a clear foul on James Tarkowski was missed, and their usual tough defense was in shambles as it could not track attackers inside the box, blocking only two of 14 shots. Lots to work on after this opening game, but they should be OK if they can clean some of this up. Completing under 70 percent of passes is unacceptable even for a hit it and hope side like Burnley. 
Grade: D+

Everton 3, Southampton 1

Richarlison must be exhausted? Give this guy a break! He’s played in what feels like 300 matches since June, and it’s not a great sign that you have to start worrying about him burning out by September. Still, Rafa Benitez is wise and will know rest is essential. As for the performance, it took them the entire first half to warm up, but in the second half they came out on fire and dominated outshooting Southampton 9-3 and creating three big chances in the second period. Richarlison, Olympic gold medalist with Brazil and Copa America runner up this summer, got things going and was a major threat after moving inside from the wing, delivering two sensational balls in, both to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and one ending up in a goal. Now, if they can just clean up that early mistake in defense that put them behind to begin with.
Grade: B+

Boy do they feel destined to be in this relegation battle. The midfield is too defensive centrally, in attack they need some serious help, and don’t even get me started on the defense. There is plenty to work with here, but some young guys like Mohammed Salisu will have to step up big time. Pressure is on early with red-hot Manchester United next.
Grade: D

Norwich City 0 – Liverpool 3

Norwich City
That certainly wasn’t the return to the Premier League they were hoping for. Don’t let the stat line fool you, despite taking 14 shots and running up 2.43 xG, Norwich were dominated in this match. Of that 2.43 xG, 2.06 of it came from their six shots after 75th minute, when they were already down 3-0. It’s nice to show signs of fight, but the newly promoted team was easily outclassed by one of the league’s best. Still, since they were facing Liverpool, and they dug out a feisty final 15 they get graded on a bit of a curve. Scarily for Norwich though, Manchester City and Leicester City loom next
Grade: C-

After such an injury filled season last year, getting off to a smooth start must have been a welcome change, and they did it with a decidedly second choice midfield of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita and James Milner. Mohammed Salah looked incredibly sharp in attack already, getting off five shots, scoring a goal and registering two assists. The only concern was just how much they let up there at the end.
Grade: A-

West Ham 4, Newcastle 2

West Ham
They started off poorly and twice found themselves down, but the attack was electric in the second half. Said Benrahma is getting more and more comfortable, and striker Michail Antonio continues to be one of the more underrated players in the Premier League. Four different players scored, and they created a ton in attack, winning the xG battle 3.41-1.79 despite only outshooting Newcastle 18-17. While there are some defensive issues, it was a promising start for a team in arguably its most anticipated campaign in decades.
Grade: A-

They had this match right where they wanted it … until they didn’t. The spacing in defense was horrible, the tracking back defensively from the midfield was non-existent at times, and they went from a potentially great start to the campaign to quite the concerning one. Conceding so many good shots, six times West Ham had a shot worth 0.20 xG or higher, while spending so much time defending a lead is a massive concern. They’ll be working on defensive transition time and time again this week, and the only place to go from here is up. The attack is set up well, but if you can’s stop anybody, you have no chance. 
Grade: D-

Tottenham 1, Manchester City 0

Well, that was quite a stunner. A Harry Kane-less Spurs controlled the match against City to win Nuno Espirito Santos’ debut in brilliant fashion. Looking to sit back and defend and then go on the counter, boy did it work with Heung-min Son’s second-half winner. They needed some help from Manchester City, as Riyad Mahrez missed a first half sitter, but against the defending champs who doesn’t? Japhet Tanganga was sensational on the right, giving Raheem Sterling a rough outing with his physicality and well-timed challenges, holding the England star to a single shot and zero chances created. They are a team to watch, Kane or no Kane. A promising first 90 minutes.
Grade: A

Manchester City
So much for looking like champions. Pep Guardiola made his changes much too late, and this was as disappointing of a start to the season as we’ve seen for City in a while, mainly because the attack did pretty much nothing. For two-thirds of the field, City seemed in control but then they put just four of their 18 shots on goal  with the lack a presence at the striker position really showing itself. Gabriel Jesus getting some more minutes probably would have been wise, and it’s totally acceptable to question Guardiola after trying to be too cute in the Champions League final. Ferran Torres offered very little as the starting striker, and while Jack Grealish had some moments, he was ultimately too predictable. And for a team that conceded only 7.4 shots and 0.8 xG last season, starting off this campaign allowing Spurs 13 and 1.17 is a big miss.
Grade: D-

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