Brentford 2-0 Arsenal
Then Everyone expected pluck in the newcomers’ first game, but few aside from pessimistic Arsenal fans expected this. A delirious, dynamic, Hey Juding Friday night out for the home fans, while the Gunners’ summer positivity evaporates before half-time.
Now It wasn’t a one-off, as Thomas Frank’s spirited side have pulled off other notable results – a 3-3 draw with Liverpool, and a 2-1 win at West Ham. It’s been patchy lately, though – the Bees are currently bottom of the top-flight form table. Arsenal rebounded from a rough start and Mikel Arteta’s side currently sit sixth, with games in hand on the teams above.
Burnley 1-2 Brighton
Then The return to home fans to Turf Moor could not inspire a morale-boosting result after more summer transfer inertia. Still, the Clarets’ opening seven games of 2020-21 yielded just two points: you know the drill, come May. As for Graham Potter’s xG All-Stars, the solid three points were a real lift for fans worried about limited squad depth and the impact of losing Ben White.
Now Maxwel Cornet has made an impact but Covid postponements and just one win all season has Burnley bottom, and looking lost. Chris Wood was sold to relegation rivals Newcastle, and £12m replacement Wout Weghorst has suffered an injury setback. Brighton, meanwhile, built on a solid start – early wins have turned to draws over winter but they are riding high in ninth place.
Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace
Then Winning the Champions League was just the start for Chelsea, wasn’t it? Roman Abramovich has been forgiven for his European Super League flirtation, Romelu Lukaku is back with his “first love” and the sun shines on an opening-day saunter. A Chelsea title challenge looks nailed on but Patrick Vieira looks up against it with an ageing Palace squad. Talk of a rebrand prompts memories of Frank de Boer.
Now Chelsea are world champions but still Premier League title pretenders. A string of poor results in December has left them 16 points off the pace and while Club World Cup glory felt like couples’ therapy after Lukaku made eyes elsewhere, questions still linger over Thomas Tuchel’s forward line. As for Palace, Vieira does seem to know what he’s doing. The club sit in a modest but respectable 13th place, with youth and experience dovetailing nicely and fans optimistic about the future.
Everton 3-1 Southampton
Then Relief for Farhad Moshiri as his new manager, Rafael Benítez makes a great start at Goodison Park and pledges to win over doubters. For Southampton, defeat after taking the lead has fans worried about life after Danny Ings. New forward Adam Armstrong gets on the scoresheet, though, and Ralph Hasenhüttl is confident his side will click.
Now Relief for Farhad Moshiri as Frank Lampard makes a great start and pledges to win over doubters – but in between, the Benítez reign unravels with the Spaniard sacked amid fan anger and a slide down the table. Southampton have delivered on Hasenhüttl’s promise, currently in the top half after 3-2 wins at Spurs and West Ham – even though Armstrong has added just one more league goal.
Leicester 1-0 Wolves
Then Brendan Rodgers hails scorer Jamie Vardy’s “fitness and hunger” and eyes the top four after a narrow win for the FA Cup winners. As for the visitors, it is not the start new manager Bruno Lage wanted, but he insists his high-tempo approach will work.
Now Vardy has been out since December, and Leicester are 11th without a league win this year. The Foxes are closer to the bottom three than the top four, and Forest dump them out of the FA Cup; for the first time, Rodgers is under pressure. Wolves, meanwhile, harbour European hopes – seventh and still improving, and with the league’s second-best defence. Four defeats from the first five is a distant memory.
Manchester United 5-1 Leeds
Then Proof at last that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has found the formula. He calls the victory “absolutely magic” – but it’s a dark day for Leeds, tipped for Europe before the season began. Luke Ayling says sorry: “It just kind of got away from us.”
Now Ole hadn’t found the formula, and while the return of Cristiano Ronaldo excited fans, the product on the pitch continued to decline. The painful 5-0 defeat to Liverpool marked the beginning of the end for Solskjær, and performances have not improved much under Ralf Rangnick. The top four remains in sight, however. Hit hard by injuries, Leeds sit six points off the drop zone. Only Norwich have conceded more, and there are doubts over Marcelo Bielsa’s future.
Newcastle 2-4 West Ham
Then: Fans are back at St James’ Park but the soundtrack is the same: Mike Ashley doesn’t care, Steve Bruce doesn’t know what he’s doing and supporting Newcastle is a soul-bashing, joy-sucking affair. Bruce’s side briefly play with verve but West Ham look solid enough to suggest last season was no fluke. With no Jesse Lingard and the slog of European fixtures to come, however, it’s a tough ask to repeat the trick.
Now: Eddie Howe is on the march with the richest club in the world. Amanda Staveley beams as Barry Manilow blares and the Toon Army rejoice – but the Saudi-backed takeover poses wider moral questions. Three wins in a row have hoisted the Magpies above the drop zone; they’re one season closer to footballing domination. West Ham have defied worries over squad depth to compete on multiple fronts – but the Kurt Zouma incident has taken some of the shine off. The future is bright for both clubs.
Norwich 0-3 Liverpool
Then Defeat, but Canaries manager Daniel Farke likes what he sees. “I feel even more confident for the season now.” Liverpool put a quiet summer behind them with a typically efficient start, sealed with Mohamed Salah’s sublime strike. “Very professional,” says Jürgen Klopp.
Now Farke couldn’t buy a win – and by the time he got one, at Brentford, it was too late. Replacement Dean Smith has made the team more solid, but they are still four points off safety. Liverpool have lost twice all season – at West Ham and Leicester – but too many draws leave them nine points behind Manchester City with a game in hand. The £50m January arrival of Luis Díaz should ease the burden on Salah.
Tottenham 1-0 Manchester City
Then A dream start for Nuno Espírito Santo, the new manager who was far from first choice. Daniel Levy backs his new manager to “build something special here” after Son Heung-min’s winner rocks the champions. It’s a slow start for City and £100m signing Jack Grealish, but Pep Guardiola is unruffled: “We take it step by step.”
Now After Nuno is sacked on 1 November, Levy turns to previous target Antonio Conte. The Italian appears to be endlessly frustrated by the club’s lack of ambition and after a decent start, home defeats to Southampton and Wolves cause concern. City, meanwhile, are clear at the top and among the Champions League favourites – Grealish’s form is Guardiola’s only real concern.
Watford 3-2 Aston Villa
Then Unassuming coach Xisco Muñoz hails the win and praises the club’s togetherness and “true team spirit”, after following automatic promotion with an unexpected opening victory. Dean Smith says his team were “miles off” as Villa’s post-Grealish grind begins.
Now Roy Hodgson, hired to replace Claudio Ranieri who was hired to replace Muñoz, remains winless and Watford are six points adrift of safety. Villa won at Old Trafford and then lost five in a row, enough to cost Smith his job. Under new manager Steven Gerrard they’re now 10 points off relegation and 10 off Europe – but looking up after making some eye-catching recruits in January.