A kick where it hurts

The 1958 may sound more like a Tory thinktank than a Manchester United protest group, but with their anti-Glazier march forcing the pre-match closure of the Old Trafford Megastore last Sunday, supporters will be chuffed at giving the owners a swift kick where it hurts. For Erik ten Hag it was a timely reminder of just how peeved swathes of the fan base truly are. 

Speaking of thinktanks, the ever-looming figure of Alex Ferguson continues to haunt incumbents of the Old Trafford hot seat. Rather than just an icy stare from the stands, Ten Hag now has to deal with the formation of a brain trust consisting of Ferguson, Bryan Robson (!), David Gill and John Murtough.

One wonders how forceful Ten Hag’s sigh must have been when hearing about his new overlords. Probably nowhere near as loud as the moan accompanying the full-time whistle of his first game in charge. The 2-1 loss at home to Brighton displayed all the hallmarks of recent United performances – a lack of press and shape off the ball allied with sloppy errors in key moments. Little wonder when the team sheet contained so many bolted-together hangovers from previous regimes.

As for The Ego, after stamping his feet and wailing all summer like a spoilt child, it was a toss-up as to who was more embarrassed when Ronaldo appeared off the bench – his current club or a player who has been spurned at every turn by potential suitors.

This was not a hit and run from Brighton. The most worrisome factor in defeat is the manner in which the visitors dominated for long stretches. United letting the visitors play like the home side is another particularly nasty hangover from recent seasons. With transfer tittle-tattle starting to smack of desperation, the Ten Hag era kicked off a little like the club Megastore on Sunday afternoon – expensive promise completely out of reach.

Thunderbastard of the week

There’s something about a centre-half lashing it in from distance which lifts the soul. Fabian Schar did exactly that for Newcastle on Saturday afternoon as Nottingham Forest finally caved to the home side’s pressure.

Forest were looking resolute in their first top flight appearance for more than 20 years, but there’s little you can do when a big defender puts his laces through it and thoroughly knocks the stuffing out of you.

Steve Cooper, aka Ned Schneebly from School of Rock, admitted Newcastle had the better of it at St James’ Park, and they certainly bullied the newbies in terms of possession and shots on goal. Add a tasty striker to this line-up and Newcastle are going to cause teams some real problems this season.

Damp squib

There were worse performances on the Premier League opening weekend, but it was probably the biggest shock when Liverpool were out-Liverpooled for large periods of their Saturday lunchtime draw at a white-hot Craven Cottage.

Fulham hunted in packs, not giving their opponents a second to settle, pressing high up the pitch incessantly and with structure. With the Reds misplacing far too many passes under duress, it felt at times like they were stress-testing the Premier League’s new multi-ball system, lobbing the offending article out of play for a laugh. 

This was a combination of a Klopp team nowhere near the races and a Fulham side playing without fear in a system which accentuated the monstrous facets of Aleksandar Mitrović. Trent Alexander-Arnold, already the embodiment of Liverpool’s lackadaisical approach when handballing a miscontrolled pass, finally succumbed to Mitrović at the far post, with the striker heading home while barrelling over the full-back like a bull in a particularly delicate china shop.

Compounding Liverpool’s misery, Thiago limped off at the 50-minute mark with a suspected hamstring injury. I take no pleasure in being right, however I draw the jury’s attention to Exhibit A.

That fragile engine room is already on the fritz. Thiago’s injuries are as clockwork as his passing, and Mr Glass aka Naby Keïta was unsurprisingly unavailable. When Klopp turned to his bench with a grimace, the options, as predicted, were old and stodgy or callow and green. 

It wasn’t all stinky for Liverpool on the day. Mo Salah scored as usual and Darwen Nunez wreaked havoc on another backline in a substitute appearance following his Charity Shield cameo last week.

Yet with a shifty glance at some tricky fixtures in the coming weeks, Liverpool will hope their lengthening injury list doesn’t provoke a choppy start to the new season, and that Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho prove the adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

Luck of the damned

While we’re on the subject of injuries, let’s travel a kilometre across Stanley Park to see if Frank’s backpedallers could get out of reverse. Hosting Chelsea is not the ideal opening fixture at the best of times, but Lampard must have burst a blood vessel listening to Tuchel whinge about his transfer business. Such protestations felt like the German was exiting Harrods bemoaning the purchase of a Brangati coffee set, while Lampard staggered past with a plastic party pack from the Pound Shop.

Given the huge gaps in their squad, the last thing Everton needed was for two of their back three to go down injured during a match in which Everton fought valiantly but ultimately came up empty-handed.

Face pressed against the glass of that brightly lit Harrods’ shop window, Lampard neatly summed up his current situation post-match, saying “when it rains, it pours”. Pull up the collar of that old rain mac and keep walking Frank. Connor Coady may be on the way, but both Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina are expected to be out of action for a while.

Hairdo of the week

Anthony Gordon, pressed into service as an emergency striker for Everton, channelled mid-90s Robbie Fowler with a bleached blonde hairdo that really should stay condemned to the Spice Boys dustbin alongside those FA Cup final white Armani suits. 

Debutant having a ball

Leeds showed fight and cutting edge in their comeback against a wobbly Wolves, providing encouragement to supporters who may have feared the worst this season. It was never going to be easy after a near calamitous May, and with four signings making their debut. Jesse Marsch will have hammered home the importance of cohesion and a sense of togetherness, fundamentals which were sorely tested after going a goal down so early.

At the heart of their stirring comeback was one of those debutants – Brenden Aaronson. He epitomised his team’s display, snapping at the heels of Ait-Nouri until the Wolves full-back got himself in such a tiz that the ball broke for Leeds in the penalty area and the equaliser.

Indeed, Ait-Nouri could be forgiven for whittling an Aaronson voodoo doll Saturday night as his new nemesis was on hand to force the winning own goal from the Frenchman, compounding his misery and sending Elland Road into jubilation mode. Wolves have every right to be concerned after their hideous late season form has carried over like a miasma, but for Leeds and a beaming Aaronson the future looks brighter right now.

Inevitability corner

In a shady corridor of Premier League HQ, among the buffet leftovers and wafts of stale cigar smoke, a vague concern gnaws at the bean counters. Man City are just too bloody good. The marketing department have been in touch worrying that Pep’s ruining the brand, turning the Premier League into the Monaco Grand Prix – all glitz and procession. In the room next door somebody’s on the phone to Sky Sports asking Gary Neville to squeal louder whenever Haaland touches the ball.

My fevered imagination aside, Man City are a footballing boa constrictor, squeezing the very soul out of the opposition with a crushing inevitability. At least post-Aguero, teams could delude themselves into thinking this City side sometimes lacked fangs.

Yet they now have terrifyingly sharp gnashers in the form of Erling Haaland, a player quietly introduced to the league back in June with understated monikers such as ‘Norse God’ and ‘The Physical Embodiment of the Word Goal’. That second one’s mine, but it doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine Neville screeching it down the mike as you reach for the well-worn mute button, another inevitability when watching Super Sunday.

Scoff at my knee-jerking all you like, but there’s something about this City side isn’t there? When an opening day draw feels like a defeat for the pretenders to the throne, you can almost feel Pep’s vice-like grip on the trophy. Basking in the warmth of early August, that really shouldn’t be the case for the self-proclaimed Best League in the World™.

By Chris Holmes

Main image: Etihad Stadium, Manchester by Phil Pearson