The dust has settled on the opening weekend of the 2022-23 Premier League season. So, naturally, it’s time to overreact about the state of each team. Below, theScore tips some for glory and others for ruin.
Saliba is already the league’s best defender
William Saliba waited three long years to make his Premier League debut. No one at Arsenal will forget it. The 21-year-old, who played on loan at Saint-Etienne, Nice, and Marseille before rejoining the Gunners this summer, put in a man-of-the-match performance during Friday’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. He dominated the area with a team-high seven clearances and committed no fouls while boxing out his opponents. A physical center-back with in-game intelligence, Saliba has what it takes to become one of the Premier League’s top defenders.
Gerrard will be the first manager sacked
Despite signing Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, and Calum Chambers in January, Steven Gerrard went 10-5-12 at Villa last season after replacing Dean Smith in November. Villa have to improve on their 14th-place finish, but that remains a tall order. Promising midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka and left-back Matt Targett left the club this summer, and newly promoted Bournemouth issued Villa a sobering reminder of their deficiencies Saturday.
Relegation is far from a certainty
Many understandably consider Bournemouth to be a lock for relegation. The Cherries haven’t spent much since returning to the Premier League, and manager Scott Parker has enjoyed little success outside of the Championship. But there’s enough in this team to survive the season. Dominic Solanke kick-started his career with 29 goals in Bournemouth’s promotion campaign, giving the club confidence he can lead the line in the top flight. 6-foot-4 midfielder Philip Billing and 6-foot-3 center-back Chris Mepham form a solid foundation. Summer signing Marcus Tavernier adds style. Incoming defender Marcos Senesi brings confidence on the ball. With all of that, Bournemouth have the tools to stay up.
Damsgaard is a worthy heir to Eriksen
Mikkel Damsgaard is the perfect choice for Brentford. Counting Christian Eriksen as one of his idols, Damsgaard has molded his game around the visionary Danish playmaker. So, naturally, he’s a worthy heir. The 22-year-old is just as accurate as Eriksen from set-pieces and even shiftier on the ball than his predecessor. Brentford are excellent at identifying successors, transitioning from the likes of Ollie Watkins to Ivan Toney without a hitch. Damsgaard could even be considered a long-term upgrade on Eriksen. And, at a reported £16 million, he fits the budget.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Who needs Cucurella?
Brighton had no reason to sell Marc Cucurella. That’s why they wouldn’t accept anything less than £50 million. But he wasn’t indispensable, either. When Chelsea agreed to stump up the cash, Brighton accepted. They knew they could live without him. The Seagulls proved as much Sunday at Old Trafford, outfoxing Manchester United in every category. Tactically, Brighton were at their fluid best, rotating between multiple formations while targeting open space on the counterattack. Even if manager Graham Potter needed Leandro Trossard and Solly March to do the job of one on the left flank, where Cucurella shined last season, it worked. Potter’s team has always been a collection of moving parts. Losing one won’t make a difference.
Chelsea are going backward
Chelsea aren’t any better than they were last season. Despite Kalidou Koulibaly’s arrival from Napoli, the Blues still lack quality defensive options. An even bigger concern lies up front. With Romelu Lukaku out on loan, Timo Werner on his way back to RB Leipzig, and Armando Broja still learning his trade, manager Thomas Tuchel is missing a reliable goalscorer. Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Everton exposed more problems than solutions, with Kai Havertz looking lost and Raheem Sterling struggling to connect with his teammates. If the west London side doesn’t make at least one more splash in the summer window, it’ll finish outside of the top four for the first time since 2018.
Doucoure is going to run out of steam
Cheick Doucoure should feel daunted by the task that lies ahead after Friday’s rather forgettable debut against visiting Arsenal. Those remaining in Crystal Palace’s stable of deep-lying midfielders are poor. Wideman Jeffrey Schlupp was uncomfortable alongside Doucoure in a central role, and the Eagles’ other deputies for that position – Luka Milivojevic, Will Hughes, and James McArthur – are uninspiring. Doucoure, a £20-million recruit, could be one of England’s most overworked players this season.
Everton on the path to relegation
Frank Lampard has a big problem on his hands. Everton are already in the throes of a full-blown injury crisis a week into the new season. Richarlison is long gone, oft-injured striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin remains vulnerable to setbacks, and center-backs Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina are out long term. Even with the addition of Conor Coady, there are too many holes to plug. The club barely recovered from last season’s sluggish start, and it hasn’t made enough signings to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
Mitrovic can win the Golden Boot
Ahead of kickoff Saturday, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability lay somewhere between the Championship and Premier League. His second-tier record stands at 85 goals in 126 outings, while his top-flight return was 24 goals across 104 appearances. Then, Liverpool visited and Mitrovic was a constant nuisance. Aside from his two goals, the Serb won 11 aerial duels, ranked third for touches by a Fulham player, drew four fouls, and completed three clearances. With form like this, Mitrovic can easily lead the Cottagers to safety, and maybe even collect some individual hardware.
Aaronson and Adams > Raphinha and Phillips
The American revolution at Leeds United is underway, and the early returns are extremely promising. Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams stood out for all the right reasons in Leeds’ win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. The USMNT pair fit into compatriot Jesse Marsch’s system like a glove, excelling when they’re tasked with putting pressure on the opposition and forcing turnovers that can then be turned into scoring opportunities. Aaronson, in particular, looks set to have a breakthrough campaign. Replacing Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips is a gargantuan task, but Aaronson and Adams are up for it.
Sell Maddison, give Dewsbury-Hall the keys
There’s been much consternation this summer over Leicester City’s lack of activity in the transfer market. While others have splashed serious cash, the Foxes are yet to sign a new senior player to their squad. Against that backdrop, allowing James Maddison to depart for Newcastle United seems ill-advised. But if Maddison’s potential sale – which could fetch over £50 million – allows Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to become the conductor of Leicester’s midfield, Brendan Rodgers’ team might actually be better for it. The 23-year-old ran the show in a season-opening draw with Brentford, and his slick goal was the exclamation point on a distinguished performance.
TAA needs to play further forward
Trent Alexander-Arnold is a superlative attacking right-back. He’s inarguably one of the elite players at his position, if not the best. However, his defensive shortcomings were again on display in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. There’s no shame in losing a contested header to Mitrovic, especially when the hulking Serbian has forward momentum coming in at the back post to meet a cross. But Alexander-Arnold, not for the first time, put himself in a suboptimal defensive position that handed the opponent the upper hand. Obviously, the good (far) exceeds the bad with the English international, but with such tight margins expected in the title race, these little moments are enough to make a huge difference come season’s end.
Haaland will score 40 goals this season
Haaland is going to terrorize the Premier League for years to come. No other center-forward in the game possesses the same combination of pace, technique, and strength as the monstrous Norwegian international. Now, imagine pairing a player who can time runs to perfection with a team of licensed assassins who can pick passes like locks. Manchester City have some of the best playmakers in the league, and if the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, and Phil Foden can release Haaland into open space, watch out. Haaland’s going to break the Premier League’s single-season scoring record with ease.
The Ten Hag era will be fleeting
Deep inside, if just a little, Erik ten Hag may have some regrets right about now. The Dutch tactician left Ajax, a club that plays beautiful, cohesive football and develops talent like few others can, for a dysfunctional Manchester United outfit that’s deep in the doldrums. If he didn’t know the full extent of the issues at Old Trafford, he got an immediate dose of reality in Sunday’s home defeat to Brighton. The Red Devils have deep-rooted personnel problems that’ll take multiple transfer windows to fix, and his preferred style of play could take even longer to properly implement. Will he be around long enough to see it through?
Champions League, here we come
Maybe we were all too modest with our preseason prognostications for Newcastle United. Most pundits expected the Magpies to build on their strong finish to last season and take a moderate leap forward in ’22-23, pushing for a European place in Eddie Howe’s first full campaign behind the bench. But Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest suggested there may be even more room for optimism on Tyneside. Yes, this all comes with the caveat that a home opener against a newly promoted team isn’t exactly a litmus test for European credentials, but Newcastle were absolutely dominant, outshooting Forest 23-10 and not conceding a single effort on target. Matches against Manchester City and Liverpool later this month will be a better indicator of just how high this team should be aiming this season.
We need even more signings to compete
Six of Nottingham Forest’s 12 (!) summer signings started in the loss to Newcastle, with two more new recruits being introduced as substitutes. At times, it looked as though the players, many of whom have just met, weren’t on the same page. Not surprising, considering the wholesale changes made during the transfer window. That type of upheaval can have a destabilizing impact. Forest, who are expected to bring in at least a couple of more new faces before deadline day, would be wise to instead try and forge connections and understanding amongst the players already brought in.
The transfer strategy has already backfired
After Southampton’s heavy defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, Ralph Hasenhuttl said it was “frustrating” to see the gap in quality between the two teams. He may have to get used to it. Encouraging showings from Romeo Lavia and Joe Aribo aside, there were very few positives to emerge for the Saints, and plenty to be nervous about. Southampton couldn’t cope, eventually getting overrun. “It felt like the opponent switched in the next gear after the first 20 minutes, and we could not follow,” Hasenhuttl added. Relying on so many young players to all deliver at once can be exciting, but this is the other side of the coin. An inexperienced group is being thrown right into the deep end. It’s sink or swim.
Conte has already built a title-winning team
Antonio Conte loved what he saw during Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Southampton. His players pressed high, won possession in dangerous areas, and scored for fun. Tottenham fired in a whopping 24 crosses, and not of the speculative kind. Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon stretched Southampton’s back five, and Dejan Kulusevski’s quick footwork made mince meat of what was left of it. Conte’s teams are at their best when they’re swarming the pitch. In almost a year at the helm, he’s now achieving his vision at Tottenham. Forget a place in the top four: Tottenham have what it takes to challenge City and Liverpool for the title.
West Ham United
Antonio and Scamacca can’t co-exist
West Ham United had the unfortunate honor of providing the opposition on Haaland’s Premier League debut. Spoiler: It didn’t go well. But they’ll get over that. What’s of more lasting concern is their own striker situation. Much is expected of angular Italian Gianluca Scamacca, who made his own debut when he replaced Michail Antonio in the second half. Therein lies the problem. Antonio has been a revelation at center-forward for the Hammers, but he’ll be displaced, in some way, to accommodate Scamacca, who arrived in London with a hefty price tag. Getting the best out of his two physical forwards could prove challenging for David Moyes, who’ll need to make concessions elsewhere on the pitch if he plans to play them together.
Regression coming for Jose Sa
Much of Wolverhampton’s success last season can be attributed to the excellence of Jose Sa between the sticks. Underlying metrics suggested the Portuguese netminder wasn’t merely good in 2021-22, he was the best pure shot-stopper in England’s top flight. His outstanding track record was the main reason why it was so surprising to see him concede from a bad angle against Leeds; Rodrigo’s low shot had some fizz on it, but the goalkeeper’s dismayed reaction to the goal told the story. He knew he should’ve kept it out. If Sa isn’t at his absolute best, it’s going to be a very long year for goal-shy Wolves and Bruno Lage.