Premier League hits and misses: Darwin Nunez, William Saliba and more | Football News
Hit: Nunez makes instant impact
Liverpool endured a frustrating afternoon at Craven Cottage but they will be encouraged by what they saw from Darwin Nunez.
The £85m signing from Benfica was named among Jurgen Klopp’s substitutes but, much like in the Community Shield against Manchester City last weekend, his introduction changed the game.
In just 39 minutes on the pitch, he grabbed a goal, an assist, and attempted four shots – twice as many as any other Liverpool player managed all game – three of which were on target.
He looked raw at times but Nunez brought a chaos factor which changed the momentum of the game. More or less everything Liverpool did as an attacking force happened around him. “He was involved in a lot of goalscoring situations and that’s really cool,” said Klopp.
Nunez also ranked top for touches in the opposition box (seven) and aerial duels won (three), and even created the joint-most scoring chances (two) along with Jordan Henderson.
His game still requires refinement, but that only makes his instant impact more encouraging. If this is what he can do on his Premier League debut, then there is surely even better to come.
Hit: Mitrovic shows maturity under Silva
Jurgen Klopp said the best aspect of Saturday’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Fulham was the result, and it was a fair assessment. In the first half at Craven Cottage, his side looked spooked.
Marco Silva deserves all the praise for coming up with an organised game plan to ensure the Premier League newcomers won the midfield battle in the first half. There was an exciting blend between Harrison Reed, Andreas Pereira and Joao Palhinha while Fulham exploited the width in behind Liverpool’s full-backs.
Mitrovic had only had five touches in the opening 20 minutes, but his influence would grow. His first goal was precisely the sort of goal Silva will have mapped out on the eve of this encounter, playing through the lines with his talisman meeting a deep cross with a meaty header inside the six-yard box.
Since the start of last season, Mitrovic has scored 45 goals in English league football, 16 more than any other player – and yet the question has always remained over whether he can cut the mustard at this level.
Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson have won all there is to achieve in the English domestic and European game, and as they hobbled back onto the team coach and headed back to Merseyside, I am sure they would collectively agree that Fulham’s burly striker had caused them as many problems as any forward encountered in recent memory.
What it boils down to is belief.
A fan behind me pointed out inside the opening five minutes, ‘we’re playing Liverpool, not Middlesbrough!’ But maybe that was an insight into how these fans have felt about coming up a level over the past five years. A sense of trepidation from the first whistle.
Fulham, and Mitrovic, would not show it throughout this game. They and their talisman have momentum, a growing maturity and a belief they can go toe-to-toe with any team in the league on this evidence.
Hit: Saliba’s Arsenal debut worth the long wait
Gabriel Jesus was the best player on the pitch in the first half of Arsenal’s 2-0 win against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. But by the end of the night, it was another debutant for the Gunners who was taking the acclaim. A man who signed for the club in 2019.
The wait for William Saliba to play in the Premier League has frustrated fans who had long wanted to see the young centre-back in action. This performance showed why there has been such a fuss. He was outstanding in helping Arsenal see out the win.
Composure in possession is a trait that might be expected at this level but what was striking was that Saliba looked composed even when Palace’s best dribblers were running at him with his pace. “I thought he was really good,” Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports.
“There was one moment when a ball went in behind the Arsenal back four, in behind Ben White, and he just came across, running alongside someone. The way he dealt with it, with his long stride and his arm came across, he just looks the part.”
The expectation now is that Saliba can make a major impact. In a way, though, he already has. With the crowd up and the lead slender, this game may have slipped away last season. With the help of their talented young defender, that looks less likely than before.
Hit: Sessegnon and Royal impress for Spurs
Ryan Sessegnon and Emerson Royal both delivered superb performances that justified Antonio Conte’s decision to start the wing-backs against Southampton.
A few eyebrows were raised before kick-off as the Italian opted to start Sessegnon ahead of new signing Ivan Perisic, while Royal got the nod ahead of Matt Doherty and new arrival Djed Spence.
But after surprisingly going behind, the pair shone to drive Spurs to a comfortable win.
On the left, Sessegnon headed in Spurs’ equaliser as he went on to produce the best passing accuracy in the final third of any Tottenham player. He also delivered four crosses – only Heung-Min Son delivered more – in an eye-catching display that saw the home crowd chant his name.
The Spurs faithful may soon need a song for Royal too after an equally impressive showing. He provided two assists in the space of two second-half minutes as he forced Mohammed Salisu’s own goal before some superb work to tee up Kulusevski’s goal.
It was arguably the Brazilian’s best performance since joining the club last summer after an underwhelming first season. Defensively he won the joint-most duels (7) of any Spurs player, while going forward he ranked second for shots (3) and touches in the opposition box (6).
It is no surprise that both players’ performances have come as a result of new competition in the squad, especially 22-year-old Sessegnon who is now learning from the vastly-experienced Perisic – something Conte acknowledged afterwards.
He said: “I think it’s very important that we signed a player like Ivan Perisic because he [Sessegnon] can see the way to learn something about Ivan. We are talking about a very important player in Ivan, a top player.
“Sometimes it’s good to bring into your team players even if they are a bit over-age. If they are a good player with experience, they can bring this experience to improve young players in your squad.
“I think Sessegnon is doing this. I was really pleased because today he played a good game. Emerson played a good game.”
Eyebrows will now be raised if Sessegnon and Royal do not start against Chelsea next Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
Hit: Everton impress despite Chelsea defeat
Everton were beaten on the opening day of the season for the first time in a decade but it took a penalty for Chelsea to find a way past Frank Lampard’s unusually gritty side at Goodison Park.
Jordan Pickford had a relatively quiet afternoon aside from facing Jorginho’s spot-kick winner, and in a game of few clear-cut chances in open play, the hosts shaded the opportunities which did present themselves but could not find a way through.
Before the game, Sky Sports’ Sue Smith said she worried for her former club after a tough summer and their narrow escape from relegation last season, and though they were on the wrong side of defeat against Chelsea, their performance was not one of a team in danger of flirting with the Championship again this season.
Hit: Saints’ new recruits offer Hasenhuttl hope
It may have been a heavy defeat for Saints at Spurs but boss Ralph Hasenhuttl would have been encouraged by the performances of his three new summer signings – Gavin Bazunu, Joe Aribo and Romeo Lavia.
The latter in particular was a standout as the 18-year-old midfielder from Man City belied his age and inexperience to put in a strong display on his Premier League debut.
Lavia made the most accurate passes (50), won possession the most times (13) and won the most fouls (4) of any Saints player.
Goalkeeper Bazunu, who also joined from City, was not at fault for any of the goals and made five saves to keep the scoreline down. He looked confident at claiming crosses too and appears Premier League ready.
Forward Aribo does too. The former Rangers player carried much of Saints’ threat as he drew a save from Lloris in the second half and was good aerially winning seven duels – the most of any Saints player.
Hasenhuttl said of his new debutants: “There was a reason why he [Lavia] had the chance to start immediately. It was not easy for the young lads to come in here. They have been brave and tried to compete.”
But there was nothing new about the manner of Saints’ defeat: self-inflicted goals, poor defending and a soft underbelly.
“This is simply not good enough at this level,” the Austrian said.
Hasenhuttl knows that this side of his team must improve if they are to avoid a relegation battle this season.
Hit: Newcastle continue their stellar 2022 form
It has been quite the 2022 for Newcastle. For starters, they have earned 41 points in the Premier League this calendar year (P20 W13 D2 L5) – the fourth most of any side after Liverpool (52), Tottenham (44) and Manchester City (43).
A lot of this can be traced back to some shrewd recruitment in January, with the signings of Kieran Trippier, Dan Burn and Bruno Guimaraes bringing some much-needed quality and stability to the Newcastle squad.
By the time their form began to turn around in mid-January, Newcastle were already deep in a relegation battle, having won just once in the Premier League. Some questioned whether their new billionaire owners would be watching Championship football next season.
Newcastle’s resurgent form eventually saw them finish 11th and pulled them away from what was an increasingly tight scrap for survival. Now, it is time to build on the good work done last season with a new slate for the 2022/23 campaign.
The good news is the Magpies have picked up exactly where they left off with a 2-0 victory against Nottingham Forest. It was a pretty convincing victory too, albeit against a team who have not played in England’s top flight in 23 years.
They dominated possession and shots, registering a pretty impressive seven corners in the first half as Forest struggled to deal with the demands of the Premier League. Newcastle eventually breached their defences with two superb second-half goals, although as Eddie Howe himself says, the Magpies need to be more ruthless.
As they make their way through the season and aim for those European spots – arguably the minimum the new owners will expect – Newcastle will need to start putting away more than two of their 23 shots. They clearly have the ability to create – Joelinton, Allan Saint-Maximin and Guimaraes superb on Saturday – but when the pressure is on in those big games, can they find the much-needed finishes?
The answers remain to be seen and it was only the first game of the season. There’s still time to find a rhythm, and so far, there have not been too many new players to settle into the squad. That may also change, but there was impressive performance across the park on Saturday.
Although they are by no means the full package, there are signs of promise for Newcastle and maintaining their 2022 form will be vital for a strong start to the season.
Miss: Were Nottingham Forest overawed by their Premier League return?
Saturday marked Nottingham Forest’s return to Premier League action for the first time in 23 years and 82 days. It had been the longest wait for a return to England’s top flight in the competition’s history.
While there is plenty of excitement among Forest fans – particularly for their first home game of the season against West Ham next weekend – the team themselves looked slightly overawed by the occasion of the club’s first Premier League game since 1999.
It was always going to be a tough ask to go to Newcastle on the opening day and take anything away. The Magpies dominated in almost every area, with Forest giving away possession far too easily and looking a step behind.
Of course, there are a number of contributing factors. Only five of Nottingham Forest’s matchday squad have played in the Premier League before, with the club making 12 new signings this summer. Half of those started on Saturday, with two more coming off the bench. It takes time for so many new players to gel together.
The Premier League is also a step up from the Championship. Unlike fellow promoted sides Fulham and Bournemouth, Forest have not experienced its pace and intensity in recent years. That takes time to adapt to as well, which manager Steve Cooper acknowledged himself in his post-match interview.
But Nottingham Forest debutants Dean Henderson and Moussa Niakhate impressed at the back. The scoreline would have been far worse without them and there was an impressive defensive shift from most players.
While Saturday will be a steep learning curve for Cooper and his side, there is no need to hit the panic button yet. Time is not the friend of any football team or manager, but there will be easier assignments to come where Forest can show what they are made of.
Hit: Leeds debutants hit the ground running
Leeds took a big risk spending just shy of £100m on six players without any Premier League experience when replacing Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha this summer.
On the evidence of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Wolves, it was a risk worth taking.
Three of the four debutants had played under Marsch and it was clear as they settled in straight away and put to bed any concerns about being from a ‘Farmers League’.
Marsch’s high-pressing style was apparent from the get go and put Wolves under intense pressure, creating the chance for Rodrigo Moreno to equalise.
Brenden Aaronson stole the show – even if he wasn’t awarded the goal – and Leeds’ new No 7 looks like he might become a fan favourite.
Rasmus Kristensen and Tyler Adams marshalled the midfield for large parts of the game, while Rasmus Kristensen looks solid as a rock at right-back. They have still got Luis Sinisterra to come.
Miss: Wolves desperate for a striker
In a season when it’s once again becoming fashionable to play with a recognised No 9, Wolves were without a recognised striker on the opening weekend at Leeds.
Hwang Hee-Chan filled in admirably for the injured Raul Jimenez, but Wolves lacked a focal point and failed to punish Leeds when they were on top.
The search for a deputy striker goes on, with less than a month of the transfer window remaining.
It’s imperative Bruno Lage is backed otherwise goals could be hard to come by for another season at Molineux.
Hit: Andersen impresses with ‘outrageous’ passing
“The second goal defines the match,” said Joachim Andersen when talking to Sky Sports after the game. Perhaps. But Crystal Palace had been threatening to equalise just moments earlier and their second-half performance was helped by Andersen’s passing.
The Denmark defender completed 253 long passes in the Premier League last season – 50 more than Trent Alexander-Arnold, the next highest total by an outfield player. That range of passing is a major weapon for Palace in helping to transform defence into attack in an instant.
Andersen completed 12 long passes against Arsenal on Friday evening – three times as many as any other outfield player on the pitch. It is a rare attribute. “Some of his passing was absolutely outrageous,” Gary Neville told Sky Sports.
“Some of the best midfield players in the world 20 years ago would have been delighted with this. Paul Scholes would play passes like this but he is a centre-back for Crystal Palace.
“If you are coming up against Crystal Palace you might as well stand on him and let the other centre-back have the ball because you cannot allow that level of quality all the time. You have to stop that because they got a lot of joy from it in the second half.”
Hit: Tavernier looks a shrewd signing for Bournemouth
It has been a quiet summer for Bournemouth so far, with only three new players through the door at the Vitality Stadium, but in Marcus Tavernier, they look to have recruited wisely.
The midfielder, a £12.5m signing from Middlesbrough earlier this week, produced an excellent performance as Scott Parker’s side overcame Aston Villa on the opening weekend.
Tavernier brought energy and guile in equal measure, succumbing to cramp in the closing stages but not before he had made a positive impression on everybody watching.
Bournemouth had just 34 per cent of the possession at the Vitality Stadium but Tavernier was an invaluable outlet throughout, his speed and directness helping them get up the pitch and causing Villa major problems in central areas.
In total, the 23-year-old completed six successful dribbles – twice as many as any other player – with Villa often reduced to fouling him. Tavernier won five free kicks over the course of his 85 minutes on the pitch and showed an eye for a pass too, creating three scoring chances for Bournemouth and helping to ensure their Premier League return went exactly according to plan.
Miss: Villa a team of individuals
On the eve of the new Premier League season, manager Steven Gerrard urged his Aston Villa players to start “walking the walk”. Before a ball was even kicked, based on some shrewd summer business and a pragmatic revamp of the team’s spine, many had Villa pegged as one of the top flight’s ‘dark horses’.
But having stumbled at the first hurdle against newly-promoted Bournemouth, pundits will surely be making swift revisions to their optimistic pre-season estimations. Villa have made five signings and look a considerably worse team – one that has been floundering since the turn of the year. They have won just two of their last 12 Premier League games.
If Saturday’s curtain-raiser was a measure of the club’s progress under Gerrard, Villa fans should be worried. It has raised questions over strategy, recruitment and ultimately, Gerrard’s suitability. That is not to dramatise one result in isolation, but rather to highlight the continuation of woeful performances which date back to January. There is a serious lack of cohesion among Villa’s, albeit talented, individual parts.
“Our quality was off,” Gerrard concluded in the aftermath of the tie. Clearly the summer surgery has not done much to assuage problems. This was a rude awakening for a side that are supposedly targeting a top-half finish.