Man City can improve, World Cup stars make impact and Liverpool pick up where they left off
The first weekend of the 2018-19 Premier League season is in the books. Join Nick Miller as he looks back on the best and worst on offer in England's top flight.
Goal of the weekend
Roberto Pereyra is, like many of Watford's squad, one of those players who you can forget about until he does something spectacular. And he did just that on Saturday, fizzing a brilliant volley into the corner of the net to give them the lead. Who knows when he'll do that again, so let's just enjoy it while we can.
Theme of the weekend
A notable thread from this weekend's games was how many of those who appeared in the latter stages of the World Cup not only played, but excelled. N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard: it was only four weekends ago that all of these players participated in the final games in Russia, but they're already back and doing what they do best.
A word of warning, though: Those players might have returned refreshed in the short term from a post-World Cup break and mentally perky from their summer success, but it wouldn't be a surprise if some of them break down when autumn turns to winter. Managers like Jose Mourinho urged their players to come back to duty ahead of schedule, but ultimately that might turn out to be self-defeating, if those rapid returns harm their medium- to long-term fitness.
Player of the weekend
That some people will boo Sterling for no cogent or defendable reason, as some Arsenal fans did in their defeat to Manchester City, is something of an inevitability. A sad one, but alas it seems nothing will stop it now. In some respects, that might be an odd benefit for him, because every goal and victory will now be a single raised middle finger to any opposition fan who bafflingly decides to direct their derision his way, potentially making them even more satisfying.
It's reached a point with Sterling that even when he plays well, someone will find a negative: on this occasion, the negative was to say, "Why didn't he play like this for England?" England and City are two wildly different sides in quality and approach, thus sides in which Sterling has to perform different roles, but it's another sign that he really can't win. Except on the pitch, where he wins a lot.
Ominous message of the weekend
"I said many times, of course our average level is high, but I have a feeling, still, that we can improve."
Pep Guardiola said that. Managing any other team in the Premier League must be pretty demoralising at the moment, particularly when you consider this wasn't just false modesty from Guardiola: City brushed Arsenal aside without David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne. They can, and probably will, get better. Everyone else: try not to think about that too much.
Lamb to the slaughter of the weekend
Matteo Guendouzi's last competitive game was in April, for Lorient against Valenciennes in Ligue 2. Arsenal bought him ostensibly as one for the future, but he was thrown in against perhaps the most accomplished midfield the Premier League has ever seen.
Picking him seemed a curious move by Unai Emery, so it was no surprise that Guendouzi struggled. But hopefully that doesn't discourage him: this might sound like damning with faint praise, but he kept going, kept offering himself for passes and kept plugging away. He probably shouldn't have played in this game, but hopefully it doesn't discourage him too much.
Portent of the weekend
Might the most cast-iron guarantee of entertainment in the next 10 months or so be a Liverpool season ticket? Their season is 90 minutes old, and they already have four goals, ripping through an admittedly work-in-progress West Ham side with familiar vigour.
Two of their potent forward trio picked up where they left off last season, and you're inclined to think they might even be more deadly, given the greater support and solidity behind them. West Ham can at least take heart in the knowledge they won't be the last team to be given this treatment. "It was a tough game before the game, during the game and after the game," said Manuel Pellegrini afterwards. No kidding.
Tactical switch of the weekend
Maurizio Sarri didn't necessarily buy Jorginho in order to shift existing Chelsea players away from positions they've excelled in before. But the purchase of the deep-lying playmaker so important to him at Napoli may have that effect, with Kante pushed into a more attacking role.
He's not the best finisher; in fact, that's arguably the only thing Kante can't do, but if he improves that then his natural energy and intelligence of his runs could make him a brilliant attacking midfielder, and even more complete than he already was. "I am very happy with his performance," said Sarri afterwards. "Especially when I think that he has arrived less than a week ago, on Monday. So I am very, very, very impressed with him."
Reminder of the weekend
In an era so obsessed with transfers that Fulham were being actively congratulated for spending north of £100 million on new players, Saturday provided a neat reminder that patience is required for newly promoted clubs. The quality of Fulham's many new arrivals is clearly high, but they will of course require plenty of time to knit together and form a cogent unit.
Being bested by Crystal Palace, by some way not the best side in the Premier League but essentially gnarly veterans of the division, will perhaps provide a timely reminder for Fulham that they shouldn't get carried away just because they've signed a group of good players.