While the World Cup in Brazil may have provided tremendous joy and entertainment for a global audience, it also whetted the appetite for the return of the English Premier League. The opening day of the new season finally arrived on Saturday, as the nations’ premier football clubs resumed the domestic battle for dominance, glory and survival. Amid the exalted levels of expectation and considerable tension, however, what are the key lessons that we learned from the opening day and what do they mean for the remainder of the season?
1. Chelsea are Justified as Premier League Favourites
While the battle for the Premier League title may be more keenly contested than ever this year, bookmakers favourites Chelsea have already set out their stall as potential winners. Not only are they top of the league after an impressive 3-1 victory at Burnley on Monday night, but the manner of their display was a testament to their squad depth and evolving style of play. With £32 million striker Diego Costa leading the line with robust strength and intent, the team looked to have finally added a much needed cutting edge and goal threat, while Mourinho’s decision to play four rather than three attack minded players offers a glimpse into a more progressive future for the club. The single most impressive highlight was the performance of Cesc Fabregas in midfield, however, who marked his return to the Premier League by operating in a deeper role and dictating the tempo of the entire game. With his range of passing adding an entirely new dimension to the team, Chelsea are fully justified as favourites with Premier League odds of 6/4 for them to finish the season as Champions.
2. Louis Van Gaal will Struggle to revitalise Manchester United
For anyone who watched Manchester United’s impressive pre-season performance under Louis Van Gaal, there was a genuine sense that the club was striding the precipice of greatness once again. This sense of optimism and anticipation has been shattered by just 90 minutes of Premier League football, however, after the Red Devils’ were beaten 2-1 at home by Swansea on the opening day. Not only did United look fragile at the back and lightweight in attack, but Van Gaal was also forced to abandon the 3-4-2-1 formation that had provided such promise during the summer. The team looked disjointed and lacked fluency, and despite dominating possession the players bore a startling resemblance to the individuals who struggled so severely under David Moyes last season. Genuine reinforcements are required before deadline day if United are to experience a revival and make a play for one of the coveted Champions League Spots
3. There is a new Tactical Trend in the League
The World Cup always captures the imagination of a global audience, but it also sets playing trends that are adopted by a host of domestic leagues. This summer saw the rebirth of the previously popular 3-5-2 formation, for example, although it has been slightly adapted to suit the needs of modern day footballers. With vibrant and successful nations including Colombia and Holland having deployed a variation of the 3-4-3 system to great effect during the summer, it was no surprise to see this incorporated by numerous English clubs on the opening day of the new season. While not all clubs will persist with it, the formation provides additional cover in defence and will perhaps addresses some of the imbalances in an attack-minded and aggressive Premier League.