CRAIGE: Premier League Opening Weekend Excites
The Beautiful Game

It was a difficult balancing this weekend between the Rio Olympics and the start of the Premier League, and not only from a personal standpoint. Thanks to its exclusive coverage of the Olympics, NBC Sports – the Premier League’s American broadcast partner – decided to bump all the soccer games to incredibly random channels. Fortunately, perseverance paid off and I was able to watch nearly all of the opening weekend games.

All in all, it was a fantastic opening weekend that made skipping out on the early-morning Olympics well worthwhile.

In perhaps the biggest upset of the weekend, defending champion Leicester City lost to the newly promoted Hull City. Leicester became the first reigning team to lose its opening day match in the 24 years of history of the newer Premier League. To make matters worse, Hull City is a team that does not have a manager — following the summer departure of Steve Bruce amid a feud with the team’s management — and the club was nearly sold during the summer.

For Hull City, this win is the perfect start to the season—one that signals to the fans that the players are willing to soldier on despite the ongoing turmoil at the club. For Leicester, this is not quite a disaster, but it is an indication of how difficult it will be for the tiny team to repeat as champions. While Riyad Mahrez’s willingness to stay with the Foxes this season provides a welcome boost, prolific scorer Jamie Vardy will need to rediscover his winning ways, or else Leicester could be in trouble.

The Jose Mourinho Era at Manchester United got off to a terrific start as the Red Devils beat Bournemouth 3-1. New signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his streak of scoring a goal in his debut match, but I thought that the much-maligned Juan Mata really stole the show. Ever since the announcement of Mourinho as manager, rumors have been swirling that Mata would soon be shown the door, given how quickly the Portuguese manager sent Mata packing back at Chelsea.

Mata’s substitution as a substitute during the Community Shield game against Leicester only seemed to add fuel to the rumors. In an ironic twist, Mata started the first game of the season, and he actually scored Manchester United’s first goal, not to mention his first-ever goal under Mourinho. After the game, Mourinho was singing Mata’s praises and it seems as though the well-liked Spanish midfielder will be staying at United. With this great start to the season, it looks as though the timid ways of the last few seasons are finally over.

Everton is another team that looks to be putting last year’s season behind it, as the Toffees drew 1-1 with the Tottenham Spurs. While new manager Ronald Koeman still has a lot of work to do, including deciding on whether or not to let striker Romelu Lukaku go, this is a much improved Everton side.

Tottenham looked helpless for much of the first half, following Ross Barkley’s goal in the fifth minute of the game and the injury of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. With Harry Kane and Dele Alli virtual no-shows, it was up to Erik Lamela to save the day. Everton fans should be pleased with the result, but I would be a little concerned if I were a Tottenham fan. Granted, it is the very start of the season and Tottenham has a relatively easy schedule in the next month, but this is not that kind of start that Mauricio Pochettino was hoping for.

Not to be biased, but the best game of the weekend by far was the matchup between Arsenal and Liverpool that ended in a 4-3 victory for my Reds. Any game between the so-called bigger teams is bound to be good, but this one really got the Premier League off to a good start.

It was a tale of two halves for both teams, with Arsenal completely dominating the first half. Following a reckless challenge by Liverpool defender Alberto Moreno — who is somehow still starting games, even though he appears to have completely forgotten how to defend — Arsenal was granted a penalty that was somehow saved by Simon Mignolet, another much-derided Liverpool player. Not to be deterred, Arsenal quickly scored a goal a minute later and it looked as though this game would not be going Liverpool’s way. As he has done so many times, Philippe Coutinho led the charge, scoring a spectacular free-kick goal to provide a rallying point for the Reds.

By the 63rd minute, Liverpool was up 4-1 in what should have been a done deal. Arsenal managed to keep trying and managed to get another two goals in, leaving Liverpool fans — and coach Jurgen Klopp — to wonder if the team could hold on. Fortunately, the team managed to hold on and Liverpool has the boost it needs to start the season off despite a difficult schedule.

Both teams showed flashes of brilliance — Liverpool’s lightning-fast attacking and Arsenal’s ability to bounce back — but both teams still have kinks to work out. Liverpool’s priority is to get a left back who is actually capable of defending, while Arsenal’s is to figure out how to fill the leadership void left by frequent injuries. If this game made anything clear, it’s this: Liverpool looks capable of challenging for a top-four place, while Arsenal does not.

It has been a long time coming, but the Premier League is finally back. With a new brand, some new rules and even Friday-night games, this looks to be a fantastic season. As this opening weekend has demonstrated, it might even be crazier than the last one.

VanessaCraige-150x150Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game is making its final appearance of the summer.

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