It may have been the most eagerly-awaited Premier League return after an international break ever, such was the interest in seeing the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, and it certainly didn’t let us down.
Ronaldo bagged twice in a thumping 4-1 win in front of a bouncing Old Trafford, while Romelu Lukaku continued to show what he will add to Chelsea this season and the likely top four all made their moves.
Arsenal finally got a goal and some points up on the board, while Liverpool’s win was marred by a horrific leg injury to one of their brightest young stars.
Here’s everything we learned from the Premier League’s return…
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ARSENAL FINALLY UP AND RUNNING
For the first time in an age, Arsenal have no European football to interfere with their Premier League ambitions. But will that be enough to help Mikel Arteta save his job after a nightmare start to the season? Following three limp, lifeless performances, Arsenal was rooted at the bottom of the table entering the weekend. Arteta – one of the youngest managers in the league at just 39 – responded by shaking things up against Norwich. New signing Takehiro Tomiyasu debuted at right-back, while Gabriel and Ben White started together at centre-back for the first time ever.
They played with intensity from the start, Martin Odegaard offering plenty of trouble on his first home start since his permanent transfer from Real Madrid. Thomas Partey returned from injury with a sterling showing off the bench. And it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who finally – after 336 minutes this season – ended Arsenal’s goal drought.
It was the sloppiest of goals, the scrappiest of 1-0 wins. But it was a win nonetheless, and their season is finally off and running. There are serious problems to contend with, of course. Problems like taking 30 shots for just the one goal.
Burnley, Tottenham and Brighton are next, and with a full week of preparation thanks to their lack of European football, the Gunners should be right up for it this weekend.
The stress has weighed heavily on Arteta, who has unsurprisingly been under heavy fire in recent weeks. He said “you want to hit yourself”, such is the stress of underperforming in the hot seat.
“I think it is impossible not to [bring your work home]… You have to bear in mind that first of all you are doing everything you can to your best capacity, and don’t kid yourself or look for excuses. Normally the easiest thing to do is blame the players: ‘They are not good enough. I have this, I have that.’ And then you try to over-coach them.
“I was not willing to do that because first of all they don’t deserve that. The people around this club don’t deserve it. You just want to hit yourself because you are not doing things right and you are not getting the outcome you think you deserve.”
Arsenal’s massive summer spend – the most of any club in Europe – means the excuses are thin on the ground.
They’re off and running. Let’s just hope they engine doesn’t stall.
LIVERPOOL’S BRUTAL BLOW
Liverpool youngster Harvey Elliot was on the very cusp of a breakout season. Just 18, he played in all four of their league games so far – starting three times – in a star-studded midfield. He was already the club’s youngest-ever senior starting player when he debuted in 2019 at the tender age of 16 years and 174 days.
Last year’s loan to Blackburn Rovers in the Championship worked wonders. He played 41 games, notching 7 goals and 11 assists (the most ever by a teen in the second tier) and was nominated for young player of the season.
A new long-term contract signed at the start of this campaign and suddenly the teenager was poised to become Liverpool’s next rising star, filling the huge hole left in the Reds’ midfield by the departure of Georginio Wijnaldum.
However, on the weekend, it all came crashing down.
A horror ankle injury means surgery this week. It is a brutal setback for the youngster, who Jurgen Klopp described as “a top, top, top player”.
It also presents a significant conundrum for Klopp. There is no shortage of brilliant players to fill the role, but finding his best combination was a major issue last year and must be addressed immediately – AC Milan await on Thursday morning in a repeat of one of the club’s greatest Champions League battles.
Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, James Milner are all immense figures in the heart of the park. There’s no Wijnaldum – a massive loss to PSG on a free transfer after his contract expired – and the choice not to replace him may just come back to bite the Reds, especially if last year’s injury curse strikes again.
THE RONALDO IMPACT
Cristiano Ronaldo is back at Manchester United, in case you missed it, and his impact on the players around him is already rubbing off.
From impassioned speeches to his new teammates about how the standards will be going up now he is here, to players skipping dessert and watching was Ronaldo put on his plate the night before a game, he is already changing things at the club.
New signing Jadon Sancho was seen asking him for tips on his free kicks in the warm-up ahead of the game against Newcastle, while both he and Mason Greenwood were getting in-play advice on how to change up and vary their attacks, of which Ronaldo is the master of.
There are multiple reports that his arrival has even sparked a U-turn in the decision-making process of Paul Pogba, who is now apparently open to staying at Old Trafford when it appeared that he would leave for free at the end of the season.
His two goals against Newcastle proved he can still back it all up and the fanfare that has followed him around has everyone – players included – giddy with excitement.
That was his impact after just two training sessions, he still needs time to learn from his new teammates too, with him needing to be talked to by Pogba about the Frenchman’s trademark crosses from the inside right position. Expect that to be a greater avenue for goals this season once Ronaldo is truly up to speed.
BARGAIN OF THE SEASON?
While all of the attention from the Premier League’s transfer window haul has been on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Romelu Lukaku, Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish, the biggest bargain of them all has seemingly flown under the radar.
Everton’s £1.7m splurge on former Leicester City winger Demarai Gray from Bayer Leverkusen has been an inspiration, with the 25-year-old already notching three goals in three games since his arrival at Goodison Park.
Rafa Benitez’s modest transfer dealings were far removed from Everton’s recent trend of spending as he brought in a number of Premier League stars who were hot property about five years ago.
But so far, it looks like he knew what he was doing, with Gray and Andros Townsend both scoring against Burnley on Tuesday morning, the latter of which with a spectacular 30-year strike into the top corner.
Gray may not be flying under the radar too much longer however, with Gary Lineker tweeting: “Really pleased for Demarai Gray. Always had bags of potential and if he carries on like this he may well be the bargain buy of the season.”
Everton are now up to fourth place in the Premier League table and with Aston Villa and Norwich up next, Benitez has a great opportunity to complete an excellent start to the season before a trip to Old Trafford at the start of October.
CHELSEA’S £50M FORGOTTEN MAN
What has happened to Ben Chilwell?
The last time the England and Chelsea left-back was seen on a football pitch, it was when winning the Champions League at the end of last season. He didn’t play a single minute during Euro 2020 and hasn’t featured at all for the Blues so far this season.
Thomas Tuchel has favoured using Marcos Alonso in his position recently, while winger Callum Hudson-Odoi was deployed there as a wing back against Aston Villa, during the 3-0 win on the weekend.
That is a real headscratcher for Chilwell, given that the 20-year-old Hudson-Odoi, who has tried to leave the club for the last two years due to a lack of chances, usually plays as a right winger.
“Yes, that has absolutely been difficult for him, and I think it’s pretty normal,” Tuchel said of Chilwell. “He came from a Champions League win, 90 minutes, a strong performance and a good end to the season in general. He played a lot of minutes for us in many important games, at a high level.
“Then it was individually for him a tough Euros, because there were chances where he thought he could have played. I know it was a tough one, because you feel a part of the team, but you don’t feel it really if you don’t sweat it out on the pitch and if you never wear the shirt. It’s a strange feeling, also to keep training for four or five weeks continuously.
“He had a break and it was hard for him to totally relax and get this disappointment off his shoulders. When he arrived here, I felt him a bit mentally tired, still worrying about the situation.
“At the same time, he was very unlucky because Marcos was here the whole pre-season and he took this opportunity with such a huge quality and attitude. Marcos was crucial for us from the first day in training and then he delivered in Chilly’s position.”
ANGE’S LOSS IS PL’S GAIN
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou may have lost his best player on the final day of the transfer window, but his loss is the Premier League’s gain as Odsonne Edouard made a blistering start to life at Crystal Palace.
The 23-year-old was one of the best players in the Scottish Premiership during his time with Celtic but his ambitions grew too large for Celtic as he pushed for a move to the Premier League.
And on first impressions, the hype around him appears to be justified as his two goals at Selhurst Park saw Crystal Palace hand Tottenham their first defeat of the season.
Edouard only came off the substitute’s bench after 84 minutes but still managed to score twice in the final six minutes to get Palace fans off their seats and whet their appetites ahead of a big season of change at the club.
He will surely push his way into the starting line-up by next weekend and should he need any more references to force manager Patrick Vieira’s hand, there will be plenty draped in green and white hoops willing to provide glowing ones.