There’s never much to tell from the opening weekend of the Premier League, but the first round of action will have at the very least given all 20 managers a fairly accurate assessment of what they need to work on going forward, what their squad boasts in abundance and what weaknesses need to be addressed via the transfer market.
So with just two weeks to go until all business is closed for 2017, here’s a look at what the opening weekend has told us about what each club that finished in last season’s top seven still needs…
Whether Manchester United produced one of their best attacking performances yet under Jose Mourinho on Sunday or were flattered by a West Ham side that put up minimal resistance at Old Trafford remains a matter of debate but either way, Marcus Rashford’s presence on the left wing highlighted the weakest chink in the Red Devils’ attacking armoury.
That’s no disrespect to the England international who set up Romelu Lukaku for the opening goal of a 4-0 battering, but he’s still a square peg in a round hole and doesn’t have the perfect balance of quality and experience United will need to get over the line in this season’s title race – the fact Jose Mourinho is relying on a teenager in attack for a strong start to the season, and leaving out a player of Anthony Martial’s quality in the process, speaks volumes.
The only problem is who Mourinho can realistically bring in; pursuits of Gareth Bale and Ivan Perisic have amounted to incredibly little, so United may have to settle for a lesser-known, riskier quantity if they’re to address this issue before the end of the season.
A newfound sence of balance was at the heart of Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Brighton on Sunday. T
hat margin would likely have been far greater at the start of last season when Pep Guardiola took a gung-ho approach to his new job, but fearing the fortune that often accompanies newly-promoted sides and the Seagulls’ obvious game-plan of sitting as deep as possible before hitting on the counter, the Citizens took a more measured approach, controlling the game until the first goal and then setting up shop in the final third.
A huge part in that was a defensively dominant display from back three John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi, who only let one counter-attack break past them in practically the entire match. But the question is how frequently Pep Guardiola intends to use three-man defensive setups this season.
If the answer is around one in every two games, the Etihad Stadium outfit need more bodies at the back, especially considering Kompany’s injury problems. Virgil van Dijk remains the obvious candidate to come in and boost that department, but Guardiola must have a few more ball-playing defenders up his sleeve.
Chelsea’s shock 3-2 defeat to Burnley wasn’t simply one of those write-off results on the opening day of any given Premier League season. It comes at the end of a summer in which the Blues have offloaded an abundance of promising and proven talent – not least including captain John Terry – and thus far replaced it with only four additions who may or may not make the starting XI.
Tellingly, Antonio Conte included Jeremie Boga in his starting XI to face the Clarets on Saturday, whilst his bench consisted of Willy Caballero, Alvaro Morata and five players aged 21 or younger. Considering Chelsea not only have to defend the Premier League title this season but also take part in the Champions League, the Blues boss needs far more experienced options within his squad before the transfer window slams shut.
In that sense, Chelsea probably have the most work to do of any top seven club as we enter the final few weeks of the transfer window.
The good news is that they have the money to rise to the challenge; the bad news is that the level of available top-quality players is reducing by the day. If there’s one silver lining, however, it’s that Chelsea acquired their two best signings last season – David Luiz and Marcos Alonso – during the last two days of August.
There’s no mistaking where the problems laid for Liverpool as they left Vicarage Road with a single point in Saturday’s early kickoff. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino combined excellently in the final third even without the want-away Philippe Coutinho, but the Reds typically came unstuck at the other end, paying the price three times for some incredibly ropy defending.
It’s hard to remember the last time Liverpool actually started the season with a settled back four and that was the case once again on Saturday as Trent Alexander-Arnold and much more unexpectedly, Alberto Moreno came into the starting XI.
That won’t be the case for every game this season with Nathaniel Clyne returning from injury and Andy Robertson likely to come in, but Liverpool still need more consistent options across the backline and particularly in the heart of defence, an area that seemingly lacks real organisation and leadership.
Once again, Virgil van Dijk is the obvious suggestion, but whether Liverpool can convince Southampton to sell remains to be seen. And for all the Netherlands international’s qualities, it might be a more experienced and attritional defender they need – someone of the Ryan Shawcross (but definitely not Ryan Shawcross) ilk.
Alongside Manchester City, Everton have overseen the biggest player turnaround this summer, cashing in on Romelu Lukaku and acquiring an abundance of players from around Europe.
The early signs on Saturday were relatively positive, claiming a 1-0 win over an underwhelming Stoke City side that struggled away from home, but the fact the Toffees could only break down Mark Hughes’ side once, whilst managing the same number of efforts at goal across the ninety minutes, suggests they’re still lacking a vital ingredient in attack.
The Toffees are set to sign Swansea’s chief creator Gylfi Sigurdsson, who will undoubtedly bring extra edge to Everton’s game both in open play and at set pieces. But the Iceland international on his own may not be enough considering a Wayne Rooney header was the only real difference on Saturday; Sandro Ramirez has also arrived from Malaga but doesn’t look ready to be leading the line just yet. A towering front-man who can score goals and bring the likes of Rooney and Sigurdsson into the game would be ideal.
Arsenal proved during the season’s 4-3 opener that they have more than enough quality in attack even without Alexis Sanchez following the arrival of Alexandre Lacazette. Defensively, however, Arsenal were more than suspect – going 3-2 down against the visitors until a stunning comeback in the final ten minutes.
Of course, some key figures were missing from the backline, namely Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker, forcing Arsene Wenger to field a makeshift back three, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lined up at left wing-back.
But considering how often these injury crises occur at Arsenal, a centre-back arrival certainly wouldn’t go amiss before the end of the window – although a second chance for Calum Chambers could save the Gunners a few million – whilst a left-footed left wing-back should give more balance to Arsenal with the ball. That being said, Sead Kolasinac could take that role once the aforementioned defenders are fit again.
On top of that, central midfield represents a worrying department. Aaron Ramsey (off the bench) and Granit Xhaka put in two of Arsenal’s best performances against Leicester but Mohamed Elneny’s presence in the starting XI inevitably raised eyebrows.
If the Gunners are going to be part of the title race this season, they need a similar but superior option who can add energy and physicality to the engine room and stop attacks on the break.
A Jonjo Shelvey sending off ensured a relatively routine win for Tottenham Hotspur on the opening day of the season, but that paved over the cracks of a disappointing transfer window thus far, Mauricio Pochettino relying on several square pegs in round holes and a youngster to make his Premier League debut at right-back in the absence of the injured Kieran Trippier.
Due to a few other injury problems, Tottenham’s bench appeared stronger than usual, with Victor Wanyama and Heung-Min Son both entering the fray alongside Harry Winks. But the fact two of those substitutions were left until the final eight minutes of the game showed how limited Mauricio Pochettino’s options are at the minute.
They were also the only players who really could’ve come on barring injury – Kevin Wimmer, Vincent Janssen, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Michel Vorm forming the remainder of the bench.
The bad news for Tottenham is that there’s not much time left to get business done. The good news is that they’re more than acquainted with pulling off deals in the dying stages of the transfer window, which is arguably the ideal time to strengthen your bench rather than your starting XI.
Regardless, Spurs still need to provide Pochettino with more options and more varied options if they’re to continue building on the momentum of the last two seasons.