London (AFP) – Over 300,000 fans returned to watch Premier League action live in a pulsating opening weekend of action that featured 34 goals.
Manchester City were the big losers in the early running for the title as the champions were beaten 1-0 at Tottenham despite the absence of Harry Kane as speculation over his future continues.
On the other hand, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool all displayed their credentials to take City’s crown with commanding victories on Saturday.
AFP Sport looks at three of the major talking points from the opening weekend.
Fast and furious return for fans
For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic caused the shutdown of the 2019/20 Premier League season 17 months ago, the stands were packed and made a difference on the field as well as adding noise and colour to the spectacle off it.
Nearly a full campaign behind closed doors last season saw home advantage evaporate with more wins for away sides.
That immediately reverted to normal with seven home wins to three away victories this weekend as the hosts drew inspiration from the encouragement of a home crowd.
“This atmosphere gives you the extra edge and energy,” said Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the Red Devils thrashed Leeds 5-1 at Old Trafford.
“You can’t replicate that from a team-talk or the team spirit it gives you. When you run down that end and you score four goals like we did second half, it’s just the best feeling in the world.”
With new guidelines in place for fewer interventions from VAR, referees also played their part in a thrilling weekend of action by getting involved far less to let the games flow.
Fernandes-Pogba partnership allows Man Utd to dream
Hopes were already high for United before a ball was kicked with the signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane seemingly solving two problem positions on the right side of the attack and at centre-back.
However, the game was won without them on Saturday as two of the star names already at the club came to the fore to thrash Leeds.
Bruno Fernandes scored his first hat-trick for the club thanks to an exhibition of running off the ball from midfield with Paul Pogba providing the ammunition.
Pogba bagged four assists in total as he set up Fernandes’ first two goals and second-half strikes for Mason Greenwood and Fred.
The Frenchman has often flattered to deceive in the five years since he returned to United for a then world record fee, but has every incentive to find his best form this season as he enters the final year of his contract.
Toothless City show need for Kane
Kane’s future remained the dominant talking point after City’s trip to Tottenham despite the England captain not taking to the field.
Spurs’ performance showed they could still thrive without him should they invest a Premier League record fee for their prized asset wisely.
Son Heung-min scored the only goal deputising as a centre-forward, while the likes of Dele Alli and Steven Bergwijn have been re-energised by the arrival of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager.
City’s matchday squad cost in excess of £800 million as Jack Grealish made his debut as England’s first £100 million player.
Yet, there is still a gaping hole in Pep Guardiola’s squad up front with no natural goalscorer to step into the void left by Sergio Aguero’s departure.
City won the league last season by often playing without a striker thanks to an abundance of attacking midfielders and wingers.
Guardiola’s men have now lost their last three games, including the Champions League final last season, 1-0.
United, a rejuvenated Liverpool with key players back form injury, and European champions Chelsea with Romelu Lukaku returning to Stamford Bridge will pose a far tougher challenge for the title this season.
If City want to keep their crown and dream of ending their wait for the Champions League, they may need to pay up for Kane in the next two weeks.