MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Five talking points from the Premier League weekend:
After last season’s gripping duel for the title between Manchester City and Liverpool, most observers expected this campaign to be a similar tight race with little to choose between Pep Guardiola’s Premier League champions and Juergen Klopp’s European champions.
But straight away?
Liverpool started the ball rolling with a convincing 4-1 win at home to promoted Norwich and City responded a day later with an even more emphatic 5-0 victory at West Ham United.
There was an intensity and readiness about both teams which suggests Guardiola and Klopp, along with their squads, know there is no room for error and no opportunity to gradually ease their team into the season. After last year, when City won by a solitary point - they know a slip-up, even in the opening weeks, could prove fatal.
Established wisdom suggests that for mid-to-lower ranked teams it is better to play the front-runners early in the season — count that as another orthodoxy that these two remarkable teams have blown away.
UNITED - STRONG SIGNS OF PROGRESS
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was wise to note that despite the emphatic scoreline in Sunday’s 4-0 win over Chelsea, his rebuilding job at Manchester United remains a “work in progress”.
But while the performance at Old Trafford was by no means as impressive as the result, there were a few key indicators that he is on the right track.
New acquisitions Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka made strong debuts and the back four looks a much more formidable unit than last season.
The tempo of United’s play was higher than in many of the laboured performances of last year and the way United ran away with the game in the second half suggested their fitness levels, something Solskjaer and his staff have focused heavily upon, are at a much healthier level than a year ago.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will need more time to adjust to their more central roles in attack, after the sale of Romelu Lukaku, but both were on target and Solksjaer was particularly pleased to see Martial score a poachers’ goal from close-range centrally.
The average age of the team was the lowest of any side in the opening weekend and it was noticeable that the chosen central defender on the bench was 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe, who spent last season on loan at Aston Villa, and not one of the more experienced Phil Jones, Chris Smalling or Marcos Rojo.
United are unlikely to worry City or Liverpool this term but they are certainly faster, stronger, younger and hungrier.
Chelsea’s defending was awful at times at Old Trafford with Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen looking far from solid in the centre of defence.
Frank Lampard will be hoping Antonio Rudiger is back to fitness quickly because he only has 21-year-old Fikayo Tomori as back-up.
But with such limited options and the club barred from the transfer market it does raise the question as to why Chelsea were so keen to sell experienced central defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill.
The debut of VAR video reviews in the Premier League inevitably had an impact on several games and thankfully all the decisions turned out to be without controversy.
But the way in which goals are checked before being confirmed creates a strange situation where players — and fans — have to hold their celebrations in check until the men in front of the screens have given the thumbs-up.
It is a loss of spontaneity and natural rhythm in the game which some will find hard to accept. Is that simply the price that has to be paid for greater accuracy and consistency in decision-making?
Burnley striker Ashley Barnes struck twice in the Clarets’ 3-0 win over Southampton, as the 29-year-old continues to be a classic late developer who has worked his way up from non-league football.
Such is his popularity with the Burnley support that he is now the subject of an eponymous grime track by local born rapper Bacchus which celebrates the forward’s rough edges as much as his goalscoring talent.
Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond