Analysing the Opening Weekend of the 2022-23 Premier League Season
Our friend the fixture computer has rebooted. The 2022-23 season has been laid out before us like a well-sourced picnic. The excitement we all felt between 8:59 and 9:01 this morning is real and legitimate because it’s a first, brief glance at the shape of 2022-23 and what delights it might serve up. Here are some quick thoughts on what we can expect from the MD1 matchups.
Football doesn’t get more traditional than Arsenal starting their season on a sultry Friday night. 12 months ago they went to Brentford and lost, this year they’ll travel south of the river to Selhurst Park to play Crystal Palace. Traditionally fast starters, Arsenal have now lost their opening Premier League match in five of the last nine seasons after losing their first match in just one of their 19 campaigns prior to this run. Will this unsteady streak continue against Patrick Vieira’s men or will Mikel Arteta wield his five substitute options cleverly and return to north London with three points?
London hosts the early game on Saturday too, with Darwin Nuñez’s Liverpool travelling to Championship champions Fulham. Craven Cottage remains one of English football’s most traditional venues (albeit with a hulking new stand being built) but Fulham are plagued by another tradition, the tradition of losing their opening game when they get promoted to the top flight. It happened in 1949-50, 1959-60, 2001-02, 2018-19 and 2020-21. Will it happen in 2022-23? Maybe!
Saturday at 3pm serves up five games like a reliable pub lunch. (AFC) Bournemouth‘s return to the Premier League sees them host Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. This will bring back troubling memories for Villa fans as last season they went to newly-promoted Watford on the opening weekend and lost 3-2. Older fans will recall that Bournemouth’s first ever Premier League game in 2015 was a 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa. History is bound to repeat itself but on which timeline?
Leeds will be hoping for a much less erratic season this time round, and start at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers. This may be the game to watch if you enjoy “goals” because Leeds’ opening games since returning to the top-flight have been laden with them, 13 in total in defeats to Liverpool (3-4 in 2020-21) and Man Utd (1-5 in 2021-22). Prior to this, Leeds hadn’t lost their opening top-flight match in any of their previous 14 seasons at this level between 1990-91 and 2003-04 but time, like football, moves on. Wolves, meanwhile, will be hoping that Jose Sa’s huge overperformance in 2021-22 will just carry smoothly on into 2022-23, because only bottom club Norwich generated less xG than Wolves did (42.5) last season. Then again, only Norwich conceded more xG than Leeds did (74.8) last season. What a sport.
Leicester City ended 2021-22 with a nice little flourish and will begin the new season against a Brentford team presumably shorn of mid-season talent upgrade Christian Eriksen. The Foxes have opened with a win in the last two seasons; a third in a row here will set their stall out nicely.
Retro podcasts and football romantics will look to St James’ Park where resource-heavy Newcastle United face long-absent heritage icons Nottingham Forest, winners of an emotional play-off final just a few weeks ago. It’s been a while, but among teams to play in more than one Premier League season, Nottingham Forest have the best win ratio in their opening match of the season, winning four of their five previous games (80%). If they go and do it this season, the entire league will stand up and take notice.
Tottenham Hotspur playing a 3pm Premier League game on a Saturday? What sort of madness has the fixture computer inflicted here? Because if we ignore games on New Year’s Day then this will be Spurs’ first game in this most traditional of slots since they beat Burnley in December 2019. That’s 2019, as in the previous decade. Southampton are Tottenham’s opponents and are weighed down by the league’s longest current winless run in opening games (P8 D4 L4), losing all three under current manager Ralph Hasenhüttl, with the Austrian having the joint-worst 100% losing record in first games of Premier League seasons, along with Danny Wilson. Never go full Danny Wilson.
Everton maintained their Premier League status with some difficulty last season, and start 2022-23 by hosting Chelsea in the Frank Lampard career clasico late game on Saturday. It’s possibly the ideal fixture for Everton because they have won each of their last four Premier League home games against Chelsea – only once in their history have they had a longer run against the Blues, winning seven in a row between 1923 and 1935, an era when fixtures weren’t generated by a “computer” but compiled by determined artisans.
Sunday could be called MANCHESTER SUNDAY (it won’t) because it will witness Manchester United host Brighton and Hove Albion, followed by Erling Haaland’s employers Manchester City away at West Ham United. Eric ten Hag’s first challenge will be to get some points against England’s very own thoughtful tactician, Graham ten Potter. But despite the turmoil that has engulfed United in recent memory, they still generally know how to get off to a good start, winning their opening Premier League match in 10 of the last 13 seasons, including that 5-1 romp against Leeds United last season, the one that misled so many of us.
Also misleading last season was Manchester City’s opening weekend defeat to Tottenham. “Are City finished?!” some said in August. “Ah look, City have finished first,” said the same people in May. West Ham away is a relatively tough start but perhaps Haaland, a man who looks like he could win the Olympic discus or javelin competitions with some ease, will be inspired by London Stadium’s former guise as a running track. West Ham could definitely pull this off, though, because the reigning top-flight champions have lost their opening match in three of the last six seasons, having gone unbeaten in 26 consecutive seasons between 1990-91 and 2015-16 before this run. Maybe the best time to play a champion is very very early on. Whatever happens, the Premier League is just weeks away from returning and we can’t wait.
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